Tag Archives: Colorado

August 30, 2016 Estes Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

A Beautiful Morning at the Top of the World

Up and out at 5:15 every morning lately, climbing the mountain road in the dark and arriving at the top just as the first rays of the morning sun start to light up the mountains. The cloudy, overcast skies of the past week broke today, producing some of the nicest weather since my arrival here … oh, and along with the nice break in the weather, i am finally finding the elk up high in the mountains.

Elk in the Valley

Elk in the Valley

The image above, and the one just below were taken at the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park. Behind the Center is a deep valley where the elk seem to gather in the very early morning. I have also seen four bull moose bed down there in the evening. It is a long way down.

Elk at the Bottom of the Valley

Elk at the Bottom of the Valley

Elk Herding Harem

Elk Herding Harem

There is a footpath and steps to the mountaintop from the parking lot at the Center. Seeing a bull elk pushing his harem up the mountain there, I decided I would climb to the top and perhaps be in position to get some nice shots. It is probably no more than 250  feet of elevation change from the parking lot to the top of the mountain, at a slope you can see in the images of the elk climbing.

Elk

Elk

Bull Elk and Part of His Harem

Bull Elk and Part of His Harem

I wanted to get to the top before the elk so I could get some shots of them with the sun to my back instead of shooting into the sun as these climbing images were shot.

The Harem

The Harem

But since this short climb was at 12,000 feet, I never did get ahead of the elk, since I had to stop and attempt to get my breath every 30 steps or so.

The Harem

The Harem

At the top, I did get this one image of the stragglers just making the summit, and staring at the photographer who was making all these gasping for air sounds.

Pika

Pika

Just a couple of more pika shots, taken while I waited in vain for a good shot of the long-tailed weasel.

Pika

Ouch!

I have no idea how this little guy can chomp down on this piece of what I am guessing is some sort of nettle.

Pika

That Has Got To Hurt

He made several trips down to the plant, ripped off a leaf and struggled with it back up to his den. Must be some kind of delicacy, since I can’t imagine that it would be used for bedding.

Pika Warning Call

Pika Warning Call

The shot above is of a pika letting out some kind of greeting ( ? ) or warning ( ? ) call.

Long-tailed Weasel

Long-tailed Weasel

Maybe letting others know the long-tailed weasel was in the vicinity. Not a very good shot of him, but the only one I got. I was unprepared for his appearance way down the hill and had my 70-200mm lens on for the close by pikas. By the time I changed to a longer lens, he was long gone.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot

While I sit on the roadside wall taking pika shots, the yellow-bellied marmots quite often get very close, sometimes within just a few feet.

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

What a Day!

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

By 9 AM, I had to quit trying for animal shots and just concentrate on the magnificent clouds and mountains. I had been waiting for a week to finally get a morning like this.

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

The clouds were just spectacular!

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

As always, the camera just can’t quite capture the felling of space and distance, but today was truly something special up here at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park.

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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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August 22, 2016 Twin Lakes, Colorado

St. Elmo Hummingbird Feeder

St. Elmo Hummingbird Feeder

Day Trip to Saint Elmo, Pronghorns and Bighorn Sheep

Love the feeder hangers at the general store in the ghost town of St. Elmo, if I weren’t homeless, I’d have to find some of these to hang around my house.

St. Elmo General Store

St. Elmo General Store

Other than the general store, there really isn’t all that much to see in St. Elmo, though I did get a kick out of the assortment of rodents being fed in the fallen down remnants of a building across the street from the general store.

St. Elmo Feeding Area

St. Elmo Feeding Area

Two kinds of ground squirrel, least chipmunks, pine siskins, and  juncos, all gorging on sunflower seeds.

White Rock Mountains

White Rock Mountains

On the road up to St. Elmo, I passed these white rock mountains, quite stunning set against the Colorado blue sky.

White Rock Mountains

White Rock Mountains

White Rock Mountains

White Rock Mountains

Along the Back Road to Leadville

Along the Back Road to Leadville

Rather than drive the main highway from my campsite at Lakeview, I found a “shortcut” that went up and over the hills and then paralleled the highway as it made it’s way to Leadville. I drove this road several times after seeing pronghorns in the distance one morning.

Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn Antelope

Finally, one afternoon I ran into the herd moving at a fast clip along the ridge between the dirt road and the highway.

Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn Antelope

The lone male takes up a guard position in the rear and drives his harem toward a new grazing area.

Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn Antelope

So fortunate to catch them as they stopped atop this ridge gazing back at me, before disappearing down the hill.

Bighorn Ewe and Lamb

Bighorn Ewe and Lamb

On my last early morning trip up to Independence Pass, I came across a small band of bighorn ewes with a solitary lamb, kind enough to pose for a couple shots before slowly grazing up the side of the mountain.

