Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Getting Organized in Rocky Mountain National Park

Monday August 11, 2014
Glacier Basin Campground
Rocky Mountain National Park


It’s our first full day and time to get oriented and check out the visitors center.  Actually there are 4 visitor centers in the park so we’ll be checking them each out as we are in that area.  The one for the Bear Lake area is called Beaver Meadows.  I don’t think there are actually a lot of bear or beaver here.  Some, but not many.



Here’s the view as we drive out the campground road on our way to the VC which is 5 miles back up the road we came in on.  Not too shabby and yes that is snow but higher up than we are going to hike.  That stuff is at 13 and 14,000 feet.

The Beaver Meadows Visitor Center was designed and built in 1965, after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death, by Taliesin Architects, the  firm he founded.  It is easy to see his influence.  It’s a very beautiful building hidden in among the vegetation.  Of course that’s the point, for the building to blend into its surroundings.  But for that very reason pictures are difficult to get.








Rocky Mountain National Park is celebrating its centennial next year.  They have their official poster for sale now.  I love it, although it seems to me there are way more elk here than big horn sheep.  You don’t have to go looking for elk as you will see throughout my posts but big horn sheep are another story.

We checkout the topo map which has buttons to push to light up all the trails and visitor centers. Great way to get a feel for how large this 249, 126 acre park is. It’s HUGE.

We buy some trail guides and a good trail map at the bookstore.   I had to take a picture of the patron in line in line in front of me.  I’ve heard of pocket gophers; is this what they call a pocket dog?




Unlike my best friend Nancy Mills who has researched each place they go and picked out the hikes and printed out the maps before they even arrive so they can hit the ground running,

I don’t figure it out until we get there.  It’s true this means our first day is spent gathering information, figuring out what we want to do for at least the next few days and then doing at least a little drive tour to get our bearings.  Wish I could be as organized as Nancy but I never seem to have the time.

After seeing the visitor center and picking up all our information we drive along a couple of the park’s major roads and stop at the pull outs to read the information signs.

Here are some of the things I see.  

First, any idea what this is?  See if you can figure it out and I’ll tell you later on.



Obviously Rocky Mountain National Park has some of the most amazing views anywhere.  Actually these views are everywhere you look here.







Here’s a close up of some of that snow you may not be able to see on those mountains so far away and so hazy even on this blue sky puffy white cloud day.   We won’t be hiking THAT far up.



Along the road we learn that bark beetles have been a significant factor in the death of most of the larger lodgepole pines in nearby Grand County.  Now the bark beetles are spreading throughout the pine forests of the upper Colorado River drainage in this national park.

Bark beetles are native insects that have shaped forests of North America for thousands of years.  Hard winters with cold temperatures can kill beetle eggs and larvae wintering under a tree's outer bark. Related to general climate warming, average winter temperatures in the Rocky Mountains have been higher than normal over the past ten years. Trees have also been weakened by a prolonged period of low precipitation. The combination of milder temperatures and low precipitation has aided a vast outbreak of beetles.

There is little that can be done on such a broad scale but the park is removing infected trees which is why two loops of Glacier Basin campground are now treeless.  Some of the oldest trees are being sprayed with insecticide.    Here is the map of the current serious infestation.




On a cheerier note,  I have never seen a pine tree with little purple cones.  A question for the next ranger I see unless you know which pine this is and why the cones are purple/blue.  They sure are pretty.



They match the tansyaster flowering beautifully all over the place.


Second you guess it picture sort of goes with the first.  Isn’t this just an amazing abstract design?



If you guessed that the above was pine bark and that the first one was a close up of a pine cone then you’d be right.  Nature’s details are just amazing.




This sadly is evidence of the presence of the pine bark beetle.  Seeing it made me want to go around with a knife and cut it all out of everywhere I could find it. 



Prettier than that sad evidence is the Freemont Geranium with its little runways directing the insects to the center.


We stop by Horseshoe park which is a large meadow with the meanders of the Fall River.  I love the way they look.   A meander is the winding pattern of the river in a floodplain such as Horseshoe Park.  Fall river winds back and forth as it flows downstream depositing sediment on its inside curve and carving its outside bank.

