Up Close and Personal with Wildlife and the Great Outdoors

I’m just about halfway through, which has been just long enough to realize that I’d need at least twice the amount of time I have in order to do everything I want to. The park is incredible, the weather has been amazing (actually, I’m hoping for a good storm or two to come over the mountains…. we’ll see), and even the wildlife has been cooperating. The rangers had all been saying that this time of year the elk would be up high on the tundra, so our best chance would be to head up trail ridge road towards the alpine visitor center. Wednesday afternoon we loaded into the car to do just that, when not a quarter mile from our cabin we spotted a few elk. So we stopped the car and a herd of around 50 elk came strolling by right next to us, and down into Moraine Park, which the cabin overlooks. We could hear all the young, still spotted, elk practicing their bugle and watched the herd as it grazed the meadow.

The first part of the herd, crossing into Moraine Park

Later that evening I did the first of two artist presentations in the Auditorium. It was lots of fun and there was a great turnout of about 70 people! The next day the forecast looked especially good so I decided to do one of the more strenuous hikes I wanted to, from Bear Lake to Flattop Mountain and then on to Hallett Peak, which would have been about an 8 mile round trip with an elevation gain of around 3,000 ft. The hike up flattop and Hallett went great, and after talking to some other hikers at the top I decided to try an alternate way down rather than backtracking. I ended up doing about half of The next mountain over, Otis peak, but decided that for the sake of time and my energy I should just move on to the descent, which was going to be the fun part. Rather than hiking down a trail, this alternate descent involved sliding down Andrews Glacier to Andrews Tarn (glacial lake), and then picking up the trail (which involved lots of boulder hopping) from the lake back down to the Glacial Gorge trailhead.  So what had started as an 8 mile round trip turned into about a 12 mile loop and by the end I was exhausted and on the edge of dehydration. So, this may have been a good lesson in the pitfalls of over exertion, but I’m no worse for wear a day later, and now I’m a little more carefully planning my next bigger hike.

The view from the summit of Hallett Peak, towards Longs Peak.

I was happy to spot a bunch of Colorado Columbine throughout the day

One of the marmots I spotted, posing majestically.
The view Northeast from Hallett, toward Moraine Park

Andrews Glacier

On Friday we decided to actually head up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor’s Center (The highest continuously paved highway in the US and the highest National Park visitor’s center in the US). There were of course lots of beautiful vistas, and there were some clouds rolling through that added a little drama to the skies, so it was a good day for a relaxing drive and taking in the sights. Jed bought himself a pair of binoculars, which he enjoyed using immensely. At the Alpine Visitor’s Center we hiked up the short trail to the very top of the mountain (12,005 ft.). While we were up there the clouds came in a little heavier, the wind picked up and the the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in the matter of minutes. I was, of course, taking my time taking some photos, but eventually we all hiked down and found some rest from the wind and cold in the cafe, just in time for lunch.

Jed loves his binoculars

Clouds rolling in by the Alpine Visitor’s Center

We’re at the top (and we’re cold!) 
Cloudy skies

Then, on the way back down Trail Ridge Road to our cabin, we spotted a big horned sheep very near the road. We parked and I got out to take a few shots but suddenly he started walking towards me, not in a meandering “I think I’ll walk this way now” kind of way, but more in a “you better move or you’ll be on the loosing end of these horns” attitude. So, I quickly backpedaled, but still managed to get a few closeups for my trouble.

Big Horned Sheep, up close and personal.

 Finally, right by our cabin there are a lot of smallish animals that frequent the porch and keep us entertained in the mornings and evenings. There are ground squirrels, chipmunks, a martin that we’ve heard chewing on the cabin but not seen (the ranger said it’s a martin) and several hummingbirds. Hopefully I’ll be able to gather some good photos of these furry little friends over this next week, but hummingbirds are not easy to keep up with.

One of our neighborhood hummingbirds
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