A brief look at the flora and fauna of the Rocky Mountain National Forest

Visiting the Rocky Mountain National Forest in Colorado takes you through several different climates. The mountains rise from 7,630 to 14,259 feet above sea level. President Woodrow Wilson declared 265,873 acres of mountain wilderness a national forest area in 1915. In 1976, the park became an International Biosphere Reserve as declared by the National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The Rocky Mountains are home to more than 63 varieties of mammals. The lower elevations, which are more plentiful in food sources, are great for spotting mule deer, fox, wild cottontail rabbit and pronghorn. These mammals are smaller and blend well with the grassy meadows and Ponderosa Pine trees. The lower elevation montane forests are favorite nesting places for some of the forest’s 280 known species of birds. The usual migratory birds neighbor species indigenous to the Rocky Mountain region. The white-tailed ptarmigan and gray jay live in the southern areas of the mountains. Blue grouse and three-toed woodpecker only live in the area as well.

The mid-elevations give visitors a glimpse of mountain lion, bobcat and black bear. You may also see a coyote. Coyotes hunt all through the forests without regard to elevation. Mountain lion are numerous and hunt smaller game like squirrel and vole. Take heed of signs warning guests of frequent mountain lion sightings. The black bear in the region stay to the higher and mid elevations to feed on fresh water fish like rainbow trout, walleye and salmon during the annual run. At this elevation, pine forests prevail with large meadow hidden within. Elk can be seen grazing in the meadows and are magnificent animals to watch. They can be very aggressive so watch from a distance. Chipmunks are populous and you can hear their calls year around. Beaver make awesome dams in the streams and ponds. When food is sparse, the bear will wander to lower elevations and often get in trouble for raiding campgrounds and vehicles full of food. Guests should never intentionally feed the bear. The bear becomes a danger and they are captured, tagged and relocated. If a bear comes back three times, the park rangers must destroy it because the danger to guests is too great.

Tundra covers the highest elevations of the park. The road often closes from October until mid-June because of icy road conditions. Because the ground stays frozen, tundra soils only support short grasses and small, low flowers. The tundra sits above timberline so there are no trees. The air is too thin to support any tall growth. Rocks here are the favorite sunbathing platforms of the marmot. These cute rodents come out to warm-up during late spring and summer. Lizards are also plentiful at the highest elevations as are golden and bald eagles. As you drive, keep your eyes on the rocky cliffs. Big horn sheep can be seen year around standing on the most precipitous outcrops of rock. These are herd animals; so when you see one, keep looking because more are usually near-by.

The Rocky Mountain National forest provides the best sight-seeing imaginable. The wildlife can be seen everywhere in the park. Birds you will not see anywhere else are common and the eagles are majestic as they circle the sky in search of food. The dark brings the owls out to hunt with their huge wingspan and ever watchful eyes. There is no other place like it.