August 27, 2016 Estes Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

I arrived at the Saint Mary Lake Campground on Tuesday after an uneventful drive from Twin Lakes, uneventful due to my new ignition wires and plugs. Most likely, I never would have made the long, torturous eight mile haul up the grade to the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 if I hadn’t replaced them. This is an expensive (though still less than the other Estes Park campgrounds), private campground laid out like most such campgrounds, rows of sites one after another, way too crowded, way too bright at night, and noisy during the day. Full hookups cost $45/night, making it the most expensive place I have stayed in 4 years, but the location is convenient, and, as I said, the $45 is actually cheaper than the other campgrounds around Estes Park.

RMNP Beast of Burden
RMNP Beast of Burden

There have been no bright, blue sky days since I have arrived so I haven’t been able to get any great mountain shots yet, but I have found a little wildlife during my early morning drives into the park. Despite the fact that school has started and most families are now done with their summer travels, there is still a lot of traffic through the park, way too much actually. I read that last year the park had 4.1 million visitors, more than Yellowstone or Yosemite.

MNP Bull Moose
RMNP Bull Moose

I have run into a couple of bull moose along the way as I climb to the higher elevations in the park.

Mom and Calf
Mom and Calf
Mom and Calf
Mom and Calf

The last time I was here was in the spring, in fact, entrance into the park was closed a couple of days due to a spring snowstorm. During that stay, I found many elk and bighorn sheep around town and along the lower elevations of the park, due to the deep snow in the upper elevations. This year, the animals are still up high and I am not encountering any large numbers of elk and I have yet to see a single sheep.

RMNP Bull Elk
RMNP Bull Elk
RMNP Bull Elk
RMNP Bull Elk

Along the highest point of the park road I spied this guy grazing along the downhill slope, about half a mile from the road. I parked and hiked down to where I could get a shot, carrying my tripod and 600mm lens on my shoulder.

RMNP Bull Elk
RMNP Bull Elk

Forgot that I was at 12,000′ elevation, so when it came time to hike back up the 30 degree slope to get back to the car, I was finding it a little difficult to breathe. Managed to make it, but I think I would prefer finding these guys at a little lower elevation. Guess I’ll have to wish for snow to drive them down the mountain.

RMNP Bull Elk
RMNP Bull Elk

Now this guy was at a little lower elevation, very early in the morning.

RMNP Bull Elk
RMNP Bull Elk

Looking at his left ear, I would have to guess that the bulls may already be sparring, and he must have caught an opponent’s antler, tearing that ear.

American Pika

Pika
Pika

A little background on these little cuties ( from the internet ).

“Pikas (Ochonta princeps) are small mammals related to the rabbit family, even though they look more like a hamster. Pikas are sometimes known as conies or rock rabbits. These cuddly-looking characters have small, oval bodies that are only around six inches long and weigh six ounces. Their ears are moderately large for their bodies and round in shape. Pikas have a very short tail that is usually covered by a coat of thick brown-gray peppered fur. They have sharp curved claws and padded toes to scamper around alpine rocks.

Excellent hearing and vision keep them very aware of danger in their surroundings.   Pikas are very vocal animals and use both calls and songs to communicate with each other and to protect their territories. A high-pitched “eek” warns other pikas of predators. Their voices are easily heard, but the animals, camouflaged against the rocks, are more difficult to see.

American pikas only live in mountainous alpine terrain above 11,000 feet in elevation. They live on rock faces, talus slopes and cliffs near mountain meadows. Pikas live in colonies often connected by burrow mazes underneath these rocky areas. Even so, individuals are very territorial over their own den and surrounding areas, and are usually seen darting around rocky areas alone.

The pika breeding season is in late May or early June while snow is still on the ground in their mountainous habitat. Pika territoriality is at its lowest during this time and males sing to female mates. The female gestation period is 30 days and litters of two to six hairless, blind infants are born. Femals can have a second litter during the same season, and raise their young alone. After one month, the babies leave their mothers to establish their own dens, even though they won’t fully mature for another few months.

Pikas are herbivores and eat a variety of plants including sedges, grasses and wildflowers. After breeding season, pika activity intensifies as they must make the most of a short tundra growing season.

The maximum life span of a pika is three to seven years. Pikas do not hibernate, so they must spend the short alpine summers gathering food for the winter ahead. This frenzied activity consists of gathering large quantities of plants in their mouths and scurrying back to designated storage areas called “haystacks” to let the plants dry. Haymaking is their primary activity, and this is when pikas become extremely territorial and vocal to defend their haystacks.

