Memorial Day in the Mountains
So yesterday for the first time this year, we visited Rocky Mountain National Park, in order to drive upTrail Ridge Road and picnic in the Park. Trail Ridge closes for the winter after Labor Day weekend and re-opens, weather permitting, on Memorial Day weekend, and is a very popular tourist spot, especially on opening day(I bet you didn't know that June 21st, the day of the summer solstice, isn't really the start of summer. It's Memorial Day weekend. Everybody knows this. June 21st is the freaking middle of the summer, for gosh sakes).
"What is Trail Ridge Road?" you ask (well, you didn't--but you should have).
I will now tell all you flatlanders out there:
It is 'the highest continuous major highway in North America.'(-to paraphrase the Rocky Mtn. National Park brochure). It reaches 12,183 feet above sea level (for Americans) at its highest point, or approximately 3713.37 meters (for everybody else).
Almost a third of the Park is above timberline, which is about 11,400 feet above sea level. Beyond this elevation, trees cannot grow because of extreme weather conditions. Construction on this road began in September, 1929 and was completed to Fall River Pass in July, 1932. Read all about it here, in the archives of the National Park Service website. Plowing to open the road for the season starts in mid-April, as it takes on average, 42 days to complete.
That is why it was so special to visit there immediately after it opened this weekend, before the 7-foot high snowbanks melted and shrank into little wimpy puddles.
Here are a few photos which my husband and I shot on the road, in the Park. As you can see, the snow piles cleared from the road are often higher than our car:
The long poles visibly jutting out of the snowbanks are the poles embedded there through the winter in order to identify the location of the road (in order to begin plowing), which by winter's end could be buried under as much as twenty-one feet of snow.
The beauty of the area is the different ecosystems one encounters: upon first entering the Park, one finds oneself in the montane ecosystem, consisting of pine forests and beautiful glacial meadows. As you drive upwards in elevation you enter the subalpine ecosystem, from about 9.000 feet to 11,400 feet (ending at treeline). This is a climate of "long, cold winters and short, cool summers." The forests are filled with spruce and fir trees; on windy slopes, trees can stop growing on the windward side, creating what is known as "flag" or "banner" trees, with branches and pine needles growing only on one side of the trunk. It is a fascinating sight.
Then, there is the alpine ecosystem, above timberline, where the winters are long and harsh, lasting around 8 months, during which the average air temperature does not rise above freezing.
Because of the harsh conditions and thin soil, alpine plants are tiny and grow close to the ground. Many areas around Trail Ridge are cordoned off for regeneration of flora, and are off-limits. Visitors are warned not to walk off the marked trails, because it takes years for these tiny plants and flowers to grow. It really burns me up to see tourists--American and European alike--traversing the fences, ignoring the signs, and trampling over the frail, tiny flowers to take a 'better' family photo.
It was too early in the season for us to shoot photos of the fragile flora, because it was still almost winter there, and the ground was covered with snow. Instead, here is a photo of lava cliffs, formed from ancient volcanoes which created the Rocky Mountain range millenia ago.
When summer seriously sets in, I'd like to go back to the Park and take photos of the delicate flora, which I'll try to post here. Maybe I'll even catch (in my viewfinder, that is) a marmot or pika. Those are small, rodent-like mammals who live in an alpine ecosystem. In short, it was a beautiful trip. Right after our picnic -
we were treated to a very rare encounter: a momma moose and her calf. While some idiot tourists scrambled down the ridge to get close to her (where did these people grow up, in a box with blinders on?), we sat in our car and I snapped a couple of shots--not great ones, as the moose cow was in the undergrowth--but safer than those tourists (have you ever seen a moose charge? Neither have I, nor do I want to.)
Our American flag is finally up. After all, my husband is also a veteran of a foreign war: Vietnam. Many Jews gave their lives serving in the Armed Forces on behalf of the United States. We should honor and remember them, as well as all our veterans, and our brave soldiers protecting us in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world. Hope you've had a good, meaningful Memorial Day.