We all know that a long stroll outside can do wonders for a funk we find ourselves in, but it may not be clear why being outdoors has such an effect on our bodies and minds. It's safe to say that the majority of us live in cities or work in professions that keep us indoors (and even worse) sitting for long periods of time. Various studies have determined that those with little access to green and wild places have a much higher likelihood of psychological issues than those who live near parks or visit natural environments on a regular basis.
But does immersing yourself in nature actually change your brain in a way that affects your overall emotional health?
According to a study published by Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University, there's a strong correlation between improved mood and spending time in natural environments. In a study, volunteers who were allowed to stroll along tree-lined paths with little noise pollution did not dwell on the same negative aspects of their life as they had prior to the walk. In addition, they had less blood flow to the portion of the brain that is highly associated with 'morbid rumination', or incessant fretting. Those who were forced to walk along a busy highway did not feel the same bliss afterwards!
There are still many unknown factors. How much time in nature is ideal for improved mental health? Must you be walking at the same time to reap the real rewards? Should you be alone or with a companion?
Conduct your own experimentation! Click HERE for a list of the best walking trails near Longmont, Colorado.
With more people, families and groups venturing into Rocky Mountain National Park than ever before, you may be wondering how park rangers, staff and volunteers do it...
How do they keep all the pieces in place?
What challenges do they face?
And how can I help?
Thanks to Miles Barger, a visual information specialist for Rocky Mountain National Park, you can now learn so much more about the park and all the people who look after it. Throughout his career in park services, he has been constantly reminded of the deep love and curiosity that visitors have for national parks and wild places - but it isn't just about the wilderness itself. When it comes to national parks, visitors develop the same feelings for the people that look after them! With that in mind, Barger and his coworker Hope Ozolins created a team and a structure for a brand new podcast called Rocky Mountain National Podcast.
Listeners will enjoy 10 episodes per season, each one an hour long. The first season's focus will be on different park personnel, starting with some of the most beloved to park visitors; rangers and other educational and interpretive program leaders. He discusses things like why they became involved in national parks, what they do within Rocky Mountain National Park and some of the unique knowledge they impart on others. Personal stories blend with park information, news & updates, and specific information on planning a trip to the park."We are always looking for ways to reach other audiences and new tools to give people the information they want about the park," Kyle Patterson, spokesperson for RMNP, said.
Barger hopes to continue evolving the podcast to include a mini-series within the main season; shorter segments that focus on something more specific, like a research project or a current concern. The first 4 episodes are out already - take a listen for yourself!
Season 1, Episode 1: A Love of the Mountains with Kathy Brazelton
Join Kathy Brazelton, an East District Naturalist, in the Upper Beaver Meadows, as she shares her life as a ranger, ranger programs, various signs of spring and more.
Season 1, Episode 2: Chillin' in the Alpine with Cynthia Langguth
Ranger Cynthia Langguth teaches us about the interesting world of the alpine tundra. She'll teach about marmots, pika, ptarmigan and everything else in the land above the tree line...
Season 1, Episode 3: Gettin' Wild on Rocky's West Side
Explore all that the West Side of Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer with rangers Maci MacPherson and Michele Simmons!
Season 1, Episode 4: With Kyle Patterson
What does the Public Affairs Officer for RMNP actually do? Join Kyle Patterson and explore what he does, day in and day out; sharing news and messages, dealing with current issues at the park, and even how you can help keep the park beautiful for generations to come.
Erik Stensland, an Estes Park resident and photographer, visits Rocky Mountain National Park regularly to photograph all the beauty within; spring flowers, sunsets and waterfalls overflowing. Like many creative nature enthusiasts, Stensland prefers to wander outdoors in solitude.
"I just need silence to rethink things. It keeps me whole and sane. I need that time of personal reflection." - Erik Stensland
Though you aren't going to become his best hiking buddy, Stensland is willing to share some of his wisdom when it comes to taking photographs while venturing through the park. And it's advice you'll want to take!
