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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On to Estes Park & Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

OMG - Scenery at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park
After some long goodbyes to our friends at the Peaceful Meadow Retreat, Barbara and I were off for the second leg of our vacation at Estes Park, Colorado, the gateway of Rocky National Park. We had a rocky start all right, with the condo by a river we booked - unbeknownst to me - for a three night stay. I thought I'd booked it for 2 nights with a 'potential' 3rd night. I'll stick to less condo-ish places next time around.
Dropping elevation into Estes Park

Entering Estes Park

Another view of Estes Park

We were so excited it was hard to decide what to do first - I know - EAT! We headed over to the Stanley Hotel where we had a lovely lunch and walked around enjoying the elegance. Then later in the afternoon we took a quick drive up into park, high into the alpine tundra. I was anxious to see it, as on our last trip to Colorado in 2009, there was so much snow, the tundra heights were bared to the public. When we got up onto the mountain, it was snowing!
SNOW on the windshield
Finally we decided it was time to head back down hill, and to my amazement, there were elk bulls on the tundra - bellowing, and better yet, POSING!

I didn't know elk would wander so high into the mountains

Bellowing Bull Elk
As for wildlife, right at the get-go, I was thrilled when Barbara casually pointed out a beautiful Red Fox that sat yawning on a driveway off Hwy 36. I had a small conniption fit when my digital camera carefully focused on the fox, then as I snapped the shutter the camera shutter the focus dulled into a white cotton ball. I thought I was going to cry! I'd consider displaying the out-of-focus shot, but no point in you crying too. Later that evening after dark, a second Red Fox offered me a mulligan on a photo shoot, but alas - too dark out. Drat!
The following morning, leaving Barbara behind in our rental - she wanted some serious R&R time - I got up fairly early for my first quest for White-tailed Ptarmigan. I drove way up to the Rock Cut Pass of the Park, but it was no good; it was just too damned cold! I settled for peering down the sweeping vistas and enjoyed short sojourns at the tundra edge, to enjoy the ensie wild tundra flowers and plants.
Alpine Stonecrop: a hearty wildflower
Petite, White Mountain Avens

When I tired of stooping, I looked up and enjoyed a herd of fat elk lolling on the tundra slopes. Maybe yesterday's Bull elk were the vanguard for the cows?

Elk put the hillside glory into perspective

The hillside's brown & tawny blips are elk
The drive up the alpine tundra was amazingly bright as compared to the previous evening's dark and snowy look. The near-glacial patches of snow were bright enough to blind angels and the clouds were amazing.
A topping of alpine snows

Approach to the Alpine Visitor Center
Alpine Visitor Center, open and under repairs
I nearly had the Alpine Visitor Center to myself, as it wasn't to open until 10:30. So I enjoyed watching fat Yellow-bellied Marmots that nibbled their morning grass and surveyed their Sound-of-Music-ish surroundings.
The Hills were alive, with the sound of munching

What? I'm like meditating her
Maybe the smaller, yellower marmots are this year's pups
A faded alpine wildflower - Elk Thistle

View Below the marmots and the Visitor Center
Because I was so high on the valley rim, I had the rare treat of watching a little Sharp-shinned Hawk soaring by, resisting my attempts of identifying the little accepiter as a Northern Goshawk (I should live so long!). I decided to continue on down to the valley floor, on the west side of Rocky Mt. Park. I birded a bit on the way but my luck, I was only able to scare up a few Mountain Chickadees.

Meadows on western edge of the park, reminded me of Yellowstone
I decided I might as well drive to the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. It's a cute little spot, and I was sure to get a stamp in my National Parks Passbook. I was surprised to hear the ranger tell someone, there were moose up and down the road along the valley and driving along one was likely to see one or two in the creek, eating willow. Really? Only the previous day I told Barbara there weren't any this far south. So much for Ms. Smarty-pants here!

Kawuneeche Visitor Center, on the park's SW border

So, after unnecessarily harassing the Ranger, who resembled a Weasley brother, about Dusky Grouse, I decided it was time to drive back along the valley floor and on back to the Alpine Visitor Center which had only just opened for the day. So up the road I tootled, until I saw what is known in Yellowstone as a critter road block. What could it be? I quickly parked and grabbing my dinky digital camera peered over the road's edge. EUREKA, THAR BE MOOSE!
View from the roadway 

The Princess daintily leaves her private pond
Nothing like a little willow munching after a nice soak in the pond
So! Seems I had some 'splanin' to do, having told Barbara there are no moose this far south in the Rockies. Oh well! Post Moose I headed back up hill for some a hot mocha & new T-shirt at the Alpine Visitor Center and in Estes Park I got a wool hat and gloves because I'm telling you - the tundra is $%#ing COLD!
Looking down on tundra meadows at the Alpine Visitor Center

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