I rolled out the door on my mountain bike into SPRING. I turned my face toward the sun and enjoyed the warmth. As I glided down a hill, I noticed our elk herd - fragmented into myriad small groups spread throughout a meadow spotted with Ponderosa Pine trees.
The elk wonder if anyone will brush them? Look how they're shedding!
After turning to climb out of the low meadow, I spotted a glorious sight. A snowy mountain shined through naked aspen trees. In a month, those trees will carry green leaves, obscuring this view. For now, it's a favorite of mine.
After my bike ride, I hiked with my new friend who is tracking-addict like I am. We headed to a nearby area that nary a person visits all year long. We followed a single-file elk track up a north-facing slope, visually scouring the landscape for signs of large mammals. K led us to an uprooted tree that an animal had recently dug around and torn off small pieces. In the photo, notice that the dirt that the animal had dug up was ON TOP of the snow. That's a sure sign that the digging was recent.
Paydirt - most likely, a bear worked over this dead tree trying to find grubs shortly after leaving his den. K stood atop her prize! As an aside, this bear work lay very close to where I saw a yearling bear cub and his mom grazing in mid-May of last year, and then saw the yearling alone digging.
We kept following the elk herd's tracks, over ridges, saddles, and into gullies. As we descended toward a gulch, K again hit high alert. Nose in the air, she accelerated forward. Indeed, she looked too intense so I called her back and leashed her. Soon thereafter, we stumbled upon the remains of a lion kill. The leg and some of the body of an adult elk lay in a pathetically small pile in the dry grass.
And, nearby, we spotted what we believed were the tracks of a mountain lion bounding out of the dark forest, through the snow, and into the meadow. They might have been the tracks from when the lion attacked the elk. The strides seemed impossibly long for how deep the snow was. A powerful animal made these tracks.
Although we knew intellectually that the elk remains and the lion tracks were old, the area felt perfect for lurking lions and a creepy feeling kept overtaking me. Soon, we climbed out of the dark forested draw and headed up toward the relatively sunny and safe forest. Although it was fun to see evidence of a mountain lion's predatory activity, it also sent a chill up my spine.
All in all, it was a wonderful spring day, and I had the pleasure of spending most of it outdoors in the woods. It was my favorite kind of day!