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Welcome To America’s Greatest Heights

Jul 09, 13 Welcome To America’s Greatest Heights

So far this summer, I have written about three National Parks: Great Basin, Redwood, and Yellowstone. The final National Park that I visited on this trip and for this blog was Rocky Mountain National Park. Like the other parks, it has its own set of benefits and activities that make it worth visiting for sure.

Something that makes Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) unique is that four major ecosystems exist within the park: riparian, montane, subalpine, and alpine. Each of these is easily viewable and accessible with some time and effort. According to the Rocky Mountain National Park website, “The riparian (wetland) ecosystem of the park is based in 150 lakes and 450 miles of streams. Lush plant life and dense wildlife are the hallmarks of these wet areas that speckle and divide other ecosystems.”

The montane ecosystem is one that has more lush forests of pine and grassy hillsides. The montane exists at elevations of 5600 feet to 9500 feet. Here are different plants, trees, flowers, and animals of the montane:

Trees:

  • Ponderosa Pine
  • Douglas Fir
  • Quaking Aspen
  • Lodgepole Pine

Shrubs:

  • Antelope Bitterbrush
  • Wax Current
  • Kinnikinnick
  • Big Sage
  • Common Juniper
  • Rocky Mountain Juniper
  • Holly Grape

Herbaceous Plants:

  • Mountain Ball Cactus
  • Needle and Thread Grass
  • Daisy
  • Locoweed
  • Geranium
  • Whiskbroom Parsley
  • Blue Grama
  • Pasque Flower
  • Gumweed
  • Penstemon
  • June Grass
  • Sedge
  • Mariposa Lily
  • Spike Fescue
  • Miner’s Candle
  • Sulphur Flower
  • Dwarf Mistletoe
  • Wallflower
  • Mountain Muhly
  • Blue Columbine

Reptiles:

  • Western Garder Snake

Birds:

  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Solitary Vireo
  • Western Bluebird
  • Black-Billed Magpie
  • Mountain Chickadee
  • Common Nighthawk
  • Red Crossbill
  • Pygmy Nuthatch
  • American Crow
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Golden Eagle
  • Raven
  • Cassin’s Finch
  • American Robin
  • Northern Flicker
  • Pine Siskin
  • Northern Goshawk
  • Townsend’s Solitaire
  • Steller’s Jay
  • Yellow-Rump Warbler
  • Tree Swallow
  • Woodpecker (Downy and Hairy)
  • Western Tanager
  • Western Wood Pee Wee

Mammals:

  • Badger
  • Yellow-Bellied Marmot
  • Black Bear
  • Deer Mouse
  • Bobcat
  • Porcupine
  • Chipmunk
  • Bighorn Sheep
  • Nuttall’s Cottontail
  • Montane Shrew
  • Coyote
  • Golden Mantle Ground Squirrel
  • Mule Deer
  • Abert’s Squirrel
  • Elk
  • Meadow Vole
  • Skunk  Long-Tailed Weasel
  • Mountain Lion
  • Bushy-Tailed Wood Rat
  • Otter
  • Moose

Subalpine is the third ecosystem in RMNP and exists at elevation levels between 9000 and 11000 feet. “A typical subalpine forest may consist mostly of subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce. However, previously-burned areas may contain varying amounts, or even almost pure stands, of lodgepole pine. Lodgepole seedlings do well in sunlight, often abundant after fire, but once the forest is established, plant succession may result in increasing amounts of spruce and subalpine fir. Ground cover in a previously-burned forest area often includes two species of huckleberry. Limber pine, with flexible twigs and needles in groups of five, may also be a part of subalpine forests.”

Though the flora and fauna of the subalpine are similar to montane, there are some differences.

