On top of the world: At Rocky Mountain National Park | SkyHiNews.com

On top of the world: At Rocky Mountain National Park

Drive just passed Grand Lake in Grand County and you're at the doorstep of 415 square miles of vast, unadulterated natural beauty. Welcome to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park's acres encompass and protect spectacular mountain environments. Enjoy Trail Ridge Road, which crests at over 12,000 feet including many overlooks to experience the subalpine and alpine worlds, along with over 300 miles of hiking trails, wildflowers, wildlife, starry nights and fun times.

In a world of superlatives, Rocky is on top.

A world of wildlife

People have a soft spot for the mammals of Rocky Mountain National Park. Altogether, 67 mammal species are known to be native to the area, but grizzly bears, gray wolves and bison were locally extirpated in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The lynx and wolverine are either extirpated or extremely rare. Moose are now commonly seen in the park, but they were not historically recorded as being part of this particular area of the Rocky Mountains.

The illustrious black bear:

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Only the black bear is known to exist in Rocky Mountain National Park. Its northern cousin, the grizzly bear, is no longer found in Colorado. Black bears make a point to avoid humans, so they are not often seen.

Black bears are solitary animals except for females — called sows — with cub families. They wander through home ranges of 10 to 250 square miles as snow recedes, plants sprout and berries open.

Mating season peaks in May and June, but egg implantation is delayed until the fall when the sow is ready to den up for the winter. This allows the female to conserve fat reserves and energy during the growing season. If she doesn’t gain enough weight before hibernation, her body can reabsorb the eggs for her own survival.

Males can breed at three years of age, while females first have cubs around five years old. Females with cubs do not breed again until the cubs leave. Females give birth to litter sizes of one to five cubs every other year. Cubs are born in the mother’s winter den after a two to three month gestation period. They are born toothless, with closed eyes and fine, soft fur. They may nurse throughout their first summer, and remain with their mother for up to a year and a half.

Bears are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. About 90 percent of their main diet consists of roots, berries, nuts and insects. They can be active anytime, but most often during the morning and evening twilight. When not feeding, they rest in day beds next to logs in windfall trees, dense brush or in a depression. Black bears can live up to 30 years, but the average is 20 years. They are very opportunistic and can easily develop a taste for human food and garbage. Bears who become habituated to obtaining this kind of food are often killed.

Bear sightings: Don't panic

If you see a black bear, stop and do not run. Stay calm and pick up small children. Make lots of noise, shouting and clapping your hands. Back away slowly. Stand tall, but if you are attacked, fight back.

Black bears will eat almost anything. Most conflicts between bears and people are linked to careless handling of food or garbage. Once a bear has found food which is easily accessible, it will overcome its wariness of people and visit the site often.

If you are on the trail, keep food with you at all times and do not leave your pack unattended. At backcountry campsites, all food, cooking equipment, garbage and other scented items must be stored in a carry-in/carry-out bear-resistant food storage canister. This is required from April 1 to Oct. 31 at all backcountry sites below treeline.

In campgrounds, all scented items as well as water containers and pet food must be stored in a closed vehicle or storage locker provided at the campground. Storage in tents, pop-up campers, sleeping bags or under tarps is prohibited. If left unattended, these items are subject to confiscation by park rangers. The only exception to these rules occur during food transport, preparation, eating and cleanup.

Rocky Mountain National Park is open 24 hours a day, year-round. You can enter or exit any time.

Summer is the busiest time of year.

No lodging is available in the park, but there are hundreds of lodging choices in nearby communities.

Camping reservations inside the park and lodging reservations in gateway communities are highly recommended.

This is a high elevation park. Trail Ridge Road crests over 12,000 feet. Visitors from lower altitudes may feel the effects of thinner air. Take time to acclimate before doing strenuous activities.

When you arrive, stop by a park visitor center for up-to-date information on everything from road conditions to hiking trails and ranger-led programs.

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