There are horrendous plant and animal living conditions all over this planet, weather-wise. But, this story is about the sub-alpine region of the Rocky Mountains; more specifically, Rocky Mountain National Park.
A sub-alpine walk
MtnMan and I decided to go for a walk in the high country not too long ago. We chose RMNP and decided to see how far Trail Ridge Road was opened. This road is the highest continuous highway in the United States. Trail Ridge closes for winter with the first harsh snow of the season. This means it could close as early as September. It opens again in late spring; typically over the Memorial Day weekend. There are various points along this road where gates have been placed to close the road to local travel. One spot is at Many Parks Curve which is the lowest in elevation and the next gate is at Rainbow Curve which is at about two miles above sea level. This gate is also right at the lower edge of the sub-alpine and alpine tundra of the Rockies.
MtnMan and I drove as far as Rainbow Curve on the weekend and then took a walk past the gate and up the road. The winter hadn’t been too harsh as far as snowfall was concerned, because the road looked as though it was already passable. As we walked, we were pushed around by the wind, which is typical at this elevation. Since we were walking at above 10,000 feet, we also got winded easily, but kept pushing on to get our exercise in for the day. This road is the highest continuous highway in the United States. Trail Ridge closes for winter with the first harsh snow of the season. This means it could close as early as September. It opens again in late spring; typically over the Memorial Day weekend. There are various points along this road where gates have been placed to close the road to local travel.
Life at sub-alpine
It’s amazing how much life was evident already at this elevation. While the growing season is very short at this elevation – about 8 – 10 weeks in the summer – plants and animals still find a way to thrive. Today, we noticed birds mostly and the pine trees and brush. Pine trees that typically grow up at this elevation are Englemann spruce and sub-alpine fir. The conditions are extremely harsh for these trees. The windward side of these trees are devoid of branches as they grow, because of the wind and blowing snow. Trees at this elevation also look more like shrubs because of the harsh weather and are called Krumholtz(German for twisted, or crooked wood). They can grow into the most interesting shapes you might ever see in a tree.
When MtnMan and I had had enough of walking up and began our descent, I noticed a Krumholtz standing out of the crowd up a hill. Unfortunately, this particular tree had died quite some time ago. But, I wanted to get a closer look, so we climbed up the hill to see why it had become so very twisted. If you look closely at some of these photos, you can see grooves in the tree where the blowing snow over the years had actually carved the wood. It was smooth to the touch. Standing there, looking at these crooked, twisted pieces of what used to be sub-alpine life made me realize how beautiful Mother Nature really is.