Favorite thing: To me a wildlife sighting is always special. I don't care how many different times I have seen elk, it is thrilling to come upon a herd that is free to roam for miles and miles without the worry of fences.
Favorite thing: As you would expect, the main draw of the park is the Rocky Mountains themselves. Almost all of the peaks top out at over 12,000 feet and Long's peak reaches up to 14,255 feet. The main road rides a rim at 11,000 feet for over ten miles. Spectacular views every inch of the way.
Favorite thing: In Rocky Mountain NP, even though you are thousands of feet above sea level (almost three miles above at the top of Longs Peak), the trees are still worthy associates even at 11,000 feet. You really have to hike into the high country to leave this beautiful and faithful escort, which more than anything else helps to shield your advance from the high winds common to the slopes.
Favorite thing: Except near the crest of Trail Ridge Road, a lot of the immediate roadside is enclosed by hardy pines, which often obstructs the view of the mountain peaks and valleys beyond. However if you will leave the car at the numerous turnouts and look through the screen of trees, in many places you can see the riparian zone, the forest zone and the tundra zone near the top all at once.
Favorite thing: Though the top of Trail Ridge Road gives you a taste of the high alpine tundra, and the various mountaintops are strewn with the deposits of past glaciation, you can actually see the carvings of ancient glaciers on the slopes and mountainsides in the high country. Generally speaking, the valley floors grow the thickest plantlife in the wake of a passing glacier, but growth and regrowth help to bury the record of the past. The mountain crests usually preserve its signature for ages.
Favorite thing: Below treeline (roughly at 11,000 feet), Rocky is endowed with some of the thickest conifer forests in the United States. When you are within the forest, the view necessarily is overwhelmed with the verdure of spruce and pine, but there are several places higher up in the park from which to appreciate the ENTIRE forest at a glance. Chief among these are the Forest Canyon Overlook on Trail Ridge Road (the park road), where the valley is bearded halfway up the canyon walls, and the overview of the Cache la Poudre River valley from either the Crater trail or the Medicine Bow Curve.
Favorite thing: Once you get above treeline, plant and animal life shrinks physically and physiologically. Marmots and pikas are often your only ambassadors to the naked slopes of the higher range, while plants tend to shrink to the most meager of flora and grasses. Thanks to glacial lakes and almost constant runoff, small pools fill on the higher slopes and on every shelf, forming rivulets that continue to wet the stone below. Where good sunshine is available, colors tend to come alive.
Elks are generally visible in Moraine Park and the Colorado River, with frequent occurrences within ten miles of either the western or eastern entrances. Bighorn sheep are found only in the higher elevations generally where there are few if any trees. Moose can be spotted only along the Colorado River and in the creek basins that feed it (western side). Mule deer are generally found in the same areas as the elks. Our horned hosts generally grow their antlers in the spring and cast them off about the onset of winter.
Fondest memory: Moose and elk antlers generally are formed by late June and are most robust by the first of August. Bulls of both species tend to be solitary and are normally not sighted in pairs or threes, but the elks often congregate in the midst of their harems during the fall rut.
There are several overlooks and trailheads within the first fifteen miles of entering from the west before the road rises well above the Colorado River. If you love moose and elks, you can always monitor certain overlooks along the river where the animals tend to concentrate, such as the Beaver Ponds (most recommended) or the Beaver Creek Picnic Area.
Fondest memory: Animals appear with some predictability in several locations in the park, including the moose, the elks, and the bighorn sheep. Elks are aplenty in Rocky almost throughout the park at any time during the summer and fall. Bighorn and moose are notoriously more difficult to encounter, so patience and perseverance will be required.
Favorite thing: Rocky has some of the best rugged mountain terrain anywhere. Deliberately set yourself to follow a trail into the backcountry. You'll not need to go far before manmade objects are struck from your memory. A journey into the wilderness is usually sufficient to at least ease you of your every day cares.
Favorite thing: I've carefully chosen never to visit the park except in September. In June I understand that snow drifts still sit next to the road especially at the higher elevations. July and August are the hottest and most crowded months. In September, the aspens are in bloom, the moose and elk are in the rut, the campgrounds usually have some vacancies (even on weekends), and the temperatures are still warm by day. Longs Peak remains non-technical through the first two weeks of September usually. In short, the colors are boldest and the animals most active in September.
Elks abound throughout the park, but especially within the first fifteen miles of either entrance. Elks have appeared as high up as the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of Trail Ridge Road. Most of them are to be seen along the Colorado River on the west side, or on the east side between the area comprehended by the Sheep Lakes and the end of Bear Lake Road.
Fondest memory: Elks are in the fall rut starting in September. The horns on the bulls reach their greatest proportions. Competition for females is intense, and from the western campgrounds, the bugling of elks rings through the starlit nights in September and October.
Favorite thing: Hallett Peak stands at just over 12,000 feet. Its not as popular as Long's, nor is it as high, but it rises prominently over Bear Lake.
Favorite thing: "Diamond" on the east side of Long's Peak is a sheer formation of a thousand feet and is considered one of the nation's most challenging climbs.
Favorite thing: Obviously, it would not be a good idea to get too close to a bull elk and my zooming capacity was limited on this trip. So this is the best I can do for an elk closeup.