• A translucent blanket of clouds hangs over the snowy continental divide above Bear Lake Road. NPS Photo by VIP Olsen

    Rocky Mountain

    National Park Colorado

Environmental Factors

Nature and Science

Mummy Range in winter

(NPS-RMNP)

Gale-force winds rip at your flesh. Snow swirls all around in a blizzard. You're the highest life-form in the landscape. Welcome to alpine tundra in winter. These oft-severe conditions exist in more than one-fourth of Rocky Mountain National Park. Here plants are tiny, hugging the ground for dear life. Here, at elevation above 11,200', climatic conditions bear some similarity to far northern Alaska. Alpine summers are cool and mild; winters cold and windy. Drop down in elevation to a lowly 8,500', and summers are ideal: sunny days typically in the 70's, crisp nights. Rocky Mountain National Park, with elevations from 7700' through 14,000', is a high, mountainous environment. Fire is an important part of the natural regime, coming only every few centuries to some spruce-fir forest, but much more frequently to the dryer, lower Ponderosa stands. Because of the proximity of the park's many human neighbors, fire is managed very cautiously here. Overhead, the night sky is often awash with the Milky Way, if the moon is not near bright fullness. Sounds of wind in the pines, the rush of fast-moving streams, and the hushness of the deep forest dominate. Clear air and natural sounds are protected in Rocky Mountain National Park, as much as plants and animals. Scenery is spectacular, with mountaintop views available from a road which crests at 12,183’. Views from the park’s 350 miles of trails are even better. There is much to know about the environment of this high and beautiful national park.

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