I love to go up the Mt. Evans road in summer! Besides being the highest paved road (to just shy of 14,264 feet in elevation) in the United States, it is what is found on the mountain’s slopes that make it special. The drive ascends through climate zones much as you would driving north to the arctic. The destination is the alpine tundra, but getting there you traverse switchbacks from the montane at Echo Lake, to the subalpine and timberline at Mt. Goliath, where bristlecone pines grace the slopes. Beyond is the land I love: the high rarified air of the alpine tundra: land above the trees. Here rock gardens bloom with tiny vibrant flowers hugging between the rocky landscape. Also here are well-developed alpine meadows of alpine aven, nodding sky-pilot, green leaf chiming bells and dwarf clovers, all combining to create a colorful scene on the slopes. Here also is the home of my favorite animal species: white-tailed ptarmigan, long-tailed and least weasels, pikas, and marmots. Even more spectacular are the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep and Rocky Mountain Goats found going about making their living at elevation, residing on the cliffs, and foraging in the meadows.
In early summer the nannies and ewes stay hidden away with their newborns in nurseries of meadows with protective cliffs above and below. About mid-June, the ewes and nannies appear with their babies, climbing the slopes along the Mt. Evans roadside and to the summit. There they seem to create a social scene for their babies to meet the babies of other nannies, and ewes, and to eat the minerals found in the rocky soil, and perhaps the salt spread on the roads early in the season when road-opening and spring storms sometimes come together. Here they also meet US, and their young become of tolerant of the two-legged gawkers who watch them, photograph, and sometimes interfere with their passage.
Wildlife photography is renowned on Mt. Evans. Nearly any day of the week photographers toting huge lenses, tripods and cameras search out the alpine wildlife to photograph. Because of their long lenses, they can hold their distance from the animals, and do not disturb their movements and their habits. However, I have been dismayed and sometimes annoyed by people with pocket cameras and cell phones trying to get close up photos of the sheep and goats. Both species are extremely tolerant of humans, but they are not tame pets. They don’t beg for food, and they prefer respect in the form of the distance humans keep. They prefer a quiet group who makes no sudden movements, and quiet sounds. They will continue their normal behaviors and display immensely satisfying antics, if not crowded. In more remote places on the mountain, I have been able to sit on the ground where the goats and sheep will actually approach me. Sitting is not as threatening, and the animals’ innate curiosity will often allow a close encounter. I’ve often hiked to the goats and sheep, and I’ve had wonderful opportunities to observe and photograph the intimate moments of their lives. If you don’t own a telephoto lens, do be content to include the environmental surroundings of the animal as a highlight to the landscape. Enjoy the animals with respect, and you will be rewarded with some amazing moments!