Picture-perfect scenery -- rugged peaks capped with pure white snow, and a handsome bull elk standing proud against a deep blue sky -- is usually the image that comes to mind when we think of Rocky Mountain National Park. However, beyond this pristine image lies a complex world, molded by extremes of temperature, moisture, wind, and especially elevation. In one section we find cactus, sagebrush, and similar plants of the desert, a wide range of wildflowers, and some of America's tallest trees. Beavers build dams, squirrels and chipmunks beg at roadside viewpoints, and jays noisily protest humanity's invasion of their home. But the park also houses an inhospitable realm of rocks and cold, where tiny plants survive by clinging to the ground for protection from bitter 100 mph winds, and towering poles are erected to help road crews find the highway beneath the snow drifts when spring finally arrives. In short, the natural world of Rocky Mountain National Park offers much to those who would explore it on its own terms.

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