Sunday, January 25, 2009
Wintery trails and creeping clouds
I awakened to newly fallen snow with the sunrise blazing behind our pine forest. The freezing rain that coated the aspen trees yesterday was like glue that stuck the new snow to the branches. The pups bounded and I pedaled out into the winter day. Once we'd climbed a little, I saw that only high elevations were bathed in sunshine. Below us, clouds obliterated the plains and were creeping in our direction. The clouds creeping up from below indicates an inversion (learn more about inversions at Watching...). In an inversion, cold air, a cloud layer, and pollution are trapped at lower elevations (right photo). So, it's not a beautiful day below - cold, gray, humid, and bad air. At higher elevations like ours, we have sunshine and warmer temperatures.
I'd been considering a ride toward the plains, and after seeing this view, I was glad that I'd stayed in the mountains. I get asthma when I go into the trapped polluted air.
The temperature gradient was pretty extreme today. When I was at my lowest elevation, my camelbak hose froze, and I couldn't drink. After climbing for 20 minutes, it had thawed and I was shedding layers.
As I wound around the reservoir, I noticed some odd tracks that appeared to be from a child's plastic sled being pulled by two adults. I eventually caught up to the group. Two friendly guys were hauling a huge power auger (3 ft long, 1 ft wide) for ice fishing. They asked me how to get to the reservoir, and I didn't have good news for them. If they continued straight ahead, it was a few miles walk with an elevation loss of almost 1000 feet.
I suggested a different route that would be much shorter. Here's the part that mystifies me in retrospect - they said that they'd already checked the closer inlet and found no ice, only open water. So, they were wandering around, with no map, looking for ice. I didn't ask, and I wish that I had, why they *needed* ice to fish. Couldn't they have fished on the open water? I'm sure that they were as mystified by me, riding a mountain bike through snow - so we're even. However, I'm still wondering...
I was glad that my worst fear about the sled tracks was wrong. When I first saw the sled tracks, I was afraid that I was going to find elk poachers - which I've run across in that vicinity in the past. I definitely didn't want to catch poachers hauling out their kill when I was in an isolated area with no one else around. I've had poachers on my mind since talking with my fellow elk-watching friends last night. They haven't seen the huge bull elk from 'our' herd recently either. It's possible that we he's wandering solo now that the rut is completely over. Or, he might have died from natural causes. The dominant bull elk often doesn't survive the following winter because he depletes his energy so completely during mating season.
During my ride, I saw that the main elk herd had vanished but a male-dominated splinter group was grazing a couple of miles from where the main herd had been.Last night, my friends and I speculated about how an elk herd maintains genetic diversity even if the most dominant bull fathers many of the calves in a year. We surmised that the younger males wander and join new herds. Indeed, in the elk behavior books that I've read, the anecdotes about lone elk or small groups traveling long distances all involve males. I plan to keep trying to find the answer to this conundrum.
By later in the day, it was obvious that unsettled weather would continue to dominate - but unsettled weather paints the most beautiful sunsets.