Day 2: August 2, 2015
Rocky Mountain National Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year! And we had the opportunity to visit! We got on our way in the morning, and made our way to the park, which is just a couple of miles outside of Estes Park. The Visitor’s Centers here are outside of the entrance stations, which threw me off a bit, and sadly I didn’t see it when we passed by! By the time I realized our mistake, we were already in the park, and partway up the mountain, so we opted not to turn around and go back. I knew there were more Visitor’s Centers later on…
We drove the Trail Ridge Road, and stopped at several viewpoints and saw the beautiful coniferous forests, the gorgeous meadows and the distant mountains. We were also able to see the destruction caused by the Mountain Pine Beetle. Although this beetle has always been part of the ecosystem, drought conditions over the last several years have allowed the beetle to gain a much larger foothold, and the current infestation is 10 times worse that what has been seen previously.
We gradually increased in elevation, stopping at various viewpoints to see the changes in the landscape, until we reached the tundra habitat at the park. It was interesting to see the rocks and vegetation that exist above the tree line. Jon and I did a short hike on a path through the tundra, and were able to check out some neat rock formations.
We saw elk from the car, but we weren’t able to get pictures because they were perched high up on a hill where there wasn’t really a pull-out. I was a little disappointed about that, but I have other photos of elk… I felt much better when we got back from our hike to find two Yellow-bellied Marmots right near our car! They were right off the road; one was licking the dirt beneath the gravel at the side of the road – I assume to get salt. I got a ton of photos, because one of them posed perfectly for me!
We also stopped at a high-altitude viewpoint to find several people with binoculars looking out across the field. I asked one of them what they were looking at – Bighorn Sheep! We had our binoculars, so we looked and were able to see two sheep lying down really far away next to a snow patch. No pictures possible at that distance, but it was a great experience!
We stopped at the Alpine Visitor’s Center, located above 11,000 feet in elevation. I was able to get my stamp! And some postcards of course. We ate our lunch in the blustery wind outside to the Visitor’s Center – and checked out the views all around. There is a short nature trail up to the top of a nearby peak, so Jon and I challenged ourselves to do it; especially because one of the rangers had said there were elk up there! Hiking is hard at such a high altitude! After huffing and puffing my way to the top, it was a big letdown to discover there were no elk in sight. BOO!
I didn’t have long to be disappointed about the elk though, because it was threatening to rain! We made our way back to the car and continued on our way.
Have you driven the Trail Ridge Road at Rocky Mountain National Park?