DNA-X 2012 #6 The Rockies and the Rut

February 1st, 2013 by

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We leave the rugged Wyoming mountains and head out onto the high plains to Interstate 80. Smoke still lingered above us but the horizon looked slightly bluer or so we imagined. Herds of pronghorn antelope grazed on the tough, aromatic sagebrush while cattle searched for any version of grass. Suddenly a herd of elk charged up to the fence lining the Interstate, the bull intent on leading his herd across. Some horses loitering nearby gave the elk the ‘are you crazy?’ look and we hoped that would turn the elk around. It is now fall and the “rut” is in full swing. Sensible caution is thrown to the wind and anything goes during mating season.

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We aimed ‘G’ at the small town of Estes Park, Colorado the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. We picked a famous vintage hotel called The Stanley, named after its’ builder F.O. Stanley who also invented the Stanley Steamer car. The hotel is notably one of the most famous ‘haunted hotels’ anywhere! It was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shinning and was featured in the movie Dumb & Dumber amongst other things. We arrive late in the day with a grand welcoming committee blocking the driveway, the local elk herd of about 30 members of all ages was also checking in for the night. This drew a large human crowd with cameras clicking but eventually we made it to the door. We landed a room on the second floor, seemed safe as most of the paranormal activity takes place on the forth floor (?) or actually anywhere we were told. The confusion of elk and ghosts had all the guests a buzz. We did hear the piano start to play by itself but the most noise came from the bull elk directing the herd to bed down outside our window.

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A predawn bugle by the bull elk made the herd silently disappear like ghosts, not to be seen for 2 days. We drove into Rocky Mountain National Park, headwaters for the mighty Colorado River. With over 415 square miles to explore at a base elevation of 7500 feet, this beautiful park has over 60 mountains above 12,000 feet. Trail Ridge Road the highest, continuous paved road in the U.S. is a spectacular drive to the top. Up here, above the tree line, the fragile alpine tundra ecosystem supports delicate mosses, lichens and flowers but venturing off the trails can cause damage that takes decades to repair. We stopped at the top (12,183 ft.) and found a ranger carefully picking up things on the ground. I asked him what he found and he grimly announced he was picking up cigarette butts. I was shocked at the mindless mentality of careless visitors; did this look like an ashtray to them?

We spent the next day touring the park and fit in a ‘ghost tour’ just to make sure we didn’t miss anything at the Stanley. The scariest thing on the tour was the reappearance of the bull elk as he stalked an unaware hiker on the front lawn. The guide then showed us a large shape in the garden covered with several plastic garbage bags – a life-sized bronze bull elk – it was attacked along with nearby bushes the day before by the neighborhood bully. Competition is not welcome here!

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Foranother fantastic drive, head south from Estes Park along the Peak-to-Peak Highway and into Nederland. Fall is a popular time to enjoy the aspens in all their glory. Watch out for marauding elk and distracted drivers. Whether you drive off road or on the blacktop get off the couch and go discover North America!

-Nelia