It makes me wonder how many canyons started out just like this.  Did the Colorado river once look this way as over the millennia it carved its banks deeper and deeper.



The above shot was taken from the Horseshoe Park overlook.  I had to go down and take some little used paths to see it up close and personal.  Water is so interesting.  It comes in different forms and is always amazing to watch.   I wonder what this spot looked like in September of last year.   More about that later.




There are many wildflowers growing along the banks of the river including this lovely thing.  I’m not sure what it is but it resembles Rocky Mountain Locoweed which when consumed in quantities can cause neurological damage to deer and elk.   Sure hope it’s something else.




Also in the meadow were quite a few magpies.  Being from the east, the Black Billed magpie is a unique bird for us.  I thought he was just black and white but this picture shows his beautiful blue.  He’s a noisy one for sure.  I caught him with his mouth open.






When we look up in some pine trees on a little knoll it looks like they are decorated with magpies. How many can you find in just this picture. The trees were filled with them. I had no idea they hung out in flocks.


Also in the meadow were these straw looking flowers in various combinations of yellow and rust.  Can’t find them in my wildflower book either.   They look like a desert flower to me growing here in the floodplain of the Fall River.



Pretty certain this little guy is a chipping sparrow.  We do have them in the East.



The clouds in the big sky are amazing at every overlook where we stop. Not sure what David is looking for through his binoculars.




Our last stop is at the trailhead for the Lawn Lake trail.  We aren’t going to Lawn Lake, it’s nearly 13 miles UP.  Of course at the trailhead, I have to give this gorgeous ponderosa pine a hug in exchange for a big inhale of its fabulous vanilla scent




Old Fall River Road Damage From September 2013 Flood

Perhaps you heard about the severe flooding last September in Rocky Mountain National Park. There was extensive damage and I am amazed at how they have put things back together in less than a year. The section of the park hardest hit was unfortunately the Old Fall River Road area.

Old Fall River Road is a historic dirt road built between 1913 and 1920. Due to the winding, narrow nature of the road, the scenic 9.4-mile route is one-way only and normally opens from the fourth of July to early October. It follows the steep slope of Mount Chapin's south face.  Here you can see that it has just disappeared down the mountain.

The road is still closed and they are working on its repair which a ranger told me involves rebuilding some of the mountain.  How in the world do you rebuild a mountain.


We have driven up Endovalley Road to the trailhead.  Endovalley then goes on and connects to the Fall River Road.  Here’s a section of the collapsed  Endovalley Road at the time of the flood.  And they tell me that the communites east of the park had much more damage due to the flood.  WOW!



The road is closed now beyond the trailhead but the Lawn Lake trail runs far above and beside the Roaring River and it is still open.  The trail head is right before the road closure. 

We talk to the road guard from the crew redoing the road but he doesn’t have any idea when it will be open or even what they are doing now.  Or at least he wasn’t saying if he did.   We came to hike up the trail a bit to take a look and see what we can see in what is left of the day.




Could this be a fly algeric, the mystical fungus of Alice in Wonderland fame or is it just a Rocky Mountain Russula with an inordinate amount of spots?




I’m not sure if the downed trees are due to the pine bark beetle but it is a serious threat here in the park.





Great views the higher you climb.



We see the Roaring River far below.  It looks like a nice little benign river.



We can see sections of the Alluvial Fan area as we climb.  From here it looks like a wide sandy place with a few green spots.




Here is a picture at a higher elevation though still in the distance.


And here is a zoom in of the fan and the devastation done by the flood.



Compare those to this picture of the Alluvial Fan area with the Roaring River surging through it on September 12, 2013 before the flood waters even crested.



Mother Nature can change things in a dramatic way any time she chooses.

All along the way we are entertained by the red squirrel, commonly called chickarees  and his loud fearless chatter.  My camera didn’t know what to do with the little branch he was behind.


Also entertaining are the golden mantel ground squirrels which are everywhere.  They look like giant chipmunks but have no facial stripes.  They are serious beggars.



We climb up about a mile and then turn around.  It’s time to head back for home.

It turns out to be a wildlife evening.  As we are driving along, the driver, who should only be watching the road, sees a raptor in the top of a pine tree.  There is a convenient pull out and we think we have spotted a juvenile red tailed hawk.



