Trail Ridge Road is the highest roadway in any U. S. national park. I know it's not the top of the world, not even close, but I've never planted my tootsies on higher ground. Our drive began at the park entrance and wound ever higher. Trees and shrubbery kept getting stumper until, some where over 11,000 feet, we moved above the tree line and into the Alpine region of wind swept rocks and finger length vegetation . At this altitude pockets of snow and ice linger year round; kind of mini glaciers.
A small glacier lake.
Looking across a pine forested valley.
Low angle view of rocks and Alpine vegetation.
Above 11,000-11,500 feet, plants by necessity, hug the rocky ground. Winds can reach over one hundred miles and hour a few feet above ground level; but three miles an hour or less, a few inches from the surface. It pays to be dwarfed. Alpine plants are mostly perennials and do not have to grow stems, leaves, flowers and fruit in one growing season, like annual plants. Growth is slow and it may take 8 to 12 years for some plants to produce their first flower. Plants have adapted by sinking long taproots deep into the rocky soil or growing dense hairs on stems and leaves, providing wind protection. It's a harsh environment of frequent howling winds and constant cold temperatures. Plant and animal life find a niche, learn to survive and then hang on with an astonishing tenacity.
This plant is comparatively lush; it was in the lee of some protective rocks.
This little guy showing his sunny face, is out of focus; but the red tented leaves exhibit another adaptation, red-colored pigments capable of converting the sun's light rays into heat.
The ridge road crests at over 12,000 feet. Ample parking is provided on both sides of the highway along with benches and restrooms. We parked, drug out our photo gear and looked for something interesting to record.
The atmosphere was a bit hazy which obscured the distant mountains a bit so I thought I would take some shots of closer rocks. To my surprise, there were some critters sunning themselves, waiting to be photographed.
Here we have a Marmot, kind of a large ground squirrel. This one looked fat and content, sunning him/her self on the warm rocks, getting ready for the winter hibernation, which could last up to eight months.
This little guy is a Pika. I first spotted one carrying some vegetation in to its den. Lunch perhaps?
From the parking area a nature trail meanders upwards through the Alpine tundra. I thought we were around 11,000 feet and, since we had been hiking at over 9,000 feet Thursday, we would go slow and get to the top. Even though the trail looked a bit steep Johnna and I shoulder our gear and took off up the mountain side.
This is what you see of the nature trail from the parking area.
I'm about three quarters of the way up looking back at Johnna and the highway in the distance. Informational plaques are placed every 50-100 feet. If you stopped and read everyone, your pace would be moderated and you wouldn't be tempted to power up the slope. Not a problem to someone as old as I am. My body gives me plenty of feed back and tells me when to cut back on the throttle.
The nature trail ended in a grouping of rocks.
Through the rocks you can see the Trail Ridge Road and distant mountains.
I took a picture of the plaque describing this out cropping but it was out of focus. This is the result of volcanic action of some sort. So far I've not tracked it down on the internet.
I saw a man climb up one of the rocks and study something on the top. Having more curiosity than sense, I scrambled up the 10-15 feet to see what was so interesting.
A bronze monument and Johnna below.
I found this bronze monument placed there by the National Park service. It gives distances and general direction to other national parks like, Mesa Verde (265 miles), Carlsbad Caverns (575 Miles), and Isle Royale (1000 miles). It's called the Trail Ridge Mountain Index and informs you that you are now 12,304 feet above sea level. Nice to know that; I'm in better shape than I thought. Going back to the parking lot was a bit easier than coming up; and it occurred to me that with another 16,700 feet, or so, I could be on the top of Mt. Everest. Well ... maybe not. Base camp for an Everest ascent is around 17,600 feet, and you have walk getting there. I'll pass on being the oldest adventurer to climb Everest.
We got back to the truck, caught our breath and continued over the other side. At Milner Pass we decided to turn around and wander back to Estes Park. But not before asking a nice woman to take this ubiquitous tourist shot.
We've crossed the Continental Divide a dozen times or more during our travels. One day on a mountain road, in New Mexico I think, we went over and back at least 3 times within an hour.
This was a very satisfying side trip and a good day all around.