In my last post, part one of the Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Ridge Road at this link, we traveled Trail Ridge Road--the highest continuously paved road in the United States--until we reached the alpine tundra region. We were at elevation 11,716 feet in the tundra protection area, far above the tree line, where winter conditions are harsh. Trail Ridge Road closes to the public before winter, for the safety of the public, and most times it can only be traveled in late spring through early autumn.
Traveling the Trail Ridge Road at such a high elevation, one sees spectacular sights!
We approach scenic stop number six, called "Rock Cut," at elevation 12,110 feet.
Just look at this handsome ram!
In fact, there were quite a few Bighorn sheep rams looking for food on the tundra!
The views of the mighty Rocky Mountain ranges never seemed to end from this vantage point! You can see the continuation of the Trail Ridge Road if you enlarge the photo above
Click on the photo above, and then click on it again to enlarge it to full size to read this placard about the construction of Trail Ridge Road at Rock Cut. (All photos on my blog can be enlarged this way for easier viewing)
As you can see, the sky looked threatening, but my husband and I decided we would hike up the Tundra Communities Trail to see the panoramic scenery and views of the tundra. The Trail Ridge Road pamphlet we were using (see my part one post) suggested that this one mile trail would take 45 minutes to complete, and they were right!
The trail was long and winding and very steep! It is only a little over a half mile long each way, but at 12,300 + feet elevation the oxygen level was 35% less than sea level, and I found myself needing to stop to catch my breath quite a few times.
Fortunately, there were many informational plaques along the way that gave me a chance to rest as I stopped to read and photograph them. Again, click on them once, then again, to enlarge to read them.
Despite the severe weather conditions, more than 100 species of flowering plants live on the stunningly rich tundra. Most plants are small, low growing and compact perennials. Many alpine plants are covered by hairs or waxy surfaces that reduce their water loss.
Because we were visiting the tundra at the end of the growing season, in early September, there were not too many flowers in bloom, but we did see the tiny yellow ones above called Dasiphora fruticosa (shrubby cinquefoi).
I made it! I was on the top of the Roof of the Rockies! It was such a fabulous thrill!
Looking down, I saw another bighorn sheep running along the rocks of the steep cliff. How fast and agile these wild sheep are!
I could see the four major mountains of the Mummy range in the distance, including Mummy Mountain, Chiquita, Ypsilon and Chapin.
On the other side I could view the 14,000+ high Long's Peak in the distance surrounded by many 12,000+ high mountain tops. This really was being on top of the world and the feeling was indescribable!
Now at a safe distance, the ram stopped running and posed beautifully for my camera.
More ancient rock formations on the Roof of the Rockies, including the Mushroom Rocks that are formed of granite stems and schist tops. I was so thrilled to see all of these unusual sights but I did not want to linger much longer as darker thunder clouds continued to gather and lightning is always a danger at such high elevations. We walked back down the trail to our car, to go on to the next scenic stop along Trail Ridge Road.
To quote naturalist John Muir:
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
Our drive on Trail Ridge Road has more stops and more wondrous sights to see! Click here to read part three. Click here to read part one.
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