Tip #1 - Timing is Everything
Aim to photograph your desired subject or area when the light is warm. If you can shoot within 15-20 minutes of sunrise or sunset, you'll be amazed by the results. More people prefer sunrise photos than sunset photos, due to the clarity during that time of day. Winds die down and urban activity slows significantly during the night, leaving a window of time just before and during sunrise that provides a more clean and clear atmosphere.
Tip #2 - What Are You Shooting?
It's easy to become distracted by everything around you and before you know it, you've taken 300 photos in the first 15 minutes of your hike and you're late for that sunrise shot you'd planned on getting! Before you head out, be very clear about what the subject of your image is. Why did you come out today? What did you hope to photograph? What was the overall feeling you wanted to convey with this image? Focus on one clear subject and you'll hike home feeling triumphant.
Tip #3 - Learn to Love Cloudy Days
Sure, it may go against your nature to hope for clouds in the sky as you pack up for a day outside. But in Stensland's opinion, if there aren't clouds in the sky, it isn't worth going out with your camera in tow. "Clouds really create the emotion in the image", he says. Subjects such as waterfalls and shadowy forested areas benefit greatly from the diffused light that grey skies bring. Clouds truly are nature's softbox, so take advantage of overcast days!
He sells his images online and in various galleries in New Mexico and Colorado. If you're more of a social media guru, he shares images daily on his Facebook and Twitter with inspiring messages attached for you to enjoy (free of charge!)
Despite the six feet of snow that some areas of the mountains received late this month, 4 out of 5 campgrounds within Rocky Mountain National Park are open and ready! The ever-changing weather is something we love about our state; one day we're buried in snow, the next it's melted and made way for sunshine and warmth..
Because these campgrounds are inside the park itself, the sites are reserved well in advance. Get a jump on it and line everything up for the beginning of summer!
Aspenglen Campground - 54 sites total - 12 tent only - 5 walk to
With equal amounts of shade and sunshine, this campground is popular for family tent camping and RVs alike. There are also several sites that you must walk to which provide a more secluded and serene experience for those looking to get away from the hustle. Seasonal inclusions/services: Firewood and ice for sale, food storage lockers, trash & recycling collection, amphitheater use, staff or volunteer host on site, potable water, and flush toilets. There are no showers at this campground.
Glacier Basin Campground - 147 sites total - 73 tent only - 13 group sites
Enjoy lots of grass, shrubbery and season wildflowers that sprout in nearby meadows. Certain loops have lost nearly all of their trees due to Pine Beetle damage, so be mindful of that when reserving a site in Loops C & D. Group sites are available as well, so you can bring the whole crew! Seasonal inclusions/services include: Dump station, firewood and ice for sale, food storage locker, trash/recycling collection, potable water, staff or volunteer on site, amphitheater use.
Moraine Park Campground - 247 sites total - 101 tent only - 49 walk to
Located near the Beaver Meadows entrance on Highway 36, Moraine Park Campground offers gorgeous views of the park and surrounding mountains and hillsides. If you're looking to explore nearby civilization as well, there are free shuttles that connect the campground to Bear Lake trailheads and Estes Park restaurants and shops. Seasonal services/inclusions include: Dump station, firewood and ice for sale, amphitheater, staff or volunteer on site, potable water, flush toilets, and vault toilets.
Timber Creek Campground - 98 sites total
Timber Creek is the only campground on the west side of the park, and is about 8 miles north of the Grand Lake entrance, right along the Colorado River. All sites are first-come, first-served; reservations won't help you here! Due to a Pine Beetle infestation, all the trees were removed from the campground so no shade can be found. Seasonal services/inclusions include: Dump station, firewood for sale, trash/recycling collection, amphitheater, staff or volunteer on site, potable water, and flush toilets.
Just before Colorado's last snowstorm rolled through, Bill Sycalik from New York City was running through Rocky Mountain National Park on his quest to complete what he calls a "life experience project"; to run a 26.2 mile personal marathon in all 59 U.S. national parks."When I left New York City, I never thought that I would ever do anything like this," Sycalik said. "I never thought that I would break out of that typical corporate lifestyle."
