Appreciating our winter wonderland

Southwest Colorado offers many recreational activities in the winter. From ice climbing to skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling, you can do it all in our little corner of the world. While some of these activities are faster-paced than others, try to take some time this winter to slow down and appreciate our natural winter wonderland.

There are countless natural things you can discover in the outdoors this winter, if you’re willing to look. Winter is a great time to look for animal tracks. Tracks of the snowshoe hare, for example, can typically be seen even when the hare itself may be camouflaged with its new coat of winter white fur. Because hares hop by landing with their back feet in front of their front feet, their tracks will show two large, long track impressions in front of two smaller, off-set tracks. If you’re lucky, you could even see some tracks of the Canada lynx, re-introduced to Colorado in 1999. Lynx tracks are quite large – about five inches across, compared to only 2 ½ to 3 inches across for a bobcat. In fact, lynx tracks are about the same size as a female mountain lion! If you look carefully, you may even be able to see some small mouse tracks on the snow as well, with a small line in-between the feet showing the tail.

Although winter is not a time that many people think of to look for birds, there can still be plenty of bird watching around. Many birds, such as pine siskins and juncos, can be more easily seen at the lower elevations they migrate to this time of year. Winter can also be a nice time to spot raptors in trees that have lost their leaves. Bald eagles can be found next to areas of open water earlier in the winter. Raptors such as red-tailed hawks, and even smaller ones like kestrels can be found in trees, watching the ground for the movement of a mouse or other small animal below. The Christmas Bird Count in Durango is already done, but the Cortez one takes place on December 26th, starting at the Cortez Cultural Center at 8 a.m.. Join other birders, from beginners to experts for this annual tradition!

When was the last time you really looked at the trees you are using as ski obstacles when you’re flying down the slopes? You’re probably cruising around some gorgeous evergreens like subalpine fir (short, flat, smooth needles), Engelmann spruce (soft, square needles), Colorado blue spruce (found at lower elevations than Engelmann spruce), or even some aspens with their gray bark complementing the winter white background.

If you need a little help noticing the beauty of nature in winter, SJMA, San Juan National Forest, and BLM Tres Rios are again partnering with Mesa Verde National Park and the San Juan/Four Corners Native Plant Society on many different programs to help you do just that. The January programs include: Surviving the Snow Season, 10 a.m.-noon, Jan. 2, La Plata Canyon. For more information, call (970) 385-128.)

Plant and Animal Adaptations, 9 a.m.-noon, Jan. 11, Morefield Campground, Mesa Verde National Park. For more information, call (970) 529-4631.

Sensing Winter, 10 a.m.-noon, Jan. 18 at Boggy Draw in Dolores. For more information, call (970) 385-1256.

Also visit www.sjma.org or www.nps.gov/meve for more information.

Next time you’re riding the chairlift, about to start up your snowmobile, or putting on your snowshoes, stop and take a moment to take in the beauty of winter in southwest Colorado. You’ll be glad you did.

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