Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Long and Winding Road

I don't know if you've noticed but I've been titling these entries from Colorado using song titles. A few of them, I've been hard pressed to match a song title to but today could have been many different songs. Some of the titles under consideration: Shoot To Thrill, Rocky Mountain High, Kodachrome, Top of the World, and a couple of others I can't recall at the moment.

Dad and I decided last night that today was going to be devoted to photography. He didn't take many pictures but I think he enjoyed watching me enjoy taking pictures. I know he enjoyed reviewing my digital pictures and critiquing them and I enjoyed receiving the feedback.

We packed up my Sony Mavica FD-88 and camcorder, a Yashica D loaded with 120 b&w, a Yashica 635 loaded with 35mm color, and a Mamiya SLR complete with auto winder and 28mm, 200mm, 38-80mm, and 100-200mm lenses. We loaded everything into the van and headed for Rocky Mountain National Park.

First, let me say that should you get the opportunity to drive through RMNP, do so. The scenery is breathtaking. I should also tell you that there are several places where you can pull off the road, park, and take pictures or just enjoy the fresh mountain air. The first time I had dad stop the van so I could take some pictures, we were about 200 yards from one of the stopping areas.

At the first pull-off (Fairview Curve), I dug out the tripod and started to unsheathe the Yashica D. There was a low wall and dad noticed there were several chipmunks darting about the trees along the back side of the wall. Dad started "chittering" to them and, low and behold, one of them darted up on top of the wall and came right up to dad.

He was gone about as soon as he appeared after sniffing a bit at dad to see if he had any treats. No sooner had he left as another one came up to visit so I grabbed the SLR and started snapping a few pictures.

Let me pause briefly in my narrative to point out something. These chipmunks were obviously not afraid of humans and were obviously begging for treats. All through the park there are signs saying that you should not feed the wildlife and reminding people that the practice is, in fact, illegal.

The reason you are not supposed to feed the wildlife is that they become dependent on humans to bring them food and lose the ability to forage for themselves - among other things.


While dad and I were enticing the chipmunks to come up for a visit (without using or even thinking about using food), a couple of other cars pulled up and about five more people were taking pictures of the critters and the landscape. As the herd began to thin out, I put the SLR away and went back to the Yashica.

I mounted the Yashica on the tripod and proceeded to start focusing and getting a light reading. No sooner had I bent over the camera as dad says, "You just missed the perfect picture."

One of the chipmunks had come up beside dad, who was sitting on the wall. After peering at dad a couple of seconds, he hopped up on to dad's thigh. Getting no reaction to his gaze, except for a return gaze, the chipmunk scurried up to sit on dad's chest and stare at him from there. Apparently, dad did not posses what the chipmunk was after so he scurried off.

A couple more stops up the road, I had taken a few photos with the SLR and grabbed the video camera to take a video panoramic. As I was walking from the van, I noticed a couple of people off to the side pointing and talking excitedly. "I think it's a pika," I heard one of them say and I decided to head that way.

I'd heard about pikas from The Jeff Corwin Experience and was very excited that I'd get to see one. Sure enough, it was a pika. Pikas are small mammals, related to rabbits. If you've never seen a pika, they look a little like a chinchilla. If you've never seen a chinchilla, go to a pet store.

At any rate, I got some good video of the pika then took my panoramic.

After the encounter with the pika, dad and I headed for higher elevations. Somewhere around 11,500 feet the landscape turns into Alpine Tundra (Alpine tundra begins where trees give up the fight against cold, wind, and a short growing season.). At or near the highest point along Trail Ridge Road (12,183 ft) is the Alpine visitor center. The Alpine visitor center includes a gift shop and restaurant -- which were already closed for the season.

Dad and I took the opportunity to take a bathroom break and I took a few snapshots of the landscape. There's not much to see except the barren tops of mountains but it's one of those things that's fun to say "been there, done that." I'm sure it would have been better with some snow cover.

At the Alpine visitor center is also some sort of observation area above the parking lot. Up the side of one of the peaks, they have created a natural staircase. Visitors can make the trek up to the top of the peak to view, photograph and just generally enjoy the landscape.

I'm sure the view from there is spectacular but I just didn't have the energy to go up there. I had already been having trouble breathing most of the week even in Fraser (elev. 8,650 ft.) and, being 4,000 ft. above that, I wasn't about to try to make it another 100 feet or so up a staircase. Maybe next time.

From the Alpine visitor center, we started downward. We made a couple more stops and took a few more pictures at the Forest Canyon overlook, Rainbow Curve, and other stops. As we were nearing the lower elevations, we saw a sign that read "Elk viewing area - next three miles." We drove slowly - even stopped once and pulled out the binoculars - but didn't really see anything... until we got to the straight stretch of road at the end.

As we came around the bend, we saw several cars stopped by the side of the road. As we approached, we could see what appeared to be two female elk standing in the pasture. We pulled forward a bit and stopped.

In conversing with some of the people already there, we had missed the bull elk by mere minutes. No matter, though, I took a few pictures and even got some great video of the cow and yearling that were still there. On the video, you can hear the bull trumpeting.

The rest of the trip through the park was relatively uneventful. On our way out, we stopped by the park headquarters and picked up a few souvenirs. I now have a RMNP hat pin on my new black hat.

As we left RMNP we ended up on the outskirts of Estes Park. We could go east through Estes Park, down highway 36 to Boulder, then across 119 back to Fraser... or, we could avoid going so far east, shoot down county road 7, connect to 72 and finally back to 119 and Fraser. It was fortunate that we chose to go down county road 7.

As we headed south, we saw a bit of the road less traveled around that part of Colorado. I thought we were lost a couple of times but finally saw signs indicating what road we were on and started enjoying the drive. We were on 72 and topped a small hill...

I thought I was about to send dad through the window but he saw it, too, and was ready for my rapid deceleration test. What we saw was a young bull elk, grazing right next to the road. We topped the hill and he lifted his head, watched us pass, and then went back to grazing. I managed to stop about 100 yards down the road and we ended up at a great vantage point to take some pictures. The ironic thing about the whole situation was that there was a hunter's tag (a fluorescent pink ribbon) tied to a fencepost not two feet from his head.

No comments: