Rocky Mountain High

Bull elk spar on a patch of snow in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Bull elk spar on a patch of snow in Rocky Mountain National Park.
photos by Lisa Ballard

Wildlife thrives in and around Colorado’s most popular national park

One of the most inspiring places I’ve found to watch wildlife is Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. My husband and I make a point to travel there every couple of years to photograph the plethora of birds and mammals in the park — big ones like majestic moose and head-butting bighorn sheep, and small ones like endangered pikas and common yellow-bellied marmots.

n angler casts for rare greenback cutthroat trout in Dream Lake.
An angler casts for rare greenback cutthroat trout in Dream Lake.

Trail Ridge Road, the scenic byway that traverses from the east to the west side of this 415-square-mile alpine sanctuary, climbs to 12,000 feet where it crosses the Continental Divide. Trail Ridge Road is a must when we visit Rocky Mountain National Park. Despite the frequent flow of traffic, we often see young bull elk sparring on patches of snow or cow elk minding calves in a verdant meadow.

Sometimes we grab fly rods and hike to Dream Lake. It’s a popular short trek (1.1 miles one way) on a well-trodden path. The canted point of Hallett Peak often reflects in this pristine tarn that contains rare greenback cutthroat trout. Lots of anglers try their luck from the rocky shoreline, but few hook these wary fish. It hardly matters in such a beautiful spot.

Last year, after a chilly afternoon photographing mule deer while ogling temporarily snowless Longs Peak, the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park at 14,259 feet, we drove out the east side of the park. Passing through the small town of Allenspark, we pulled over at a local coffee shop for a hot drink.

A feisty yet flighty rufous hummingbird sips from a feeder in Allenspark, Colorado.
A feisty yet flighty rufous hummingbird sips from a feeder in Allenspark, Colorado.

Lattes in hand, we found a seat on the sunny, sheltered deck of the tiny café. Within two sips of the steamy brew, I felt something whiz by my ear. A moment later, I felt it again. Hummingbirds! Several red feeders hung from rafters above the deck. Rufous, black-chinned and ruby-throated hummingbirds buzzed here and there, sucking the sweet nectar from the feeders and then flitting to the flower boxes on the railing.

I grabbed my camera. An hour later, I had taken more photos outside Rocky Mountain National Park than inside it. Sometimes opportunities arise when you least expect, and that’s part of the fun of traveling.


 

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