Bighorn Ewe and Lamb

Bighorn Ewe and Lamb

I broke camp at Lakeview and drove 6 miles south to spend one night at the Clear Creek Reservoir dispensed camping area before heading north to Estes Park for a couple weeks of exploring the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Being more than a little concerned about the motorhome’s ability to climb the 8 mile grade on I-70 up to the Eisenhower Tunnel, I managed to find a shop in Buena Vista that could take me in to have the ignition wires and spark plugs replaced. For the last month or so, I could feel the engine sputtering a bit under heavy load and realized that I definitely was experiencing a loss of power. Anyone familiar with the Workhorse Vortex 8.1L engine would recognize the probable cause of this power loss … this is the fourth set of wires and plugs I have had done in 65,000 miles. A couple years ago, I finally had the Workhorse recommended fix for this installed, a pair of 3 inch fresh air lines that direct cool air up and back to the rear of the engine. I had hoped that would cure the problem, but obviously it did not, though it possibly did extend the time interval between having to replace ignition wires and spark plugs.

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August 15, 2016 Twin Lakes, Colorado

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

A Trip Up Mount Evans

From the Mount Evans Road

From the Mount Evans Road

The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved roadway in North America, topping out at 14,130 feet. IMHO it also has to be one of, if not the most spectacular roads I have ever driven.

From the Mount Evans Road

From the Mount Evans Road

Climbing over 7,000 feet in 28 miles, the road travels through groves of evergreens at the start, then …

Mount Evans Bristlecone Pine

Mount Evans Bristlecone Pine

… through a rare forest of ancient, some as much as 2,000 years old, Bristlecone Pines …

Above Treeline on the Mount Evans Road

Above Treeline on the Mount Evans Road

… then breaks above treelike, providing spectacular long range vistas.

From the Mount Evans Road

From the Mount Evans Road

Above Treeline on the Mount Evans Road

Above Treeline on the Mount Evans Road

There are many miles of road above treeline, with several switchbacks and lots of unprotected drop-offs, as in no guardrails. Not for the faint of heart, but truly spectacular views.

Above Treeline on the Mount Evans Road

Above Treeline on the Mount Evans Road

Mount Evans Road From the Summit

Mount Evans Road From the Summit

At the Summit of Mount Evans

At the Summit of Mount Evans

There is a small paved parking lot at the summit …

At the Summit of Mount Evans

At the Summit of Mount Evans

… where the adventurous can scramble up these large boulders to the true peak of the mountain. Delighted that I could still simply breathe at this altitude, I decided not to push my luck and join those folks up there in the clouds.

Summit of Mount Evans

Summit of Mount Evans

Mount Evans Crest House, the castle in the sky, was completed in 1941 and was destroyed in a fire in 1979. The surviving stone and concrete walls were stabilized and the remnants of the building now serve as an observation structure. During my hour at the summit, the weather went from sunny and hazy, though still brisk in the 50’s, to blue sky, to light rain, to snowing, much to the delight of several of the small kids at the top.

Nanny and Kid

Nanny and Kid

Mount Evans Mountain Goats

Much to my delight, just below the summit, I noticed this mountain goat mom and kid taking a noon time siesta. Though not that far from the road, they were actually pretty easy to miss amongst all the light rocks surrounding them.

Mount Evans Nanny

Mount Evans Nanny

I pulled my photo gear out of the car and hiked off the road a bit to get a little closer once the mom and kid got up and began to graze.

Mount Evans Nanny on the Move

Mount Evans Nanny on the Move

Mom was joined by another nanny and kid that I had failed to initially see, and they slowly started walking across the side of the mountain.

Two Kids

Two Kids

The two kids joined up and fell in behind their moms …

Mount Evans Two Mountain Goat Kids

Mount Evans Two Mountain Goat Kids

… but like any small kids, one of these guys seemed to be a bit of an agitator ….

Two Kids

Two Kids

… turning and blocking the other’s way …

Mount Evans Two Mountain Goat Kids

Mount Evans Two Mountain Goat Kids

… not letting him catch up to his mom, as he clearly wanted to do.

Mount Evans Two Mountain Goat Kids

Mount Evans Two Mountain Goat Kids

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Not far away, I spotted a solitary male, surveying his domain, still wearing the remnants of last winter’s coat.

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

He soon was off, heading up the slope towards the summit.

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Loved getting the opportunity to get some nice shots of a large male mountain goat in his high altitude habitat.

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Not having ever had the opportunity to be this close to a mountain goat before, I was impressed with just how stocky and powerfully built this rugged guy was. Living up here in this rarefied air, I imagine a lot of that bulk has be taken up with a large set of lungs.

Three Mountain Goats

Three Mountain Goats

As I descended, I noticed more goats feeding and bounding amongst the large boulders that make up most of the summit of the mountain.

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Mount Evans Mountain Goat

Pretty nimble, graceful fellows.

Mount Evans Mountain Goats

Mount Evans Mountain Goats

A great pose from a pair of Mount Evans mountain goats. After two months of searching for elk, goats, and sheep, with nothing to show for it, I have now found two of the three just this week during my stay at Twin Lakes. Though I didn’t bother to take any shots, being just too far away, I also found a large herd of Bighorn Sheep, ewes and lambs only, while heading down the mountain.

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