Saturday, October 21, 1989: Gem Lake, 8820', Rocky Mountain National Park

Gem Lake is aptly named. Little more than a large pond, it is perched high on marvelous Lumpy Ridge north of Estes Park, surrounded by a wide gravel beach and tall, bumpy cliffs. It resides in a saddle between two rock outcroppings several hundred feet higher. The trail is superbly constructed: wide, soft, and gentle.

I took my daughter Megan, age 6, for a hike to the lake on a lovely fall afternoon. The weather was cool but not cold, and only partly cloudy, so there was no rush. We didn't start hiking until 1330. The trailhead (7740') is a small parking lot north of the road, with a sign, about two miles west of the crest of Devils Gulch, on the way to Estes Park beyond Glen Haven.

The very first attraction, mere yards from the parking lot, was a large herd of llamas behind a wire fence. Then for a time the trail meandered past private properties and homes until it passed the National Park boundary. The trail continued to climb up a pretty hillside between huge, rounded boulders, in open forest. The view south to Estes Park and the inspiring peaks of RMNP continually improved until we crossed over a ridge about halfway to the lake. The rest of the route wandered and switched up a large basin.

Naturally Megan paused often to explore the scenery. I enjoyed being a kid right along with her. On the way to the lake we encountered a large boot-shaped rock with the ``toes'' pointing up and a Megan-sized hole through the ``heel'', about six feet off the ground. I helped her climb through it several times.

Despite hiking at a child's pace, we covered the two miles and about 1100' to the lake in just 1:50. At the lake we found a wide beach composed of pea gravel from weathered boulders. Several interesting pine trees grew out of it with their prop roots exposed. We found a cozy nook for lunch.

After an hour of eating, playing, watching the chipmunks, and exploring, we started back down the trail at 1620. The return to the trailhead took 1:30. We arrived just before the sun set beyond fuzzy, icy clouds.

By Alan Silverstein