Turn into Sheep Lakes parking area. During the summer, an information booth here may be staffed by a park naturalist.
The parking area is built on a natural flat surface called a glacial outwash terrace. It was formed by braided streams issuing from the most recent melting glacier. Over time, these streams distributed glacial debris into many thin layers, as they moved back and forth across the valley floor. Scan the meadow carefully for bighorn sheep, mule deer, and elk. These large mammals may be some distance away, even across the river. It is always a thrill to see wildl animals, but tracking them is best done using binoculars or a camera with a long lens.
Bighorn sheep are attracted by salt deposits in the soil. If there are no sheep in the meadow, you may be able to spot them on the hillside across the road. During midday, they rest in the shade of trees. Bighorn sheep, the Colorado state animal, is also the symbol of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Before 1800 there were two million bighorn sheep in the lower 48 states, most of which were concentrated in the Rockies. The flocks have declined since the mid-1800s as a result of hunting, as well as from ringworm, pneumonia, scabies, and competition for range with elk, cattle, domestic sheep, and horses.
Concern has grown for the herds future, as harrassment from hikers, photographers, and road traffic has increased. The National Park Service has taken several steps to ensure the animals well-being. Domestic cattle grazing has been prohibited in the Park since 1915. The bighorn sheep's summer range and lambing area near Specimen Mountain is closed to hikers. Traffic on Deer Ridge Road is strictly regulated to guarantee the right-of-way to bighorn sheep as they move between the slopes of Bighorn Moun- tain and Horseshoe Park.
In 1977 the flock was augmented by 20 animals imported from the Pikes Peak area. The goal was to reduce genetic inbreeding in the native flocks and to restore migration of animals between summer range and winter range at lower elevations. This project has been so successful that animals have since been transplanted from here to sites in the Big Thompson Canyon.
From the right (west) end of the parking area, you can view the small Sheep Lakes. As the last glacier retreated, large debris- ladened chunks of ice broke loose and came to rest here. The ice mass melted, creating cavities into which overlying debris slumped. Such depressions, when filled with water, are called kettle lakes. They have no surface drainage and may go dry during droughts.
Rising above the lakes is Fall River Canyon with Trail Ridge on the left and Mt. Chapin. 12.454' elevation (3,796 m). and Mt. Chiquita, 13,069' elevation (3.983 m), on the right. To the left on the hillside beyond the lakes, you can see the lower switchback of Trail Ridge Road. Below the switchback, aspen groves delineate an unusual hillside wetland.
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