Spotted!

Driving across the Valley floor recently we were greeted with the sweet summer scent of freshly cut grass wafting in our open windows as we cruised past hay field after hay field in various stages of converting green summer pastures into essential winter forage for thousands of cattle, horses, goats, sheep, and probably even an occasional deer and elk.

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The days are finally warming after a cool, wet spring and here at the ranch we’ve been spending more and more time outside; working the garden, hiking, horseback riding, and generally getting to know the land. Flowers are blooming everywhere. Dandelion, golden banner, blue flag iris, bush honeysuckle, chokecherry, and gooseberry are in bloom along with their more domesticated (but no less beautiful) cousins – lilacs, snapdragons, and old homestead apple trees. Abundant moisture, longer days, and the warm caress of the sun have turned the valley into a lush paradise.

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Spring is here! Vast greening hay fields provide a striking contrast to the still snowy-white mountains. Crocus and hyacinth poke their diminutive flowers above the soil in local gardens, and their wild cousins the Pasque flowers are doing the same in the open meadows. Days have lengthened, and the sun’s rays melt the ice off the ponds, inviting Blue Herons, geese, and ducks to take up residence in their search for promising nesting areas. It smells of sun-warmed pine trees and freshly turned dirt.

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There’s nothing more quintessentially “American West” than the high lonesome sound of a coyote yipping across the sagebrush hills at dusk. Coyotes are plentiful here in the Valley and are seen often, roaming fields and forests. Although coyotes are at home in the remotest areas of the Mountain West, few wild creatures have adapted as handily to human presence and coyotes have been spotted in areas as highly populated as New York’s Central Park.

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On cold, clear winter nights high in the Rocky Mountains, silence reigns. The brilliant crystal clarity of the stars cast soft shadows over the snow-covered landscape, and not even the faintest sigh of a breeze disrupts the utter stillness. On these nights, the quiet is only broken by the haunting call of the Great Horned Owl.

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A few weeks ago, we lost a few chickens. The first one didn’t worry us that much. Sometimes you lose chickens to predators. It’s just the way it goes. But after we lost two in one day, we closed our free ranging chickens into the safety of their coop and waited to see what would show up looking for more easy prey.

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Driving north on Highway 69 recently, we were enjoying a typical Colorado bluebird morning. The newly snowy mountains rose high above hay feels still tinted green, the snow blindingly white against the cloudless cerulean sky. Willows glowing gold with the last of the fall color wound through the meadows and past the highway following creeks edged with ice. The morning air was crisp, but the sun’s rays were warm, hinting at the pleasant afternoon to come. As we neared Beckwith Ranch, three very large raptors caught our eye, circling lazily, their heads as snowy as the mountains to the west.

The bald eagles are back.

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A couple of weeks ago I was standing in the front yard taking in the glory of the Milky Way spanning the night sky when I heard a sound I hadn’t heard before. A bit eerie (particularly in the dark), it took me a minute to realize I was listening to one of the quintessential sounds of Fall in the Colorado high country– an elk bugle.

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Last weekend was Labor Day weekend - unofficial end to the summer. While the valley is still lush, green, and warm, hints of fall are beginning to nudge away the lazy summer days. We recently moved residences, and looking out our new window at a bush I saw one lone branch sporting leaves that had turned crimson red.

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Summer has finally arrived in the Wet Mountain Valley. We've left the cool, wet, cloudy spring behind for long days full of warm sunshine and cool nights full of starry skies. An occasional thunderstorm rumbles through on its way east, dropping more precious moisture and putting on a light show. The clean, bright smell of fresh grass and sunshine mixes with the heady vanilla scent of sun-warmed ponderosa pines. Summer is a season of plenty, and where we live, beauty is no exception. We've “spotted” so much recently; it's hard to pick just one thing to talk about.

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Those of us who live here in Colorado love our sunshine. We also love to tout to out-of-staters the frequency in which our beloved sun appears. “We have over 300 days of sunshine per year – that’s more than San Diego and Miami!” We are closer to the sun than most places – our high altitude making those warming rays more intense and allowing us wonderful ‘winter’ activities like bikini skiing (or just snowshoeing without a coat for those of us who aren’t crazy about the idea of snow + bikini). It also means sunscreen or other protection is critical pretty much every day… at least until the past month.

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Spring and fall mean bird migration time – and we get plenty of them in the Wet Mountain Valley. Some only stop by for a brief visit. More stay for the summer season, similar to some of our human residents.

 

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Spring has certainly sprung here in the Wet Mountain Valley. Nobody leaves the house without plenty of layers in case a warm spell morphs quickly into a water-replenishing snow storm. Calves cavort in every pasture while ranchers run on little to no sleep making sure calving season goes off without a hitch. Mountain mahogany and wax currant bushes sport brand new buds of greenery, hay fields are carpeted with emerald green, and even the cloud formations are starting to look more like summer than winter.

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Pronghorn are widespread in the Wet Mountain Valley. We have the pleasure of seeing them often. A small band of females have their regular birthing grounds not far from our house in the cool spring grasses, hiding their new fawns in the lush greenery while they graze far away in order to lure predators from the vulnerable babies. The fawns blend so well that we’ve inadvertently come too close a time or two as we enjoyed a leisurely walk with our dogs on a warm spring evening. I’m not sure if the fawn is more startled or if we are as it explodes from its nest, racing away as we watch, the dogs trembling with excitement by our sides.

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