Rocky Mountain National Park

Bisected north to south by the Continental Divide, this portion of the Rockies has ecosystems varying from over 150 riparian lakes to montane and subalpine forests to treeless alpine tundra. Wildlife including mule deer, bighorn sheep, black bears, and cougars inhabit its igneous mountains and glacial valleys. Longs Peak, a classic Colorado fourteener, and the scenic Bear Lake are popular destinations, as well as the historic Trail Ridge Road, which reaches an elevation of more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m).

Geology

A masterpiece two billion years in the making

The grand scenery of Rocky Mountain National Park is the product of a complex geologic history spanning almost two billion years. The area occupied by the park has been repeatedly uplifted and eroded. Although many of its mountaintops have been flattened by ancient erosion, recent glaciation has left steep scars, U-shaped valleys, lakes and moraine deposits

The Beginning
The park’s oldest rocks were produced when plate movements subjected sea sediments to intense pressure and heat. The resulting metamorphic rocks (schist and gneiss) are estimated to be 1.8 billion years old. Later, large intrusions of hot magma finally cooled about 1.4 billion years ago to form a core of crystalline igneous rock (mostly granite).

Paleozoic Era
During the long Paleozoic Era, the park area frequently submerged, lifted up and eroded.

Mesozoic Era
Early in the Mesozoic Era, approximately 100 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the shoreline of a shallow sea which extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. Animal remains were deposited in layers of sand, silt and mud. The resulting sedimentary rock layers (including fossils) are now exposed in the foothills to the east of the park.

Almost 70 million years ago, the Rocky Mountain uplift began. Giant blocks of ancient crystalline rock, overlain by younger sedimentary rock, broke and were thrust upward. Even as the uplift occurred, streams started eroding away the sedimentary rocks and washed new sediments to the east and west. When the sedimentary rocks were almost gone, erosion continued leveling the ancient Precambrian rocks until only a few isolated remnants projected above the gently rolling landscape. The gentle slopes atop Trail Ridge and Flattop Mountain are remnants of this erosion surface.

Cenozoic Era
During the Cenozoic Era, some faulting and regional up-warping lifted the Rocky Mountain Front Range as much as 5,000 feet to it’s present height. Some volcanic activity left young volcanic rock in contact with Precambrian rocks. The volcanic rocks are seen mostly on the west side of the park.

Glacial Period
Differential movement along faults disrupted drainage patterns, resulting in higher mountains, waterfalls and large valley areas such as Estes Valley. Streams had established drainage patterns with V-shaped valleys cut into hard rock before the climate became cooler, perhaps two million years ago. In the higher valleys, snow packed into glacial ice which flowed down the valleys.

Glacial erosion changed V-shaped valleys into U-shaped valleys. The converging rivers of ice flowed down into lower valleys where the ice warmed, melted and dropped the debris it had scraped from the mountainsides above. Loose rock material carried by the ice deposited along the sides, forming lateral moraines. At the ends of the glaciers, rocks piled up into terminal moraines.

Although glaciers must have filled high valleys and then melted at least four different times, only the latest two times (Pinedale and Bull Lake) left evidence easy to find. During the last major glaciation period, glaciers from Forest Canyon, Spruce Canyon, Odessa Gorge and numerous tributary valleys all flowed together and melted in the area now called Moraine Park. This glacier deposited lateral moraines along the south and north sides of Moraine Park and a terminal moraine against Eagle Cliff mountain to the east. Similar glaciers were melting in areas now called Glacier Basin, Horseshoe Park and Kawuneeche Valley.

Today, steep semicircular scars called cirques indicate the top of U-shaped glaciated valleys. Chasm Lake lies in a cirque below the east face of Longs Peak. A cirque on Sundance Mountain is easily seen from Trail Ridge Road and numerous cirques may be seen from Bear Lake Road. Glacial erosion also left scratches, grooves and polished surfaces on some of the rocks.

The few small glaciers and snowfields now occupying the tops of glacial valleys are only hints of what the ice age was like. The park’s high mountaintops were not covered with glacial ice and a few of the lower valley areas of the park escaped the effects of glaciation. For example, the Twin Owls and Gem Lake Trail area of Lumpy Ridge feature coarse-grained granite rounded into interesting shapes by millions of years of non-glacial erosion.

Outside the park, water from melting glaciers helped carve canyons to the east. Hogback ridges were left near the Colorado Front Range cities of Loveland and Lyons by differential erosion of sedimentary rock tilted up against older crystalline rock of the mountains.

