Hike of the Week: Pause to view stories in the snow when you’re out enjoying the mountain landscape
When we’re ripping through fresh snow at Vail or Beaver Creek, or pushing our heart rates on the skin track, maybe with music blaring through headphones, we are certainly experiencing the thrill our winter landscape provides. But there’s a whole story we may be missing while we’re focused on carving lines.
Slowing down in our winter environment opens up a whole drama that, quite literally, leaves its tracks in the snow. While our wildlife may be more abundant and active in the summer time, winter landscapes give us a unique opportunity to follow the lives of the animals for a brief moment. After all, we share a home with them here in the Eagle River valley.
As we get later into the winter, and the snowpack gets deeper, especially with this recent monster of a storm, the lines between our community and the ecological community get blurrier. Deep snow forces deer, elk and other prey species lower into the valley. And where the deer and elk go, the mountain lions and other predators follow.
Only a few weeks ago, mountain lion tracks were spotted in the town of Minturn.
On a hike just last week, I had the privilege of following a coyote for over a mile up the trail. The tracks would dart off the trail, then return to the easier path — sometimes begging the question, what was our canine friend looking for in the drifts of snow?
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Later in the hike a frenzy of tracks closed in on a relatively fresh deer carcass with just bones and fur remaining. With more time, perhaps, I could have followed one of the many stories in that frenzy a little further.
Our valley is full of active winter wildlife: from mountain lion, lynx, and coyote, to the distinctive tracks of a squirrel darting from tree to tree. There’s even evidence of small rodents briefly emerging from their subnivean (under the snow) labyrinth. It takes years to become an expert tracker, but all you need to start reading the stories in the snow is a guidebook or app, and the willingness to slow down for a moment. I’d highly encourage at least trying it — no two chapters are the same.
If you’re curious but would like a little guidance, Walking Mountains Science Center offers tracking themed snowshoe hikes every other week on Thursdays. The next Tracks, Signs & Snowshoes program is this Thursday. The hike will be led at Maloit Park, where in the last few weeks Walking Mountains programs have seen moose and lynx, among other exciting tracks.
Nathan Boyer-Rechlin is the community outreach coordinator for Walking Mountains Science Center. For more information on this hike and others with Walking Mountains, you can reach him at 970-827-9725, ext. 144, and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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