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.