A summer cold front brought overnight thunderstorms, cooler temperatures and clouded skies to Rocky Mountain National Park, so we spent Thursday cleaning Cloud 9, doing laundry and relaxing with our doggies. It gave us an opportunity to reflect on the wildlife we’ve encountered during our sojourns into the park.
The first was a herd of elk foraging near Trail Ridge Road in the alpine region. The bulls and cows, with dark brown manes, white rumps and tawny bodies, seemed oblivious to the long line of motorists stopped to photograph them with their calves. These majestic animals were hunted nearly to extinction by the late 1890s. By 1913, however, local residents had arranged for 49 elk to be brought in from Yellowstone National Park, enabling the flourishing herd seen today.
Next, we came upon a female moose and her calf munching on aspen leaves. A distinguishing characteristic of moose is the “bell” or ball of skin that hangs from their necks. Moose live as solitary creatures, except mothers and calves, and get together only during the rut. A cow chooses a bull based on the size of his antlers, which he uses to fend off other bulls during the rut. After breeding, he loses his antlers until the next spring, when they begin growing again.
On our drive back to Estes Park from Grand Lake, we nearly hit a mule deer that darted across the road in front of our truck. The large doe quickly headed into the forest to nibble some grass. Deer are social animals and live in multi-generational families of related females and offspring, so where you encounter one, you’re likely to encounter another. Alas, this doe was alone on her quest.
Throughout the park and at every stop we saw Colorado chipmunks darting in between rocks, logs, and shrubs. These small creatures (seven to nine inches long, including the tail) are the smallest rodents in the squirrel family, distinguished by stripes on their back and sides and face. Of course we saw many tree squirrels and ground squirrels, too, but chipmunks definitely rule the forests.
To our surprise, hummingbirds were abundant throughout our campsite, including the broad-tailed and ruby-throated species. Their iridescent feathers made them appear as magical creatures. We also saw (and heard) sparrows, finches, wrens, dippers, thrushes, warblers, crows, jays, and swallows.
Overhead–and overheard–were hawks, ospreys and falcons, as well as owls, woodpeckers, and various waterfowl.
We didn’t see any black bears or bighorn sheep, but there was plenty of wildlife to grab our attention and capture our imagination.