Rocky Mountain National Park occupies only a small part of the 200-mile long Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, but this part of the Continental Divide shows the effects of ancient erosion and many of the valleys illustrate classic features of glaciation.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/nature/geologicactivity.htm

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Native American History

Home of the Utes

While massive glaciers shaped the meadows and peaks, Rocky was an inhospitable land. It was not until some 11,000 years ago that humans began venturing into these valleys and mountains. Spearheads broken in the fury of a mammoth’s charge and scrapers discarded along a nomad’s trail tell us little about the area’s early native peoples. Even though it was never their year-round home, the Ute tribe favored the areas green valleys, tundra meadows, and crystal lakes. The Utes dominated the area until the late 1700s.

With the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the U.S. government acquired the land now known as Rocky Mountain National Park. Spanish explorers and French fur trappers skirted the area during their wilderness forays. Even Major Stephen H. Long, the explorer for whom the peak is named, avoided these rugged barricades in his famous 1820 expedition. In 1843, Rufus Sage wrote the first account of Rocky’s wonders, called Scenes in the Rocky Mountains. The Pikes Peak gold rush of 1859 drew hopeful miners and speculators. Their settlements at places like Lulu City, in what is now the northwest part of the park, were ephemeral. The rousing boom times yielded to an industrious homesteading period starting in the 1860s. Harsh winters proved inhospitable to grazing, but the abundant bears, deer, wolves, and elk howled through the trees and the mountains continued to draw Easterners impressed by the sublime landscape. Mountain water proved more precious than gold. The Grand Ditch in the Never Summer Range intercepted the stream source of the Colorado River and diverted it for cattle and crops in towns such as Greeley and Fort Collins.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/historyculture/brief.htm

Park History

How Rocky Mountain became a National Park

With the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the U.S. government acquired the land now known as Rocky Mountain National Park. Spanish explorers and French fur trappers skirted the area during their wilderness forays. Even Major Stephen H. Long, the explorer for whom the peak is named, avoided these rugged barricades in his famous 1820 expedition. In 1843, Rufus Sage wrote the first account of Rocky’s wonders, called Scenes in the Rocky Mountains. The Pikes Peak gold rush of 1859 drew hopeful miners and speculators. Their settlements at places like Lulu City, in what is now the northwest part of the park, were ephemeral. The rousing boom times yielded to an industrious homesteading period starting in the 1860s. Harsh winters proved inhospitable to grazing, but the abundant bears, deer, wolves, and elk howled through the trees and the mountains continued to draw Easterners impressed by the sublime landscape. Mountain water proved more precious than gold. The Grand Ditch in the Never Summer Range intercepted the stream source of the Colorado River and diverted it for cattle and crops in towns such as Greeley and Fort Collins.

With the ranchers and hunters and miners and homesteaders came tourists. By 1900, the growing national conservation and preservation movement, led by Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir, advocated an appreciation for nature. The Estes Park Protective and Improvement Association fostered local conservation efforts. “Those who pull flowers up by the roots will be condemned by all worthy people,” they warned. In 1909, Enos Mills, a naturalist, nature guide, and lodge owner, championed the creation of the nation’s tenth national park. He hoped that: “In years to come when I am asleep beneath the pines, thousands of families will find rest and hope in this park.” Unleashing his diverse talents and inexhaustible energy, he spent several years lecturing across the nation, writing thousands of letters and articles, and lobbying Congress to create a new national park. Most civic leaders supported the idea, as did the Denver Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Mountain Club. In general, mining, logging, and agricultural interests opposed it. On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park Act.

In 1915, private lands dotted the park and many of these hosted guests since the turn of the century. These lodge keepers maintained roads, built trails, and guided visitors into the high country. When the first Superintendent arrived, he too began to construct facilities to support visitors. The earliest managers of the park had a meager budget with which to protect the 358.3 square miles under their jurisdiction. As visitation increased after World War I, the simple park facilities and private lodges became inadequate. Rangers built comfort stations, museums, and well-maintained trails to meet visitor expectations.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, millions of Americans were unemployed. President Franklin Roosevelt promised a New Deal, and he created programs to put people to work. One such program was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In Rocky Mountain National Park, young male recruits at six camps built roads, trails, and buildings; put out wildfires; planted trees; and managed predators. It was during the 1930s, when labor was readily available, that the National Park Service built Trail Ridge Road. Many visitors came to Rocky Mountain National Park in their automobiles. Unlike other western national parks like Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Canyon, a railroad never served Rocky. Indeed, it was always an auto park. Because of this, road building was a high priority. Although the Fall River Road traversed the Continental Divide through the park, the road was outdated and difficult to navigate. The new, professionally-designed Trail Ridge Road undulated between forests and meadows and took drivers to spectacular heights.

