Published: September 27th 2009September 26th 2009
The weather forecast for today is for very warm weather, so although we will be traveling on the Trail Ridge road across the park on Sunday, we decided to do part of the trail today and take time for photos. The day began with bright sunshine and temps in the high 60's in town. We headed out through the canyon and into Estes which is at the entrance to the park. When we reached the park gate we were told that it was some sort of National something day and that there was no entry fee. That fact, plus the nice weather told us that it would probably be quite busy in the park and we were right. There was lots of traffic but the park is so huge that it wasn't a problem at all.
Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses approximately 265,770 acres. The park is split by the Continental Divide, which gives the eastern and western portions of the park a different character. The east side of the park tends to be drier, with heavily glaciated peaks. The west side of the park is wetter and more lush, with deep forests.
The park contains 359 miles of trails, 150
lakes, and 450 miles of streams and over 60 named peaks higher than 12,000 feet. Over one fourth of the park resides above tree line. The highest point of the park is Longs Peak, which rises to 14,259 feet. Longs Peak is the only fourteen thousand foot peak in the park. Several small glaciers and permanent snowfields are found in the high mountains.
The lowest elevations in the park are montane forests and grassland. Above tree line, at approximately 11,500 feet , trees disappear and the alpine tundra takes over. Due to harsh winds and weather, the plants in the tundra are short with very limited growing seasons. Streams have created lush riparian wetlands across the park.
July and August are the warmest months, where temperatures can reach the 80s although it is not uncommon to drop to below freezing at night. Thunderstorms often appear in the afternoons.
Heavy winter snows begin around mid-October, and last into May. While the snow can melt away from the lowest elevations of the park, deep snow is found above 9,000 feet in the winter, causing the closure of Trail Ridge and Fall River roads during the winter and spring. The snow that had
closed Trail Ridge road a few days ago was an unusually early snow fall for the mountains.
The trail ridge road showed us all aspects of the park: the lakes, valleys, forests, mountain peaks, tundra, cold weather, remnants of the previous few days snow storm, and overall break taking views. The roads were totally clear and dry and the sun shining brightly. When we reached the highest peaks, the temp was in the 40's and there was a stiff wind blowing which gave a wind chill temp of somewhere in the 30's. It's difficult to dress for a day where the temps can vary between 42 and 86 which is what we eventually experienced by the end of the day. At about 1pm we stopped at one of the highest viewing places in the park to have our lunch. Needless to say, it wasn't an outdoor picnic today. We sat in the car and stayed warm. It was so interesting to watch the people as they stopped at this fabulous vista. Because people had come from the valley where the temps were by now in the 80's, many were not dressed for the weather. Some were in shorts and flip
flops and others in full winter dress. One man in his bright red shirt and flowered shorts seemed particularly out of place. He was in line at a restroom stop and I wondered how he could just stand there so casually in the freezing temps.
As I said the roads were clear and dry but the size of the snow drifts along the roadside in some place was simply amazing. It was plain to see why the Trail Ridge pass had been closed the previous few days. We turned around and headed back down the way we had come and once in the valley, we took a route out of the park that we had not traveled before. In the valley meadows were saw lots of elk. In one particular spot there were a couple of bull elk gathering their respective harems. There was one who was obviously dominant because on several occasions he ran over, chased off the other bull and stole some of the females. The bugling sounds were heard quite clearly. We sat for a while roadside and watched the show.
When we reached the area near Ft Collins the temp was 88 degrees so it was
time to take off the jackets and sweaters and open the car windows. Actually we did open the windows but it felt so warm after being in the cold weather in the mountains, that we closed the windows and put on the air conditioner.
The sun was behind the mountains when we reached our hotel but sunset wasn't for about another half hour. It had been a lovely day and another one is to follow tomorrow. The weather forecast is again very warm.
There are more photos below