He was unhappy living in the big apple, where he felt detached from nature and all of the wilderness that he enjoyed most. In an effort to push past his own limits and reconnect with the great outdoors, he decided to get back to his love for trail-running and visit as many national parks as he could in the process. But that wasn't quite challenging enough for Sycalik..
Instead, he decided he would run a 26.2 mile personal marathon through each of the parks on a course of he designed with the help of park rangers and topographers.
(Video Credit: Bill Sycalik)
For those of us who do not run marathons regularly, the entire feat is very impressive. Sycalik emphasizes that truly anyone has the ability and grit to complete a marathon! Transferring your movement over to a trail instead of a paved track is when the entire thing goes from mundane to magical."It gives you an energy that you don't get running in a gym..", he says.
But no one said it was easy. People train for marathons, and it's worthwhile to note that it takes practice and repetition, like everything else in life. Find someone to help coach you and begin slowly conditioning yourself, working up to that 26.2 mile marker. Approaching it expecting immediate results will likely discourage you from continuing on at all.
Running in the outdoors and along uneven terrain is excellent for the body, too. Not only is it more physically stimulating but mentally stimulating as well. "You're part of nature," Sycalik says. "You're actually part of the surroundings, as we had been for thousands of years, but we've forgotten about it. And it gets you connected to that again."
During his run through Rocky Mountain National Park, he encountered some of Colorado's wildlife, including deer, elk, bison and bears. In the coming days, pictures from his trip to RMNP will be added to other galleries of the beautiful places he's been on this trip.
(Photo Credits: Bill Sycalik)
Once his journey is complete and all the national parks have been visited, Sycalik plans to settle in the Denver area and remain close to friends. His dream would be to work in an industry he is passionate about, such as outdoor clothing or vegan nutrition.
We'll look forward to welcoming someone to our colorful state that is so clearly Colorado at heart!
Rocky Mountain National Park is home to black bears, which are also the largest and least frequently seen mammals within the park. There are an estimated 20-35 bears currently living in RMNP, but previous studies have shown that the park is a poor habit for them, naturally speaking. It's believed that the area was attractive to the animals because hunting remains prohibited within the boundaries. Bears do what bears do; they eat lots of wild fruits that grow within the park, such as choke cherries, currants, raspberries, grapes and juniper berries. Afterwards, well.. They do what nearly every other living thing does.
RMNP rangers decided to try something new this year, and used the abundance of bear scat to the park's advantage!
A member of the park's vegetation restoration crew collected scat throughout the park last fall, and volunteers took time planting it in the park's greenhouses. No one was sure what exactly would come of it, if anything - but there truly was no downside to this experiment. Everyone was pleasantly surprised when the seedlings began sprouting, which have now reached a count of over 1,200 total.
"Animals are great seed dispersers and of course, what does in one way goes out the other," the park said on it's Facebook page. "After defecation, seeds are left in a rich, moist medium that nourishes the growing seedling."
Most of the seedlings appear to be Oregon-grape and chokecherry, which was a surprise to the team. Chokecherry has a very thick, hard seed coat that is difficult to germinate in typical greenhouse conditions. Thanks to their trip through a bear's digestive system beforehand, that coat was broken down in the process, allowing for successful growth.
The plan is to plant the Oregon Grape seedlings in an effort to rehabilitate the areas disturbed during the replacement of the park's main waterline in 2016.
If you dream of being a volunteer at the Rocky Mountain National Park, click HERE and take the next steps! There are opportunities for individuals and groups alike, and they are always in need of help and community involvement.
Have you ever seen the Milky Way that goes from horizon to horizon?
80% of the American population now lives in a place where the Milky Way is more or less invisible, thanks to light pollution. Street lights, lit billboards, 24/7 shops and services are slowly but surely changing the way we experience the world around us. As a result, not only do we lose touch with our connection to the outdoors, but our overall health suffers due to sleep-disrupting effects on the human body. And it doesn't just affect humans either; the migration behavior of sea turtles have been altered due to coastal lights, and also big migration routes as well. So where can a Coloradan go to escape the glow of civilization and gaze up at the stars with the same wonder that our ancestors once did?
