With no compelling reason to stay and only one way out of town, it was time for us to leave. At 7:46 a.m., we learned that the East Troublesome Fire had exploded overnight.
At 11:22 a.m., we received a pre-evacuation alert.
We were sitting just a few miles from the boundary of the large area under mandatory evacuation.
We didn’t appear to be in imminent danger, but the fire was raging not all that far away.
There was a good chance that our pre-evacuation status would change to a mandatory evacuation order later in the day. That could create a huge traffic jam with many people scrambling to leave at the same time.
So we refueled and headed home.
And that’s how the story ends – perhaps you’re curious how we landed in this predicament?
A Couple of Weeks Prior . . .
We had a chance to get out of town for a short vacay, and after considering several potential nearby destinations, we opted for an eight-night stay in a rental condo in Granby, Colorado.
Granby, with an estimated population of 2,100, sits on the west side of the Continental Divide at 8,000 feet elevation. Located about 15 miles south of the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, we thought Granby was a perfect choice for providing convenient access to areas of the park that we haven’t seen.
Day 1: Driving to Granby
The most direct route to Granby is incredibly slow and super scenic. The road first winds through the Big Thompson Canyon from Loveland to Estes Park, then up and over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park before exiting the park at Grand Lake. Then it’s a short 15 miles from Grand Lake to Granby.
We encountered heavy smoke in the Big Thompson Canyon on the way to Estes Park, so we knew the Cameron Peak Fire, Colorado’s largest wildfire ever, was on the move yet again.
Later, we learned that about 15 minutes after entering the canyon, the road closed behind us to allow for the orderly evacuation of area residents who needed to leave.
The route through Rocky Mountain National Park includes 48 miles of driving on Trail Ridge Road, a spectacular highway that is arguably one of the most scenic drives in the U.S. For 11 miles, the highway takes you above treeline, which occurs around 11,500 feet elevation. The highest point on the drive is 12,183 feet elevation.
The views from Trail Ridge Road are breathtaking, and we were lucky that the road hadn’t yet closed for the winter, which usually happens around mid-October following the first significant snowfall of the season.
We had blue skies as we drove through the park, but the view was hazy looking back toward the east, and the smoke plume from the Cameron Peak Fire was also visible.
We stopped for a short hike on the Tundra Communities trail. Despite the blue sky, it was cold and difficult-to-stay-upright blustery, so we didn’t linger.
We also stopped at Milner Pass to take a photo of Poudre Lake, the headwaters of the Cache la Poudre River that eventually runs through Fort Collins. Note the thin layer of ice already forming on the lake.
I wanted a photo of Bill at the Continental Divide, but the sign was missing in action.
The first indication of fire activity on the southwest side of the park (where we were headed) was a growing smoke plume visible from Trail Ridge Road.
As we exited the park, we headed directly toward the heavy smoke from the East Troublesome fire.
And then, we drove out of it. There was blue sky and sunshine in Granby and a great view of the impressive smoke plume that was now behind us. The photos below were taken from the balcony of our rental condo.
Full disclosure: We were a little freaked out being so close to the fire. I didn’t sleep well the first night – kept getting up to peek out the window and make sure there were no flames on the horizon.
By the next morning, the smoke plume had receded, but we learned that the fire had doubled in size the previous day, growing from 5,000 to 10,000 acres. We signed up for emergency notifications about the fire that would hopefully alert us in the event we needed to evacuate.
And then, we proceeded to explore the surrounding area with the intent of enjoying our week-long stay in Granby.
Stay tuned for part II of our visit to Granby for sight-seeing highlights and additional information about our unplanned early exit – coming soon! Here’s a preview: