- Monday 16 January 2017
- Jefferson County, Colorado
- Time 1603
- Elevation – 5955’
- Calm, overcast, four inches of snow from morning, 36℉
My goal is to sit on a ridge for the last hour of daylight. That changes when the trail I need to take to get there is closed due to muddy conditions. With four inches of fresh snow on the ground, I am looking forward to the contrast, allowing me to scan a larger area where wildlife might “pop” out against the white landscape.
I head back to “option two” of which I had passed earlier on my way to “option one”. Having already forgotten my gloves this is not panning out in the way I had hoped. Thus, I end up creating a rule of sorts. “There shall be no switching plans in hopes of a better hour, better observations and better reading”. Stick to the plan, stay committed, it’s all part of the process and project.
I pull off the road and park the car. Shuffling along on a sidehill I find a spot overlooking the Rock Creek drainage. I want to drop far enough off the road to avoid being seen by traffic. I grab my little insulated pad which will protect my bottom from freezing. I have a 180° view as I sit facing south overlooking the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, which, oddly enough is host to vast wildlife including deer, elk, coyotes, bears, mountain lions and a proliferate bird population. I say oddly enough because the government used to manufacture plutonium triggers in a factory on the site during the cold war. There is a plan to open parts of the area to the public this year. I’m not sure I’m comfortable trekking out there when they do, but I’ve seen a herd of up to 100 elk from this little spot where I’m currently sitting, so I feel it might be a good venue for an hour to sit and hang out.
To the west seven wind turbines stand at attention unmoving. There is a plant beyond the turbines where they produce expanded shale and clay lightweight aggregate. A large smoke stack emits what I guess to be steam and for my interest today acts as a wind indicator. The steam moves straight toward the heavens confirming that it is a very still day. The clouds hang gray, heavy and low over the prairie. I am privy to the foothills that run from the city of Boulder south to Golden. I can make out Eldorado Mountain and Goshawk Ridge, which was “option one”.
Air traffic moves overhead from the nearby airport and there is a constant hum of vehicular traffic behind me. I block out the vehicles for the next hour focusing on what lies to my fore. The vista is open prairie, looking down into a drainage and upon closer inspection I’m able to make out that there are numerous valleys between me and a larger mesa in the distance. I remember from many past trips here in car and on bicycle that wildlife can quickly escape from view because of the undulating nature of the landscape.
Immediately below me is a lot of scrubby brush and yucca plants. The name of the yucca plant escapes me and I realize that I am harried and mentally scattered. I gather the binoculars to narrow my field of vision, somewhat overwhelmed by the miles of views in front of me. I scan the areas where I know game can hide from the naked eye. In less than a minute I see bodies, ears, heads and make out about eight deer. Before long they disappear into a ravine.
Being bare handed is not yet a concern. It’s amazingly comfortable even sitting on the snowy ground due to the fact that it is so calm. I sip from my bottle of hot tea, so hot that I add snow to my beverage to bring it down from scalding.
At 35 minutes my hands begin to chill and even without the indication of the sun, I can sense that the day is ending and evening begins to make its presence felt. A silent, soft breeze comes from the south. I look to the smokestack and see that the steam is now leaning north, pointing like a giant finger out of the sky.
41 minutes into my watch bright red blinking lights catch my attention. Fixtures on the wind turbines which burn brightly in the darkening sky.
Birds chirp, but I never see them, can only hear them and in turn sense the direction that they are flying. In other months this drainage can be filled with color. Today white on black is the dominant color theme. It is indeed the deep of winter. I often think about the animals that make these lands their home. Food is scarce, and today snow covers much of it. Animals, large and small, are careful not to expend energy and burn calories unnecessarily. Ironically many of the female elk, deer, moose and bears are carrying young in their wombs. Their gestation period happens during the hardest time of the year, growing these babies inside so that they can deliver them during the best time of the year, the spring, when the natural world is more gentle and forgiving. Mothers bear the burden of the harshest of seasons to carry their newborns into an appropriate time to find new life.
At 53 minutes I begin to think about how much I miss each and every day. Distractions abound, my mind can wander, attention spans can run short. Behind me I hear the “thump, thump, thump” of bass from a car stereo. I’ve done well over the past hour to mentally drown out the constant drone of traffic. Now it brings me back to the present. I check out of my daydream having lost track of time and discover I am 30 seconds beyond my hour for today.