Friday, October 30, 2015

Trail Ridge Road Closes To Through Travel For The Season - Rocky Mountain National Park Remains Open

Today, October 30, 2015, Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park officially closed for the season to through travel. The most popular destinations for this time of year including Bear Lake Road, Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park and the section of Trail Ridge Road along the Kawuneeche Valley are all open. These are all great areas for hiking and wildlife watching.

Trail Ridge Road, one of the most impressive alpine highways in the United States, is the highest continuous paved road in America and reaches an elevation of 12,183 feet. The road connects the park's communities of Estes Park on the east and Grand Lake on the west. Trail Ridge Road is not designed to be an all season road with 11 miles above 11,500 feet and few guard rails and no shoulder. There are winter conditions of drifting snow, high winds and below freezing temperatures above 10,000 feet. The road is currently closed at Colorado River Trailhead on the west side and Many Parks Curve on the east side.

According to acting park superintendent Ben Bobowski, "At high elevations we continue to receive snow, high winds and freezing temperatures. The snow continues to blow and drift on Trail Ridge Road, making snow clearing operations and driving conditions extremely hazardous. During the winter season, weather permitting, we will keep Trail Ridge Road open to Many Parks Curve on the east side of the park and to the Colorado River Trailhead on the west side of the park."

The average winter closure dates for Trail Ridge Road have been October 23. Although often times the road closes earlier and does not reopen, the previous ten year's official closure dates are: November 4, 2014, October 22, 2013, October 17, 2012, October 27, 2011, October 29, 2010, October 21, 2009, November 6, 2008, October 22, 2007, October 23, 2006, November 4, 2005 and October 25, 2004. The central portion of Trail Ridge Road normally opens the last week in May, weather permitting. This year Trail Ridge Road opened on May 29.

Old Fall River Road closed for the season on October 23. Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road will remain open to bicycles and leashed pets until November 30, re-opening on April 1, except during road maintenance operations and emergency closures as posted. Cyclists and pet owners may utilize the road at their own risk. After November 30, both of these roads will revert to "winter trail status" which means that bicycles and leashed pets are not permitted beyond the closed gates.

For current road conditions and other park information, please call the park's Information Office at (970) 586-1206.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Recently Discovered Fossil Mammoth Bone on Display in Canon City

A fossil mammoth tibia (lower leg bone) was discovered on the San Isabel National Forest in July, 2015. It is currently on display through November 25 in the Canon City BLM/USFS field office.

U.S. Forest Service (USFS) soils scientist Steve Sanchez noticed prominent sedimentary rock layers in the area which might contain dinosaur tracks. Bruce Schumacher, a paleontologist for the USFS Rocky Mountain Region followed up on the information and it led to the fossil discovery.

According to Schumacher, “The geology of this area is dominated by Jurassic and Early Cretaceous rock formations (100 – 150 million years old) and so I was expecting to see evidence of dinosaur bones or tracks. When I first spotted the fossil from a long distance, I assumed it was a large dinosaur limb bone, especially since it was exposed in red claystone sediments like the Morrison Formation. Close inspection revealed that the bone was definitely that of a large mammal.”

Schumacher added, “In some respects, the discovery of an ‘elephant’ on the Forest is so much more meaningful than that of a dinosaur. We know that mammoths were around recently enough to share the same landscape that we know today. Imagine a herd of mammoths with Spanish Peaks on the horizon”.

The fossil mammoth bone will be moved to the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center for long-term display this winter. San Carlos District Ranger Paul Crespin said, “I’m very pleased to work with our local Museum to keep this here locally where it was found.”

The mammoth bone was deposited by stream action on top of the dinosaur-bearing Morrison Formation, and was then covered by Pleistocene flood and rockfall deposits. The bone was found in what are likely Pleistocene aged gravel deposits that can be up to 1 million years or more in age. This time period includes the beginning of the ice age, a time when large mammals commonly referred to as “Megafauna” roamed the earth. A typical mammoth would have stood about nine feet tall at its shoulder, and is most closely related to Asian elephants of today.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Old Fall River Road In Rocky Mountain National Park Closes For The Season

Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park continues to be closed due to snow accumulation from the recent storm, three foot drifting in some locations and freezing temperatures. It is unknown when the road may reopen.

