Windy Days

We’ve had some windy days lately. Two days ago (October 20, 2019) we had gusts up to 40 mph (miles per hour) — it was hard to walk in that wind!

As we battled the blustery weather while walking the dogs, I happened to look to the west, where I saw lens-shaped clouds hovering over the tops of the mountains.

Once inside, I decided to clean up some photos on the computer. I happened across this shot of Longs Peak from near Estes Park from fifteen years ago.

North Face of Longs Peak

North Face of Longs Peak, October 2006

What caught my eye initially was the odd shaped cloud over the east face of the mountain top — just like what I’d seen while walking the dogs. This is called a ‘lenticular cloud’, meaning lens-shaped. Lenticular clouds indicate that the wind is really ripping, pulling relatively moister air up to the top of the mountain, where it forms a cloud as it crosses over. Although these clouds seem to stand still, in reality, they are constantly forming on the near side, then evaporating on the far.

Estes Longs 6..JPG

Notice the snow blowing off the ridge to the right (west) and dropping into the basin below the summit. This extra snow helps build glaciers.

According to the Rocky Mountain National Park Service Wind page, in the winter, the average daily wind speeds on Longs Peak are 65 mph, so the average is higher than our peak wind speed on Sunday. It often blows at over 100 mph, and the maximum wind speed recorded was in excess of 200 mph!

Suddenly, I’m more appreciative of our relatively calm air.

Pika Patrol, Part Two

My husband, my son, his girlfriend and I went up to my Pika Patrol (Pika Patrol, Part One) site over the weekend. After thrashing about a bit learning how to use the GPS, we found the appointed talus slope. Located on the north shore of Grand Lake just south of Rocky Mountain National Park, researchers had determined that pika had been present there in the past.

The four of us searched the talus for half an hour. We listened for pika calls — they sound like the squeaky toys they resemble. We heard sharper chipmunk calls.

Chipmunk-1_edited-2

You can tell this is a chipmunk by the lines on it’s face. Their call is a sharp bark.

We looked for piles of hay drying outside their dens. We found pine needles.

Orange Lichen-4

Instead of fresh grasses and flowers, we found old pine needles.

We saw the distinctive orange lichen that indicates where pika have peed. The extra nitrogen in pika urine allows this particular lichen to grow. But the lichen had a dry, flaking appearance.

Orange Lichen-1

The orange lichen looked dried out and flaky. Spider webs criss-crossed many crevices.

After half an hour of searching every nook and crevice we could find, we had to admit that there were no longer pika there.

We weren’t the only ones to come to that conclusion. Every pika monitoring site has three teams that visit it each fall to verify each other’s results. Nobody found any current signs of pika at this site.

At about 9000 feet, the Grand Lake site is the lowest site that the Pika Patrol monitors. According to a map I got from the National Park Service, this area burned in 1879, opening up the forest canopy. Pika were able to move down, and occupy this site for a time. But as the trees grew back, the meadow where the pike foraged turned back into forests, and trees grew in the talus field itself.

Start

A couple of my handsome and lovely assistants hold signs stating where we started our search, and which direction we were facing. There were aspen, spruce and lodgepole pine sprouting up around the edges of the talus slope.

If summer temperatures have gotten higher, this would have impacted the pika as well. At temperatures of 75o or above, pika must retreat to their burrows, rather than gather forage. For a site like this one, where grasses and flowering forb plants were decreasing anyway, the combination might have been too much.

It was disappointing not to find pika, but negative results are science, too.

 

Rocky Weekend

My husband and I spent last weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We took a hike up North Moraine, along the Ypsilon Lake Trail. About a mile up, I stopped to photograph this good looking male hairy woodpecker. I was really glad to find him. I had always wondered if I was correctly identifying the downy woodpeckers I’d run  across in the foothills. I can now rest assured that I was — this guy was much bigger than the downies.

As I took my photos, my husband said “Don’t move too fast. There are three buck mule deer just above us.” We stood still for a few moments, and soon, were had deer all around us.mule-deer-ypsilon-trail-05_edited-1

mule-deer-buck-ypsilon-trail

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While this was very cool, it was also a little disconcerting. We think of the big grazers as being very skittish and docile, but I have seen elk and moose charge people when this close. This being the end of the mating season, and and about half of this band being male made me stay very alert to their body language. But we all remained respectful, and eventually went on our way.

