Rocky Mountain N. P.

On Friday morning I made my third visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in almost a year. This time I was with mom and Steve and their friend Sharon.

At this time of year, in the summer, visitors have to reserve an entry time (this is a very popular National Park). Our time was between nine and ten AM.

Our first stop, just west of the Fall River Entrance, was Sheep Lakes. Here we scanned the meadows and lakes for bighorn sheep, moose, and elk. We saw none. So after a sketch (featured sketch), we moved on.

Sheep Lakes sans sheep, but amazing geology!

We then climbed up Trail Ridge Road towards the Alpine Visitor Center. A few miles up we encountered many cars pulled off the road and people looking off to our left. This meant only one thing: large mammals. In this case a moose cow and calf!

Some of our party got fair to no looks at the moose, as the world’s largest deer disappeared into the trees. We continued climbing up towards the highest point of the road at 12, 183 feet. But before we got there we pulled over at Rock Cut to see my favorite mammal of the Rocky Mountains.

This is not a black bear, elk, moose, bighorn sheep or even the yellow-bellied marmot. This is the endearingly cute if not edging toward extinction pika (Ochotona princeps). The pull out at Rock Cut did not disappoint, we saw marmot and pika.


Loveland Pass, Colorado April 5, 2021, 11:12 AM

Loveland Pass is a legendary place to look for a sought after Colorado bird: white-tailed ptarmigan.

Logopus leucura is an all white bird that lives above treeline in an all white landscape. This twelve ounce bird is notoriously hard to find because it’s snow white camouflage hides it from possible predators and birders with equal aplomb.

At close to 12,000 feet above sea level, Loveland Pass is exposed, cold, and very windy. Most of the visitors we see quickly get out of their cars, take a few selfies in front of the elevation sign, and then hurry back to their cars and return down to milder climes.

To find this ptarmigan take patience, lots of patience. It also helps to have a scope. What we are looking for is the image profile of the bird. In other words we are looking for a twelve ounce patch of snow with a black beak and eye.

My guide and I scan the bright white slopes for that all white bird in an all white landscape. Is it any wonder that birders don’t suffer from snow blindness while trying to add this game bird to their lifelists?

My guide, Carl, scanning the landscape at Loveland Pass.

I sought shelter from the cold wind in the passengers seat of Carl’s truck, I also wanted to sketch the scene. I laid out the contours of the mountain in sepia brush pen and then added the twined contour of the dirty snow in the forground. I then added bits of exposed ground on the mountainside with expressive strokes. I then sketched in the sign in the foreground that said” PARKING PERMITTED” In the sketch I left the sign blank, little realizing the words I would be adding a few days later.

I placed my sketchbook on the dashboard and headed back out to continue the search. But before I that, I though a selfie was in order. . .

I took a shelfie showing me in all my layers and as I was lowering my phone to put it back into my pocket, I received a phone call. It was 11:12 AM Mountain Time, 10:12 Am Pacific Time.

The call was from my mother. This was a odd time for her to call.

I answered and she was sobbing uncontrollably.

She told me my younger brother, Greg, had died.

Loveland Pass is a beautiful place to lose a ptarmigan but is also a beautiful place to learn such horrible news of the loss of your only brother.