Old Fall River Road has also closed for the season. The road will remain open to bicycles and leashed pets until November 30, re-opening on April 1, except during road maintenance operations and emergency closures as posted. Cyclists and pet owners may use the road at their own risk. The road closure means that access to the Chapin Creek Trailhead will also be limited.

For recorded Trail Ridge Road status please call (970) 586-1222. For more information about Rocky Mountain National Park please call the park's Information Office at (970) 586-1206 or visit


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Rocky Mountain National Park Announces Pile Burning Operations For This Winter

Fire managers from Rocky Mountain National Park plan to take advantage of upcoming wet or winter weather conditions to burn piles of slash generated from several fuels reduction projects and hazard tree removals. Slash from these projects has been cut and piled by park fire crews and contractors during the last two years and are now dry enough to burn.

When fighting the Fern Lake Fire in 2012, firefighters were able to take advantage of previous and existing prescribed fire and hazardous fuels treatment areas that provided a buffer between the fire and Estes Park. Prior hazard fuels projects were instrumental in stopping the fire from jumping Bear Lake Road.

Pile burning operations will only begin when conditions allow. They may begin as early as November 1 and continue through April as conditions permit. The piles are located in a variety of locations on the east side of the park including inside the park boundary adjacent to Allenspark, around Eagle Cliff Mountain, along upper Fall River Road and Beaver Mountain.

The fuels reduction projects are designed to reduce significant accumulations of forest fuels that can generate extreme or problematic fire behavior adjacent to the urban interface. By reducing the potential fire behavior the wildland fire risk to firefighters and the public is significantly reduced. However, these projects are not designed as a stand-alone defense against wildfires nor are they guaranteed to hold a wildfire in the worst of conditions. Park officials ask that you continue to do your part and complete wildfire mitigation on your property. To learn more about wildfire mitigation around your home, please click here.

Safety factors, weather conditions, air quality and other environmental regulations are continually monitored as a part of any fire management operation. Prescribed fire smoke may affect your health. For more information click here.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Colorado Parks and Wildlife To Raise Camping Fees Effective Nov. 1

To assure the continued high quality of Colorado's State Parks, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announces increases to basic, electric, full hook-up and cabin/yurt camping fees at the 33 parks where camping is available, effective Nov. 1. This is the first increase in camping fees since 2010.

“Our wonderful state parks require a large amount of maintenance, and rising costs of utilities, equipment and personnel has made this fee increase imperative,” said CPW Statewide Parks Pass and Reservations Coordinator, Devon Adams.

The change was approved by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission at its September meeting. Depending upon the type of site, fee increases range from $2 to $10 per night.

Yurts and cabins incurred the greatest hike, but CPW notes the experience for campers provides a cost-effective getaway.

“Some of Colorado’s most pristine sights and panoramic views are found at state parks that offer cabins and yurts, some still as low as $70/night,” adds Adams. “It is a great deal and no wonder our most popular camping sites fill up six months in advance.”

CPW has more than 3,900 campsites available, many including electrical hookups and close-by restroom and shower facilities, plus 50 cabins and yurts located throughout the state at elevations ranging from approximately 3,800 to 9,400 feet. Almost 300 campsites are ADA accessible. More information is available here.

The current camping fees will not change for those who have already made future reservations.

Most camping fees range from $10 - $28, not including the reservation fee and park pass. Every vehicle entering the park, including RVs and towed vehicles, must have a park pass for each day. Annual park passes are $70, and most daily parks passes are $7.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Is the Smokey Bear Ad Campaign Effective?

So I was listening to late night radio the other night when I heard the latest Smokey Bear PSA for the umpteenth time. For some reason the tagline phrase at the end of the commercial, “9 out of 10 wildfires are started by humans”, stood out for me this time. We’ve all heard that statistic a million times, but have you ever considered that this is basically the same stat that’s been cited since the launch of the Smokey Bear campaign?

In 1944 the Smokey Bear campaign was launched with the mission of creating and maintaining public awareness of wild fires. The campaign's original catch phrase, "Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires", was proclaimed on the very first campaign poster (seen on the right). According to the Smokey Bear website, “Fire prevention was a real concern since 9 out of 10 wildfires were human caused during the period 1946 to 1950.”