During World War II, visitation to all the national parks declined dramatically. After the war, a surge of baby boom families found the facilities in disrepair. Congress agreed and soon approved the Mission 66 program, which aimed to improve facilities by 1966, the 5oth anniversary of the National Park Service. A new kind of centralized facility, called a visitor center, sprang up in Rocky. At the new Beaver Meadows, Kawuneeche and Alpine Visitor Centers, guests could watch a movie, talk to a ranger, and get oriented to the park. During Mission 66, the National Park Service acquired many of the old guest lodges within the park boundaries, removed all the buildings and built new campgrounds and parking lots.

Numerous national environmental laws passed in the late 1960s and early 1970s changed the way the National Park Service managed its lands. Campers drove off road into the back country. Hikers trampled wildflowers on the tundra. The elk population grew too dense in the absence of predators. Unmanaged wildfires burned through the forest. Researchers flocked to the park’s outdoor laboratory. Visitation continued to grow, while citizens challenged park superintendents to protect wilderness, the ecosystems, and wildlife. Indeed the park’s mission to protect the park for future generations and allow access for recreation seemed at odds.

In the 1970s, Park Superintendents began to manage crowds in the park through assigned back country camp sites and shuttle buses. Rangers educated park visitors to be good stewards of the park through signs, campground talks, and seminars. Superintendents learned more about the resources through scientific research.

Today, an interdisciplinary staff of education rangers, law enforcement rangers, carpenters, mechanics, biologists, administrators, engineers, resource specialists, and volunteers manage Rocky Mountain National Park. It is our goal to keep the park in good condition for you and for future generations.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/historyculture/brief.htm

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Attractions

The best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking
Rocky Mountain National Park has 355 miles of hiking trails. They range from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain peak climbs. If you are new to the park consult with rangers at visitor centers or the Wilderness Office. They can provide advice about trails which are appropriate to different fitness and experience levels. Check out some of the most popular hikes.

Scenic Drives
The road system of Rocky Mountain National Park offers visitors access to diverse ecosystems characterizing the higher regions of the central Rocky Mountains. The roads take visitors through lowland meadows and aspen groves, along swift-flowing rivers and up through subalpine forests to more than 12,000 feet in elevation. Read about Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road.

Wildlife Watching and Photography
Whether it be bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, or other wildlife, Rocky visitors have a passion for viewing wild animals, especially the big ones. A winter elk herd numbering between 200-600, about 350 bighorn sheep, and numerous mule deer call the park home. The park’s great large-animal population makes it one of the country’s top wildlife watching destinations. Here at Rocky you can find 60 species of mammals, 280 recorded bird species, 11 species of fish, and countless insects, including a surprisingly large number of butterflies. Get our tips for viewing wildlife and capturing amazing photos.

Picnicking
Enjoy picnic areas throughout Rocky Mountain National Park from dawn to dusk on a first-come, first-served basis (reservations are only available at Lily Lake).

Keep Wildlife Wild
Animals are quick learners and seek out food where it can easily be found.
Never feed wild animals.
Dispose of trash in bear-proof trash cans or dumpsters.
While enjoying your picnic, keep your food and trash items within arm’s reach.

Ranger-led Programs
Summer is a great time to take in one of the many Ranger-led programs. You can learn about the park, wildlife and flowers. Here is the current schedule.

Visitor Centers
Summer and Fall are the busiest seasons for Rocky Mountain National Park. Park Visitor Center hours also vary with the season. Details for each of the Visitor Centers are outlined on the Visitor Centers page.

Camping
Enjoy a night under the stars in Rocky Mountain National Park! Five campgrounds offer wonderful opportunities for outdoor fun and adventure. Have peace of mind knowing a campsite is waiting for you in beautiful Rocky. Camping reservations can be made and are highly recommended; make them one day to six months in advance. Group sites at Glacier Basin are reservable. The website for reservations is recreation.gov. You can also call 877-444-6777. Our camping page has more details on each campground.

