May 19th and 20th. Rocky Mountain National Park; thirty six hours slightly abbreviated:

There are a lot of National Parks we have never visited, Rocky Mountain being one of them. RMNP is the fourth most visited National Park in the country. It boasts multiple peaks topping 14,000 feet, and features many rivers and spectacular granite boulders and cliffs. In the spring the elk come down in elevation and take over town, soon they will go back up into the mountains and be harder to spot, until fall rutting season when the bulls battle for the right to a herd of females.

Moose were introduced about forty years ago (brought in by helicopter!) and are well adapted to the many small lakes and grasslands. Bighorn sheep and Mule deer thrive there as well. Black bears, mountain lions and coyotes are the large predators. Smaller mammals include beavers, golden mantled ground squirrels, pika and marmots.

Not a marmot, pika or golden mantled ground squirrel. It’s Yogi Bear with flat Christy!

Our RV site was at Jellystone Park- which is a chain of RV sites with at least three locations. Near the town of Estes Park, we were about 9 miles away from the hustle and bustle of tourism. The downside was that there are no taxis or Uber/ Lyft service. That turned out to not be an issue for us as we had tours planned for both our full day there and the morning we left. We met Brian from Kep Expeditions at 8 a.m. for our four hour morning tour, planned as an overview of the park, with whatever animal sightings we could manage. Brian had checked in with me the day prior to ask if we minded if he brought along a new employee he is training, and we were happy to have Steve along too.

I won’t bore you with the whole morning tour but here are a few photo highlights:

These elk were actually in the woods behind Jellystone, our RV park.
We didn’t see the perpetrator, but beavers have sharp chompers!
Shaggy bull elk, their antlers still covered with velvet. That will come off in the coming months.

After our morning tour we were dropped in town so we could grab lunch and I could use the library internet and finally post. We were dropped back at camp, and were picked up again for our evening tour, which was to feature a hike. I should point out that Estes Park is at just over 6,000’ in elevation. Our r.v. site was at 7,800’.  We are not used to that type of elevation so I was trepidatious about hiking up and down a mountain. As a result, Brian had made a plan for a hike that was around 2 miles, with not too much climbing, and because we had Steve along we did not do the round trip, but he went back and picked up the vehicle to meet us and save me a few steps.

A really great fact about Steve, who is going to be helping out at Kep Expeditions this summer. At some point he mentioned that during the year he teaches at University of Illinois, and I asked what he teaches. He replied band- and went on to say he is the director of bands at the school- responsible for four different bands and the activities. I asked if he does marching band and he replied that not in the day to day operations but at a football game he gets to conduct the National Anthem. So one of our tour guides is a celebrity to U of I alum!

Steve is director of bands at University of Illinois, and leads tours sometimes when he is here at his vacation home.

I should mention that May is considered early spring in the Rocky Mountains. In fact the main road that goes to the highest park of the park is still closed, and many of the roads we took on our tour only opened a few days before we arrived. So there is still a lot of snow and ice in the park. The hike we had planned was to Alberta Falls, named after the wife of Abner Sprague, an early settler in the area who also was the first paying customer in the park in 1939. The trail to Alberta Falls is still snowed in, with several feet of snow, and ice pack. In the late afternoon there is slush too. So we had micro spikes to attach to our boots. They really offered great traction, and we felt quite confident even as we watched numerous people in shoes without them slipping and sliding.

Chaining up my boots for improved traction on our hike to Alberta Falls.

The falls are spectacular, still partially frozen, and there were at least five photographers there with professional equipment they had schlepped in with them. As a result of the relative bottleneck at the falls, we stayed back a little bit and Perry could not quite get in as close as he wanted.

Trail conditions were a little dicey but the micro spikes afforded great traction.
Moving water below Alberta Falls.

After we made it back to the vehicle we were treated to chocolate fondue with fresh cut fruit. It was a sweet ending to a wonderful day.

Sprague Lake, with reflections.
Brian and Steve from Kep Expeditions at Sprague lake

We tried to fall asleep early because we had a really early tour the following morning with Jared at Yellow Wood Guiding. Our pick up at the RV park was at 5:10 a.m. and we walked down to the entrance in the dark. The focus of this tour was photography, specifically photographic instruction. Perry has been taking photos for years, using great equipment but still has questions regarding some of the more technical techniques needed, and Jared is the perfect person for this tour.

We spent the morning at various landscape sites, and Perry learned a lot. I learned a few tricks on my iPhone too!

A photo Perry took with instruction from Jared, using some settings on his camera that had never been used!
Similar shot with long exposure for milky looking water.
Jared from Yellow Wood Guiding, is both an experienced naturalist/ educator and photographic instructor.

Before our early morning was over we went to Sprague Lake and lucked into a mom and yearling moose, here are a couple of photos of the youngster:

Young moose gazing. Not grazing.
Young moose grazing, not gazing.
Heads up!!!#rockymountains
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