Reds, golds and browns. Sounds like the beautiful fall foliage one expects this time of year up in New England. But this was Colorado, in August, and lodge pole pine trees surrounded us. Or what remained of lodge pole pines.
As we approached the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, the patches of green on the hillsides got thinner and thinner. We pulled into a desolate KOA camp at dusk, filled with tree stumps and dead limbs piled high on the side of the tent sites. The one standing tree nearby was brown and dead.
Keith had camped not too far from here just a few years ago, and as you can see, his photos from that trip tell a very different story. So what happened here?
The pine beetle has ravaged approximately three million acres of forest in Colorado and southern Wyoming during this latest outbreak. Milder winters have contributed to the outbreak, allowing the beetles to flourish year-round. Left behind is an eerie landscape of dead and dying trees, especially in the western portions of the Park. So far the eastern side of the Park has faired better, but you can already see the beginnings of the beetle infestation as you head towards Estes Park.
Between the melting glaciers in Glacier National Park and the dying forests in Rocky Mountain National Park, we have witnessed first hand just how quickly our environment can change. While debate remains about whether these changes are natural or caused by humans, it is undeniable that these national treasures will look very different for generations to come.