Look no further than Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, Colorado!
The two small Colorado towns are nestled in the Wet Mountain Valley, below the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. True, they may only boast a population of 1,100, but their movement toward eliminating light pollution in their small part of the state started about 15 years ago. Since then, they have over the last decade become key players in a movement called Dark Sky and were officially designated as IDA Dark Sky Community in 2015. The international effort (International Dark-Sky Association) was founded in 1988 and aims to ensure that future generations can admire the Milky Way the same way previous generations did, before the advent of the light bulb.
(Photo Credit: Curtis Urban (stars), Watson Land Co. (terrestrial)
The valley just to the west of these towns is one of the best places to star-gaze for a couple different reasons - the altitude of 8,000 feet that puts you closer to the stars than any other Dark Sky community in North America, and also the wonderful attitude of the people soaking in the views.
Dark Sky's efforts aren't merely about aesthetics; there are major economic advantages to community's that become involved, too. Due to frigid winter months that bring about temperatures as cold as 24 degrees below zero, Westcliffe and Silver Cliff will never become a year-round destination for astronomers to star-gaze from. Their goal is to expand their summer tourist season as late into fall and the following year's spring as possible. Due to a lack of communications capability, efforts to spread the word about the ideal night skies have been stagnated. Despite that, Westcliffe has grown 20% in the last 15 years, much of which they attribute to the migration of people from more populated areas seeking solace."It isn't just the skies", says Charles Bogle, who leads the Custer County Economc Development Corporation. "The quality of life in the valley is so alluring."
Interested in a star-gazing trip to Westcliffe and Silver Cliff?
Visit the SJO (Smokey Jack Observatory) in the southwest corner of The Bluff Park. They keep an up-to-date list of events throughout the year that are hosted at the observatory, though you can also reserve the space for a private star party if you wish!
Depending on your drive, you may want to stay overnight and head home the next morning. Westcliffe's Courtyard Country Inn is within walking distance of everything in town; restaurants, gifts shops and more. Pricing ranges from $80 - $100/night, depending on the time of year.
Composer Stephen Lias,like many others in all walks of life, draws inspiration from the great outdoors to create beautiful art in the form of musical masterpieces. The only difference is that his gaze is a bit more specific and focused - on national parks, to be specific!
Included in his dozens of compositions are pieces created thanks to our very own Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde national parks, alongside many more from around the United States.
This Saturday, March 25th at 7:30pm, the Boulder Philharmonic will debut the composer's newest piece, fondly dubbed "All the Songs That Nature Sings", after writings by Enos Mills, who's considered to be the father of the Rocky Mountain National Park by many. Though there are a very limited number of seats still available for the premier, you can buy tickets HERE. And if you'd prefer to listen to the full concert from the comfort of your home, take advantage of CPR's (Colorado Public Radio) live broadcast!
After the concert, the Boulder Philharmonic travels to Washington, D.C. to perform the complete program at the Kennedy Center's SHIFT event; a festival that showcases innovate American orchestras.
We're inspired and in awe of the beauty all over this state, but we must agree with composer Lias - Rocky Mountain National Park is quite special...
What does it feel like to be present?
To be here in the now and fully experiencing this moment. Free from any weight of the past or any anticipation of the future. Just free. Free to realize that only you can control how you feel. About anything.... Free to see things for what they are and free to give your time and energy to what really matters.
(Video Credit: High On Life)
Accept the fact that everything that makes up your world is there because you attracted it with your own thoughts. Realize that you can control your thoughts and emotions. There’s no big secret. Just choose to think better feeling thoughts. Listen to your emotions and chose to feel good. You can decide to be in a place of attraction and abundance.
What do you want to do in your life? What makes you tick? What makes you feel awe? Don’t be misled into thinking that you’re supposed to do anything. You are supposed to do only what you chose to do.
The world is vast and full of possibilities.
Follow your bliss.
Get out of your comfort zone.
Stop looking for reasons why you can’t and look for reasons why you can...
