On our 3rd day of hiking, we drove to a different trailhead to a totally different ecozone, the alpine. To get to the Ute Trail, we traveled on the Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest contiguous federal highway in the United states. At it's high point, the elevation is about 12,150 feet. There are places where there are steep drop offs on either side. A few days prior to this, when I drove to Estes Park where our motel was located, I came through the park on this road. Most of the route was totally socked in with fog, and it was also raining with a little sleet. You could barely see the car in front of you, and drivers were creeping along because they were freaked out by the slippery road and the drop offs. Here is where a clear head and some good spiritual practice came in handy for me. I expanded my core essence around my car, and trusted that all would be well. It was.
On the day we hiked in this area, it was extremely windy, so much so that it took a lot of effort to stay upright! Here are some photos of the alpine tundra.
Indian paintbrush was the dominant blooming wildflower.
We also encountered lots of stonecrop in most of the areas and elevations of the park.
Here is elk thistle, which is the only native thistle growing at these high elevations.
Our end point on this trail was a large outcropping of rock that was covered with lichens and plants and looked like a beautiful rock garden.
Then time to struggle back to the waiting vans, which was much more difficult since we were walking into the wind on the way back. We encountered this very cute marmot on his resident rock pile posing for photos.
Since this was a bit of a shorter hiking day, we stopped in at the infamous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park to look around before going back to the motel. This is where Stephen King's movie "The Shining" was filmed, and it is purportedly haunted. No ghosts in sight that day, but it was a bit spooky!
On our 4th and final day of hiking, we did the big climb up to the top of Flattop Mountain. This was a 2800 foot climb in 4 miles up to another tundra ecosystem.
Getting above the tree line.
The view from above Emerald Lake.
The trail going through the tundra.
One of my best wildflower ID's happened here, when I spotted an arctic gentian for the first time.
Another big surprise was this dear that went running past me while I was photographing the gentian. At this point, I was well above the 12,000 foot elevation mark.
So that was the end of the last day. We all went out for a farewell dinner that evening. Then, the long 11 hour drive back to Cortez the next day. What a nice trip. My wish is that all of my trips run as smoothly and effortlessly as this one did.