Fishing
There are over 50 lakes and many streams where you can fish. Sport fishing is permitted in Rocky Mountain National Park, a protected area. A Colorado fishing license is required and special regulations exist. Fishing activities are balanced with efforts to restore and perpetuate natural aquatic environments and life. Our Fishing page has more detail on the lakes, streams, and regulations.

Horseback Riding
There are two stables located within the park: Glacier Creek Stables and Moraine Park Stables. Both open around Memorial Day in late May. Glacier Creek Stables: 970-586-3244; Moraine Park Stables: 970-586-2327. There are many stables outside the park that are permitted to bring riders into Rocky. Find contact information for the various stables in the area.

Wilderness Camping
A wide range of wilderness camping experiences are available in Rocky. Those new to wilderness travel have ample opportunity to break their boots in slowly, while those with many miles under their belts can find new areas that test their mettle. Overnight travel in the wilderness requires a permit. Permits and information are available at two wilderness offices in Rocky Mountain National Park. Please contact the Wilderness Office (970-586-1242) for updated information on the status of wilderness campsites. Learn more about wilderness camping.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/things2do.htm

Vegetation

There is an abundance of plant life at Rocky Mountain National Park

Plants that grow in any given place change over periods of years or decades.
This process is called plant succession or more broadly, ecological succession, because as the plants change so do the microorganisms and animals.

In places of bare vegetation, smaller plants like mosses, grasses and flowering plants begin this process. Aspen then start to grow in these open, sunny areas and lodgepole pine trees populate open, burned areas.

Eventually, these trees create too much shade for their seedlings to survive and are succeeded by ponderosa pine, Engelmann Spruce, Douglas Fir or Subalpine fir at varying elevations.

A mixture of all of these plants forms a climax vegetation that will stand over time unless disrupted by natural disturbances such as avalanches, wind storms, floods or climate change. The process then begins all over again.

Invasive Exotic Plants
Don’t be fooled. Cunning plants can upset vegetation processes in the native landscape.

Lichens
Ancient pioneers of the plant world interact with living and non-living organisms.

Mosses & Liverworts
Thank bryophytes for lime green cushioning on top of Rocky ground.

Trees & Shrubs
These mighty groups of plants have deep roots in Rocky’s landscape.

Wildflowers
Color and variety paints visual masterpieces all around the park.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/nature/plants.htm

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Animal Life

Rocky Mountains National Park’s ecosystem supports a variety of animal life

Mammals
Get to know other fellow mammals that also enjoy traversing these mountains.

Birds
Some are unique to Rocky’s mountainous habitats while others migrate to warmer climates in the winter.

Fish
Groups of native and non-native fish swim around each other in Rocky’s water bodies.

Amphibians & Reptiles
Despite frigid temperatures these cold blooded animals make Rocky home.

Butterflies
Yes, Rocky has a section just for butterflies. Over 140 species flutter around these high elevations.

Insects, Spiders, & Centipedes
A bee and a fly on a flower.

Threatened & Endangered Species
Rocky is a safe haven for various species trying to survive in our modern world.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/nature/animals.htm

Hiking Trails

The best hikes at Rocky Mountain National Park

Many trails were damaged in the 2013 flood. Check the latest Trail Conditions for more information to help plan your hike.

Rocky Mountain National Park has 355 miles of hiking trails. They range from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain peak climbs. If you are new to the park consult with rangers at the visitor centers and backcountry office. They can provide advice about trails which are appropriate to different fitness and experience levels.

As you plan your hike, keep in mind that park elevations range from 7,500 to over 12,000 feet. Even very fit individuals coming from lower elevations may experience altitude problems. Symptoms include headaches, shortness of breath, insomnia and rapid heartbeat. After a few days your body will have made some physiological adjustments to higher elevations, but full acclimation may take weeks. To minimize symptoms drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol, don’t skip meals and get plenty of rest.

Although you may not feel thirsty, the “thinner” air at high elevations actually results in increased water evaporation from your lungs. Again, drinking extra water may prevent a bad headache or other altitude symptoms.

Ultraviolet light is stronger in the mountains because there is less atmosphere for the sunlight to pass through. Wear sunscreen, a hat, sun glasses and consider wearing a long sleeved shirt if you are out in the sun for an extended period.

If you have never hiked before or are traveling with children, check out the recommended accessible trails. Ranger-led walks are free and can increase your confidence while you learn more about the park. Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to discover how traveling by foot brings you closer to nature.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/hiking.htm

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