However, that same statistic continues to be cited today in current Smokey Bear commercials, as well as on the NPS Fire and Aviation Management website, the Insurance Information Institute website, and various national forest websites. According to a graph published by EcoWest, using data from the National Interagency Fire Center, the percent of human-caused wildfires has remained fairly constant between the years 2001 and 2012 (red line):

So the question that came to mind while lying in bed that night was how is it, or why haven’t we seen a significant decrease in the number of human-caused wildfires since the Smokey Bear campaign was launched more than 70 years ago? No doubt the campaign has been highly successful in raising awareness of the issue over the years. According to the Ad Council (which runs the Smokey Bear campaign), “96 percent of U.S. adults recognize him, and 70 percent are able to recall his message without prompting.” That's an incredible statistic – one that every marketer in the world wishes they could claim! But why haven’t we seen an improvement in the number of human-caused wildfires over the last 70 years?

In defense of the Ad Council, they also state on their website that “Most importantly, the average number of acres lost annually to wildfire has decreased from 22 million in 1944 to an average of 6.7 million today.“ A quick glance at annual wildfire data published by the National Interagency Fire Center would seem to confirm this claim. However, at the bottom of that report, it notes that annual wildland fire statistics
“is provided through Situation Reports, which have been in use for several decades. Prior to 1983, sources of these figures are not known, or cannot be confirmed, and were not derived from the current situation reporting process. As a result the figures above prior to 1983 shouldn’t be compared to later data.”
Interestingly, the number of fires reported before 1983 is far greater than the years that follow, though the number of acres burned is comparatively constant (the data only goes back to 1960). From my point of view, the claim from the Ad Council appears to be an “apples to oranges” comparison, and therefore isn’t valid. Moreover, it appears the Ad Council is comparing one year – 1944 – to the most recent 12-year average, which isn’t a statistically valid way of comparing the two time periods. As you can see in the chart below (published by the Insurance Information Institute), the total number of acres burned each year fluctuates widely (graph shows number of acres in millions from 1980 to 2014):

It’s very possible that 1944 was an outlier year. An average from that time period, with valid data using the same collection methods and from same sources as used today would be the only correct way to measure this claim. Which brings me back to my original question: why haven’t we seen an improvement in the number of human-caused wildfires over the last 70 years?

Is it possible that our collective conservationist ethic hasn’t improved, or is less now than in years past? It would seem unlikely, but I don’t have any data to support or refute this assertion.

Is it a generational phenomenon? In other words, is it a lesson, or an awareness issue, that each generation has to learn as they come of age? A review of the statistics on the ages of all the human-caused wildfires over the last 70 years would prove (or disprove) that theory. Unfortunately I don’t have access to those statistics, but they would be interesting to see, and would be the only logical reason why we haven’t seen an improvement in this problem over the last several decades. Indeed, it does appear that the Ad Council tries to target younger people, especially when you consider the campaign tactics that have been used over the years. However, can you really say that the campaign has been successful when the needle hasn’t moved in 70 years?

What are your thoughts? Is there another reason for the problem that I'm overlooking? Is there a more effective way of dealing with the issue? Is the Ad Council wasting our federal tax dollars on a problem it hasn’t fixed?


Hazard Tree Mitigation Above Milner Pass Along Trail Ridge Road

Bark beetles continue to be active within Rocky Mountain National Park, impacting large numbers of conifer trees. Mitigation of the effects of beetles is focused on removing hazard trees and hazard fuels related to the protection of life and property. For several years, Rocky Mountain National Park has had a proactive bark beetle management program. In recent years, spruce bark beetles have been considered at outbreak levels throughout the park. In 2015, the park has continued its mitigation efforts by removing hazardous trees and implementing temporary closures in a variety of park locations.

Park staff will be conducting hazard tree mitigation through tree removal above Milner Pass through late October. Temporary road closures can be expected along ¼ mile-long sections of Trail Ridge Road on the west side of the park beginning today, October 20, through Thursday, October 22 and from Monday, October 26 through Thursday, October 29. Up to 30 minute traffic delays may take place between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. within the project area above Milner Pass. Material disposal will involve consolidation at designated sites for future use including firewood collection permits. More information on wood utilization will be available during the summer of 2016.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Special Astronomy Night At Rocky Mountain National Park

In conjunction with the White House Astronomy Night, Rocky Mountain National Park will be hosting their own celebration Monday, October 19th, at 6 p.m. at the Moraine Park Discovery Center. Join a park ranger for a thirty minute presentation about the wonders of the night sky followed by viewing through telescopes.