As we climbed a little further, we got a close-up of the damage that the Roaring River received in first, the 1982 Lawn Lake Flood, and thirty-one years later, in the 2013 Week of Water (Record-demolishing Storm).

fall-river-flood-damage-4

It’s a little hard to get a feel for exactly how deep this gouge is, but the trees growing on its edges are twenty to thirty feet tall.

One of the things that makes the gouge so deep is that it cut through, not solid rock, but the glacial till that the moraine is made of. I know this because the cut shows lots of sand with rocks of different sizes scattered through it. Glacial till is the rock that the glaciers ground up and pushed into thousand-foot high moraines on either side and at the end of the rivers of ice. When I realized just how loose the dirt was, I backed slowly away from the edge.fall-river-valley-from-n-moraine_edited-1

The hike turned out to be a lot longer and a lot steeper than we realized, and about half-way up, our water ran out. We’d been hiking for about three hours at that point, and it was clear that we weren’t going to make it to the top. On the way back down, though we caught sight of the Fall River Valley stretching out below us. A fine way to end our day.

Rocky Mountain National Park In 360 Degrees

I just found this cool link on National Public Radio (NPR) that will allow you to see six views of Rocky Mountain National Park in 360 degrees — all the way around.Stand at the Edge of Geologic Time. In “Hands Free” mode, you get to hear Oregon State University geologist Eric Kirby talk about how the Park was created. In “Click-and-Drag” you can scroll through six different scenes, including an awesome view from near the summit of Longs Peak. In the upper right corner is a link “Learn More About This Location”, where you can read about the common animals you might see at these places (very similar to my book A Natural History of Trail Ridge Road Book Launch at the Tattered Cover, which, of course, is in RMNP, and passes many of these spots). I think my favorite feature, though, is the sound. Each scene has a recording of what you might hear at each place.

If you can’t get to Rocky Mountain National Park, this is the next best thing.

Awesome. Awe-some.

Great Time at Superior Colorado Costco Book Signing

My Costco book signing for my book, A Natural History of Trail Ridge Road: Rocky Mountain National Park’s Highway to the Sky was good. Really all of my events have been good, just a pleasure to get out and talk to people about Trail Ridge Road.Amy at Costco.jpg

Interesting things that happened to me there: Some guy came up to me and said “Amy? It’s me, Greg!” I was pretty sure I’d never met the guy before in my life, because I don’t know ANYBODY named Greg, but I rolled with it. He asked how my son was. I asked “Where do you know my son from?” He said, “I must have you mixed up with somebody else named Amy.” We chatted anyway and had a fine time.

Then a woman looked at the book and said “I heard you on CPR! ‘The turkeys!'” With Colorado Matters Over Trail Ridge Road I think that has become my trademark comment, at least from that interview. But it was cool that she remembered my radio interview from six months ago.

Finally, as I was talking to a couple who had lived in Grand Lake for years, I heard “Oh, My God!” and looked up to see a woman my husband and I knew from college, and her husband. Nice people.

All in all, a great time at the Superior Costco.

 

 

AAA EnCompass Article Includes Trail Ridge Road

Last fall, I had the pleasure of chatting about Trail Ridge Road with writer  Clay Latimer, as he gathered information on an article about six of Colorado’s most spectacular highways. The results are in his wonderful article “Colorado’s Highway History”(Colorado Highway History).

Road cut-2_edited-1.jpg

The Road Cut on Trail Ridge Road after a September snow.

Also, check out my new website — AmyLawAuthor — where to buy my book, A Natural History of Trail Ridge Road: Rocky Mountain National Park’s Highway to the Sky, upcoming events and some of my favorite photos.

Colorado Matters Over Trail Ridge Road

Nathan Heffel and I went over Trail Ridge Road recently. Here is the interview that aired

Turkey hen on Deer Ridge.

Turkey hen on Deer Ridge.

on September 28, 2015. Over Trail Ridge Road with Nathan Heffel

Fall River Cirque, 3/4 mile wide by 1/2 mile deep. The cirque was cut by the Fall River Glacier.

