#4 Rocky Mountain: Alpine Wonderland
I was so focused on my setup that I did not notice the rustle behind. It was when I turned around to check the status of the eastern sky that I noticed not one, but two moose heading straight toward me...
I have been to Rocky Mountains National Park (RMNP) twice: May of 2014 and 2015. I went with two different groups to Colorado and took the opportunity to explore different parts of a National Park where the Continental Divide runs straight through it. Today, there is still so much I am yet to explore!
I love Colorado. But the weather could come off as a moody teenager; one of the true places where you cannot predict the weather with too much certainty. I have actually seen a sunny sky and a thunder storm occur on the same canvas of sky at the same time!
I would say RMNP can be divided into two features: its lakes and the Trail Ridge Road. Of course, the Rockies in the backdrop paint every frame with alpine freshness! Elks are very common in the area while black bears a rare encounter.
Sprague Lake is one of the 150 lakes of RMNP. Sunrise is the best time to visit any lake in the park for the alpenglow reflection of the mountains, followed by the fiery hues of the sunrays. I first stepped on the banks of Sprague lake at noon. It was overcast and windy. Still, I liked it immediately. So, when I returned the following dawn to the same spot, you can imagine how it felt standing in front of the still, quiet waters with a crystal-clear reflection of the Rockies. In a few minutes, the cool, white mountains started blushing as if they were not expecting me. I was the only human at Sprague Lake afterall!
I already had my camera positioned on the tripod with the cable release ready to fire. I was so focused on my setup that I did not notice the rustle behind. It was when I turned around to check the status of the eastern sky that I noticed not one, but two moose heading straight toward me. I had not encountered a moose before. The previous evening, I had chatted with a Park Ranger who mentioned there had been recent moose sightings at Sprague Lake in the evenings. I guess the moose changed their schedule.
My first instinct was to protect my equipment. But should I make any sudden movement? The two denizens seemed as unsure of me as I was of them. Who is this bipedal primate with shiny-green fur and a blue head, thought the moose. They stopped less than six feet from me. I stood my ground, shielding the camera behind much like a mother would protect her children. It was a tense two seconds before the apparently more assured moose continued along the edge of the water, onto the other side. The second followed suit. I wonder what they'd tell their friends. Yeah we were out for a morning walk (been eating to much shrubs lately) and we saw this creature in bright fur. It looked unsure. We avoided making any sudden movement. But we carried on after a brief acknowledgement.
After the exciting moose encounter, I focused back on the lake. The sun had risen. The alpenglow covered mountains were now heating up to a bright orange. The water, calm as ever.
Further up from Sprague Lake are the trailheads for Bierstadt and Bear lakes. I must have missed the actual trail leading to the shores of Bierstadt because I slid on and sunk into too much snow to reach the shore. The snow became a greater factor with the higher elevation of Bear Lake. It was the first of the lakes in the area to offer a close view (and reflection) of Hallett Peak.
I took one of the several trails from Bear Lake toward Dream Lake, passing Nymph Lake en route. If we had more time that day, I would have loved to continue on and explore the lakes further up the trail. Emerald Lake and Lake Haiyaha, both offer great shots!
What's cool about the RMNP lakes is that they divide the park into regions. You can plan your trips to RMNP by its lakes, take a trail or two, and explore the park by lake-region. The park road forms an arching access point with trailheads along the way that lead you into the heart of the National Park.
Speaking of roads, the road that steals the show is undoubtedly, the Trail Ridge road. Weather-permitting, you can drive into the layer of the clouds for jawdropping, stunning views of the alpine landscape from 12,000 ft.
We were fortunate as the road opened up to public access on the last day of our trip in 2014; it is very vulnerable to inclement weather. The almost 50 mile scenic byway will remind you of those alpine racetracks in the classic Need For Speed video games! It continues on to exit the park at Grand Lake as Highway 34.
You could return to RMNP again and again and again...and still be left with areas left to explore! Although a popular camping destination, I love staying at Estes Park - the charming village that serves as the access point to RMNP. Estes Park boasts some good food too. There is this Nepali joint on Elkhorn Avenue that serves some of the best North Indian cuisine I have had in the United States. A family owned cafe, its owner proudly boasts of summitting Mt. Everest!
Like the former sherpa, RMNP is for the adventurous seeking a healthy dose of mountain air....to be on the top of the world!