Sunday, September 11, 2016

Rocky Mountain National Park - Long's Peak

Roger here....  Since the rains from two days ago, the weather here has been perfect.  This was a day to walk the dogs early and leave them with treats while we explored the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.  

Our goal on this day was to drive to the Alpine Visitor Center near the top of Long's Peak.  As we were driving up in elevation, we realized that a major difference between the national parks in the Canadian Rockies and the mountainous American National Parks (including Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Park) is that in Canada most of the drives are in the valleys with the amazing mountain views on all sides.  At Glacier NP (Going to the Sun Road) and Rocky Mountain National Park (Trail Ridge Road), the drives take you to the top of the mountains --- both wonderful experiences.


We have become jaded during our trip this summer.  The drive to the top of Long's Peak was magnificent, but we have seen so many jaw-dropping mountain views that until we reached the top, it seemed the same as all the other views we had seen.  However, we could not resist a few pictures on the way up.

Are you able to see the two mountain lakes?


The Alpine Visitor Center was our initial destination.  It was actually an entire complex that included the typical national park information, as well as a really nice gift area, a coffee shop (we had mochas), and a restaurant --- very well done.

When we got out of the car, I was thinking that the elevation was not an issue for me.  By the time we arrived at this sign, it was.  Man, the air was thin up here!

Remember all that talk about the scenery being same ol', same ol'?  Well, the views from the Alpine Visitor Center certainly changed those impressions.  Wow.

This is a cirque.  It was carved from the side of the mountain by a glacier.

The road in the center of the picture was at one time the main road to the top of Long's Peak. It is now a one-way dirt road.  Wish we had a jeep, and more time.

We left the Alpine Visitor Center in search of the Tundra Communities Trail.  We drove right by it because it has two names.  This was actually good for us, because we were able to walk to the Forest Canyon Overlook, which was two more miles down the road.

If you look carefully on the left center of the photo below, you can see the Big Thompson River in the valley below.  The water in this river (since it is on the east side of the continental divide) is on its way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.

Such an amazing place.  BTW.  It was here that the former teacher in me rose to the surface when a hiker trampled all over the delicate tundra for a picture.  There were signs everywhere cautioning people not to do this.  My comments as we passed the person were perhaps a bit too loud.  Perhaps not.


Rant over.  Back to the fun at 12,000 feet.  Dianne and I both wanted to drive through and walk through the tundra at the top of Long's Peak.  Between the Alpine Visitor Center and the downward spiral on the east side, the road winds through the tundra for ten miles --- the longest paved highway at this altitude in North America.

No trees up here!

Boulders are interspersed with the hardy tundra plants.  In North America this is a landscape found only above the tree line on tall mountains, or in the far northern reaches of the continent.  As shown in the photo below, the endless array of mountains serve as a backdrop to this cold and WINDY environment.

These organisms have adapted to live in a world with little water, little soil, bitter cold, and punishing winds (up to 100 mph in winter).  The sunlight at this level is extremely harsh.  Despite these realities, the root structure of a tundra plant can be totally destroyed by one human footstep.  Enjoy the closeup view below.

Hey Dianne!  Do ya wanna climb up a steep hill without much oxygen?  (on a paved path, of course)

We tackled the uphill trek along the Tundra Community Trail with vigor, at first.  Soon we were gasping for breath, cold, and battered by the freezing cold wind.  Fortunately, the wind was behind us.  It was as if we were being pushed up the hill.  In the distance we spied mushroom-shaped rock formations at the top of the hill.

As we trudged upward, the eroded formations reminded us of the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park --- except that they were not pink and orange.

Do I look cold in the photo below?  Did I mention that it was cold and very windy?

The walk back down to the car proved to be just as challenging (maybe more so) than the trip up.  We were walking straight into winds that nearly knocked us over.  I have visual proof of the strength of the winds that I will show you at the end of this post.


When we descended back down to tree level, we talked about how quickly the Aspen are turning yellow.  It has been apparent even during the few days of our visit.  

At the bottom of the mountain, we stopped to eat cheese sandwiches and apples.  Why does Dianne always take pictures of me with my mouth full?  I fooled her this time by sitting in the shade :-).

As we were about to exit the park, we encountered about ten parked cars and twenty people with binoculars and cameras with telephoto lenses.  A MOOSE!  We saw a moose!  Well, technically we saw a moose.  It was pretty far away and most of the time it was hidden in the foliage.  We watched it for about a half an hour.  This was the best photo of the bunch.

Unfortunately, this is a butt shot.  If you look carefully, you can see an ear on the left side.
Our day trip in Rocky Mountain National Park has ended, but I did promise you proof of the ferocity of the winds in the tundra.  The picture below is an indelible image of our day that will always be with me.

Dianne's new punk rock hairstyle

We will be blogging one more time from the Colorado Rockies.  The next post will take you on one of the best hikes from our summer.


Since the dogs could not go with us to the National Park, this is another picture of my boy Bandido in the Colorado River.

Look Dad!  I'm in the Colorado River.  It doesn't seem so turbulent to me.

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