Friday – August 30, 2013
Trail Ridge Road - Rocky Mountain National Park
We spent a wonderful, restful, night here at the Timber Creek campground in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Today will be one of exploration.
The mountains here create their own weather. Frequent thunderstorms with lightening can occur quite rapidly during the summer months, so dressing in layers and having rain gear available is a necessity. We observed evidence of this phenomenon on our tour along Trail Ridge Road to the east entrance today. We went from a sunny sky with clear roads to an overcast sky with rainy weather to snow covered mountain meadows at the higher elevations.
The drive along Trail Ridge Road is breathtaking. The visitor is introduced to the various ecosystems of the Rockies:
Alpine – Above 11,400 feet
Alpine tundra occurs above treeline where the climate is extremely harsh. Fierce drying winds, bitter cold, intense ultraviolet light, thin soil, and a brief growing season let only specialized plants and animals thrive. Alpine plants are tiny, growing close to the ground. Many have waxy leaf surfaces to resist moisture loss, or dense, tiny hairs, to trap warmth against stems and leaves. Plants just inches long may grow taproots six feet long to get moisture and anchor them against the wind.
Subalpine – 9,000 to 11,400 feet
Long, cold winters, short cool summers, and high annual precipitation – 30 inches or more – characterize its climate. It is the highest, windiest, and snowiest forest. Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir dominate the landscape. The abundant moisture produces a rich understory of broom huckleberry and juniper shrubs and many colorful wildflowers.
Montane – Below 9,000 feet
This ecosystem is dominated by pine forests and beautiful mountain meadows. Open stands of ponderosa pine dominate the drier south-facing slopes of the montane. Mature trees can be 150 feet tall and 400 years old. The openness of the ponderosa forest allows sunlight to reach many of the grasses, shrubs, and flowering plants that thrive here. North-facing slopes escape the drying effects of the sun. Dense stands of Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, and occasional Engelmann spruce cover these hillsides. Shade-tolerant plants grow on the forest floor. Interspersed within the forest are large, expansive mountain meadows with streams and wetlands. Grasses, wildflowers, and water-loving small trees thrive here. Dense groves of aspen can be found at meadows edge. Meadows, created long ago by glaciers, provide rich and diverse habitats for wildlife in the park.
Tomorrow another adventure begins.