Today, rambunctious R eagerly insisted that he needed to run! It's truly amazing to watch how fast a dog in the prime of life heals. So, I rode through the forest while my two pups, K and R, played and covered at least twice as much ground as I did. Sometimes, I think that K would prefer that we not bring along her little brother - afterall, our bike rides have always been our special time together. However, the two of them seem to bond as they explore the woods and play together.
Prior to discovering and treating K's hypothyroidism, she seemed afraid of R, and he was still a smallish puppy. Thank goodness that her thyroid medicine changed her mental outlook so dramatically. Occasionally, R is still a bit too rambunctious for K but most of the time, she loves frolicking with him in the woods.
After I dropped the dogs off at home, I explored on my own, going places where I can't easily take the dogs. The high winds that visit every winter, and have been blowing for days, had left indelible signs in the landscape. First, I wound through a canyon-type area that's well protected from wind and sun. Snow still carpeted the basin, and large pine trees dominated. Sadly, I found a giant Ponderosa Pine that's fighting a Pine Bark Beetle infestation. The right photo below shows a pitch tube - a sap tunnel through which the tree tries to eject the beetles. The tree is still alive - you can see only the bottom quarter of it in my photo - but its bark is scarred by many pitch tubes.
As I rode through the canyon, I felt warm and comfortable in the calm air. Then, I noticed that my Camelbak had frozen, and realized that it was much colder than I thought.
Shortly later, I climbed onto an exposed southwest-facing plateau and a sidewind buffeted me. The wind found every tiny gap in my protective clothing but the sun kept me reasonably warm. The wind had blasted away almost all of the snow except snow that had been packed down by tires or sleds. In the photo, you can see my tire tracks from a few days ago as a band of snow. While I'd been in a moist pine forest only moments before, the plateau I now traveled across was an arid desert-like landscape. The plateau's exposure to wind and sun dries it out, and cacti flourish on the hillside. After our recent winds, the hillside doesn't harbor a single snowflake. The studs on my mountain bike tires seemed a ridiculous for this brief part of my ride.
Amazingly, after quarter mile descent, I was again surrounded by a moist pine forest. It felt and looked like mid-winter in the cold air of the gulch. Wind-blown snow left me floundering for traction on my mountain bike. All the snow from the desert-like plateau must have ended up down here by the stream. Lots of animal tracks adorned the snow: deer, elk, rabbit, coyote, and shrew (tracks below). This gulch teems with life.
I've read that the Front Range has wildly variable ecosystems in small areas due to the cliff-like steep foothills. The steep hills are moist and shady on their north sides and are dry and sunny on their south sides. It certainly makes winter mountain biking interesting.
When I first moved here, I met a couple of professional endurance athletes who were moving away from the Front Range due to the wind. I scoffed at the notion - but I hadn't yet experienced the winter winds. I'd never dream of leaving here but the winds are exhausting. Just being outside in them leaves me tired. Riding directly into them sometimes stops me in my tracks. But, the winds are part of what makes this place so wild and desolate, and I love that aspect of the winds. As a sidenote, during today's relatively warm and calm ride, the local weather station says that it reached a balmy 18 degrees and the wind consistently gusted up to 45-50 mph. You can see the wind-blown clouds and snow trailing off of the Divide below. I guess that a person can get used to almost anything.