Fall River Cirque, 3/4 mile wide by 1/2 mile deep. The cirque was cut by the Fall River Glacier. The snowfields here are only 800 years old. We may lose them as Colorado returns to it’s normal semi-arid climate.

Bull elk bugling.

Bull elk bugling.

Elk harem in Beaver Meadows.

Elk harem in Beaver Meadows.

Over Trail Ridge Road with Nathan Heffel of Colorado Public Radio

Last week, I took Nathan Heffel of Colorado Public Radio over Trail Ridge Road. As we drove, Nathan interviewed me about my book, A Natural History of Trail Ridge Road: Rocky Mountain National Park’s Highway to the Sky. (A Natural History of Trail Ridge Road)
Our trip started with a gobble when we saw wild turkeys on Deer Ridge, where US 34 and

Wild turkey hens under ponderosa pine forest.

Wild turkey hens under ponderosa pine forest.

US 36 meet. I’ll have to update my book, because I didn’t know that turkeys had returned to Rocky. These birds were probably hens, foraging in the ponderosa pine litter for pine seeds and other edibles. (Let them eat pine nuts)
Nathan found a long striped turkey feather that one of the hens had dropped. After

Wild turkey hen.

Wild turkey hen.

inspecting it, we put it back where we found it. This is a National Park, after all, and we didn’t take anything from it except some great memories.

 
In the krummholz, we stopped at one of my favorite places on Trail Ridge Road – an ancient game drive used by Archaic and Ute peoples for thousands of years. It was difficult to get to, but worth showing to Nathan.
The cold wind blew steadily from the north as we carefully struggled our way across the

Elk trotting between walls of ancient game drive.

Elk trotting between walls of ancient game drive.

tundra to a low saddle in the ridge. Since the end of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago, deer and elk have made the autumn migration up and through the low spot to descend to the valley on the other side; they continue to do so today.  The ancient people knew this, and laid a trap for the animals.
The early people built dozens of small piles of stone in two converging lines. Within each

Upright of wall stone still has support stone in place. The stone supported a stick with buckskin on the top.

Upright of wall stone still has support stone in place. The stone supported a stick with buckskin on the top.

pile of rocks, they put a short stick, and at the top of the stick, they tied a piece of buckskin to flutter in the wind. Deer and elk won’t pass between these fluttering flags, and so the piles of rock form virtual “walls”.

Looking up wall from the kill area.

Looking up wall from the kill area.

The evening before the hunt, the men took their positions just over the crest of the low saddle, downwind of the path the animals would take. The men hid behind big rocks and

Hunter's blind in kill area.

Hunter’s blind in kill area.

blinds dug into the shallow soil, and spent a frigid night on the tundra. In the morning, the women, children and elderly walked up the slope, slowly driving the elk and deer before them. The animals bunched up as they passed between the two lines of rock walls. When the elk or deer reached the blinds where the hunters were hidden, the hunters sprang up and shot the animals with arrows or spears. This was a very successful way the people could get extra meat for the winter; game drives were used for thousands of years.
It is important to note that I don’t encourage people to strike out over the tundra. The reason people don’t live up here is that it is very dangerous; not even the native people spent any more time up here than they had to. At 11,000 feet, you get tired, dehydrated and disoriented far faster than you realize – both Nathan and I had problems catching our breath and tired quickly. As we came down, even though I knew exactly where I was going and what I was looking for, I had trouble finding the van.
In addition to the danger to people, walking on tundra is dangerous to the plants. Although these plants can survive tremendous wind, cold and drought, they cannot stand to be broken by hiking boots. They can be killed by an incautious footstep. Their loss takes hundreds of years to replace. (tundra fall)
After the game drive, I took Nathan to the Alpine Visitor’s Center to peer over the edge of the Fall River Cirque, where the Fall River Glacier began. The word cirque comes from the French word for circle or ring. And that is what we saw – a circle three quarters of a mile across and half a mile deep, cut into the mountain by thousands of years of ice sliding down the valley.

Fall River Cirque, 3/4 mile wide by 1/2 mile deep. The cirque was cut by the Fall River Glacier.

