It appears that you are currently using Ad Blocking software. What are the consequences? Click here to learn more.
Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Out of the Woods

September 10th, 2011 · 6 Comments

Print This Post Print This Post

We came out of the woods at 10,700 feet. We were below timberline, but there the woods opened up on an awesome meadow.

Chapin Meadow

Chapin Meadow

Click on the picture above to enlarge

My friend Sharon and I went there early Thursday morning so we could avoid the weekend crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park. We succeeded so well that we saw only two other hikers, and you can see them in the above photo as tiny specks at the left center near the bottom of this huge meadow.

We all have what I think is an ancestral or genetic memory of meadows. When our ancestors came out of the woods to live in the clearings, we began to walk upright. There we could see danger approaching and felt much safer than in our old home in the woods.

I know that I feel more peaceful when I get to a clearing, a meadow, or what Yeats calls “the bee-loud glade.” As much as I love trees — and I admit to being a tree-hugger — I love the open vistas that meadows give us.

Three years ago I hiked alone through Chapin Meadow. A week earlier I had climbed Mount Chapin from the same trailhead. This time I wanted to introduce Sharon to the meadow’s special beauty. We reached the 11,000-foot trailhead on Old Fall River Road by 8 a.m. and then made the brief but steep climb up to Chapin Pass and then made the longer and just as steep a climb down to the meadow, where we finally reached open country.

Old Fall River Road is the road less travelled to the top of Rocky Mountain National Park. Unlike the usual tourist route, Trail Ridge Road, the forest obscures the view most of the way. Likewise, we hiked through thick forest all the way until we got to the meadow. When the land opened up, we therefore appreciated the view all the more.

I have a special affinity to this place beyond the openness of the view. The Chapin name commemorates Frederick H. Chapin, who was one of the first people to explore what became Rocky Mountain National Park. His 1889 book, Mountaineering in Colorado: The Peaks about Estes Park, is a classic, and I enjoyed reading the 1987 reprint. My affinity comes in part because he is my sixth cousin. Both of us are direct descendants of Jonathan Chapin (1711-1780), who was the great grandson of Deacon Samuel Chapin (1598-1675), one of the founders of Springfield, Massachusetts.

Fewer people take Old Fall River Road to the top of the park than Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved road in North America. Old Fall River Road is unpaved, pot-holed, narrow, and has sharp curves. Sometimes it also has roadblocks.

Elk Have Right of Way on Old Fall River Road

Elk Have Right of Way on Old Fall River Road

Click on the picture above to enlarge

A few miles beyond this inconvenience we reached the Chapin Pass Trailhead and hiked down to the meadow where our real fun began. Somewhat late in the season for spring wildflowers, we nevertheless saw some late-blooming beauties.

A Queen's Crown, Still Wet from Rain the Day Before

A Queen's Crown, Still Wet from Rain the Day Before

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The meadow lacks a trail and is boggy. So it’s slow going. Which works when you want to see birds.

A little bird came quite close. It was a sparrow, which may be the most familiar of all wild birds, but the hardest to identify. Among the 140 species of sparrows, 21 are common in Colorado. But only one species lives high in our mountains.

Probably a Timberline Sparrow, a Sub-species of a Brewer's Sparrow

Probably a Timberline Sparrow, a Sub-species of a Brewer's Sparrow

Click on the picture above to enlarge

When we returned to the trailhead, we drove further up Old Fall River Road, because we had no choice. It’s a one-way road and for good reason. At about 12,000 feet we were surprised to see more elk. Surprised, because this late it the year we had expected that by now they would have migrated to lower elevations.

Some Watchful Elk

Some Watchful Elk

Sharon suggested that while we were in the neighborhood we go back to Medicine Bow Curve, where we had found a ptarmigan two months earlier.

This time we found Mountain Bluebirds. I was able to get a shot of one female.

A Female Mountain Bluebird

A Female Mountain Bluebird

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The Medicine Bow Trail, which starts at 11,640 feet, is all above timberline. The vegetation is tundra. I love the tenacious plants that grow there.

Just Inches Tall, this Arctic Gentian Grows in the Tundra

Just Inches Tall, this Arctic Gentian Grows in the Tundra

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Our hikes Thursday took us to two of the highest trailheads in the country. And two of the most beautiful. We were out of the woods.

Share

Posted in: Photography

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob Fenton // Sep 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    “The meadow lacks a trail and is boggy.” This statement surprised me. At that altitude I wonder what could have caused this to be goggy? The terrain looks like it slopes enough to avoid this. Or is there enough vegetation to decay and cause this.

  • 2 David Mendosa // Sep 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Dear Bob,

    Good question. I don’t know how that it could be. But I sure know that it is boggy!

    David

  • 3 Jim Tietz // Oct 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Why isn’t the sparrow a Lincoln’s Sparrow? The raised crest creating a flaring, gray supercilium, and the buffy wash across the chest and flanks with streaking in both those areas looks better for Lincoln’s.

  • 4 David Mendosa // Oct 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Dear Jim,

    Yes, that bird could well be a Lincoln’s Sparrow. Thanks for you analysis!

    David

  • 5 Michael // Nov 6, 2012 at 3:16 am

    Yep. Definitely a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

  • 6 David Mendosa // Nov 6, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Dear Michael,

    Thank you for the confirmation.

    Namaste,

    David

Leave a Comment