They can remain active all throughout the day if the outside temperatures stay cool enough. When winter arrives, pikas bring all of their haystacks into their dens and will remain in the burrows most of the winter. One pika must gather enough food to fill a bathtub. Their survival depends on a successful harvest as they remain active underneath the winter snows.

The primary threat for the pika is climate change because as it gets warmer, pikas must go higher up the mountains until they top out and have no where else to go. When temperatures exceed approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit, pikas can die within hours if they cannot escape from the heat. Pikas are early warning signs for global warming in western North America since they are a species that depends on mountain ecosystems for survival. Go to the National Park Service (NPS) Pikas in Peril website to learn about recent pika research that included Rocky Mountain National Park. Researchers and NPS staff are trying to address questions about pika vulnerability to future climate conditions.”

Pika
Pika
Pika
Pika
Pika
Pika
Pika
Pika
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika "haying"
Pika “haying”

I spent about an hour one rather cool morning ( 30 degrees ) at a spot on the park road known as ” the rock cut ” taking shots of several pikas that had dens in the rock fill on the lower side of the road.

Pika "haying"
Pika “haying”

They would race down the talus type rock slope and quickly venture out no more than 20 feet into the grass, chop down a mouthful of grasses and sometimes flowers, then race back up into the rocks to their dens.

Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den

After just a few minutes stowing their harvest, they would reappear and repeat the same process, each round trip taking about two or three minutes. They each did this continuously for most of the hour I was with them, only disappearing once for about ten minutes, just after a group of Harley idiots roared up and stopped to use the restrooms across the road from where I was shooting. Now one of my pet peeves are these infantile jerks with their roaring machines scaring off all kinds of wildlife, but I’m not quite sure why they would scare off these little guys. They certainly are not familiar with gun shots from hunters since they live well within the national park, so unlike deer, elk, and moose, that probably do associate the motorcycle racket with gunfire, I don’t know why these little guys are scared off by the motorcycles. But they did eventually come back out and resume their harvesting a while after after the bikes left.

Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den

Kind of challenging trying to catch these little guys in motions, they are only 6 or 7 inches long, flying up the rock slope, hopping from rock to rock at top speed. Being preyed on by hawks, as well as coyotes and Long Tailed Weasels, they obviously don’t want to be caught out in the open dilly dallying around.

Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den
Pika Taking Winter Stores to the Den

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July 27, 2016 Cimarron, Colorado

North of Crested Butte
North of Crested Butte

A Week of Exploring the Back Roads

Lupines
Lupines

I have spent the last week traveling over 600 miles on the gravel back roads searching for fields of wild flowers and wildlife. Haven’t been terribly successful with either.

Sheep Grazing Among the Lupines
Sheep Grazing Among the Lupines

The best shows of wildflowers seem to occur at an elevation of over 9000 feet, so the Prius has had to work hard this week and has taken me places I probably shouldn’t be going. Even had the thrill of having to change out a flat tire while coming down a 10% grade at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, got to gasping a bit for breath while doing that task.

Colorado Wildflowers
Colorado Wildflowers
Colorado Wildflowers
Colorado Wildflowers
Colorado Wildflowers
Colorado Wildflowers

Though finding a few spots where the meadows were quite colorful, just not finding all that many areas where there are more than two or three types of flowers in bloom at the same time, not as nice as some of the images I have seen online over the years.

Colorado Wildflowers
Colorado Wildflowers
North of Crested Butte
North of Crested Butte

I made a day long 240 mile trip to check out the mountain roads around Crested Butte, the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado” that yielded some dramatic mountain scenery but not all that much in the way of wildflowers.

North of Crested Butte
North of Crested Butte
Backroads near Crested Butte
Backroads near Crested Butte
North of Crested Butte
North of Crested Butte
Sunrise, Black Canyon National Park
Sunrise, Black Canyon National Park

Also did a quick morning trip into Black Canyon National Park, a place I have visited before, and not one of my favorites.

Black Canyon National Park
Black Canyon National Park

If you are ever here, the road down to the East Portal is something to see … and drive, a 16% grade that runs for over two miles down to the river. The Prius complained a bit on the way down but really moaned driving back up and out. One very SERIOUS descent and ascent, needless to say, no trailers or motorhomes allowed on this road.

