From our base camp we drove out to see RMNP. There is a 25 mile highway, one way, from the main Visitors Center at 7,500’ to the Alpine Visitors Center at 12,000’. This is a good road, but it has lots of switchbacks, blind curves, and steep drop-offs. Not everyone here has learned that it is unwise to drive and sight-see squarely astride the centerline of the pavement. Now that we’ve done it I can tell you that this adds to the excitement and adventure of the ride. It is entirely up to you whether you choose to believe me.
The scenery is spectacular and well worth that exhilarating drive. You begin in meadowlands dotted with lodge pole and Ponderosa pines plus groves of aspen. You will climb steadily and notice a drop in temperature as the vegetation changes into dense forestland with firs and pines. The tree line comes at around 11,000’ and after that you are in a biosphere which is rare in the lower 48: tundra. Tundra remains frozen hard for six or more months annually with boulders displacing all the trees. Mosses and lichens do well there but they grow very slowly. Grasses sprout and bloom over the three to four month spring and summer season, then the elk herds wander up, graze on those grasses, and in return add vital fertilizer to this nutrient-starved land.
Overlooks are everywhere along the highway and you’ll see amazing beauty from all of them. The air is so wonderfully clean you may see rainfall and lightning strikes on mountains fifty miles away. My favorite sights are those sub-alpine lakes hundreds to thousands of feet below those tundra overlooks. Through binoculars you see that some are lakes with lillypads and trout working the bugs, and some others are just blue pools of snowmelt, cold and sterile as an operating room. Nobody fished those lakes while we were there; access might require a helicopter.
Beaver flourish in RMNP and seem to love it here, their long hours notwithstanding. Their favorite food and building material is willow, and believe it or not, beavers are beneficial to their food source. It seems that bare willow branches are among the world’s best at generating roots when stuck in moist earth. Most beaver lodges, made of dirt and willow, become islands of willows. The ponds behind beaver dams hold water, slow water erosion, and raise the water table. And the moose, reintroduced into the park in the 70’s, thrive in the swamps alongside those ponds. The moose are doing so well that we have a family group of them 15 miles south of RMNP near Camp Dick. Kat saw one (she wasn’t carrying her camera) the other day and let us say she was duly impressed!
RMNP is worth a visit anytime you can get here. Someday I want to see this place when the leaves are in their autumn colors and morning can be dusted with light snow. It is so beautiful.