Busy days on Niwot Ridge

Hikers move quickly off Niwot Ridge as storm clouds build.
Hikers move quickly off Niwot Ridge as storm clouds build.

I’ve mentioned before that there can be a lot to see with the University of Colorado’s controllable webcam on Niwot Ridge, west of Boulder. This last week has been more interesting than usual.

Tuesday evening I tuned in around sunset, just to watch the sunset, and was treated to the sight of three female elk browsing on the sparse tundra grasses. All three jumped the fence that blocked their path, rather than detour slightly and go around it. “Jump” would be an overly elegant term in this case. It was more like “climbed over.” I watched until they moved out of sight, hoping a bull elk might appear, but it never happened.

On Friday I spied four different groups of hikers, all moving quickly down the trail and off the ridge. Afternoon storm clouds were building and their haste was understandable. You do not want to be caught above tree line with storms in the area. It looked like, and probably amounted to, a mass evacuation. I would find out later that at the same time I was watching them, 18 miles to the north, lightning was striking eight hikers near Trail Ridge Road. One was killed.

The last two images are from Saturday afternoon. I spent a lot of time watching wisps of cloud gliding swiftly across the ridge. One moment it would be clear, the next, completely obscured. I’ve never gotten over the wonder, the absolute magic, of actually standing or hiking in the clouds. At one point a hiker materialized and then faded away, moving down the hill. Good thing he had a trail to follow, because the visibility was nearly zero at times. Even so, if you don’t know where you’re going, you could take a wrong turn.

You may be wondering why all the hikers here stick to the trails when it would obviously be shorter and faster to cut straight across the slope. It’s because this is delicate tundra. Grasses and plants struggle to survive here (elev. 11,600 ft.), and grow very slowly. If trampled, some take years to recover. And with the climate changing, some might never recover.

Also, much of this part of the ridge is restricted access. It’s a research area for many climate and ecology organizations. If you pan around with the camera you’ll see a number of different markers, indicators, meters, etc., in the area. The lakes visible in the valley below are also restricted; they are the headwaters of Boulder’s water supply.


9 thoughts on “Busy days on Niwot Ridge

  1. Wow, that was well done my friend. I’m beginning to see why Mother Nature charges such a high price. I might even wonder if the price is high enough…

  2. I enjoy webcams such as these and wouldnt mind donating to keep them running as long as it is voluntary– when each connection comes with a ‘give’ message, that bugs me. But enjoy these clips so much! The tundra is almost magical, thinking of those tiny plants being hundreds of years old, generating their own heat during the brief growing seasons, and cramming a full year’s growth into those few weeks. Just wish people could realize all that each time they could rock-hop, but instead just trample or worse, pick the flowers….

    1. As I’ve said, this is my favorite web cam. And I’d contribute to keeping it running if it comes to that. It would be worth it for all the pleasure I get from it. If you tilt it sharply down and look beside the hut, you can see some little yellow flowers nodding in the breeze. Cinquefoil, I think, although I don’t know my wildflowers.

      I know how you feel about the rock hoppers. There are lichens on those rocks! I’d find it tough to be a ranger, with people ignoring the signs everywhere, dropping trash, picking flowers, etc. I’ve about burned through my lifetime allocation of patience.

... and that's my two cents