Amid a year of weather extremes, Northern Colorado’s mountains could be at a tipping point.
Whether it’s because of extreme drought or climate change or both, those changes — the kind hikers and sightseers can see and touch — are on display this year like no other at Rocky Mountain National Park.
There, Trail Ridge Road over the Continental Divide opened two weeks earlier than normal in May because of a significant lack of snow. The usual profusion of wildflowers? Not so profuse this year — at least not yet. The typical snowfields adorning the couloirs, tundra and high alpine talus slopes? Mostly gone. Views across Trail Ridge were obscured by smoke from a wildfire in Mesa County 200 miles away.
Those things are mainly drought related, but other changes go a bit deeper. Judy Visty, director of the park’s Research Learning Center, examined dead limbs on a clump of subalpine fir trees on Trail Ridge Road just below timberline.
The branches on the scrubby little trees are dying from the top down, creating what looks like a broad ring of brown at the edge of the tundra in places, especially below the popular Alpine Visitor Center.
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