Fall River Cirque, 3/4 mile wide by 1/2 mile deep. The cirque was cut by the Fall River Glacier.

By now, it was evening and time for our final stop of the day, in Beaver Meadows. There, we saw, and more impressively, we heard, elk bugling.
In the fall, elk and deer migrate down from the high country to mate. The elk gather in the open meadows, or parks throughout the mountains. The parks of Rocky Mountain National Park are some of their favorite places to come.
Once in the meadows, the male or bull elk try to gather a harem of female, or cow elk. The

Harem of cow elk.

Harem of cow elk.

bull that we were watching had gathered about a dozen cows. He spent the evening running from one side of the harem to the other, head thrust out, keeping the cows in a tight bunch.

Bull elk herding his harem.

Bull elk herding his harem.

One of the cows got fed up with the bull’s bullying, and trotted through a gap in the human spectators lining the dirt road and into the meadow beyond. The bull glared at the people along the road, but he wouldn’t follow the cow because that would separate him from the rest of his harem. Finally, he let the defiant cow go, and returned to the others.
As I watched the bull trying to keep the females together, I realized that while the cows had been grazing constantly, he hadn’t had a mouthful. It is still early in the season. If he keeps up at the pace he was going, he is going to burn off all the fat he stored through the summer and go into winter in poor shape. Such is the cost of a harem.
Bull elk call the cows to them by bugling. The name is somewhat misleading, because elk bugles are actually more of a whistling call. They are mesmerizing to hear.

Bull elk bugling.

Bull elk bugling.

When I was a girl, the etiquette for listening to the elk bugle was that you stayed quietly in your car so that everyone could hear them. Few people had heard about elk bugling, and so it was a rather lonely, but tremendously rewarding pass time.
Fast forward to today: Elk bugles are so beguiling that people come from hundreds of miles away to hear them, lining Rocky Mountain National Park’s roads where ever harems are to be found. The influx of people means that what you hear today is gravel crunching under car tires, car doors slamming, people chatting, and, through all the background noise, possibly some elk bugling.
But occasionally, as the elk begin to be more active, the humans settle down to watch and listen. As they did, we heard the eerie whistling calls of the elk. Nathan had a field day recording the bulls.
Finally, though, the elk moved up into the darkening forest, and we called it a day.

To hear Nathan’s interview of me, go to Colorado Public Radio Colorado Matters (Colorado Matters). The interview will air September 29 at 10:00 am, and repeat at 7:00 pm.
My thanks to Nathan and Colorado Matters for taking the time and interest to interview me about my book. It was a wonderful experience. Merci, gracias, danke, domo arrigato – all the ways I know to say thank you.

Book Launch at the Tattered Cover

Books

More copies of my book than I ever thought I’d see in one place.

Amy Law in front of books_edited-1

Still a little stunned at launching my book at the Tattered Cover.

I launched my book, A Natural History of Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park’s Highway to the Sky at the Aspen Grove Tattered Cover in Littleton on Saturday. I had been hearing horror stories of how an author would give a book-signing, but nobody came, as so was a bit nervous. I shouldn’t have worried; friends old and new filled the space at the Aspen Grove Tattered. It was amazing. And very wonderful. Thank you all for your support.

A Natural History of Trail Ridge Road Is Now Out

I am delighted to announce that my book, A Natural History of Trail Ridge Road: Rocky Mountain National Park’s Highway to the Sky, is now in bookstores.

I’d love to see you at a book signing. Please check this blog frequently for times and places of signings, because they do change.

2:00 May 16, 2015 Tattered Cover Aspen Grove
7301 South Santa Fe Blvd, Littleton, Colorado  http://www.tatteredcover.com/map-aspen-grove

7:30 June 17, 2015 Boulder Bookstore
1107 Pearl Street, Boulder, Colorado http://boulderbookstore.indiebound.com/directionsandparking

4:00 June 20, 2015 Macdonald Bookshop
152 E. Elkhorn, Estes Park, Colorado http://www.macdonaldbookshop.com/home/

3:00 July 11, 2015 Estes Park History Museum
200 Fourth Street, Estes Park, Colorado https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/townofestespark/museumevents

Map http://estesparkmuseumfriends.org/contact-us/