Monday, August 8, 2011

Alpine Tundra Survivors

Before leaving Rocky Mountain National Park, we want to write about the dimensional opposite of the Park's massive mountains.

Above the treeline of the Park lies the Alpine tundra (above 11,400 feet of eleva-tion) and hidden among the rocks are tiny specks of color (above).

These are special types of flowers. Flowers that can withstand fierce drying winds, bitter cold, intense ultraviolet light, thin soil, and a brief growing season. Plants that can survive these conditions possess one or more of these qualities:
they are tiny,

grow close to the ground,

have waxy leaf surfaces to resist moisture loss, or

have dense tiny hairs to trap warmth against stems and leaves.

Plants just inches tall may grow taproots six feet long to get moisture and anchor them against the wind.

We would have liked to have moved closer to photograph these delicate, tiny plants, but to do so, we would have had to walk over the tundra--and in the process, we would have destroyed several years of growth, if not destroyed the plants themselves.

I don't know about assigning human qualities to these tiny flowers, but that being said, in some sense I marvel at the survival qualities of these plants.

Another survivor of the harsh conditions of the alpine tundra is this marmot. By piling on the fat in summer and then hibernating for seven to eight months, by slowing its metabolism and heartbeat, and by lowering its body temperature to 40 degrees, the marmot can survive all winter on its fat.

As we were nearing the end of the bus tour, we passed this coyote. He showed no interest in us and continued on his way without breaking stride.

In the days following our visits to Rocky Mountain National Park, we found these flowers growing in less hostile environ-ments.

Kate caught this butterfly stopping on a flower for a moment and

captured these grasses swaying in the wind creating a photo with an abstract art quality.

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