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

North Park Landscape

September 25th, 2011 · 2 Comments

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Walden may be “the official moose viewing capital of Colorado,” but Long Draw Road is the best place to see the biggest animals that live in the lower 48. They can weigh as much as 1,600 pounds. Only Kodiak brown bears and polar bears in Alaska can be heavier and not by much.

About 110 miles northwest of my home in Boulder, Long Draw Road begins 36 miles this side of Walden. We explored the North Park area around Walden for three days, making sure to check for moose along the 13-mile road that runs to Long Draw Reservoir and on to the north side of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Sharon and I each wanted to see moose again. We had found them along Long Draw Road when we explored North Park together in August 2010. And we found them again this week. Sharon also wanted to see Greater Sage-Grouse, the largest grouse in North America. They can weigh up to seven pounds. I had seen them once before, when I visited eastern Oregon this past May. We found Greater Sage-Grouse on this trip as well.

Long Draw Road starts five miles this side of Cameron Pass, which actually marks the eastern boundary of North Park. That alpine valley sits at an elevation of between 8,000 and 9,000 feet and reminds me strongly of the San Luis Valley of Colorado, which I love and had visited less than a month earlier. North Park isn’t a park in the usual modern sense of a place set aside for human recreation and enjoyment. Instead, it is a park in the sense of a broad, fairly level valley between mountain ranges. Lots more wildlife live in North Park than people. North Park is essentially the same area as Jackson County, which has a population of about 1,600 people.

We stayed in Walden, the only incorporated town in the county, where about half of the county’s residents live. It is the only place in the county with motels and restaurants (Gould, where I stayed in 2007 on the first of my four trips to North Park, has cabins and a cafe that is only open a few days a year).

This post sets the stage for three posts to follow on the birdlife and wildlife that we found in the North Park area. The stage in this case is the landscape, a landscape so beautiful that is warrants this separate post.

The Never Summer Mountains Rise Between Long Draw Road and North Park

The Never Summer Mountains Rise Between Long Draw Road and North Park

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The Medicine Bow Mountains as Seen from North Park

The Medicine Bow Mountains as Seen from North Park

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Walden Reservoir, the Town of Walden, and the Medicine Bow Mountains

Walden Reservoir, the Town of Walden, and the Medicine Bow Mountains

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Sunset over Walden Reservoir

Sunset over Walden Reservoir

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Sharon spotted four moose along the banks of the Illinois River below. Since they were visible only through her binoculars, you might have a tough time making them out in this photo. But you can imagine them.

The Illinois River Meanders Through Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge

The Illinois River Meanders Through Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge

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A highlight of the third day that Sharon and I enjoyed in the North Park area came on our way back to Boulder. At the end of Long Draw Road we hiked over the Continental Divide at La Poudre Pass, elevation 10,184, into Rocky Mountain National Park and down to the headwaters of the Colorado River. This mighty river, the seventh longest in the country, carved the Grand Canyon, one of the natural wonders of the world. But it starts as a tiny pond before it flows from here through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, and Mexico until it reaches the Gulf of California after 1,450 miles.

On the north side of the pass is the headwaters of La Poudre Pass Creek, which flows into the Cache La Poudre River, which in turn flows into the South Platte River and then into the Platte River, which is a major tributary of the Missouri River. These waters then flow into the Mississippi River, which is America’s longest river, and finally into the Gulf of Mexico.

The powerful Colorado River starts at this placid pond. Like all great things, it starts small. And it starts right here.

Hiking Through the Marsh, I Reach the Headwaters of the Colorado River

Hiking Through the Marsh, I Reach the Headwaters of the Colorado River

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Herb Fawcett // Oct 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Is this the same Illinois River that meets the Rogue just before Gold Beach in Oregon? What a great spot that is!
    Herb

  • 2 David Mendosa // Oct 3, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Dear Herb,

    Actually, this is a different Illinois River. It’s east of the Continental Divide and flows into the North Platte and onward to the Mississippi and then into the Gulf of Mexico.

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