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Rocky Mountain National Park: To the top and back

in Travel

It was early in the morning and I was excited about finally getting to Rocky Mountain National Park. The early clouds moved quickly across grey mountain peaks as I entered the park with an eye opened for elk and moose.

The first eleven miles is the best place to see elk and moose but I saw neither. All along the way there are turnouts to allow photographing and I stopped every few yards as the landscape grew more and more spectacular.

The aspens were in full bloom and many lower shrubs and ground cover were just starting to show rich oranges and golds. I walked on a path where fly fishermen were stalking trout along a pristine stream. There were tall mountains surrounding deep forests of ponderosa pine and aspen. 

It was a perfect day as the clouds continued to burn away to reveal a deep blue sky. It's one of those moments you just need to catch your breath and realize where you are, in God's country.

As you continue through the park, the altitude increases and the temperature drops, peaks gets more dramatic as you approach the tundra. You can see the cars driving along ridges above you and the trees begin to thin as you get to the alpine terrain.

The change in altitude is 4000 feet in a matter of minutes and by the time I got to the alpine center I could feel it as my breathing became labored. All those hours of training and working out have finally paid off as I had much more energy than I had in the past in the higher altitude. I scrambled along paths like someone much younger than myself-with the awe of a child.

I saw a bald eagle soaring above a lake where the yellow grasses were a rich golden color. One of my many stops to photograph. I met people from New Jersey, Texas and New Hampshire, everyone seems in awe of this great landscape we were fortunate to be able to enjoy.

I stopped at the alpine store for souvenirs, I realized a jacket might be a good buy. It was cold, the wind was blowing and the landscape was as beautiful as it was dramatic. The alpine tundra is surrounded by mountains in all directions and there is snow on the highest peaks. 

I enjoyed the many perspectives from the windows of the shop and even saw a hoary marmot scurrying along the protected tundra which is just down from the alpine center.

From one side of the park to the other Trail Ridge Road winds through scenic views that are hard to adequately describe. It is literally breath taking and that's not just because you're up above 12,000 feet. 

There were many people hiking to points even higher along the road, I was in it for the long haul and decided to conserve my energy, that's my story anyway. It's very easy to be overwhelmed surrounded by such amazing beauty.

It took most of the morning to get through the first eleven miles of road and there were many areas ahead that promised views of elk. I was still looking for a black bear but that didn't happen.

As you come down over the mountain and start descending again, the tundra gives way to deciduous trees in bold fall colors as well as the blue and green spruce and fir trees.

I felt fortunate to see a large bull elk on the side of a steep mountain bugling to several females in the trees as a lone distant male challenged its domain. It's wonderful how strangers become old friends while viewing wildlife, it's such a feeling of awe at the spectacle and size of a huge bull elk.

It was two o'clock in the afternoon as I headed toward Estes Park and the last bit of Rocky Mountain National Park. I wasn't looking forward to the drive to Denver after a full amazing day in the heart of the rockies. I will definitely return with my son.


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