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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Here Ptarmigan, Ptarmigan, Ptarmigan!


Approaching the aptly named, Rock Cut area

Day two visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and Barbara and I were up very nearly bright and early. Fortified with warm clothing (Barb's jacket, and new hat & gloves for 'moi') it was time for my final assault on Rocky Mountain alpine peaks. In an attempt to not freeze to death Barbara decided to stay behind in the car - made plenty of sense to me.


I look back as I head up the Rock Cut tundra trail

I was a pleased to find at least the local alpine wildflowers were neither cryptic nor hidden. Note: photographing tundra plants is another excellent way to disguise wheezing & panting along the trail.


Humm... Arctic Gentian! Me panting? Harumph! Course not.


Avens.. pant, pant, pant, Avens...

Slowly I toodled up the trail. At one point a couple of hikers passed me by (show offs!) and I looked up indignantly as their dog ran across the path. Then I noticed, it was not a dog, but the biggest marmot I'd ever seen! The marmot could have backed off a grizzly bear - it was HUGE.


Oh, the grow them BIG in the tundra!

There were numerous slate and gold, informative and artful placards along the way. Staring at them intently helps disguise that one has actually stopped to gasp for the thin arctic air.


Lovely gold and slate interpretive posts


Cold, tree-less and uniquely beautiful

Trudging up the mountainside, I marveled at the enormous rock outcroppings. Occasionally I heard the sharp peeps of little birds, but they shot by like bullets and I couldn't begin to guess what they might be. Happily, the rock formations stayed put.


Peculiar looking landscape


pillowy rock outcroppings

I read a trail marker, telling of 'mushroom rocks', formed when shiest layers on top eroded slower than the granit layers on the bottom.


An Alice worthy mushroom formation

So, I stood amidst the mushroom formations, surveying the area. Yep, there were White-tailed Ptarmigan out there all right and I was going to... hey... what IS that screeching, yammering, bustling noise?


ARRRRGGGHHH! Effing HUMONGOUS work party!


"Go away!" I wanted to scream, "Be do-gooders some other day!"

I was distraught. For a bit I pondered just leaving the mountain top, but having come so far, I trudged on to the end of the trail, every step of the way accompanied by teens and young adults, all happily and noisily sweeping up gravel from the trail.


HEY! Come back! I got yer Ptarmigan RIGHT HERE!

I think I was on the trail about an hour or two, and can you believe it: NO ptarmigans. The only bird I could actually get a brief identifying look at was an American Water Pipit. Oh well! Missing the White-tailed Ptarmigan only means some day I get to return to the park.

Following my failed Ptarmigan adventure we drove down to the flats on the west side of the park. Barbara got to visit the Kawuneeche Visitor Center where there was hubbub: there were moose at the Beaver Ponds. Soon we were in the car and back up the road and Barbara got to see some nice Rocky Mountain moose.


This lounging cow is visible only by her big ears


And this cow kept her bum facing the crowd


This shows how far we were from the moose
click here and try to find them!

Post moose adventure we settled in a nice little open meadow for a quick lunch. Across the road a nice grove of aspens showed the first glimpse of fall color.


Aspens tipping into their autumn palette of color

Post moose, post lunch, on our return trip back up and over the tundra road, we found loads of tourists watching loads of elk. Not far from the road a bull elk sought to keep rival males - the too young bulls, the too old bulls, the too like so uncool bulls - from stealing away HIS honeys. One could get exhausted just watching that poor bull as one rival after another sought to nick off with a cow or two.


"HEY! Didn't I chase you away twice already today?"


A coquettish cow leads two bulls on in come hither manner


Oy! A bull gets winded chasing rivals away all day

In the late afternoon, we checked into the Stanley hotel's Manson wing. We hadn't planned to stay at the Stanley Hotel originally, but curiosity and a sense of fun loosened our purse strings and soon we were ooing and aahing over our room at the notoriously haunted and spectacularly elegant Stanley Hotel. But more on the Stanley Hotel come Halloween week...


Stephen King had nightmares here....

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