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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Back to the High Country

July 12th, 2009 · 3 Comments

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This year I waited patiently to return to the tundra at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park. Yesterday my friend Mark and I drove up the winding, one way, dirt Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitor Center, where we left his Jeep.

But not far from the entrance to the park we spotted a herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Mark used his professional grade full frame Canon 5D SLR and a 400mm telephoto lens to capture this remarkable shot:

Bighorn Sheep (Photo by Mark Bobb: Used by Permission)

Bighorn Sheep (Photo by Mark Bobb: Used by Permission)

Near the top end of the old road we came to this tranquil Alpine pond:

An Alpine Pond

An Alpine Pond

Near the pond we encountered this animal that Mark says always reminds him of a clown:

Marmots Live Only Above 11,000 Feet

Marmots Live Only Above 11,000 Feet

At the Alpine Visitor Center the Old Fall River Road joins Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the country, topping out at 12,183 feet. The visitor center itself is 11,796 feet up in the thin air. But instead of stopping there, we hiked the short steep trail to a knoll at 12,005 feet.

The High Point of Our Hike (Photo by Mark Bobb: Used by Permission)

The High Point of Our Hike (Photo by Mark Bobb: Used by Permission)

From here we walked straight down, bypassing the visitor center and took the Old Ute Trail to Milner Pass on the Continental Divide. This is one of the best trails anywhere: Few rocks so we could make good time, narrow like a real trail should be, and mostly a gentle downhill grade.

Near the start of our hike down the Old Ute Trail we encountered this young bull elk alone on the tundra:

A Young Bull Elk Strides Across the Tundra

A Young Bull Elk Strides Across the Tundra

About half way down the trail, at about 11,500 feet we began to reach the tree line:

Mark on the Old Ute Trail in Front of the Gore Range

Mark on the Old Ute Trail in Front of the Gore Range

Near the end of the trail we passed by these rock spires and hanging gardens. You can judge how big they are compared to how small Mark appears at the lower left of the photo:

Rock Spires, Hanging Gardens, and Mark

Rock Spires, Hanging Gardens, and Mark

After walking mostly downhill for 5 miles and 1,250 feet, we reached the end of the trail at the Continental Divide:

At the Divide (Photo by Mark Bobb: Used by Permission)

At the Divide (Photo by Mark Bobb: Used by Permission)

Particularly at this altitude with its thin air, we had no intention of hiking back up. Instead we planned from the first to hitchhike back to the Alpine Visitor Center, where Mark had left his Jeep. I did the same thing two years ago, when I immediately caught a ride.

This year, however, we had to wait a few minutes. We didn’t meet anyone who was driving right back to the visitor center. But we did run into two couples we had met on the trail who were also hitchhiking back. One of the men had already found a ride in a vehicle that had room for him. When he returned, his car was big enough for both couples and Mark — but not for me. So I waited a few more minutes until Mark drove back and picked me up.

From there we drove back home over Trail Ridge Road. At about 12,000 feet, close to the high point, where the elk have migrated for the delicious summer tundra, we saw a herd of big bull elks:

This Bull Elk Was So Close I Couldn't Get All of Him in my Photograph

This Bull Elk Was So Close I Couldn't Get All of Him in my Photograph

This year patience was its own reward. At the end of May last year, on the first day the Park Service opened the road for the year, I was impatient to get back to the high country. Big mistake: I encountered a blizzard with no chance whatsoever for a hike. Today’s hike was another wonderful experience at the top of my world.

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Posted in: Hiking

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kathy // Jul 17, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Once again, your pictures are beautiful! And how fun, I clicked on the underlined hiked and came here! I get to be the first one to tell you, on this blog that your pictures are spectacular!
    Love you!

  • 2 David Mendosa // Jul 18, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Dear Kathy,

    I think that you are my first niece to read my blog!

    Love you too,

    David

  • 3 Debty // Jul 26, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Ahaan… I will follow.

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