Mulie Buck in Velvet
Mulie Buck in Velvet

Despite all the miles covered on back roads at high elevations, wildlife sightings have been few and far between. I have yet to even spot an elk.

Mulie Buck in Velvet
Mulie Buck in Velvet

This is one of a group of four mule deer bucks, still in velvet, that I did encounter.

Mulie Buck in Velvet
Mulie Buck in Velvet
Shiras Moose
Shiras Moose

And this is Shiras Moose, the smallest of the moose subspecies, and not all that numerous here in Colorado. Though I couldn’t get a good shot of it, this cow was accompanied by her young calf, but the calf was a little camera shy.

Black Canyon RV Park
Black Canyon RV Park

I have been staying at a private RV park on Route 50 just a little past Cimarron, Colorado called the Black Canyon RV Park and Cabins. A very neat and clean park with a wonderful owner and surprisingly quiet. Most of the campers here are long term with just a very few overnighters. The sites are reasonably spaced on fairly level grass pads. Full hookups with the absolute best campground WiFi I have ever encountered, which was a big plus, since there is absolutely no Verizon signal here whatsoever.

My thirteen year old refrigerator died when I first pulled in here and I have spent a good deal of time trying to find anyone who would be able to install a new one and get me back on the road. Campers World in Colorado Springs said they could squeeze me in on September 10th ! The RV dealer in Montrose could maybe get me in by the middle of August. I finally found a place in Delta, CO that will replace the refrigeration unit only, and they are going to do it for me tomorrow. Though this saves me about a grand, versus a new refrigerator, I am not completely certain this is the way to go, but I need to get the refrigerator back on line so I continue of my trip with a series of paid reservations down the road, as I make my way to Leadville and on to Estes Park.

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October 6, 2015 Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Mating on his Mind
Mating on his Mind

A Gathering of Moose

The last few days, I have not had to venture far to locate moose as the three or four cows that frequent the Gros Ventre Campground have been attracting several different males. Seems to be somethings in the air.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Young Rivals
Young Rivals
Young Rivals
Young Rivals
Young Rivals
Young Rivals

These two young bulls have been hanging around for a couple of days now and every now and then pretend to challenge one another, but the skirmishes are more like just play jousting and they actually spend more time nuzzling up to each other than doing any serious fighting.

Young Rivals
Young Rivals

The images above the one above were taken very early in the morning and this one later in the afternoon where they were still more into nuzzling than fighting.

Young Bull and Cow
Young Bull and Cow

Another bull makes an entrance but this cow wasn’t very interested and eventually actually chased him off.

Bull Moose
Bull Moose
Bull Moose
Bull Moose
Bull Moose
Bull Moose

Yet another bull makes the trek up to the campground.

Bull Moose Challenge Posture
Bull Moose Challenge Posture
Bull Moose Challenge Posture
Bull Moose Challenge Posture

When you see a bull making direct eye contact with you, and then they start doing this exaggerated rocking stiff legged strut, it means it might be a good idea to find a tree or your car to hide behind. This guy stopped as soon as I backed off and got into some nearby trees. I wasn’t actually all that close to him, these images were taken with a 600mm lens, but still better to be safe than sorry.

Missing a Paddle
Missing a Paddle

And then this guy showed up! Without a doubt, the largest bull seen so far. Really would have liked to see the bull that broke this guy’s left paddle off, because this guy was huge.

Bull Moose
Bull Moose
Moved to the Sidelines
Moved to the Sidelines

When the big guy appeared on the scene, the young bulls that had been accompanying the cows quickly retreated and spent their time grazing in the shade, never even considered challenging the big bull, just quietly moved to the sidelines.

Amorous Intentions
Amorous Intentions
Mating on his Mind
Mating on his Mind

Kind of obvious what he has on his mind.

Yet Another Blue Sky Day

Grand Tetons Panorama
Grand Tetons Panorama

The image above is made up of five photos stitched together in PS. I liked the low hanging clouds/fog lifting off from the Snake River.

Mormon Row Homestead
Mormon Row Homestead
Mormon Row Homestead
Mormon Row Homestead

Later in the afternoon some threatening skies were moving down from the north, giving some nice lighting conditions for this homestead on Mormon Row.

Pronghorns Too

Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Buck

Every morning as I travel across to Mormon Row from the campground, I manage to see several pronghorns grazing in the area. Today they finally were close enough to get some decent shots.

