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You Won't Be Able To Drive Trail Ridge Road End-to-End Through Rocky Mountain National Park Memorial Day Weekend

The snowdrift in this photo, near Bus Terminus on the road, measured 22 feet high on Monday. NPS photo.

If you had your heart set on driving Trail Ridge Road end-to-end through Rocky Mountain National Park on Memorial Day Weekend, well, perhaps next year. There's just too much snow for the plow operators to clear away for this weekend.

As the accompanying photo shows, quite a bit of snow piled up on the park's roof this past winter. That drift measures 22 feet top to bottom, according to the Park Service.  Officials say the amount of winter snowpack that faced park snowplow operators when plowing began, combined with recent storms, have hampered park snowplowing efforts. 

"Last week’s snowstorm produced 17-foot drifts above Rainbow Curve on the east side of the park," park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said in a release. "There is more snow along that section of road now than there was on May 5. "

Snowplow operators have been dealing with some fairly harrowing white-out conditions in trying to open the road.

Ms. Patterson says plow operators on the west side of the park have been dealing with significant snow accumulation, drifting and rockslides.  Longtime park snowplow operators say this is the most snow they have encountered, this late in the season, in almost 30 years, she said.

“With twice the normal snowpack, we are facing one of the most challenging years for opening Trail Ridge Road in recent memory," said Rocky Mountain Superintendent Vaughn Baker. "If we can get the weather to cooperate, we hope to have Trail Ridge Road open by early June.”

Trail Ridge Road historically opens on Memorial Day weekend; last year the road opened on May 28.  The latest the road has opened in the past 20 years was June 4, 1994; the latest the road has ever opened was June 26, 1943, according to Ms. Patterson.

Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, climbing to 12,183 feet and connecting the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake, she notes. 

Trail Ridge Road officially closed for the season last year on October 29; however, it never reopened after October 22.

According to park officials, the park's three reservation campgrounds are full on Saturday and Sunday. 

"From lower  elevations the mountain peaks look majestic with blankets of snow similar to those seen in the middle of winter," noted Ms. Patterson. "The park’s backcountry still looks and feels like winter above 9,000 feet.  There is currently 67 inches of snow at Bear Lake (29 inches of snow water equivalent) on the east side, 114 inches of snow at Lake Irene near Milner Pass (44 inches of snow water equivalent) and 55 inches of snow at Wild Basin near Ouzel Falls (24 inches of snow water equivalent)."

Park visitors should be prepared for heavy/wet snow, slush and ice.

"Avalanche danger also remains a concern and backcountry users should expect to encounter conditions that present additional hazards and risks than what is typically encountered this time of year such as steep snow slopes, thin ice over water, snow cornices, snow bridges over moving water, and fast moving streams," said the park spokeswoman.


I was there on June 4, 1994.  It was so cool.  Even the visitor's center at the top was open, although it was still completely buried in snow!

This is probably a nasty question, but in this time of very scarce and diminishing funding for our parks, how much extra money is being spent to open roads to keep area chambers of commerce and their politicians happy?

All that snow!  Must be due to that global warming theory.  LOL

[Around three million] people pay to use this road every year from all walks of life and all political stripes.  Clearing it easily pays for itself, so politically motivated comments on the funding of the road clearing seem very anti-social.  People like this road and are willing to pay to have it cleared.  Naturally, a lot of people don't want to see their taxes go for such causes because they don't like the idea of spending anything for something that they don't personally use, whether the 4 million who do have anything to say about it or not.   On that, not that it costs $20 per vehicle to use this road (you can get a year pass for $40), so if you are talking about funding the snow clearing, you probably don't know what you are talking about.  As long as that many people use this road for fee, someone will find money to clear it.

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