Kawuneeche Valley

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Kawuneeche Valley from U.S. Highway 34.
Rocky Mountain elk in Kawuneeche Valley at dawn

Kawuneeche Valley is a marshy valley of the Colorado River near its beginning. It is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The axis of the valley runs almost directly north to south.[1] Kawuneeche means "valley of the coyote" in Arapaho language and there is a Coyote Valley Trail head by US Route 34 in the western half of the park.[2][3] Coyotes still live here, as do wapiti (elk), mule deer (reintroduced in 1978 into nearby North Park), moose and mountain lion.[2][1]

Along the main part of valley runs the lower section of the Trail Ridge Road - the highest continuous paved road in the United States.[4][1]


The construction of the a water diversion canal called Grand Ditch between the 1890s and 1930s reduced the water table and limited the frequency and magnitude of the floods in the Kawuneeche Valley.[1] Grand Ditch collects water from Colorado River’s tributaries in the Never Summer Mountains like a rain gutter from the roof and diverts it on the other side of the Continental Divide to the Cache La Poudre River via La Poudre Pass, instead of allowing it to flow down to the valley.[1] In addition, Grand Ditch breached its bank on May 30, 2003 and a resulting debris flow caused extensive injury to the upper Kawuneeche Valley. The Grand Ditch owner - the Water Supply and Storage Company (WSSC) was ordered to pay $9 million settlement to the Rocky Mountain National Park. [1][5] It was the largest natural resource damages payment in the history of the Park System Resource Protection Act. [1] Grand Ditch exerts also negative aesthetic impact on the Kawuneeche.[1]

Elk (wapiti, Cervus canadensis) was reintroduced to its old stomping grounds in the Colorado River Valley in the mid-1910s.[1]

Moose (Alces alces) was reintroduced (or rather introduced) by the Colorado Division of Wildlife in the 1970s in the North Park, Rocky Mountain National Park's near northwest neighbor, however its breeding populations had probably never inhabited Colorado. This solitary species wanders alone moving south from Wyoming or east from Utah. And such moose probably account for sightings and kills in Colorado between the 1860s and 1960s. This is an ecological innovation driven largely by state game officials to attract sportsmen and tourists.[1]

In 1978 and 1979, 4 bulls, 13 cows, 4 yearlings, and 3 calves were transferred from the Uinta Mountains (Utah) and Grand Teton (Wyoming) to an area near Rand, west of the Never Summer Mountains (Kawuneeche Valley is located just on the east side of this range). All radio collared, 12 each year. And today Kawuneeche Valley is the prime moose habitat, although sightings occur also even further, east of the Continental Divide.[6]

Colorado River at the Coyote Valley Trail head, Kawuneeche Valley

Large herbivores have become so numerous in the Kawuneeche Valley, that they cause significant harm to the willow (Salix spp.) thickets and other plants, on which many other organisms depend. Elk is overpopulated, but rarer moose more specialized - 91.3% of its summer diets consist of six willow species.[1]

This is accompanied by drought (caused by water diversion by Grand Ditch, lack of beavers, global climatic patterns) and the proliferation of a native fungus spread by a bird called the sapsucker (Sphyrapicus spp.). The primary fungus species is Grosmannia clavigera, but Ophiostoma is also present. The fungi kill the stems above the wells drilled by sapsuckers.[1]

All these factors weaken the ability of the valley’s willows to generate new growth, their communities have declined, only few willow plants on the primary winter range produce seed. As a result, fully dependent on twigs and bark on willow stems North American beaver (Castor canadensis), actually living in symbiosis with willow, substantially recovered from fur-trapping by the mid-twentieth century, has now almost entirely abandoned the Kawuneeche.[1]

The most important bark beetle species in the Kawuneeche Valley are mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) and spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis).[1]

Colorado River at the Coyote Valley Trail head, Kawuneeche Valley

Thanks to the ecologists and fisheries scientists the native Colorado River cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki pleuriticus) is coming back, but introduced brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri) continue to outcompete the Kawuneeche’s native fish.[1] The Grand Ditch enabled fish to swim between the two basins and to mix previously isolated gene pools of two native trout subspecies — greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki stomias) from the eastern slope of the Rockies, and Colorado River cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii pleuriticus) from the west.[1]

Historical places[edit]

There are few historical places located in the valley or its vicinity, like:


Kawuneeche Valley seen from the Trail Ridge Road vicinities 
Headquarters to Holzwarth Dude Ranch 
Lulu City town site 
Colorado River at the Coyote Valley Trail head, Kawuneeche Valley 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Andrews T. G. (2011). An Environmental History of the Kawuneeche Valley and the Headwaters of the Colorado River, Rocky Mountain National Park (PDF). University of Colorado at Boulder. Retrieved August 15, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Gaug, Maryann (2011). Hiking Colorado, 3rd: A Guide to the State's Greatest Hiking Adventures (3rd ed.). Globe Pequot. Retrieved August 15, 2012. 
  3. ^ Doe, John (2007). "My Favorite Things, Part II" (PDF). Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, UK: itforit.com. Retrieved August 15, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Quin, Richard (August 1993). Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, HAER No. CO-31 (PDF). Historic American Engineering Record. Washington D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2013-07-29. 
  5. ^ McLaughlin, Paul; Bobowski, Ben; VanMouwerik, Mark (2010). "Restoration of the Upper Kawuneeche Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park". In Weber, Samantha. Rethinking Protected Areas in a Changing World: Proceedings of the 2009 GWS Biennial Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites. (PDF). Hancock, Michigan: The George Wright Society. pp. 171–174. Retrieved December 7, 2012. 
  6. ^ "The Moose" (PDF). Heart of the Rockies. Informational and Educational Handouts [PDF]. Rocky Mountain National Park. Retrieved 2014-04-07. 
  7. ^ a b c d National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. Retrieved September 29, 2013. 
  8. ^ "List of Classified Structures". National Park Service. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°21′23″N 105°51′32″W / 40.356292°N 105.858752°W / 40.356292; -105.858752