Though we love the Rocky Mountains and all of their wilderness, there are many other beautiful places throughout Colorado. But it can be difficult to see them all from the best angle, which is where filming drones come in! A bird's eye view allows you to see things from a new perspective, and sometimes that's all we need.
(Video Credit: DJI Inspire 1 | Chroma 4K)
If you're in need of a perspective shift, there are 5 steps you can take...
What is the challenge you're facing? To make it to the end, you need to know where you're starting from. Visualize yourself in the situation that you're dealing with - hear it, feel it and see it. Conjure up every detail you can to make it more real.
Expand it. The problem with only seeing things one way is that it's limited. Imagine you're going further and further from yourself and your challenge, until you're looking down at it from a complete bird's eye view. Focus on everyone else involved, and try to see it in it's entirety. What do you see that you haven't before? Does your perspective change from way up there?
Leave Earth behind. Imagine you're traveling even farther, past the atmosphere and into outer space. From way out there, what do you notice and how do you feel? What changes are there in your stress level as the challenge becomes further and further away?
Come back home. When you're ready, begin coming back towards the problem. As you return, go into the bodies of others involved before coming back into your own. See the situation from their viewpoint, no matter how difficult it is. What do you learn? Finally, come back into your own self. How have things now changed for you?
Take action. We usually cannot change other people but we can change what we do and how we react to others around us. What will you do next?
Luckily, there are many ways you can stay in touch with the park wherever you might be by becoming a 'virtual visitor'! Rocky Mountain National Park aims to keep park-lovers involved all throughout the year by providing webcam views, video presentations, and active social media platforms. Check out all the different ways to get a glimpse of the park, whether you're a thousand miles away or stuck in the office...
This webcam will give you views from the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. From an elevation of 14,259 feet, Longs Peak is a challenging climb for anyone to make - even in the best of conditions. If you want to learn more, click HERE. P.s.... If the picture is blurry, that means it's pretty windy up there! Though the camera is focused correctly, high winds have been known to impact the picture.)
Now in 'winter operation mode', this camera takes a picture in the morning, midday and afternoon. The Alpine Visitor Center is located at 11,796 feet, and provides a glimpse at the alpine tundra surrounding it. Often times the view is obstructed by frost and snow! From this camera you can see part of Trail Ridge, Old Fall River Road, Fall River Canyon and Mount Chapin.
Just west of Estes Park on Highway 34, this view looks east from the entrance of the station and lets you check out the flow of vehicles entering the park.
If you're checking out this cam on a beautiful, clear day, you will see Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain, Taylor Peak, Otis Peak and Thatchtop. The camera is located at Glacier Basin Campground, with views that rise up from Bear Lake. Check it out!
A half mile from the Grand Lake Entrance station on the west side of the Rocky Mountain National Park, this one will let you look upon the wildlife and wildflowers in Kawuneeche Valley.
You'll be able to see the number of people entering the park from this camera too, which sits just west of Estes Park on Highway 36.
On the Rocky Mountain National Park website, you'll find albums to 'ooh' and 'ah' over, such as: winter, wildflowers, lakes and waterfalls, Longs Peak,trees, park scenery and National Park Service Centennial.
Check out audio and video presentations about the park, including:
This video is all about fire and the role it has in shaping the park's development and evolution, shares tips about staying safe and smart when visiting.. Fires are a real part of the Rocky Mountain National Park, and it's best to know how you can survive a wildland fire.
Want some Rocky Mountain 101? Get tips on how to survive in the rugged terrain and plan your visit.
You'll get to meet various Rangers, including Snowplow Rangers, Search and Rescue Rangers and Wildlife Biologists, and learn how the role they play is vital to the health of the park.
Learn about how scientific research is conducted and expanded upon within the park.
Eagle Rock School explores a unique view of the park, it's resources and the issues that the next generation believes the park will face in the decades to come.
Everyone knows that a strong social media presence is essential. Make sure that you follow/subscribe/like all of Rocky Mountain National Parks platforms. In return, they'll reward you with photos, special park programs, videos, up-to-date information on trail conditions, avalanche reports, road statuses and weather reports!
