Home > Uncategorized > The Grand Benevolent Order of Elks

The Grand Benevolent Order of Elks

July 24. Today I rise early. I plan to drive to the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of the famed Trail Ridge Road, highest continuous paved road in North America. At about 12,000 feet I break out above the tree line and follow the road another 11 miles surrounded by alpine tundra. Up here, plants are granted only a few weeks of weather above freezing to complete their life-cycle. They hug closely the ground, no more than three inches tall, the better to capture the meager radiated heat of surrounding rocks.

Now, at the height of summer, they are in riotous flower. There are so many varieties I can’t count them, let alone name them (and why was Adam and Eve’s first act in the Garden to name things?) Though the plants  appear in miniature, with leaves only a quarter-inch across–some with tiny hairs to catch and trap heat–their roots may sink four feet into the stoney earth. Their survival is a miracle; their profusion is a wonder. Some, on exposed ridges, must bear 150 mile-an-hour subzero winds, battered by grains of sand and ice crystals all winter. By chance, some of their more fortunate brethren fastened to the earth on the leeward side of the ridge, in the windshadow, comfortably blanketed from the elements beneath 30 feet of snow drift.

There are really no words to describe the raw enormous panorama of snow-capped peaks rising in every direction into the farthest distance. Around every bend in the road lies another picture even more awe-inspiring than the one before, until one becomes besotted by the beauty of it all, unable to absorb more.

Bull elks at rest

A hundred yards away I spot a herd of perhaps 30 bull elk resting on the flowered tundra, their stately antlers held high, their senses alert to human presence. A couple of miles away the cows and their babies are resting in the same way, warily. I find this to be an interesting arrangement. No politically correct intermingling of the sexes here.

Reluctantly, I head back down the mountain. Thunderstorms are glowering in the middle distance and, as we learned before, above the tree line is no place to be when lightening threatens.

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