"Who's This on My Peak?"
Mountain goats on the Colorado Front Range have become rather use to seeing people on their high mountain abodes and demonstrate little fear of man as a result. In fact, many of these goats have learned that humans = salty treats. Only the salt they seem to prefer often comes from human urine.
These goats were photographed atop Whale Peak located near the South Park area. We had no sooner arrived at the summit on a fall day, when this group of goats came strolling up and walked right up to within 8 or 10 feet of us, apparently just checking us out. The goat in the lead seemed to look at us as though to inquire, "Who's this on my peak?" No need for zoom lens now. We just whipped out the camera and spent the next 15 minutes taking photos as the goats checked us out and a couple of babies born that spring played on the summit cairn, jumping off and then climbing back up again, practicing their rock climbing skills we guessed.
Some of the runs of the Breckenridge Ski area can be seen in the distance. Photo taken mid-September, 2007.
Ptarmigan are an interesting bird to observe in the high mountain tundra - if you can ever spot them. Their summer feathers of mottled grays, browns and white blend in perfectly with their rocky environment. They spend most of their time on the ground, and usually only fly short distances. They make sounds that resemble a chicken. We've never tried eating one but do you think they would "taste like chicken?" Of course, if you pulled off all those feathers and fluffy down, you probably wouldn't have much bird left for a meal anyhow. And we're not suggesting you try!
If there are any young chicks around, the behavior of the adults resembles that of quail. They will keep leading you away from the young on a ground chase. Though they may allow you to get fairly close, they know just the right amount of distance to keep and if you get too close, off they fly in a flutter.
This one was photographed on Notch Mountain, late July, 2008.
"Monarchs of the Monument"
In the Colorado National Monument, just outside of Grand Junction, Colorado, there is a permanent herd of desert bighorn sheep. Like the Front Range mountain goats, they have become rather accustomed to human visitors to their domain and are generally unthreatened by tourists. While hiking in a more remote section of the Monument one day, we came across a small group that was feeding and followed them for some time, generally remaining about 20 yards away - a distance they seemed to tolerate. This provided a great opportunity for photos. At one point, these two males seemingly posed for us giving us a full view of their horns. Perhaps they thought, "Hey, maybe if we give them one good pic, they'll leave us alone." Their imposing stance demonstrated their dominance in this desert landscape, hence the photo name, "Monarchs of the Monument."
When you first see one of these collared lizards, you may mistake it for a colorful child's toy. When approached, they tend to remain motionless, but their bright colors stand out in the surrounding desert landscape betraying their presence. If you get too close, they my flee, running only on their hinds legs that move so rapidly, they appear as spinning wheels as the creature races away. While hiking along the base of the Colorado National Monument, we often see these brightly colored males sunning themselves. The black bands around their neck appear as a collar, hence the common name.
These lizards may grow 10 - 16 inches. Their strong jaws allow them to feed mostly on other varieties of lizards, insects and small rodents. They are known to have a voracious appetite. Their preferred daytime temperature range is the mid 80's to low 90's making them perfectly suited to our desert environment. We happened upon this nicely colored male one day who obligingly struck a nice pose for us upon this rock.
"You've Got My Goat!"
Yet another mountain goat found on Whale Peak, a 13,000 foot summit located along the Colorado Front Range. This particular one seemed to understand that we wanted it to "strike a pose" for us, so it obliged. The dark clouds in the background heightened the illuminated, somewhat dirty white hair. The goats will spend much of the summer season shedding a thicker coat of winter hair, which often leaves them looking rather scraggly as the matted clumps of hair drop off. We found these goats in mid-September when they had just about lost all of the previous winters fur. The bright sun, finding an opening in the clouds shone upon this goat giving it a nice radiance. It' s head cocked a little seemed to convey a sense of curiosity as to why these humans would be in its domain. With those dark clouds gathering in the distance, we would not stay long anyhow.
Photo taken Sept. 2007
Here's Looking' At You, Kid
The mountain goats found throughout Colorado’s Front Range areas have been exposed to humans repeatedly and have lost some of their fear or shyness as a result. They’ve also come to learn that humans mean salty snacks so they will often approach people, keeping a safe distance, hoping for some delicacy to fall their way.
On a late September day in 2007, we had climbed to the summit of Whale Peak, a 13er not too many miles from Kenosha Pass. While sitting on the summit, a group of mountain goats came up to investigate who it was invading their mountainous territory. Among that group of goats were two that had been born that spring. The two little goats played while we watched, by repeatedly climbing up and then leaping off the rocks piled up for a summit cairn, paying little attention to us. But eventually, curiosity got the best of these two little goats and one of them maneuvered over to an embedded rock where she could partially hide herself and gaze out over the rock at us and watch intently.
With an opportunity like this so close at hand, it was no problem at all to grab the camera and capture this image. The ski area in the background is Breckenridge.
One of the advantages that comes with climbing the more remote Colorado summits is the opportunity to see more wildlife. The mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) is endemic to the northern Rocky Mountain west but had to be reintroduced to Colorado. From 1948 to 1972, six transplant operations released an original group of 55 – 60 goats. By 2005, their population had grown to over 2,000. Today, their range can be found throughout the state. Because of frequent backcountry visitation on the Front range by hikers, climbers, etc., the goats in that area are generally accepting of human presence, but in more remote mountain areas like the San Juans, goats remain elusive and avoid human contact.
The group of goats seen here were part of a herd that numbered over twenty. We found them in the vicinity of the Highland Mary Lakes southeast of Silverton. We had expected them to flee from our presence since this was a fairly remote location and we figured they would not be tolerant of us, so we were quite surprised and felt rather privileged that we were allowed to follow them for nearly an hour, taking numerous photos and at times getting as close as twenty yards. The male goats are called a “billy.” The females are “nannies,” and the young are called “kids.” There are mostly nannies in this photo with one first-year kid. The goat farthest right may be a billy. The mountains in the background are part of the Grenadier Range.
Photo taken late July, 2015.
One of the advantages that comes with getting off the 14ers (14,000 foot peaks) and spending our time on 13ers and 12ers is the opportunity to see more wildlife. The elk of the Colorado high country are both magnificent, inspiring and interesting creatures and over our years of climbing the less visited Colorado summits, we have enjoyed numerous occasions to view them and learn their habits. We have come to recognize their “bird-like” calls. From ridges high above them, we’ve watched them graze in the early morning, cool themselves in alpine lakes and have even watched a stampeding herd more than once. We’ve also learned that their trails are often reliable paths to follow through forested terrain. We’ve visited locations where their herds numbered in the hundreds. But perhaps the most remarkable sight has been to find a newborn calf. This is not something you can ever plan. Elk are reclusive creatures and we seldom ever manage to come closer than a quarter mile to any. That makes this sight all the more remarkable. This young elk calf was probably not more than a day old. We stumbled upon it purely by accident and only took time for one quick photo before we decided it would be best to put some distance between us and this calf so it’s mother would not abandon it.
Photo taken near the summit of Haydn Peak, Ridgway, CO June 2012.