By Lupita Peimbert
(Travel) – He passed me by, apparently unconcerned, on my way to Trail Ridge Road in the Rocky Mountain National Park. His motorcycle was the usual of a biker and so it was his black vest and beard.
I was going to see the Tundra, and smell it, and feel it, and absorb it with my five senses, and the other “extras” I think I have –but there is not a name for it other than intuition.
Tundra means “treeless mountain tract,” its name derived from a Russian term that refers to the uplands. In Colorado, the Alpine Tundra ecosystem, with its extreme weather –high winds and low temperatures, represents a third of the Rocky Mountain National Park.
The tundra offers visitors unforgettable panoramic views, and a few sights of yellow-bellied marmots, elk, and white-tailed ptarmigans. Forget-Me-Not’s, Alpine Sunflowers and cushion plants have survived and adapted to the harsh climate, growing very little and very close to the land.
I drove up to Trail Ridge Road, the highest road in any national park, and was amazed by the open sky and the tapestry of colors and patterns in front of my eyes at 11,000 or 11,500 feet of altitude. As I felt its magnificent presence, I would encounter this biker man recognizing him because he was a biker, myself fixed with the stereotypical ideas people have about bikers, the rough and rowdy image of biker guys.
He probably didn’t even see me, as he was in his own world, lost within the families and couples who stopped at the many vista points along the way, admiring the views.
I was probably the only woman traveling alone in a world of visitors to the park. He was probably the only other person I saw on their own that day in that place.
A man probably in his early 50s, gipsy looking –at least to me, and absorbed on his own life perhaps. The only identifier other than the fact that he was unaccompanied, was his biker attire.
I saw him eating alone at one point, and saw him sitting down and looking deeply at the mountains at another. I didn’t dare to interrupt his space and his solitude. There was a certain gentleness about him, and he was respectful in his manners. I observed him for no other reason than our commonality: being alone.
On the road on and off, I saw him and his motorcycle a few other times, in silence.
Later on I talked to Bob, a volunteer who told me he has been coming to the Tundra for many years just because he loves nature, and he loves explaining to people what Tundra is all about. I asked several questions and he happily provided me with all sorts of geographical and environmental information.
Armed with my iphone and trying to take a selfie, somebody’s husband candidly asked if I would like him to take my picture. I said yes out of politeness, appreciating his caring while realizing that there wasn’t a real need for it.
Further up I found the Alpine Visitors Center, at an elevation of 11,798 ft. This place is open May to October, and closed for the Winter. It is a great stop to rest, eat something light, buy a souvenir, and take another opportunity to view the surroundings or participate in one of the ranger-led walks.
I didn’t get to see elks but I saw a marmot. What I was able to experience is not easy to describe with words. The Tundra is enormous, silent, a gentle giant but also an intimidating one.
As I drove back to Denver, I thought about my trip to the Rocky Mountain Park. Of everything I saw, it was being in the Tundra that really impressed me, and the on and off sighting of a biker guy.
Text and pictures by Lupita Peimbert. All rights reserved.
Source for Tundra references: Rocky Mountain National Park.