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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dog training and a forest foray

We visited our nephews and their parents last night, and the boys and dogs frolicked together.
An amazing facet of training without physical force is that little children can control dogs. At first, K crowded my nephew.
I reminded my nephew that K knew how to 'sit' and 'down'. He asked for a 'down', and she complied even though he's smaller than her and doesn't sound fierce when he gives a cue. With old, force-based, training methods, this small miracle would have never occurred.
This morning, both dogs joined me for a short ride in our forest. The warm air, blue skies, brilliant leaves, and happy companionship combined to make it a wonderful ride. When the dogs ranged too far ahead, I did a recall. K galloped through the aspens.
Then, R emerged from the foliage with his usual wild panache.
After what felt like a blink of time, we rolled toward home where breakfast awaited my two canine leaders.
In my ongoing saga of using my Saturday ride to explore new mountain biking routes, I headed up toward an area that I've investigated over the past few weekends. Today, I was determined to push through the bottleneck, where I lose my way on a weekly basis, and create a loop.

On my way up a path that I followed last Monday, I passed an obvious marking spot for a bobcat. He'd scraped out a shallow pit and had made a pile of scat, ranging from very old to fairly fresh. As I took a photo, I jumped when a branch snapped behind me but spotted nothing scary.
A few minutes later, I stopped in my tracks for a scat that dwarfed the previous pile - the segments were so humongous that I had no doubt that a mountain lion had left it. He'd strategically deposited next to the trail to mark his territory. In the photo below, the scat pile sits in the middle bottom, and I circled it in white.
A closer look revealed that many scat pieces were about 2" in diameter (compare to my Gu packet which measures 4.25" long and 2" wide). Dissecting the scat, I found fur, likely from a deer, and small bone pieces.
I surmised that in the past five days, our most prolific predator had walked the same trail as I'd just ridden. He'd sauntered along, like the king of the forest, and stopped to leave scat exactly where I stood. If you truly let yourself visualize that scene, it's amazing to imagine the cat shown in the photo below having stood in the same spot as me so recently. I borrowed the lion photo which wasn't attributed to anyone. All I know is that whoever took this photo had nerves of steel!
It's funny that I don't get too scared when I'm in lion territory. Certainly, my senses go on higher alert but I don't panic. Indeed, this week when I learned that I need to have wisdom teeth removed soon, I realized that dental work panics me more than lurking lions!

I emerged onto a high plateau with aspens glowing in the sunshine.
Rocky outcroppings punctuated the aspen groves. My eyes scoured the boulders, trying to pick out the lion that I knew would lie still, camouflaged, as I passed if he was nearby.
Then, I had the scariest encounter of my ride. I saw the same potential poacher as I last week, with a rifle slung over his shoulder and dressed entirely in camouflage (my understanding is that legitimate hunters wear some orange). As soon as I saw him, I called "hello" softly, trying not to startle him. He swung around while pulling his rifle into the ready position. As soon as he saw that I was a biker, he slung the rifle back on his shoulder. However, his skittishness and quick rifle draw scared me to the bone. Shortly after I passed him, I saw two legitimate hunters, with shotguns (for birds, which are in season), and donning orange. I warned them about the rifle-bearing guy and his odd behavior.

After passing this veritable crowd of people in an isolated and hard-to-reach area, I finally found my solitude. I reached the dead-end where I've lost my way week after week - although a local mountain biker tells me that the trail continues. I plunged down a steep densely forested hillside, hoping that my path would intersect the trail. I'd programmed my GPS to take me to another fun and obvious trail. I clambered over fallen trees, burrowed under logs, and even slid down rock faces. At a point where I literally thought that I would never find a way past a cluster of obstacles, I spotted a sign on a tree beyond the barriers.
From a distance, I could read "Private Drive", and swore under my breath. If I was anywhere near a driveway, I was hopelessly lost. The topo maps showed nothing but rough and tumble wilderness where I believed that I was. I headed directly for the sign - and it humorously marked the remnants of a thread-like path, definitely not a driveway, through the pine forest.
I followed the faint trail, with frequent detours around snapped off lodgepole pine trees, to the very spot I'd been aiming for. What a feeling of satisfaction for this frequently lost forest wanderer!

I rode home on a more established trail, stopping to enjoy peeks of the mountains as I passed silently through the deep pine forest.


  1. wow, sounds like an incredibly interesting day....K looks cool to see cat scat in your area...but i would be more afraid of the hunter guy AND the dentist too!! it is so neat to watch the changes of the forest thru you...i love to visit your blog every day and look forward to your beautiful pictures and stories...have a great sunday...

  2. Getting lost (even briefly) would be scary enough for me, and thoughts of being in the mountain lion's territory are pretty scary as well, but the guy with the rifle is downright frightening! Especially when he is so quick to react even to a human voice.

    To paraphrase Horton, "A person's a pack leader no matter how small." It's a hallmark of a well-trained dog to recognize that.

    I loved the photographs after I calmed down from the spooky rifleman part of the post. Such lovely country.

  3. Never mind the anonymous mountain lion photographer. To be out there with poachers, not even totally sure of where you are, YOU definitely have nerves of steel!

  4. Yikes about the poacher! I've had a few similar encounters around here. I know in our state, the law is that hunters must wear blaze orange that has 360 degree visibility.

  5. I agree with the others - the poacher scares me far more than the mountain lion - the dentist falls in between.

  6. I decided that the poacher scared me more than the lion or the dentist (but the dentist was a close second) so I reported him. My only hesitation was that I didn't actually see him do anything illegal. But, at least the authorities now know that something fishy is up in that part of the forest.

    Thanks for your comments - they helped me reach my decision to report.

  7. I love watching dogs work for kids. I think it's so empowering for both sides.

    Lilly did that once at class when a couple of kids who came with their mom decided Lilly was more fun than their untrained dog. It was a couple years ago, but I gave them food and let them work Lilly during class. It was very sweet. Wish I had photos.

    That is scary you ran into a poacher. Creep!

    Sorry to hear about the wisdom teeth. They took mine when I was 16. Conked me out and took all at once. Best way to do it. I never would have gone back for others.


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