In Rocky, weather matters

 

Trail Ridge Road Snowplowing
Courtesy National Park Service

In Rocky Mountain National Park, winter has been especially slow to leave the high country this year. Spring snowstorms have been interfering with efforts to plow Trail Ridge Road, the scenic highway that crosses the park. The National Park Service is doing its best to clear the road, which in other years generally has opened around Memorial Day. But for now it remains closed, with no predictions about an opening date (check current road conditions here). Visitors can still access lower parts of the park on both the east (Estes Park) and west (Grand Lake) sides, though traveling from one side to the other, until the road opens, requires a much longer drive that loops around outside the park.

This is just one more reminder that when you visit a place like Rocky Mountain National Park (“Rocky,” for short), weather matters. Rocky is a high-elevation park, with about a third, including the upper parts of Trail Ridge Road, rising above treeline. Some of the park’s trails and backcountry campsites don’t fully melt out until early July. And once heavy snows recede, weather conditions can still change rapidly, sometimes even temporarily closing Trail Ridge Road. Temperatures drop, and thunderstorms bounce lightning around the peaks. As you travel throughout the park, you may essentially encounter multiple seasons in a single day.

So what does this mean if you are planning to visit the park? First of all, you should know that all these different conditions and elevations have created an amazing diversity of wildlife, wildflowers, and spectacular mountain scenery. But second of all, you probably should do a little reading. Though I’m quite proud of my children’s book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, it can’t pack everything into its 48 pages.

For weather, road, and safety information, I recommend you go straight to the source, the National Park Service, at www.nps.gov/romo. The current park newspaper has a useful description of weather patterns and what to bring for your visit to the park, and you can find other great resources on this page of downloadable brochures. Once you arrive at the park, check the weather forecast and plan your days accordingly. Maybe you can even pick up a copy of my book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain!

And please, please, please, don’t let your kids play on steep snowfields. During your visit, ask rangers where you might find safer places to play in the snow.

I hope you have a fun and safe visit to the park. It’s truly one of my favorite places anywhere.

 

Kids’ Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park

It’s out! My latest children’s book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, was just released by Riverbend Publishing. The book is available directly from Riverbend, as well as from Indiebound, AmazonBarnes & Noble, Books-A-Million,  and Target. It will be available at local bookstores later this spring.

Like other books in this series, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain highlights some of the animals, plants, and places families are most likely to see during their visit to the park. Each section provides a kid-friendly description, detailed “where to see it” advice (though animals don’t always cooperate!), and a place to record sightings and experiences. Researching the fun “guess what?” facts sprinkled throughout the book was one of the best parts for me. Below I’ve given a peek inside the book, showing some of my favorite bighorn sheep pics by photographer Christopher Cauble. 

Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing place; it’s hard to beat the park’s special combination of wildlife, scenery, trails, and tundra. And as long as you pay attention to safety (including weather!), it’s a great place to take kids of all ages and abilities. But it pays to plan ahead when visiting busy national parks like “Rocky.” You can find trip-planning information at the park’s website: www.nps.gov/romo.

Gone to the chipmunks

Above the Alpine Visitor Center, Rocky Mountain National Park,
Above the Alpine Visitor Center, Rocky Mountain National Park, © 2016 Julie Lue

I spent most of my twenties working for the National Park Service, and I lived in a wide variety of government housing, including several shabby but appealing old houses where the wild creatures outnumbered human inhabitants.  Sometimes I wondered, lying awake at night, how many hearts beat inside those walls. With all that lovely national park habitat protected for their use, why did the animals need to live in my house? Or my office?

My latest essay in the Christian Science Monitor, “The indoor wilds at outdoor parks,” revisits my experiences with wild (non-human!) roommates and officemates in Rocky Mountain National Park. At the time, they were considered annoying but not dangerous. Attitudes changed dramatically when hantavirus came on the scene, and suddenly those cute, non-housebroken deer mice became a threat. When I moved on to Canyonlands National Park, I found that every effort had been made to seal off my double-wide from four-footed intruders. These efforts mostly worked (and later employees moved into rodent-free new housing). But somehow a packrat still managed to chew its way through the floor and drown itself in my toilet. I’m not even going to get started about my coworkers’ experiences with skunks and scorpions.

About the visitor center in the story . . . the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center was designed by Taliesin Associated Architects, Frank Lloyd Wright’s firm, after Wright’s death. Working there, I always thought the building was a bit of an oddball. But in my defense, I had previously worked out of a fort and a log cabin. I recently revisited the building while researching a children’s book I am writing about the park. I think I get it now, at least a little.