Black bear eating from my apple tree, August night, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bear Awareness Week, May 20-26

Click on the American Black Bear Cub to find out more about this painting.
Quick share this week at the Nest--it's Bear Awareness Week. Not all of us are lucky enough (like me) to have bears living nearby in the wild, but most of us will eventually camp, fish, or hike in a natural area where bears occur. It never hurts to be prepared with information about these large, charismatic mammals before you venture into the wilderness. Many zoos across the nation will be offering special presentations and events to educate and entertain, so if you live near a zoo, be sure and check out their web page.The organization, Defenders of Wildlife, has an easy way to donate five dollars to conservation efforts to save bears, wolves, and other wildlife. Simply text WOLF to 90999 and make a donation.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: Lumpy Ridge, Twin Owls, and Gem Lake

Some lumpy rock formations on the Lumpy Ridge Trail

When I first moved to Fort Collins to study wildlife biology at CSU in 2000, one of my favorite hikes in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park was the Gem Lake Trail. Because the trailhead was outside of the park proper, accessible via a conservation easement granted by MacGregor Ranch, it was sort of a well-kept secret. You often did not need to have a park pass to hike, since passing through the official ranger entrance was not required, so many of us cash-strapped students enjoyed this moderate, short hike on a Sunday morning. Since then, the National Park Service has opened up more trails and climbers’ access to the Twin Owls rock formations that sit near Gem Lake, and the parking lot is now paved (about 24 parking spots vs.  8 or 12), has rest room facilities, and better signage.  Last week I returned to hike the Lumpy Ridge/Twin Owls/Gem Lake trail. Here’s a great link that will tell you more:

One reason I really like this trail is that I don’t have to drive into the crowded tourist town of Estes Park. I actually burn less gas, as I approach the trailhead from Fort Collins by taking Devils Gulch Road vs. Highway 34 into park. Not only are there fewer cars on the road, but fewer people on the trail once you arrive.

Protrails (see link above) states that the entire loop for this hike is just over 11 miles. We didn’t have that much time, so we did an abbreviated hike. At the trailhead, you can opt to go right—straight up to Gem lake—or left. We went left and walked past the stunning Twin Owls. Since 2000, the park has opened up routes to Twin Owls for climbers. However, from March 1until July 31, these ascending/descending routes are closed so that bird-of-prey species are undisturbed during the breeding and nesting seasons. This doesn’t mean you can’t hike the trail. You just can’t take the climbing routes and access trails to the actual formations. (I wanted to post a photo of the Twin Owls, but blogspot keeps turning the photo on its side! So here's the shot, of owls on their backs!)

I have always loved seeing the Twin Owls from a distance when I enter Rocky Mountain National Park. We got married at the Stanley Hotel in Estes, very close to the Owls, and actually did the Gem Lake hike the morning of our wedding. It was a real thrill to be hiking the trail that winds right in front of these formations.

On our hike, when we got to the fork in the trail we headed in the direction of Gem Lake. This is a steep hike. Keep this in mind if you have people who may need extra time, or maybe some climbing poles for the ascent and descent. Not horrible by any means, but steep. You may be winded.

Rocky Mountain NP can get very busy between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Consider this less well-known hike when you want to see snow-capped peaks, smell forest smells, eat beside a clear mountain lake, and escape for a few hours.

We took a backpack with lunch for our arrival at Gem Lake. Sandwiches, dessert, beverages. It's quite windy up there, so take extra layers to wear once you've cooled down.

Gem lake, deliberately blurry and in sepia tone. Many golden-mantled ground squirrels tried to steal our sandwiches. One ran into my backpack.