Though there are many psychological benefits to having a companion animal, none compares to the relationship between human and canine. For the last 15,000 years, dogs have earned the title of "man's best friend"; and there is no better example of this time-weathered bond than that of Loki the Wolfdog andKelly Lund, his two-legged companion. The pair currently reside just outside of Denver, Colorado, practically making them local celebrities!
(Video credit: Boyte Creative Films - Boulder, CO)
Our canine companions keep us grounded and living in the present moment. The common saying is that a dog's only fault in life is that their life is altogether too short. But if you have a pooch (or a small pack) at home, it can be easy to forget how instrumental we are in their lives. We are their favorite person, their outlet for fun, the way they relate to the world around them. Loki the Wolfdog and Kelly Lund help inspire pet owners to involve their furry friends in everyday life - and adventures...
If you haven't taken the time to follow their Instagram and Facebook pages, do yourself a favor and do it now! They'll start your day off with a beautiful landscape, cute dog and inspiring quote.
Bad news, everyone - National Parks Service researchers predict that the pika will be extinct from Rocky Mountain National Park by the end of the century, due to the impact that climate change is hanging on their habitat and ability to remain genetically diverse. The pika is arguably the cutest creature up in the park. Commonly (and endearingly) referred to as "the farmers of the tundra", pika are a trademark sight within the park for visitors year-round. Their "meep" sounds can be heard long before they are spotted, making them a fun sight for families especially.
Unfortunately for the pika and their fans, they face long-term issues more dire than being a weasel's next meal. In order to survive, the pika needs 3 things; a very solid yearly snowpack, mild summers and habitat connectivity. They tend to scurry about a lot to find food and other pikas to reproduce with, so if there's a large distance to travel between suitable snowy spots, they won't survive the trek.
Pika rely heavily on genetic diversity in order to survive, making them that much more at risk. If they can't travel outside their range to find suitable mates they begin inbreeding and lose their resilience to colder and warmer temperature ranges. What may come as a surprise is that this sort of resilience loss occurs faster than you'd expect - decades, not centuries.
The little critter made some major headlines years back when various studies revealed that they were clearly disappearing from lower and lower elevations throughout Utah and Nevada. Though this hasn't yet been observed consistently in Colorad, the picture is pretty bleak for the pika of Rocky Mountain National Park.
If predictions are true, there may yet be a few strategies to saving the pika.
In Rocky Mountain National Park there are two pika populations that never interact with one another. If given no other options, park managers could possibly introduce the two groups to increase genetic diversity. Park managers could also "play god" and influence the pika's natural fate, though it isn't the ideal option. They'd need to take excessive measures to keep roads and trails out of areas that are considered to be crucial for the animal's survival, or even create man-made habitats or relocate pika populations.
The most ideal options is that scientists could be wrong. Pika may surprise us all yet and be more resilient to the impacts of climate change than experts predict. Believe it or not, scientists don't mind being wrong!
If you'd like to delve deeper into the pika's plight, check out the Front Range Pika Project for 2017 or email email@example.com to receive volunteer information for the 2017 season, which runs from July to October.
If you're still in search of the perfect holiday gift or stocking stuffer, a Rocky Mountain National Park Annual Pass is just the thing for anyone who enjoys visiting the park - or would like to visit more in the coming year!
This is a gift in more ways than one. Not only is the recipient able to enjoy all that the National Park has to offer, but the park itself benefits greatly from the contribution. In the past 20 years, over $68 million from fees have helped to renovate campground facilities, replace picnic table throughout the park, repair trailhead signs, mitigate hazard trees, operate the park's visitor shuttle bus system, rehabilitate and maintain 350 miles of trails, and so much more.
No matter the season, the park has something to offer everyone; winter activities are plentiful during the chillier months, and visitors can explore the lesser known corners of the park for a unique and secluded experience.
The park pass will increase in price from $50 to $60 as of January 1st, 2017. You can purchase your pass today at any Rocky Mountain National Park entrance station, or online HERE until December 30th.
"Every time I go outside, all the questions and all the struggles become more manageable. Everything's okay again..."