Monday, June 26, 2006

Skunks, raccoons, deer, elk and bears – oh my!

Bear bells provide an element of safety for hikers in bear country.
The tricky part is getting them on the bears!

I awoke to the singing of birds – lots of them and quite a variety. It officially is daylight about 5:30 a.m. but there is no sign of the sun until 7:30 a.m. when it creeps over the east canyon wall.

It was cold last night! The temperature got down to 40 – cold enough to get up and turn my heater on. And it is still really chilly this morning. This I had not expected. I only brought one long-sleeved shirt and a windbreaker.

I had an early morning visit with one of the camp hosts as she walked her dog. She’s the one who filled me in on the local wildlife and the fact that the black bears have been sighted on the hiking trails and also coming into the campground looking for food. Although my first clue about bears were the “bear-proof” trash receptacles.

This morning I walked to the roadside picnic area overlooking Lake Alice for some bird watching.

I was sitting on one of the tables, engrossed in identifying birds, when a man on a three-wheeled motorcycle (he calls it a tricycle) pulled up. His name is Bob Gray, a retired military Texan, master diver and underwater salvage specialist. Bob is a park volunteer here at Sugarite.

The two of us were talking when another man pulled up in his car to talk to Bob. His name is Al Alkhafi and he and his wife Mona live in Raton. What interesting conversation. Al promised to bring Mona by to visit with me, and Bob said that if his schedule permitted, he would take me into Trinidad (just over the Colorado border) for a delicious Mexican lunch. Serendipity at work! Nearly an hour passed before we went our separate ways.

Back at Jeremiah I was just starting to fix lunch when my friend Hilda drove up. She had come to stay the night with me; we had serious hiking planned. This afternoon we hiked the Lake Alice trail. Along the way I nearly stepped on two small, thin snakes napping on the trail: one was shiny green and the other brown.

The trail ended at the Visitors’ Center where we got advice for tomorrow’s hiking, brochures on ‘coexisting with bears’, and a recommendation for dinner in town.

On the walk back to the campground, we both heard a breathy-huff sound – three times – coming from the tangle of bushes alongside the road. We joked that it might be a bear, but certainly didn’t dilly-dally to find out. Back at the campground notice board we read this:

“MEMO From Mama Bear, To All Bears, Re: Living in People Country”

“Look for coolers sitting on top of picnic tables. They’re full of good stuff, and a snap to open. It takes just 20 minutes to raid one and disappear.

“Cars with open doors or windows are a good food source. Open cars are easy to get into, but getting out is tricky. Bending the doors and clawing the interiors to shreds usually works.

“Tents may smell good, but it is just smoke from a cooking fire or stuff like toothpaste and cosmetics which aren’t very nutritious. On the other paw, snacks like candy bars in a tent are definitely worth getting chased and screamed at.

“If you are unfortunate enough to meet a person, let them know you’re a bear. Huff out air, clack your jaws and climb a tree to get away from them. Some people will stand around forever at the bottom of a tree, so develop a strong bladder.

“Remember that humans are dangerous. They are unpredictable and should be treated with extreme caution.”

Hilda and I looked at each other and said: “Huff out air!” It must have been a bear.