A Day in Rocky Mountain National Park

Young spike elk in West Horseshoe Park area

Young spike elk in West Horseshoe Park area

Still smoky

Still smoky

Gold mantled ground squirrel on Aluvial Fan Nature Trail

Gold mantled ground squirrel on Aluvial Fan Nature Trail

Karen and Mike

Karen and Mike at Hidden Valley

controlled burn in the park

Controlled burn in the park

Elk in meadow (click for larger panorama view)

Elk in meadow (click for larger panorama view)

A smoky sunset

A smoky sunset

Rocky Mountain National Park — September 1, 2009

We decided to limit our first full day to lower elevations rather than heading directly to Trail Ridge Road, which runs up over 12,000 feet above sea level.  We started out by going to the visitor centers on the park’s east side.

We got out of the camper fairly early and made it to the Fall River Visitor Center before it opened and saw more elk on the short drive over.

The Fall River Visitor Center is just outside the Fall River entrance station.  We hadn’t planned to spend any time in Estes Park or do any shopping until later in the week, but, since the visitor center wasn’t open yet, we decided to check out an adjacent gift store.

The air in the area was still very smoky. I asked the rangers at the visitor center information counter about it and wasn’t terribly surprised when they told me that it was from the fires in California.

After leaving the Fall River Visitor Center we drove through Estes Park to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.  It really isn’t much, as visitor centers go, even though it is at the entrance to the park that has the highest traffic.  The park headquarters is also located at Beaver Meadows.

The next visitor center that we stopped at was at Moraine Meadows, in the same area as the campground.  As we were going to an exhibit area on the upper floor, one of the volunteer nature interpreters was announcing a guided walk on the nature trail at the center.  It was interesting and we learned a few things.

For example, have you ever got a good whiff of a Ponderosa Pine?  Get up close to one and take a smell in one of the cracks in the tree’s bark.  I was surprised to find that it a very pleasant odor, reminiscent of vanilla.

Our next stop was the Alluvial Fan.

In July, 1982, the old Lawn Lake dam failed and sent a torrent of water down Roaring River to Fall River.  Along the way, it swept anything in it’s path away, including trees and huge rocks and boulders.  It left behind an alluvial fan where the steep river mountain valley met the meadow of Horseshoe Park.  Several people died and Estes Park streets were flooded with 6 feet of water.

We’ve visited the Alluvial Fan Nature Trail several times over the years and it’s interesting to see how nature is healing, albeit slowly, the scars of a man-made disaster.

Other places we visited included Beaver Ponds boardwalk, where a short boardwalk takes the visitor into meadows that are slowly being formed as silt is deposited in old beaver ponds, and Hidden Valley, which is one of several commercial ventures that have been returned to a natural state.

For many years, Hidden Valley was a ski area.  The ski lift was closed in 1992 and removed within 10 years.  Restoration of the area to near natural condition continues.

In the evening, we walked from the campground down to the meadow to see if we could see any elk.  There was a large number, spread out over the meadow in the area just below the campground.

This post is being simultaneously published on Exit78 and Haw Creek Out ‘n About.


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