Seeing the Milky Way or a particular constellation can be inspirational for park visitors.In Rocky Mountain National Park, as in other parks, natural darkness of starry skies is an important resource of this special place.

For further information about Rocky Mountain National Park please call the park's Information Office at (970) 586-1206.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Caught on Video: 4 Hikers Survive Suspension Bridge Failure

Sorry, but it's been quite a few years since I've brushed up on my high school French, but you really don't need to know the language to know how frightening this had to have been for these four hikers in New Zealand. The video was published a few days ago by Adrien Whistle, presumably from France. Based on the Google translation, the video essentially states that one of the main cables of the suspension bridge broke as the four hikers were crossing it, at which point they fell 8 meters (26 feet) into the river. Fortunately there were no serious injuries. It's pretty crazy that the whole episode was caught on film:


Tuesday, October 6, 2015 Adds 8 New Hikes

This past August/September Kathy and I spent a couple of weeks hiking in the San Juan Mountains and Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition to making a few improvements to existing hikes already on our website (i.e., better photos), we also hiked 5 new trails which have been recently published to our website. Here's a quick rundown of the new hikes on our site:

Chapin / Chiquita / Ypsilon - after three unsuccessful attempts to hike the "CCY Route" due to bad weather, the 4th time was a finally a charm on this trip. As you might expect, with Ypsilon Mountain being the 5th highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, the views along much of this hike are simply outstanding. As a result, this hike has made our revised Top 10 Hikes list for the park.

Four Lakes Loop - as you might expect from the name, the so called 'Four Lakes Loop" visits four subalpine lakes in the Bear Lake area. It also visits the popular Alberta Falls along this spectacular and popular one-way loop hike.

Shadow Mountain Lookout - located just outside of Grand Lake on the west side of the park, this hike gives you the opportunity to visit that last remaining fire lookout in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Upper Beaver Meadows Loop - Expansive views of Longs Peak and the mountains along the Continental Divide await you from the montane grassy meadows along this one-way loop hike.

Bridal Veil Falls - Although not very well known, Bridal Veil Falls is a surprisingly nice waterfall located a few miles north of Estes Park. The hike begins from the historic McGraw Ranch.

Other Colorado Hikes:

In addition to the 10 days we spent in Rocky Mountain National Park, we also spent a few days hiking in the San Juan Mountains in the Ouray area. I’ve often said that the San Juan Mountains could easily qualify as a national park, and if included, would definitely rank as one of the crown jewels in the entire national park system. Two of the hikes we "discovered" on this trip, Ice Lakes and Black Face Mountain, proved my point once again:

Ice Lakes - Ice Lake is the most brilliant blue color I’ve ever seen in nature. Combine this extraordinarily beautiful alpine lake with outstanding mountain scenery and several thousand wildflowers, and you have one of the best hikes found just about anywhere.

Black Face Mountain - Although Black Face Mountain may look fairly nondescript from the top of Lizard Head Pass, don't be deceived - the views from the summit are quite stunning.

Ouray Perimeter Trail - Most of the trails in the San Juan Mountains lead to or traverse fairly high elevations. The Ouray Perimeter Trail offers hikers the opportunity to acclimate before hitting the more scenic trails in the surrounding area. In addition to enjoying the mountain scenery around "Switzerland of America", this hike offers visitors the chance to learn more about the rich history of Ouray.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Fatality On Longs Peak Recovery Efforts Complete

At 10:30 p.m. Friday night, October 2, Rocky Mountain National Park rangers were notified that Spencer Veysey, 26, of Missoula, Montana was overdue. He had been planning to summit Longs Peak. It was unclear what route he was intending to take to the summit.

After he failed to return by Saturday morning, park rangers searched areas of the Keyhole Route as well as near Chasm Lake. Rangers experienced icy conditions during search efforts. Late Saturday afternoon, park rangers found Veysey's body at the bottom of Lambs Slide on the east face of Longs Peak. Rangers stayed at the Chasm Shelter, near his body last night.

