Filtering by Tag: Rocky Mountain National Park
The North Boundary Trail doesn't have much to do with Rocky Mountain National Park's north boundary. The trail very roughly follows the northeast boundary of the park north of Estes Park and west of Glen Haven. The most important thing to know about the North Boundary area is that it's isolated, wild and very infrequently traveled compared to most of the rest of the Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the busiest national parks in the country.
And, it's quiet. No screaming kids or throngs of tourists or mountain climbers here.
Today, Jacob and a friend of ours took a short hike to West Creek Falls, one of the park's lesser-known waterfalls. The cascade is extraordinary because it's far off the beaten path — on a spur of the North Boundary Trail in the remote and incredibly wild West Creek Research Natural Area. According to Lisa Foster's Complete Hiking Guide to the park, the RNA is left about as wild as possible, serving as a baseline from which to measure human impacts in other parts of the park. (View my entire photo album for the hike here.)
The trail begins at the pastoral McGraw Ranch, a National Park Service research station north of Lumpy Ridge. For about two miles, the trail briefly leaves the park and enters the Comanche Peak Wilderness in Roosevelt National Forest, where it becomes very clear that the trail, while well-built, doesn't see a lot of hikers. Once you ascend a pass and drop down into the West Creek drainage, the trail becomes fainter especially along the 0.7-mile spur to West Creek Falls. The North Boundary Trail splits off to the right and over another ridge before re-entering the park. The West Creek Falls spur trail enters the park from the national forest about 0.2 miles below the falls.
The hike is about five miles roundtrip, and we only encountered two other people the entire time. And, like us, they were locals from Fort Collins, only about an hour away. No tourists in these parts.
There's a certain peacefulness in one of the most popular corners of Rocky Mountain National Park when all the peak baggers aren't around. I spent about an hour solo hiking up the Longs Peak/Chasm Lake trail today with hardly anyone else around to break the silence. Or the monotony. The goal was turn around at timberline because I really just wanted to see how high the snow line is right now in this abysmal snowpack year. But the hike to timberline on the Longs Peak trail is a relentless trudge through a monotonous lodgepole pine forest miraculously disturbed only minimally by bark beetles. After just under a mile and a half, I got bored, turned around and decided to head down to Rocky's Wild Basin area for some midday river photography on St. Vrain Creek.
The National Park Service still has the last mile or two of the gravel Wild Basin road closed for the winter. The parking area behind the seasonal closure gate was completely packed, suggesting big crowds and gaggles of screaming kids. But I only saw four people over the hour or so I was hiking in the area, proving once again that solitude and silence can be abundant even in the busiest and most famous national parks in the country.
Old Fall River Road at Rocky Mountain National Park is usually a busy one-way (uphill) gravel road taking you to above 12,000 feet high on Trail Ridge. It's the only access from the park's primary visitor areas to the Mummy Range, home of some of the park's least-visited and pristine wilderness. The road normally opens in early June, but by July 23, it's still closed because of a 15-foot snowbank blocking the road near the Alpine Visitor Center. The snowbank is so thick right now, the park's snowplow operators can't find the road beneath the snow. Each weekend during the closure, the road is open to hikers and cyclists, but few cyclists have learned about it yet, and Rocky isn't normally a place that allowed much mountain biking. So today, my friend Dave and I made the great ascent — as far as we could — up at least 3,000 vertical feet and about six miles of the nine-mile Old Fall River Road.
With postcard perfect blue skies, Rocky was packed with tourists as it usually is on summer weekends. But on Old Fall River Road, there were more marmots than people. No crowds, perfect weather, great scenery and a hell of a fun time descending thousands of feet back to the car. There may be only one more weekend left in the season before the road opens to cars, and bikes will be forced to ride only uphill. Today was a rare experience. Here's a video:
"Trail Ridge Sunset" is my best-selling image so far. It was taken in late September 2009 above the Tundra Communities Trail on Trail Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park. This one has had some significant touch-ups done to it, partially because the original image was littered with specks of dust that had lodged themselves on the camera sensor. My camera was new at the time, and I was just becoming accustomed to the best way to keep the sensor clean. Ridding the image of the dust specks was a fun task, assisted with Photoshop and Apple Aperture. Here's the original un-retouched RAW image I took using my Canon 50D:
The evening I took this image on Trail Ridge was really one of the clearest and most superlative evenings I've ever experienced at Rocky. I shot a bunch of great images that night:
Another capture on that photo shoot:
The bark beetles marcheth east. I took an early morning drive to Rocky Mountain National Park today (exactly one hour from my Fort Collins front doorstep) to catch what turned out to be a cloudy and unremarkable sunrise. It's been a few months since I've been to Rocky, and while I've been aware for some time that the bark beetles began their descent down the east slope of the Continental Divide a couple of years ago, the swathes of dead trees above Moraine Park really surprised me today.
The west side of the park along the Colorado River has been beetle-ravaged for many years — an area thought by many to be ground zero for northern Colorado's bark beetle outbreak. It's a bit depressing to drive over there with entire hillsides glowing deathly copper at sundown. Yes, the forest is growing anew even as I write this, but it's still not a happy experience to hike through woods with more trees dead than alive.
Here's what Trail Ridge Road looked like this morning just up the road from Hidden Valley:
I've been to Rocky Mountain National Park probably 30 or 40 times, but these are the first wild turkeys I've ever seen there:
Today was media day on Trail Ridge Road at Rocky Mountain National Park. You know what that means? It means a convoy of Park Service-escorted journos gets to drive to 12,000 feet on the still-closed Trail Ridge Road and watch a massive John Deere shoot snow 100 feet across the highway.
There's nothing quite like watching a giant rotary snow plow give Mother Nature a little of her own stuff, because seeing a man-made canyon slicing through 20 feet of snow just makes you feel good...
... until Mother Nature shows us who's really in charge: