We can’t make a checkmark on our Bucket List with our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in late July since we have visited this park before. As it had been ten years since our last visit, we decided to take a bit longer route on our way to a reunion in Nebraska and spend a couple of days in the park.
Rocky Mountain National Park is celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 2015. Rocky Mountain National Park was the tenth national park to be established, and prior to having a unified park service, it was administered by the Department of the Interior.
On this trip we came into the park from the west so our first stop was in the Kawuneeche Valley where we took several short hikes near the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River. Here it’s hard to imagine that this nice little meandering stream further down its course becomes the river carving the Grand Canyon.
Trail Ridge Road climbs, twists and turns its way eastward to cross the Continental Divide at Milner Pass (10758 ft.), continuing to snake its way to the Alpine Visitor Center (11796 ft.) at Fall River Pass, then to the highest point on the road (12,183 ft.) and beyond and downward to the east entrance of the park – Beaver Meadows Visitor Center at a “mere” 7840 ft. The views on the road are amazing and at many points it seems like you can see forever. The Never Summer Mountain Range to the west, the Mummy Range to the north, and Long’s Peak (14259 ft.) to the south provide 360° mountain viewing and great opportunities for beautiful landscape photos. “Purple mountain majesties” very well could apply here even though Katherine Lee Bates wrote those words inspired by Pikes Peak further to the south.
This park is nearly all fairly high so hiking can be quite strenuous if one is not used to altitude. By watching the elevation gains given on the trail guides, it’s possible to choose hikes of varying activity levels – elevation gain often being more important than total distance.
We hiked to the Pool and then went back to the visitor’s center to ask a couple of questions. We were curious about the fenced areas erected along the stream in Moraine Park. We were told they were elk exclusion fences. These were areas where the vegetation had basically been decimated by overgrazing of elk and they were trying to revive the plant life there by keeping the elk out. Gates for people were provided so they could continue to fish the stream. We also talked to rangers about the Russian thistles we had seen along the roadsides – coming from Nebraska we know how invasive those plants are!
We decided to explore the Old Fall River Road which was the original road to cross the park by way of Fall River Valley and Milner Pass. Following construction of Trail Ridge Road, Old Fall River Road was designated as a one-way route to the Alpine Visitors Center. The day we drove it, even though it is unpaved, there was a steady stream of traffic. It reminded us of why we like to visit national parks in the off-season. Of course, the fact that Trail Ridge Road is closed from mid-October to Memorial Day because of weather, does limit the season.
After having scoured the mountainsides with binoculars in search of bighorn sheep to no avail, we came across a sheep perfectly posed not far off the road near Rock Cut. We also managed to spot pika, and marmots among the rocks.
The trail past Copeland Falls to Calypso Cascade was a pleasant hike and not quite as crowded as some others. Not so, the trailhead for Long’s Peak when we went there. We were totally amazed at the size of the parking lot and the fact that it was packed with vehicles. Long’s is not an easy mountain but, as the season is short, and many climbers want to add it to the list of fourteeners they have climbed, a ranger told us it is always very crowded there.
Rocky Mountain National Park is certainly a jewel in the national park system and well worth the return visit.