The Alpine Visitor Center sits further back in the park, along Trail Ridge Road. Out back of this beautiful center is a pathway to the top, known affectionately as "Huffer Hill". A smooth, paved trail to about the halfway point, where it's replaced by large stone steps to the summit. The Visitor Center itself sits at an elevation of 11,796 ft., meaning I climbed 209 ft. in a very short span...and I understood the meaning of the name.
AND, I had the proper footwear for my trek that day - no cowboy boots - no thongs (yeah, that will come later, as I trekked about the desert landscape in Hawaiian thongs this summer, also). The view from the top was spectacular, with plenty of photos stops/breathing breaks along the way up. I chuckled at how many times I heard, "Man! I thought I was in good shape" (even murmuring in my own head), ascending and descending.
Yes, "unbelievably spectacular" I say, while trying to slow my breathing to steady the camera. This is the land of the hearty tundra dwellers - marmots, ptarmigans, and the big horn sheep, though the sheep do trek downwards in the winter.
Below the Alpine lie the Sub alpine elevations - anything falling between 9,000 and 11,400 ft. This is where the shrubberies and trees come back into play, and you'll find most of the larger animals within the park. We spotted four elk that ran into view at the bottom of that little mountain glacier, as we stood there taking in the beauty. Elk, deer, bighorn sheep - the Park is home to over 350 Bighorns, which were nearly extinct within it's boundaries in the 1950s. Binoculars are always a great bet...throw a pair in your trunk - you'll be glad you did.
The third ecosystem within the Park is the Montane - this is below 9,000 ft. in elevation. Now you're in full-blown pines, firs, and aspens; wildflowers, birds, beaver, otter, and most of the larger animals. These are the areas that are fed by the runoff from winter snows in the spring and summer months. These are my Rocky Mountains - spectacular at every turn.
The west side of the Park finds you travelling alongside the Never Summer Mountain Range, opening to views of the valley and town of Grand Lake below. Upper right photo is of Poudre Lake.
THIS is where the Colorado River starts - just a tiny stream fed by runoff from snow melt, supplying water to some 60 million people downstream.
The Park - whether you approach east to west, or vice versa - is travelled via Trail Ridge Road. The innermost portions of this road are closed, due to winter weather conditions, from Mid October to Memorial Day (in May). You can still travel some of the lower elevations during that time...check ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK (that's a link right there, that will take you to the NPS website) for road closure information if you are planning on visiting anytime other than May through October.
A parting shot of Grand Lake, CO. In an attempt to push aside the day to day nonsense that has recently take over my time, I am working my way through Aspen tree fall color shots, taken in September. The first time I've been home to see it in all it's glory, in about 25 years. Back soon - get out and see something!