Trees:

  • Subalpine Fir Limber Pine
  • Engelmann Spruce

Shrubs:

  • Blueberry (Vaccinium)
  • Elder
  • Cinquefoil
  • Wood’s Rose
  • Wax Current

Herbaceous Plants:

  • Arnica Needle Grass
  • Fairy Slipper
  • Colorado Blue Columbine
  • Gentian
  • Sneezeweed
  • Lousewort
  • Twinflower
  • Pipsissewa
  • Sedge
  • Senecio

Birds:

  • Brown Creeper
  • Ruby Crowned Kinglet
  • Pine Grosbeak
  • Clark’s Nutcracker
  • Mountain Chickadee
  • White Breasted Nuthatch
  • Red Crossbill
  • Williamson’s Sapsucker
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Pine Siskin
  • Blue Grouse Raven
  • Dark-Eyed Junco
  • Olive-Sided Flycatcher
  • Gray Jay
  • Townsend’s Solitaire
  • Stellar’s Jay
  • Yellow-Rump Warbler
  • Northern Goshawk
  • Woodpecker (Downy and Hairy)

Mammals:

  • Pine Marten
  • Yellow-Bellied Marmot
  • Black Bear
  • Deer Mouse
  • Bobcat
  • Porcupine
  • Chipmunk
  • Snowshoe Hare
  • Nuttall’s Cottontail
  • Shrew
  • Coyote
  • Golden Mantle Ground Squirrel
  • Mule Deer
  • Long-Tailed Weasel
  • Elk
  • Meadow Vole
  • Chickaree
  • Bushy Tailed Wood Rat
  • Mountain Lion

Once you reach 11000 feet and higher, not only are you two miles plus above sea level, but you are also at the alpine tundra ecosystem, the “land above the trees.” Here, the winds, sunlight, and weather are so harsh that not much can grow or live although many of the park’s inhabitants visit. The alpine “is the single most distinctive aspect of Rocky Mountain National Park. Trail Ridge Road, the highest in any national park, transports you easily to this realm of open sky, tiny but brilliant flowers, and harsh climate. Approximately one-third of this national park is above the limit where trees may grow in northern Colorado.”

The alpine is an area of extremes–extreme sun exposure, extreme winds, extreme colds. Despite these extremes some plants and animals do call the alpine home.

Shrubs:

  • Willow

Grasses and Grass-like Plants:

  • Alpine Blue Grass
  • Alpine Timothy
  • Skyline Blue Grass
  • Spike Trisetum
  • Tufted Hair Grass
  • Spreading Wheatgrass
  • Kobresia
  • Spike Wood-Rush
  • Pyrennian Sedge

Forbs:

  • Alpine Avens
  • Queen’s Crown
  • Alpine Bistort Marsh Marigold
  • American Bistort
  • Mertensia
  • Pygmy Bitterroot
  • Rydbergia
  • Snow Buttercup
  • Alpine Paintbrush
  • Dwarf Clover Alpine Phlox
  • Parry’s Clover
  • Moss Pink
  • One-Headed Daisy  Alpine Sandwort
  • Black-Headed Daisy
  • Saxifrage
  • Elephantella   Sky Pilot
  • Alpine Forget-Me-Not
  • Alpine Sorrel
  • Arctic Gentian
  • Alpine Wallflower
  • King’s Crown Blue Columbine

Birds:

  • Prairie Falcon
  • White-Tailed Ptarmigan
  • Rosy Finch
  • Common Raven
  • Horned Lark
  • White-Crowned Sparrrow
  • Water Pipit

Mammals:

  • Badger
  • Snowshoe Hare
  • Bobcat
  • Mountain Lion
  • Chipmunk
  • Yellow-Bellied Marmot
  • Coyote
  • Pine Marten
  • Mule Deer
  • Deer Mouse
  • Elk
  • Pika
  • Long Tailed Weasel Pocket Gopher
  • Red Fox
  • Vole
  • Bighorn Sheep
  • Bushy-Tailed Wood Rat
  • Ground Squirrel

Beyond the uniqueness of the different ecosystems, Rocky Mountain National Park also has a number of activities to participate in. Like most National Parks, RMNP has camping, hiking, fishing, backpacking, horse riding, and sightseeing. But it also has rock climbing, skiing, snowshoeing and mobiles, and mountaineering. It is a park with much to do, see, and experience. Any visit to the park will be good. I promise.

Image Credit: Rayshell Clapper

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About 

Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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