Further down the road this mule doe crosses the road.  We stop and from out of the woods on the other side come two fawns.





As we are driving up the campground road this elk is browsing near the woods.  We stop, I get out by the car to take some pictures.  I guess s/he got tired of me.  Am I being told off?.












Pretty fine for one day in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Off to do some more hiking tomorrow.


  1. we saw a huge bear right there close to where you were for the Alluvial Fan area. ..I surely hope you get to see one (at a distance, of course.)

    I know you are going to love it all. . .enjoy!

  2. I love your last photo of the elk - whatta face! The magpieyou photographed is a pretty bird. Years ago I could get decent pictures of birds but now I don't do so well.

  3. AMAZING and that's just day one!!! The views and the wildlife are spectacular. Love the last elk photo :o))

    I laughed at your comment about my organization...arrived here in the Georgia Mountains without a plan and still am winging it;o)) Fortunately, Karen presented me with a stack of information she had collected about the area and she has been a great source of local info!!!

  4. We stayed on the West side of RMNP last July and drove the Fall River Rd not too long before the floods took it out...it is fascinating to see the damage in your photo.

    You mentioned the CO River...did you know a headwaters of the CO River is on the West side of the park? Having been long time residents of southern California, we were amazed to see it in its infancy.

  5. Being a huge fan of Wright's design, I would have gotten stalled at the VC for sure! I always thought the Sierra Nevadas were mountains until I spent a little time in the Rockies - now THOSE are mountains! Your photos are wonderful, from the large vistas to the little fungi :-). Between the beetles and the floods the area is getting a big remodel lately. I love a meandering river - and yep, I'll bet the Grand Canyon started out just like that :-).

  6. I'm in love all over again, as the Rockies did to me on my first visit 35+ years ago. I hope you see the headwaters of the Colorado River. And yes, I believe the Grand Canyon started out like this also. So many of the trees appear to be Ponderosa Pine, my favorite tree, yet I've never seen a blue cone. Sure hope you find a Ranger to answer that question. A perfect first day.

  7. ahhh, so much beauty and lovely critters!!

  8. Yes, that elk is telling you off. I have no idea what that enigmatic shot was, but it looks like water was involved. And I've never seen cones of that colour.

    Gorgeous countryside, and what a place!

  9. Now you're cooking;! I love Colorado. I think one could spend a lifetime and still not see all the beautiful views. So glad you and David are having such a great time.

  10. Y'all are living my dream. Gorgeous.

  11. Have you heard any elk bugle yet? or is it too early. I love that sound.

  12. Never seen purple cones either, they are so pretty! Funny, I'm not a fan of purple, except in nature. There are so many different shades.

  13. I'm shocked that you are not going to hike to the top of those mountains! A little altitude never stopped you before... :cD

  14. Love seeing this through your eyes. Can't wait to see what your first hike was. FWIW, we haven't been able to drive the Fall River Road either. We've always been in RMNP before it opened.

  15. Gorgeous views! And, so many birds & animals. Great pictures! So much to enjoy there-an amazing world indeed. Neat pine cone pictures. Really incredible detail.

  16. Great memories!! Can't wait to see which hikes you choose. Love all the elk. We had one in our park with a deformed antler on one side...very strange.

  17. My only visit to this Park was while I was on a business trip to Utah from Arkansas....drove to these conferences because this boy don't fly. Anyway, I took the 5 extra hours to drive through the park on my way....the two ladies with me had never been to Colorado before, let alone to the Rocky Mountain National Park. They were blown away, and I promised myself that I would once again get back to the park and spend some time. --Dave (GoingRvWay.com)

  18. Beautiful! love all your detailed description, Sherry, makes me drive there right now.

  19. The devastation that we see happening right in front of us is so difficult to witness -- the bark beetles destroying forests in the Rockies, and here on Lopez Island, the sea stars have virtually disappeared -- a year ago, we saw dozens of the purple and orange beauties while kayaking. Yesterday, we saw none. There's a virus that's killing them, directly related to warming ocean temps. But global warming is a farce, right?? The visitor's center looks very cool -- I'm sure you read the novel "Loving Frank."


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