The Park Headquarters was designed by Taliesen Associated Architects, Ltd. and was opened in 1967. In true Frank Lloyd Wright style, it fits well into its natural surroundings both in color and design. It is part of the National Park Service Utility Area, which is an Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Recent upgrades were completed to allow handicap access.
Stop at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center to view the short Park Orientation Film. Information about the Park and its interpretive activities, maps, and books are also available. The central office for backcountry camping reservations is reached by a footpath to a small building just east of the Headquarters.
After visiting Park Headquarters, walk to the west end of the parking area, where you can see to your left Longs Peak and neighboring summits. Nearby and farther to the right, the pyramid-shaped mountain is Eagle Cliff Mountain - 8,906' elevation (2715 m). Across the road, the forest-covered ridge with four rocky knobs is Deer Mountain, 10,013' elevation (3,052 m). As you head into the Park, the tour you are about to take winds around this mountain before reaching the Fall River Entrance.
Surrounding Park Headquarters and extending westward past Deer Ridge Junction is an outstanding example of a mature Upper Montane ponderosa pine forest. In the Rocky Mountains, these beautiful trees are found most often at elevations between 6,000' and 9,300' (1.830 m and 2.830 m) on dry slopes that face south and receive intense sunlight. The dark reddish-brown ponderosa bark has an aroma of vanilla, butterscotch, or pineapple - depending on the tree and your sense of smell.
Vast expanses of Colorado mountains were covered with forests like this until they were logged prior to 1920. Dense stands of younger lodgepole and ponderosa pines have replaced most of the mature ponderosa pines that were cut at that time.
Below the parking area are low, rounded shrubs with dark green leaves called bitterbrush - or antelope brush. This is one of several shrubs that cannot live in the shade of more closed forests. In winter, bitterbrush twigs are a reddish-brown color that contrasts with the muted tones of the snowy landscape.
Mule deer prefer bitterbrush twigs to most other available foods. Because they are constantly being pruned, the shrubs are compact in size. They would grow much wider and taller - to a height of four to six feet - if the deer chose to dine elsewhere.
Watch for dark squirrels with tufts on their ears; they range in color from gray to black. These tassel-eared squirrels, also known as Abert's squirrels, are found only in ponderosa pine forests. Active throughout the winter, tassel-eared squirrels feed on pinecones, small twigs, and fungi; they build their bulky nests high in the pines. This squirrel species is closely related to the Kaibab squirrel that lives on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
This text is adapted from A Roadside Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park by Beatrice Elizabeth Willard and Susan Quimby Foster. Copyright, 1990. The book is out of print but we're giving it new life on the web