Yesterday morning rangers prepared his body for transport. His body was flown from the scene to a landing spot at Upper Beaver Meadows at approximately 11:30 a.m. yesterday, and transferred to the Boulder County Coroner. 


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Rocky Mountain National Park Seeking Information Regarding Low Flying Aircraft

On Friday, September 25th, at approximately 5:30 p.m. an ultralight aircraft flew low in the area of Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. Park rangers are reaching out to the public for any information pertaining to this incident. They are interested in speaking with witnesses or anyone who might have photographs or videos of the aircraft.

If you have any information related to this incident please call Rocky Mountain National Park's Communications Center at (970) 586-1204.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Pike and San Isabel National Forests Conducting Customer Satisfaction Survey

The Pike and San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands (PSICC) will be conducting the National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) project beginning today, October 1, 2015. Forest managers expect to interview nearly 4,000 visitors over the next year for valuable insight into the perspectives of people who enjoy these national treasures.

“We are very excited about this survey since it’s a voice directly from the people we serve. The results will tell us the thoughts and expectations of our national forest and grassland visitors,” said Forest and Grassland Supervisor Erin Connelly.

The NVUM project will also gather input from outfitters and guides as well as lodging facilities, campgrounds, and ski areas to complement this comprehensive study. In addition to customer satisfaction, these short interviews provide land managers with relevant statistics as they establish funding priorities. It is conducted in five year intervals and this marks the fourth survey of its kind.

The PSICC hosts over six million entries annually.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Rocky Mountain National Park Increases Entrance And Camping Fees

Beginning today, October 1st, Rocky Mountain National Park is increasing entrance fees in order to fund important maintenance and improvement projects within the park. Because of Rocky's proximity to the populated Colorado Front Range, the park will be adding a single day pass to the existing option of fees. This "Day Use Pass" will be $20 while the weekly pass will increase to $30 for those visitors who intend to enjoy the park for multiple days. The annual park pass will increase to $50 and eventually increase to $60 by 2017. Campground fees will also increase to $18 a night for winter rates and $26 a night for summer rates. Campground fees are based on comparable fees for similar services in nearby campgrounds.

Officials state that they are committed to keeping Rocky Mountain National Park affordable and providing visitors with the best possible experience. They point out that this fee increase is still an incredible value when considering other family and recreational experiences one can enjoy. Plus, 80 percent of those funds stay right in Rocky to benefit visitors. As the park culminates the celebration of Rocky's Centennial, these funds will be critical as they move forward into the next one hundred years.

Entrance fees have supported a wide range of projects that improve the park and visitor experiences, including renovating all campground restroom facilities, rehabilitating and maintaining approximately 100 of the park's 350 miles of trails, replacing trailhead signs, replacing picnic tables throughout the park, mitigating hazard trees in or near park facilities such as campgrounds, parking lots, road corridors and visitor centers, and operating the park's visitor shuttle bus system.

In the fall of 2014, the National Park Service conducted a nationwide review of entrance fees. Rocky Mountain National Park staff solicited public input beginning in October 2014. During the public comment period, the park received 95 formal comments that were related to the park's proposed fee changes. Based on comments received, there was significantly more support for the proposed fee rate changes than opposed. Park visitors seem to be highly supportive of fees in general and making the connection with the park's effort in providing tangible benefits to visitors through fee revenue.

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) is the legislation under which the park currently collects entrance and amenity fees. This law allows parks to retain 80 percent of the fees collected for use on projects that directly benefit visitors. The remaining 20 percent is distributed throughout the National Park System. Since the beginning of FLREA and its predecessor program Fee Demo, the park has spent over $66 million in repairs, renovations, improvements and resource restoration.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a strong economic engine for the surrounding area. In 2014, more than 3.4 million park visitors spent $217 million and supported 3,382 jobs, which had a cumulative benefit to the economy of $329 million.

In January 2005, Rocky Mountain National Park was the last of the larger size parks in the Intermountain Region to adopt the $20 per vehicle weekly rate. That same year the annual pass increased to $35, and to $40 in 2009, the last year of any increase in fees. Last year, Rocky Mountain National Park was the fifth most visited national park in the United States.