Snow pack. Or Not.

In mountains where snow builds up — any snowy mountains — there is a unique form of water storage. It is the snow itself, and it is called snow pack. Here in Colorado, we rely on the delayed release of water from snow pack melt to slowly recharge the resevoirs into early summer.

Fall River Cirque Early Summer

June 14 2015. Fall River Cirque, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Above is what snow pack in the alpine tundra looks like. This photo was taken three years ago on one of my favorite places in the world, Trail Ridge Road, in Rocky Mountain National Park. The snow pack actually isn’t deepest in the alpine; that honor goes to the spruce-fir forest, the highest forest that can grow in the Colorado Rockies. And on this drive, there was a lot of snow in the spruce-fir forest. It’s just easier to see the snow without the trees.

South Park pan

May 30, 2018. Mount Evans looking south to South Park.

We’ve been hearing this winter and spring that it has been dry in the high country — little snow pack has built up. Last week I went up to Mount Evans, west of Denver, to see for myself. Above is the snow pack — or lack of — in the Front Range. As I drove up, there was no snow in the spruce-fir forest. None. At all.

I realize that the comparison isn’t exact — Mount Evans is 50 miles south of Rocky Mountain National Park.

But I went up to Mount Evans two weeks earlier than I did Trail Ridge. There should have been more snow up there. A lot more snow.

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.

Interview to air September 29

Two weeks ago Nathan Heffel of Colorado Public Radio and I went over Trail Ridge Road,

Bull elk bugling.

Bull elk bugling.

enjoying the amazing natural history of the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Join us as we see wild turkeys and elk, hike to an ancient hunting site, and pause to inspect the head of one of the enormous glaciers that carved into the mountains (Over Trail Ridge Road with Nathan Heffel). My interview with will air on CPR’s Colorado Matters Tuesday, September 29 at 10:00 am and repeats at 7:00. (90.1 FM, Colorado Matters).

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.

A Natural History of Trail Ridge Road: Rocky Mountain National Park’s Highway to the Sky

As you’ve followed this blog, you’ve learned that I love to write about nature, especially what I can see around me in my home state of Colorado. One of my all time favorite places in Colorado is Trail Ridge Road, in Rocky Mountain National Park. With ten miles above 11,000 feet, Trail Ridge Road is unlike almost any other place in the country. Every time I go up there I see or hear or learn something that astounds me. It is an incredible place.Trail Ridge Road Pub Announcement

This is Rocky Mountain National Park’s 100th anniversary. http://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/100th-anniversary.htm

To help celebrate the Park’s Centennial, I have written a book about Trail Ridge Road. I am pleased to announce that  A Natural History of Trail Ridge Road: Rocky Mountain National Park’s Highway to the Sky will be published March 16, 2015 by The History Press. My hope is that Trail Ridge Road will help visitors understand the unique plants and animals they may see as the highway climbs to over 12,000 feet. But mostly, I hope that they will be as astonished as I am with the natural wonders of this unique place.   935.4 Trail Ridge Road PR

Trail Ridge Road traditionally opens around Memorial Day. The Park Service website should give the opening day.  I’ll see you there!