I love my weekend hikes with our whole pack together. We started early this morning, although the sun already beamed from high in the sky. We drove to a local trail that almost no one ever uses. However, parts of it are a favorite mountain bike ride of mine. We had a glorious hike with a sad ending. Don't worry - no one in our pack was hurt. Here's the story.
We set out across a meadow, with me jubilantly pointing out bobcat tracks that tread so lightly that they didn't crack the snow's crust.
Once we'd crossed the snowy meadow, we briefly followed a 4wd road that mixed snow and mud patches. I found some almost perfect bobcat tracks from a cat moving at brisk walk. I know he hurried along because his hind paw overstepped his front paw. When a cat is hunting, moving slowly and silently, his hind paw falls directly into the track of the front paw. Also, notice that my 'scale' in the photo is a ruler rather than a chemical handwarmer - a gift from someone who thought that I should be more 'scientific' in my track photography :)
Soon, we lost the bobcat tracks, not surprising, because they rarely walk through such a bobcat nirvana on a straight and open road. The area was pocked with boulder outcroppings, boulder jumbles, and even boulder mountains! Bobcats love winding among boulders, hunting and scent marking along the way.
As usual, I couldn't stay on a trail, and we started aiming toward our goal whilst staying far away from the main trail. My bipedal hiking partner lamented my naturally fast hiking pace - commenting that the only time that he's ever been able to keep up with me was when I was hauling my IV cart with me in the halls of the hospital. That commented elicited a chuckle from me!
We climbed skyward among the boulders. I spotted a zillion cat scent posts but knew that I'd bore everyone if I stopped to look at all of them so we hiked onward and upward. The boulder sculptures amazed me.
Just beyond that gap, we reached our first true viewpoint. We gazed down at the valley, then the small forested hills, and finally the Continental Divide from our perch.
After climbing another few hundred feet, we searched for another view. The boys took a different route than us girls so we lost track of them for an instant. Then, I spotted R through a narrow slot on the side of the cliff.
I knew that K would fit through the slot but, the tougher question was, would I? It turned out that I did, just barely. Since my surgery, I've overcompensated with reducing my caloric intake (to match my reduced exercise) so I fit now but I wouldn't have in December!
Once we reached the boys, we'd found 'the ultimate spot' to relax before turning toward home. Both dogs contemplated the short route back to the car - straight down the cliff. Notice that both precious canines were leashed next to the precipitous cliff.
I talked them back from the edge... and they both looked in my general direction at the same instant! It took only about 10 photos to capture this occasion.
Then, K gazed while I stroked her fur, warmed by the spring sun.
R imitated his sister, showing off his profile against the snowy mountains. His jet black fur, with his first three white hairs on his forehead, radiated heat stored from the sun.
After a rest, we descended in the now hot sun, sliding down the mushy snow. When we hit the 4wd road, K suddenly alerted on a mound in the snow. Her body language vibrated with tension so I called her and leashed her.
To our utter sorrow, a bobcat had died next to the 4wd road.
We could find no obvious cause of death. No blood, no joints bent at crazy angles, no hint whatsoever. It appeared that he'd bounded off the 4wd road, landed in deep snow, and died in his tracks. A truck had churned through the snow while we hiked, and we wondered if the truck had accidentally hit the bobcat during our hike, inflicting internal injuries that killed him almost instantly.
Based on his size, I suspect that the bobcat was a male (apparently it's difficult even for 'experts' to sex a bobcat). Moreover, he'd had plenty of cat fights in his life. One of his ears had numerous old and healed bite injuries. For some reason that we can't fathom, all of his facial whiskers were broken off about a centimeter from the base. Does anyone know why that might have happened? If anyone wants to see more photos of him than I have shown, click here.
We felt bereft. One of our predators, so essential to the health and spirit of our world and my soul, had died. As I looked back at him, I wondered if he'd mated and his offspring would be born in the spring. I hope so, for his sake, and for mine.
I believe that he's the bobcat who we tracked early in our hike this morning, his elegant paws treading softly atop the snow.