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Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park

NPS PHOTO

Recently we’ve been debating where our next backpack should take us. That conversation brought up one of Colorado’s most famous parks, Rocky Mountain National Park. Although I’ve spent my entire life only an hour or so away from this majestic destination, I’ve only visited the park a handful of times. We’ve decided there is no excuse as to why we haven’t explored this area extensively.

The last few nights I’ve been pouring over the National Park Service website dedicated to the park and I’ve found out a lot more about the history and vision of this exciting piece of American wilderness. At 415 square miles, it is an enormous park. The park contains an incredible amount of diversity encompassed within three distinct ecosystems. The lowlands of the park contain the Montane ecosystem which can be quite dry. Grassy hills and forests of pine quickly give way to Spruce and Fir as you gain elevation. Visitors to the Subapline Ecosystem will encounter swift cool waters and equally crisp mornings throughout the Subapline areas. When someone from outside Colorado pictures the mountains, more than likely they are seeing a snapshot of this environment. Moss abounds, thick strands of Fir block out the sun and the organic smell permeates everything. As one continues to gain elevation you eventually reach the Alpine Tundra. At this point you’ll leave the trees behind. This is an extreme environment. The weather and temperatures can fluctuate wildly. Having been caught in some crazy storms at this altitude, I can attest to the incredible power of weather in the Alpine Tundra – it’s a frightening and stunning experience to behold.

The park hosts a wide variety of wildlife including Moose, Deer, Elk, Bighorn

NPS PHOTO

Sheep, Mountain Lions, Bears and Coyotes. Every fall throngs of people hug the perimeter of the park listening for the bugles of the Elk. Of late, researchers have also been hoping to find sign that wolves have made their way back into the park. The flora is something to behold. With the park spanning three ecosystems, there is an incredible display of flowers and grasses. My wife have taken a flora identification class in the park and as we found out, the area is rich in medicinal and editable plants.

The park hosts a rich cultural history. Evidence has been unearthed which shows human habitation inside the park from at least 10,000 years ago. Early hunter/gathers used the areas vast resources as did the Native American tribes local to the area. The area witnessed the arrival of the first white men in the form of trappers and explorers. That wave was soon followed by the early pioneers and homesteaders as well as miners, ranchers and hunters. In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson established the area as a national park.

While we’re mainly interested in the hiking and climbing the park has to offer, there’s much more available. Fishing, biking, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, wildlife and bird watching and horseback riding are just a few of the activities to be found. There’s a little bit of everything, at least for the outdoor-minded individual. By late June we’ll have taken a backpack with the kids into the park’s interior and I’ll be sure to post the trip report. We’re going to start taking better advantage of living so close to one of America’s premier National Parks. We hope you’ll visit soon as well!

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