A Day on the Tundra

Cascade Falls, originally uploaded by ivoryblushroses.
My youngest son and I spent a lovely day in Rocky Mountain National Park on Sunday. There are two roads up to the top of Trail Ridge, the top of the continental divide. We chose to follow the old road dating back to the early 1900's. It is still a one way gravel road traveling up the side of Endo Valley. One of the gorgeous stops along the way is at Chasm Falls. The walk down to see the falls is steep and somewhat slick, but well worth the effort! There is something fascinating about seeing the rushing and tumbling water cascading over the rocks!

View from Fall River Road
As we neared tree line, views of the tundra covered peaks came into view. So green at this time of year! Despite it being the peak of summer there are still many snow fields on the slopes. When I say green, I'm thinking in terms of the high alpine zone known as the tundra. Above tree line at elevations of 11,000 feet and higher, the average summer temperatures are in the upper 40's. One of the things I learned on this trip is that trees can't survive where the summer temps average below 50 degrees F! The tiny plants here often grow for decades and some for centuries. So, though it may not seem that green, when you think about the odds this elevation zone has to overcome, frigid temps, low oxygen, relentless wind, deep snow, permafrost and a growing season of 8 to 12 weeks, it really is quite amazingly green!

Tundra Trail
Near the Continental Divide, we took a short hike out on the tundra where the wild flowers were in bloom!

Alpine Clover
At this altitude, plants grow low to the ground with deep roots that travel down through the permafrost. These alpine clover are only a couple of inches high.

This is Alpine Phlox in lovely pale shades of blue and white, only an inch high.

Alpine Avens
Alpine Avens covers the ground in many places creating a golden carpet. These are about 3" tall.

Rose Campion
One of my favorites is the Rose Campion, in places there are brilliant mounds of pink. This one averages only 1 to 1 1/2" tall.

Quartz Boulder
The deep frost heaves rocks up to the surface such as this large quartz boulder. Many of the rocks are covered in a rainbow of lichen.

Visitor Center Roof
At the top of Trail Ridge, the roof of the Visitor Center is covered with a grid of heavy logs which provide strength for the roof to withstand the immense snow that drifts over the top in the winter. i've been there early in the spring when the snow was so deep that it still flowed well over the height of the roof and deep narrow paths were shoveled out to the doorways.

Elk Herd on the Tundra
Heading back down to the valleys on the main roadway, we passed this large herd of healthy elk. They summer on the tundra, feasting on the plants here. The herds are enormous and there are many who are concerned that they are over grazing the tundra, especially the tundra willows which are home to the ptarmigan.

Forest Lakes from Trail Ridge
From the top of Trail Ridge, the views of other mountain peaks and high mountain lakes are spectacular. The lakes in this view are only accessible by the most determined backpacking climbers, who must first obtain limited back country permits and then must pack in, with little to no trail to follow.

Tundra in Bloom
I love that there are still areas in Rocky Mountain National Park that have been left so pristine. It's part of what makes this park one of my very favorite places. Each time I visit, there are new things to see, or old things to see again with a new perspective! And always, there is lots of wildlife to see. We saw Big Horn Sheep, Elk, Mule Deer, coyote, Least Chipmunks, Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels, Chickaree Squirrels and many varieties of birds on this trip! This view of the Mummy Range (of mountains) was taken at the top of Trail Ridge. The carpet of flowers was gorgeous!/p>


Ati said…
Thanks for the beautiful photos. I will never come to the USA again. But through your blog photos I see much of the beautiful nature.'Love your new header too :)
Rachel said…
Great photos - thank you!
Vintage Sandy said…
You have taken some of the most beautiful landscape photo's thanks so much for sharing it may be the only way some of us will ever see these beautiful places!
Tatkis said…
Such a beautiful pictures!! Thank you so much for sharing them and your story!

Best wishes,
Donna said…
Just like being there! Thank you.
Laurie said…
What beautiful pictures. I'll have to put this on my list of places to see. Thanks for sharing!
allie aller said…
What a wonderful tour...thanks, Lisa!
We are headed to CO in a couple of weeks with the kids. My folks would take us there every summer from Oklahoma to get out of the heat and see the beauty! There is NO place in the world as beautiful as Colorado. Thanks for the gorgeous pics:) ~Shelley O.
Absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing your gorgeous photos and telling us so much about the area.
Susan Elliott said…
I absolutely love your travelogue posts...every time you post one, it makes me wish that I lived nearby and we could go on these expeditions together. You have a wonderful eye in your photos and a beautiful way of telling the story. Now that Jack's cast is off, I intend to get back to the woods. And you have inspired me to do so.

I've never seen mountain clover so that was a treat and I was impressed with the amount of "life" that you found there.

I just sat through a visual travelogue of a friend who climbed Kilimanjaro. It was fascinating...but there was absolutely nothing but rock after a certain point.

Thanks SO much for the tour.
Adrienne said…
Gorgeous! I felt as if I was right there with you. I wondered if I was in the Alps somewhere near Heidi's place!

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