Marmots: nature's lawnmowers

Marmots: nature’s lawnmowers, originally uploaded by Shiny Things.

Trail Ridge Road runs across Rocky Mountains National Park, between the towns of Estes Park in the east and Grand Lake in the west, and holds the title of the highest continuous road in the USA - at its highest point, it reaches 12,183 feet (more than 3,700 metres) above sea level. (The road to the top of Mount Evans goes higher - over 14,000 feet - but it’s a dead-end road.)

Not a lot of things can live in the alpine tundra above the treeline. Trees can’t grow because of the bitterly cold winds and twenty-foot-deep snowdrifts; the only ground cover comes from hardy grasses that can handle being buried under snow for eight months of the year.

But during the summer, a few animals come up from the valleys (or out of hibernation) to feed on the grasses. Elk and moose are the most notable, but you also see smaller mammals like marmots - like this little fellow here. He was wandering around well above the 12,000-foot mark, chomping on the grass near the Forest Canyon lookout.