Into the Rocky Mountains

Very little sleep occurred last night. I was restless despite being exhausted and found myself waking up for good around 4am.

There seems to be good reason for this. YMCA of the Rockies, where the World Ranger Congress is being held, is at an elevation of 8,010 ft (2,440 m). To put that in perspective, the highest point in England, Scafell Pike is 3,209 ft (978 m). In Wales, Snowdon is 3,560 ft (1,085 m). In Scotland, Ben Nevis is 4,414 ft (1,346 m). I’m pretty high in the sky!

So, along with the jet lag and the excitement, I think I’m suffering some symptoms of altitude sickness too (I also woke up with a cracking headache) – an insomnious mixture of ingredients keeping me well away from deep slumber.

Anyway, there was a huge upside of being up at 4am – seeing another sunrise, this time over the Rocky Mountains.

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The yearn for sleep soon disappeared, turning into a yearn to explore. I had a free day today, and intrigued by my morning view, I wanted to venture out to see more of my surroundings.

I started with a quick lap of the YMCA grounds, familiarising myself with the site whilst mainly gawping at the snow-capped peaks rising monumentally in the distance.


Despite the altitude sickness symptoms, I also wanted to go a bit further afield. With advice from a member of staff working at the YMCA (who gave me a map and encouraged me to take/drink lots of water), I decided to set out to complete a circular walk starting and ending at the YMCA but taking in a small section of the Rocky Mountains National Park – known as the Moraine Park loop.

*** It’s important to note at this point that this is my first trip outside of the UK since discovering a passion for wildlife. Yet in this respect, everything in the USA is completely and utterly new to me. I know there are lions, tigers and bears (oh my) but not a great deal of anything else. Accordingly, I find myself feeling hysterically intrigued by anything that moves and filled with frenzied enthusiasm for the plethora of wildlife that I might see.

So, scene set and right on queue, as I left the grounds of the YMCA this little guy popped up out of a small hole in the ground.

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I instinctively dropped into an awkward stance – camera in one hand, binoculars in the other, trying to use both at the same time. ‘What the hell is it!!??’ I thought. I later discovered it was the very common Wyoming Ground Squirrel – but for those few minutes (and still now) it was a marvel of the USA. I mean, come on. Cute!

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What followed was a whirlwind of new species, seemingly at every step – each having similar consequences to the above…


Jubilant with all of the wildlife I was encountering,  I was then left frantically euphoric with the additional scenery along the Moraine Park loop, making my fragile mind explode. Passing first over Glacier Creek (the boundary between the YMCA and the Rocky Mountain National Park) then the Big Thompson River, I followed on into Moraine Park — a glacial moraine with grand views of the Continental Divide.

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A few hours later, 3 litres of water down, sweaty and dizzy with joy, I made my way back on to the YMCA grounds, and instantly came across another incredible sight – two Elk, a male and a female, grazing right outside the main buildings of the YMCA. This was a species I had only seen alongside David Attenborough on TV, and so to suddenly see them in real life was a further shock to the system, almost as if the high altitude air had decided to give me an uppercut.

Uninjured, thankful and ready to sit down for a short while, I caught up with some more rangers arriving at the YMCA over the rest of the day including a colleague from England – Clair Payne, a ranger also working for the National Trust in the Lake District (this, ashamedly, involved a game of crazy golf in which Lake District won North York Moors, boo!).

A pretty amazing day was topped off with a bright, full moon peeking over the Rocky Mountains, replaced with a sudden brief burst of pink in the sky as the sun set on my first full day in the USA. Amazing!

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My journey to the USA begins…

So, I woke up this morning at the eye watering time of 4am, overwhelmed with excitement, nervousness, and a desire to never wake up this early again. After completing my packing (talk about last minute) and filling up with plenty of caffeine, my tiredness disappeared (or at least, was pushed stubbornly away) and by 4.30am I was ready and eager to get going.

My first journey was to get from Zennor in Cornwall (where I have been staying on holiday this week) to Newquay Airport for my first flight of the day to London Gatwick.

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My journey begins…

With a further top up of caffeine at a service station, my excitement continuing to build into a bit of a restless stupor, I watched the sunrise as I drove down the deserted A30. Just outside of Newquay, I stopped to take in the view.

