03 August 2019

Marmots and Moose!

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Made a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park yesterday!  It's one of my favorite places to get away since it's just short of an hour away from where I live.  Even with the hoards of summer visitors, there are plenty of areas within the park where one can really experience the beauty and solitude of nature.  

Old Fall River Road is a steep narrow dirt road that was the original road up to the top of Trail Ridge.  While most of the road isn't bad, the sharp hairpin turns can develop some pretty harrowing ruts as much as two feet deep in places.  Thankfully, my Subaru Outback handled it just fine with some judicious driving.  I highly recommend a high clearance vehicle!  The road winds its way up narrow Endo Valley, through the trees, along side tumbling Fall River, which is really more of a creek.  

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Above the road, rocky spires jut into the sky.  Their jagged beauty is missed by so many who hurriedly drive up the road and never stop to look upwards. 

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Along the roadsides, wildflowers abound.  Loved these beautiful Cinquefoil flowers!

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On the rocky slopes, these Buckwheat flowers dominated. 

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Driving up Old Fall River Road, I spotted 4 different marmots!  A cousin of the eastern Groundhog, these fellows are much less destructive, mainly because they live at high altitudes!  

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The road must have some mineral salts on it that they like, as each of the ones I saw was licking at the road.

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This one is headed back to its home deep within the rocks.  They hibernate for 7-8 months during the depth and cold of winter.  When hiking, they can be quite friendly, and in the past my family has had them begging and snitching food out of backpacks!  By mid September, this guy will seem twice this size with all the fat he will put on in preparation for hibernation! 

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At the cusp of treeline, I stopped to do a watercolor of this rocky outcrop.  The trees here are all stunted from the cold, wind, and snow.  Trees need an average summer temperature greater than 55 degrees to survive, so when you see these stunted and very old trees, you know it's time to put on a sweater!  The tallest trees here were about 6 feet tall.  In the past, I've seen the mists wreathing around this outcrop, and somehow, it's always been a favorite landmark of mine along this road.  

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Once the road ascends to the tundra, near the top of Trail Ridge, there is a small alpine pond, a perfect mirror for the intense blue sky above.  

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I stopped here to eat my lunch and do a quick watercolor sketch.

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After crossing Trail Ridge, I descended down into the Kewaneechee Valley below.  It's a broad flat valley of lush grassy meadows dotted with trees and the youthful Colorado River winding through it.  Up here, the water is clear as can be.  

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It's also home to a sizable population of moose!  How blessed I was to come up to this spot and immediately find a Cow with her calf in the river!  

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A tender moment!  

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It was so much fun to watch this moose calf playing in the water!  

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Heading back up toward Trail Ridge, I spotted a meadow filled with these spires of wildflowers.  At first I though they were Mullen, but it didn't take long to figure out that I was wrong!  Once home, I looked them up and discovered they are often called Monument Flowers, which makes total sense because they really were stunning standouts in this meadow!  

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Up close, they had a striking beauty as well!  

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Descending over Trail Ridge Road in the evening twilight, I came upon this lovely wildflower patch in an area where there was once a ski lift!  My Mom actually skied here in the  1960's!  Now, all the structures are removed and the area undergoing rejuvenation.  A rivulet of water tumbles down the edge of old ski run and keeps this area nice and moist, a perfect habitat for these flowers!  

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There were the lovely purple blossoms of Larkspur - one of my favorite flowers!  If you look closely at each individual blossom they have a bunny head surrounded by a ruff of petals! 

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These lovely Fleabane/Asters glowed with light in the dusk!  So pretty!

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Once off of Trail Ridge Road, I took the road through Horseshoe park, named for the winding pattern that Fall River creates as it traverses the large flat park area.  Off to one side are a couple of ponds.  It's not unusual to see elk, and once in a while some bighorn sheep there.  But this time, there was a large bull moose standing in the pond, munching away!  Two ducks circled around him the entire time I watched!  

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The colors of the pond really changed as the light came out from around a cloud!  From silver and blue to purple and pink!  This guy sure seemed to be enjoying his cool evening bath and mealtime!  Those antlers will continue to grow for a while, covered in velvet until late August, when the velvet will start to peel off.  

What a lovely day it was.  Nature, a bit of art.  Time away from the everyday routine.  It's easy to get into a rut, and I find it all too easy to become a hermit in my own home.  I think that's one of the things I love about traveling, even when it's just an hour from home; it shakes me loose and wakes me up!  

Have a beautiful day!