Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why I love Rocky Mountain National Park

Well - what's NOT to love? I know this post may seem odd coming from a flatlander, but it's my blog, so here it is ..

As I mentioned in the previous post, RMNP is visited by nearly 3 million people annually. the obvious beauty of the place is apparent to everyone who enters the Park, or drives through the area. The mountains here are steep and rugged, and offer great photo ops. There is an abundance of wildlife in the protected park, so most people will see some of the critters that are present. the signature species for the park is certainly the elk, but on the west side, moose are headliners as well.

With all these people enjoying the Park, it can seem crowded at times, especially on weekends and during the elk bugling season (mid- September to mid-October). Bu, with a little research and effort, you can find unlimited opportunities to enjoy this world class park in solitude, and enjoy it on whatever level you prefer.

upper Colorado River

There are 359 miles of hiking trails in the park, ranging from extreme mountaineering ascents on rugged peaks, to wheelchair accessible trails. Whatever your personal cup of tea, it is offered in RMNP. The 3 million visitors is a documented number. My estimate is that every person entering the park takes an average of 20 photos. (Don't ask me how I came up with that - its just a guess) That means there are 60 million photos taken every year of the park's beauty! The point is, my representations are simply one person's point-and-shoot synopsis of a beautiful area. In order to take full advantage of the park's beauty (and to avoid the bulk of the crowds), concentrate your efforts in the low light times. I really like to be in the Park before daybreak, giving me the chance to witness some spectacular light settings and sunrises i the mountains. (Real photographers understand the nuances of the soft lighting - I just think its neat!) It is also the best time to observe the park's wildlife. I've seen coyotes, bear, lots of elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep in the low light periods.

Much like in the fishing circles, people gravitate to the Big Game animals (just like they do to the Big Fish) But the plentiful smaller creatures offer a lot on their own. Abundant squirrels and Stellar's Jays are common in the picnic areas. Yellow bellied marmots are found throughout the Park, while the little pica's inhabit the sub-alpine ecosystem at the highest elevations. Don't overlook the little guys when you are in the park. Some of the Park's premier residents.

You will need to click on thephotos to see the animals better. The elk were in low light, and the moose were a LONG way away!

2 young bull moose on the west side

A couple of bull elk sparring by Sheep Lakes. Low light makes it hard to photograph with a simple camera, but it is the best time to see the animals.

Merriam turkey and young ones. I had never seen turkeys in RMNP before.

Some of the smaller residents

Stellar Jay


You will notice that a bunch of the pine treees appear dead. They are dead. The reason - Mountain Pine Beetles. These grain-of-rice sized insects destroy pine trees throughout the Rockies. They have been decimating the pines in the Park in recent years. Since they are a naturally occuring species, the Park is letting them do what they do naturally. The only thing the park does is make sure the visitors are safe by cutting down roadside dead trees, and dead trees in the campgrounds, to eliminate the possibility of a dead tree falling on a camper or visitor. I asked about the possibility of a massive forest fire. The answer was that there was certainly a greater probability of such an event due to the amount of dead timber. But, after about 3 years, the pitch in the pines is gone, so the burn would be just the brittle timber, and not the flammable pitch, which only makes things worse. One factor that reduces the infestation is a sustained sub-freezing temperature period in September. Whether it is global warming, or just a recent trend, those extended sub-freezing temps have been non-existant, so the beetles have longer to maul the trees.

Since my travels always revolve around some type of fishing, I'll touch on that for a bit as well. There is surprisingly little information about the fishing in the Federal Documents online regarding the park. The most popular waters include the Fall River, upper Big Thompson River in Moraine Park, and the upper reaches of the Colorado River. But there are many, many other creeks (and a lot of lakes)that have fishable populations in them. But, as mentioned in the previous post, the fish are, on average, small. But they are beautiful! If you love small stream trout fishing, this park can be close to paradise.

A greenback cutthroat caught in RMNP on a previous trip

The story of the Greenback Cutthroat trout has been stated numerous times, but for anyone not familiar with it, I'll give it my brief synopsis. In the1930's, greenback cutthroat were declared extinct. In 1957, a population was discovered in the upper drainage of the big Thompson river. In 1965 and 1970, other populations were discovered, and under the 1873 Endangered Species Act, the greenback cutthroat trout was declared endangered. Restocking programs have helped expand the range back to 55 of their historical range. However, recent DNA findings have shown that a number of the fish stocked as supposedly pure strain greenbacks were actually the closely related Colorado River Cutthroat. So the reintroduction is not as widespread as it was once hoped. The restocking was done based on the best available information, and only recently could the DNA evidence show that the fish were not all Greenbacks. Still, RMNP offers anglers opportunities to catch and release both the Greenbacks and the Colorado River sub-species of cuts.

Bugling bull elk

Still some snow patches on the north sides of the peaks

I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to visit this magnificent park, even if only for a part of a day. As you can probably tell, I absolutely love it there!

The following pictures are some that I made by messing with the color saturations on the originals. The aspens below show the original and the doctored photo. I like the color contrast shown by the aspens and just exagerrated it. The bull elk silhouette is a similar process.

The original

Over saturated colors

Elk Silhouette


Anonymous said...

I have really enjoyed your last two posts on RMNP. My gosh, it is beautiful. Your pictures are very, very good. Maybe, someday, I will get to re-visit this wonderful area. Thanks, Joe!

Shoreman said...

Hey Joe. Thanks again for another great tour of RMNP. Because I live in the "high" country, it sometimes takes photo's like these to remind me how beautiful it really is. If you live there, you tend lose your appreciation of the beauty.

Anonymous said...

I am hoping to visit there someday and just soak it all in. Looks like such a beautiful place, I may never want to leave.

Beautiful pictures in both this post and the previous one I must also add. You're getting pretty good with that camera.

troutrageous1 said...

I went on vacation on my computer today. Thanks for taking me there!

Dennis said...

I have to get out that way one of these years...what a great post, awesome pics and very informative (thumbs up)

Wolfy said...

I just re-read this post (somethign I really ought to do BEFORE hitting "Publish") and saw 2 glaring errors in the paragraph about the Greenback Cuts.

A) the Endangered Species act is 1973, not 1873

B) the greenbacks have been restored to 5% of their original area, not 55.

I hate typos and careless posting, especially from me.

Sorry for being so sloppy

The Hunter's Wife said...

I've never been out west but looking to change that in the next year. Beautiful pictures of a beautiful place to visit.

MNAngler said...

Well, hec, Wolfy. I was just in Colorado this weekend, too. We might have crossed paths and not even known it. We have to plan our schedules better next time.

Casey said...

Thank your for sharing RMNP with us Wolfy! I'll have to put it on my agenda someday. Love the pics, and really like the ones you saturated.
My favorite though is of the greenback. Has a classic feel to it.

Take care -


Stephanie & Dustin said...

RMNP may be crowded, but Wolfy you are so correct when you say if you do your research you can feel totally isolated. During my recent outing, I didn't see a soul my first two days there until I met up with the other people in my party. Two nights I camped completely alone, no partner, no other party members, no other campers. My only company was a mule deer and the bugles of the elk. What a magical place.

I cannot wait to be closer, and experience more magic in RMNP.