Checking on is Ladies
Checking on is Ladies
Pronghorns
Pronghorns

This buck was doing his due diligence, checking to see if any of his harem were ready for him.

Pronghorns at Dawn
Pronghorns at Dawn
Young Pronghorn
Young Pronghorn

This young pronghorn was grazing along the entry road to the campground as I headed out in the morning.

Pronghorn Buck
Pronghorn Buck

There is no shortage of pronghorns everywhere around the park this year.

Final Thoughts on the Gros Ventre Campground

Gros Ventre Campsite
Gros Ventre Campsite

When I arrived here this year the campground was all but full and I had the misfortune of being parked next to a few inconsiderate campers. One of the volunteers told me that the campground was full for 33 days this year and nearly full on many other nights. Gros Ventre has always been a place you could pretty much not have to worry about getting in to … but  ( like Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone ) not any more, I guess.

It is a very large campground spread out over several different loops, one of which does have sites with utilities. I have never stayed in that loop. All sites are back in and most are a little short for a big rig. Most sites are also in the cottonwoods, though I asked for and got a site that was in the open so I could utilize my solar and get satellite reception. The primitive sites go for $24 a night, half that with a seniors pass. This campground grew on me as my stay went on, the sites are fairly well spaced and there are no lights, so you can really appreciate the night skies, unless you have an inconsiderate neighbor that decides to leave his spotlights on.

And as the crowds thinned and the moose replaced the departing campers, this place really became quite enjoyable.

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September 29, 2015 Grand Teton National Park

Bull Moose
Bull Moose

Mountains and Moose

My primary reason for wanting to stay here at the Gros Ventre Campground in Grand Teton National Park was to have an opportunity to get some bull moose shots, a segment of my portfolio that is a little weak.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Bull Moose
Bull Moose

This morning, on my way out of the campground, I was stopped by a large number of campers and photographers in the road shooting a rather large bull moose that was lounging in the shade in amongst the motorhomes and camping trailers in the “B” loop of the campground.

Bull Moose
Bull Moose
Campground Moose
Campground Moose

So, of course, I had to stop and join the crowd. He mostly was quite uncooperative, remaining still, remaining in the shade, positioning himself so that there was usually the side of a camper  in the background or else clumps of sagebrush obscuring his head. But, if one was patient enough, he would get up and change location once every hour or two, or he would slowly make the rounds checking on the three cows he was accompanying, who were also resting and browsing in amongst the campers..

Campground Moose
Campground Moose
Campground Moose
Campground Moose
Campground Moose
Campground Moose

These animals seemed completely at ease in the presence of many people in an all but full campground that happens to have about 200 spaces. At one point, this large bull had parked himself within six feet of the only door of a trailer, making captives of the occupants. I know I would be very hesitant to want to step out of my unit with those antlers only six feet away.

The Grand Tetons

Sunrise on Grand Teton
Sunrise on Grand Teton

THe Tetons were a marvelous shade of pink at sunrise today, with the full moon still visible above, a very different look from just a little later in the morning.

Sunrise on Grand Teton
Sunrise on Grand Teton

I have already had  a couple of just unbelievably wonderful days of weather here, gorgeous blue skies and puffy white clouds, almost no haze in the air.

Tetons From Mormon Row
Tetons From Mormon Row
Tetons From Mormon Row
Tetons From Mormon Row

To get away from the traffic, I have been trying to stay on the back roads, such as the one that cuts across from Gros Ventre Road to Mormon Row, where these images were taken.

Grand Teton from Mormon Row
Grand Teton from Mormon Row
Grand Teton from Mormon Row
Grand Teton from Mormon Row
Cottonwood Glow
Cottonwood Glow

The cottonwoods are getting ready to drop their golden leaves and too soon shots like this and like those at the Oxbow in the last post will be gone.

Pronghorn Buck and Harem
Pronghorn Buck and Harem

I am seeing many more pronghorns on my drives than I remember seeing here in the past. Unfortunately, the reverse is true for the elk I am searching for, just not having any luck at all locating any bulls with their harems.

Grand Teton
Grand Teton
Grand Teton
Grand Teton
Grand Teton
Grand Teton

The above shots are of the same mountains that were glowing pink earlier in the day. No matter how many times you see these peaks, they still remain an incredibly impressive sight.

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