More Than Pretty Scenery; Furry creatures, tall trees and more part of trees and more part of
Legs, wings and fins
Animals are a lot more agile than humans, but that doesn’t mean folks can’t watch them in their natural habitats. From the Red-Tailed Hawk to the elk to the rainbow trout, there are plenty of different animals to see in the air, on the ground and in the water.
“Eagle County has an interesting diversity of wildlife because you range from high desert sage lands in Eagle, all the way to the continental divide in the East,” said Randy Hampton of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
When it comes to land dwellers, elk and mule deer are the more prevalent species. Porcupines climb trees, and are frequently seen on Beaver Creek Mountain. The black bear is common in the region, although sightings occur more frequently at dumpsters than on hikes.
While there are many bobcats and mountain lions, they’re rarely seen. “No matter how far away you are, you’re too close,” Hampton said.
In the summer months, a lot of the animals head up to the dark timber at higher elevations (above 9,000 feet), so taking a hike may be necessary to get a glimpse of an American Elk. While they may not be as numerous as other animals, espying Bighorn Sheep and moose are memorable occurrences.
In some of the sage areas, lizards, garter snakes and salamanders occupy the hillsides. And small rodents like vole marmots and gophers are also commonplace.
You don’t need to go too far to see the variety of trout the streams and rivers have to offer. Just make sure if you decide to try and catch a fish, you have a license.
Some of the easiest animals to spot in the area are the birds. Golden Eagles and Red-Tailed Hawks soar above the Eagle River and I-70.
In the higher areas, there are Western Woodpeckers, owls and Bluebirds. It’s hard to spook a grouse, the males of which are Ptarmigans can be found in the alpine tundra. At lower elevations, hummingbirds, Rosey Finches and American Pipits are easy to spot. In the down-valley areas, migratory birds hang out in the marsh areas.
The best time to see birds is in the morning when they are out singing and the air starts to warm up.
Take a walk in the forest
They are tall, tough and even tasty. You see them all over the place, so why not get to know them a little better?
The trees of the Vail Valley are one of the great sights of the summer.
If you aren’t impressed with a 120-foot Douglas fir that towers above a group of 70-foot aspen trees, then maybe other feats of gravity will reel you in.
The steep mountains and fast-moving waters of the region bring out the resilience of nature. Like a tree growing through a small break in a rock and widening the hold as if it were a jackhammer. Or the roots of a tree diverting a river from what would be its natural path, so the tree is suspended above the water with only a few feet of land beneath. And there are some feats that may be less visually impressive, like willow trees growing in the middle of a pine or aspen forest without a stream or wetlands area nearby.
But the one tree that would win Survivor every time is the Bristlecone pine.
“There really isn’t a more hearty tree,” said Mark Stell, a trained forester who works at Precision Tree. “It can survive the wind and cold temperatures and lack of water.
In addition to the common pines, firs and aspens in the area, there are other trees endemic to the region like the mountain alder and mountain maple.
Just in case your eyes get tired, your taste buds can enjoy nature. The service berry, which is more of a bush, produces a fruit similar to blueberries that are edible.
“They are one of our little-known mountain treasures,” Stell said. “The majority of people have no idea they are edible.”
Service berries are prevalent in Avon along the bike path and up in Arrowhead. There’s an abundance of chokecherries, but it’s not a great idea to eat them, as they are quite sour.
Something’s always in bloom at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
During the winter months the Vail Valley is painted white as far as the eye can see, most people don’t think of colors. But when spring rolls around, it’s hard to ignore the lush growth of the alpine environment.
And there’s no better place to discover the wide variety of flora than the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail. The 3-acre botanic garden has 30 different viewing areas, and thousands of different species.
From some of the endangered penstemons to the ubiquitous aspen trees, the gardens provide an expansive view of biodiversity. And just in case the visual appeal isn’t enough, you can take a guided tour and learn about what it is that may be growing in your backyard. Tours run Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10:30-11:30 a.m.
While it is possible, it would be hard to discover the entire gardens in one visit. But there’s another good reason to make multiple visits.
“There’s always something blooming,” said Melissa Kirr, garden supervisor.
In early May, the bulbs in the International Alpine Garden are a great site. The Fourth of July may be a good time for colors in the sky, but it’s also a peak bloom season for perennials.
Even in the fall, when the leaves change colors, there are fall flowers to compliment the yellows and reds in the trees.
Fun for all
Kids are not only welcomed, they’re catered to at the gardens. In addition to the children’s area that has a hiking trail up to the Gore Range, there is a Learn and Grow program for 5 to 10-year olds on Wednesdays that focuses on the basics of the environment. And this year there is a new program for 11 to 17-year olds called Teens and Tools that explores gardening.
Even visitors from around the globe can find a piece of their native land, as the gardens have species from other alpine environments such as the Himalayas, Andes and Alps.
“I think it’s really cool to see,” Kirr said. “They can be grown in our area under certain specifications.”
One of the Garden’s most alluring flowers, the codonopsis, is in the Himalayan gardens, but you wouldn’t think so upon first glance.
“It’s this little blue-bell flower about four inches in length,” Kirr said. “When you turn it up and look inside, it’s tie-dyed inside. There are purples, blues, oranges and yellows. It’s such a beautiful thing that could be hidden by the light (outer) color.”
But the beauty of flowers is easier seen than described. The garden is free and open to the public.