Trail Ridge Road along Rocky Mountain National Park is simply one of the most spectacular drives. Stop and hike up the Tundra Communities Trail (it’s one of the most amazing ecosystems I’ve ever visited).
On its surface, the alpine tundra is a biome of stark contrasts: barren landscape and rugged mountains. Frozen winds dance across the desolate wilderness, howling with more ferocity than a pack of starving wolves.
For much of the year, the alpine tundra subjected to long and bitterly cold winters — snowfall and the snowpack can be heavy. With an elevation starting at 11,000 feet, this is truly a land above the trees.
Then comes the early summer: the snowpack melts, revealing a layer of tiny layer of cushion plants. The harshly cold, bellowing winds persist. To the naked and untrained eye, it would seem that nothing really lives here. But for those who linger a little longer or who get down on their hands and knees (read: stay on the trail), a rainbow of diversity exists. In early summer, the alpine’s flowers begin to bloom — if you look closely enough, you’ll see a discrete (and well masked) field of tiny, brilliant micro-flowers.
Lichen, moss, and other small plants hug the ground, sheltering themselves from the fiercely cold winds — they have developed a high tolerance for extremely low temperatures.
Their shallow and dense root systems drink from the melting snow. They are slow growing, making them vulnerable to uninvited (human) impact. They are entirely fragile.
It is truly one of the most magnificent achievements of vegetation adaptation…and if you’re going too fast, you could blink and miss it’s glory.