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Nice!

By the time I was on-board the plane, the sun was fully up leaving a slightly soggy Cornwall to say bye to. I was treated to some spectacular birds-eye views of the south west coast during the 1 hour flight, eventually arriving at a similarly soggy London Gatwick.


Next, I had to jump on a National Express coach to transfer me to London Heathrow, my mind buzzing with thoughts of what was to come, daydreaming through the seat window.

I found myself, through glazed eyes, becoming lost in the green verges by the side of the road. Jackdaws playing a real life game of Frogger, scavenging littered scraps from the road and then retreating into their green refuge. Panic fuelled rabbits scurrying along well trodden paths. A butterfly bobbing along as the coach slowed, flying from flower to flower, on its quest for nectar…

On arrival at Heathrow, I had more pressing matters to deal with. My excitement abated and my nervousness took hold. Time for the first long-haul flight of my life.

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I’m not keen on flying to begin with. A 1 hour flight passes quickly, but 9 hours in an enclosed space with long legs was a long time. Again, I found myself staring into oblivion out of my seat window, keeping track of my journey on the monitor in front of me.

The first half of the flight was spent over the rather large (slight understatement) Atlantic sea, passing Greenland to the north. The first glimpse of foreign land came when passing over Canada, with views over Newfoundland, Quebec and Ontario. We then passed over Lake Superior (this lake is also a tad on the large side!!) and then into the United States of America, passing over Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and then finally my destination Colorado.

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A cream tea, enjoyed the right way, somewhere over Quebec

Shuffling off the plane at Denver airport, my eyes complained that I was still awake and my belly told me I should eat something. I did neither. Instead, I followed my way out to my pick-up stop for the final journey of the day, a shuttle from Denver airport to Estes Park.

Once there, I met some other rangers who will be attending the World Ranger Congress. A brother and sister who work as rangers in the Amazon basin in Brazil (!!!), a Uruguayan ranger who is their translator, an American ranger from Washington DC who is actually Welsh and a ranger from Scotland. Pretty amazing!!

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We jumped on the shuttle, driven by a friendly American called Bill, who gave us plenty of advice and information on the way, the Rocky Mountains coming into view as we slowly made our way to the destination.

 

It was dark by the time we arrived at Estes Park, with stars pricking the night sky and a full moon showering the surrounding mountains in a dim light. My excitement once again rose in my stomach, fighting with the hunger pangs. Once checked-in at our accommodation (YMCA of the Rockies), we chatted for a while beside a roaring fire, sampling some American snacks including a peanut butter jelly sandwich, before eventually (and with some relief) I stumbled up to my new room for the next 8 nights.


Already, I can tell, this experience is going to be incredible. I have a day off tomorrow to recharge my batteries and get to know Estes Park a little, and hopefully I can catch up with some more of the rangers arriving for the start of the Congress at the weekend.

Now, it’s definitely time for some sleep!

Itinerary for USA

Tomorrow, the time has finally arrived for me to set off on my adventure to the USA. I have been extremely excited for the trip since finding out back in February that I was chosen to represent the National Trust at this years World Ranger Congress in Colorado.

My itinerary will be:

19th May / Flight from Cornwall to London then from London to Denver

20th May / Rocky Mountains National Park

21st May / World Ranger Congress [DAY 1]

22nd May / World Ranger Congress [DAY 2]

23rd May / World Ranger Congress [DAY 3]

24th May / World Ranger Congress [DAY 4]

25th May / World Ranger Congress [DAY 5]

26th May / World Ranger Congress [DAY 6]

27th May / Flight from Denver to San Francisco

28th May / Monterey Bay – whale watching trip

29th May / Volunteering at Pinnacles National Park [DAY 1]

30th May / Volunteering at Pinnacles National Park [DAY 2]

31st May / Volunteering at Pinnacles National Park [DAY 3]

1st June / Sequoia National Park & Yosemite National Park

2nd June / Flight from San Francisco to Denver and then from Denver to London

3rd June / Flight from London to Newcastle upon Tyne

Now, to enjoy the sunset on my last day in England for the next 16 days…

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