27 July 2012

Elk, Deer, and Sheepsies, oh my!

Day Ten

Rocky Mountain National Park

Total Miles Hiked: 10.24 (58.3 overall)


Who Pooped in the Park? Who?!
The ranger who helped us (this time I didn't remember to peep his name tag) could tell right away that we were bonafide nature nerds. You start dropping science slang like 'ecosystems' and 'habitat' and you'll see the smile on the rangers face. You're one of them now. He suggested a long hike up Flattop Mountain for the next day. We'd have to wake up early to make it to the trail head before the road closed in that direction; we were too late to do so today. We could, however, try our luck with the Deer Mountain loop as well as varying other short trails with wildlife opportunities. We were certainly gaining experience in hikes with high elevation gains. I'm not sure if they ever get easier. Perhaps, you, oh reader, knows an answer? Deer Mountain was a 6.2 mile trail with a 1000 ft gain. Our quads and calves would take most of the strain. And a strain it would turn out to be at the very end. Stairs. Stone stairs to the top. Don't they know I've already hiked up a few thousand feet. Is this some kind of a joke? Rachel soldiers on ahead, while I take the ol' slow and steady tortoise approach. Breath. 
A little yellow flower child hiding in the bushes.

There is no better motivation that looking up to see a small scrap of a girl looking down at you inquisitively. 

"You're almost to the top."

"I don't know, is the view worth it? Or should I just turn around?"

"I think you can do it."




Her solemn answer cinched it. And at the top, I arrived. Rachel giggled down at me, knowing I had it in me the whole time, and sometimes I can be a bit of a slow poke. 
We laid out our prepared picnic, but soon had to battle both the habituated chipmunks and the dark clouds rolling our way. We don't need much of an impetus to scarf down our sammies after that hike, and we soon do a quick tour of the available views before descending once more. Now, some people will try and tell you that going down is much harder than going up the hill. I find this to be utterly preposterous and question the sanity of these naysayers. Hiking down hill, you are more relaxed, less sweaty, often full of a snack or lunch, and generally in a much better mood. The worst is over. You get down so much faster than the hike up took you.  There's a reason for the phrase 'it's all downhill from here'. You can smile and chat with the hikers still on the struggle bus. "So close! Watch out for lightening!" You may even hold your arms out like your an airplane and let gravity pull you faster and faster down the slope. Airplane noises are optional, but recommended. Keeping an eye out for rocks and switchbacks is required. 
Rocked carried down to the alluvial fan.


The visitor center may be my new favorite way to start my mornings. Especially visitor centers when you're in a new park. New postcards to look through (still need everyone's snail mail addresses: alwaysscientist@gmail.com), new stickers, new patches (my favorite), new books, new maps, new poop books. Also, we can chat with new rangers. As stated previously, Rachel and I love figuring out what sort of sights we'd like to see and how far we want to hike during our stay and getting suggestions from the Information Desk. It has yet to let us down. We knew we wanted another moderate-strenuous hike, we wanted to hike in and explore all three available ecosystems, and we desperately wanted to see some bighorn sheep or a moose. 


And then you're magically back at the trail head. No time at all.


We opted for a tiny viewpoint for our resting area/mid-day reprieve. A 70+ year old  reservoir dam had burst in 1982 releasing 220 million gallons of water to race its way to Horseshoe Park. That much water moving with such speed is a deadly, and often startling, in its sheer force. The aquatic juggernaut scooped up rocks, trees, and whatever else it darn well pleased and carried them along it's path, pounding into anything that dared get in the way. It was only an observant garbage collector, who phoned in the roaring noises, that saved the majority of the people in the path of the water catastrophe. Three people still lost their lives as the rush of water swept through a campground. The debris the flood carried was deposited in a large fan-like array (alluvial fan) that even 25+ years later can be easily observed. 

We left feeling somber and in awe of the raw power that nature possess. 


We were in need of relaxation after such an impressionable stopover. 


Elks.
After two parks of hoping and searching, we were still on the hunt for the elusive Bighorn Sheep. We had seen deer all over the place. They were no big deal at this point. Elk nearly immediately greeted us the evening before on our drive into Rocky Mountain NP. Herds could be seen along the roads and moving carefully through campgrounds. Our last stop of the day was a quick drive to Sheep Lake. We focused really hard on our desire to see the sheepsies. 

And then the cars ahead of us slowed to that tell-tale creep that indicated the sighting of some charismatic critter. Could we be so lucky?
Sheepsies.


Yes. 


We got to the pull-in and parked.


We'd arrived just in time to watch a herd of sheep cross the meadow in front of us. Mommas and babies. 


They'd spent the day frolicking and were now heading back into the hills.


We nearly missed them. 


But we didn't!


BIGHORN SHEEP!


We had a nice rest while we watched the few lingerers and chatted up the ranger on duty in the area. Ranger Volunteer Gina was lucky enough to be assigned to the Sheep Lake station for the day instead of her usual visitor center position. She informed us that the sheep hadn't been viewed in the area since Independence Day weekend. She told us more about her adventurous summer as a park intern and how she often ran programs at the visitor centers. Talk about an awesome guest post...here's hoping!




Feeling alive with satisfaction, we managed to pull out a few more miles that evening during our periodic jogs. We found a path leading to a road and subsequent trail from our campground and had a mini-evening adventure. If you're a runner, you must head to the National Parks for some of the most gorgeous scenery ever. Just don't pull a Meridith and stumble all over the place while craning your neck to see the views.  


We were so pumped with energy from our day and run that we decided to head into the nearby town of Estes Park for some sugary Starbucks drinks and internet time. Can't be a mobile grad student without a little productivity. 


We were so starved for solid internet connections that we were eventually (politely) kicked out of the coffee shop and continued to suck up the precious from the outside tables. We must've seemed like normal, decent people that didn't smell like days of hiking and driving because we eventually garnered invitations for drinks and pool in the nearby bar from barefoot boys. Rachel knows better by now to try and dissuade me when beer, billiards, and bare feet are involved. 


We stayed long enough for Rachel's team to dominate in a fair Best Two Outta Three round and for me to find a co-author for my envisioned, future e-textbook on biostatistics before we retreated back into the park for sleep. 


Question of the Day:
Could Rachel and I beat you in a game of pool?
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