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Creature discomforts

It had been a cold, snowy month. I had cabin fever and needed to get outdoors. I took a short hike on Cheyenne Mountain, where I work. The trail is not well known, not well marked and now snow covered.I wasn’t ambitious. I had time constraints and hadnít been trail hiking for a while. It was great to get fresh air and overdue exercise. I also had another agenda: to see how many of the forest creature tracks in the fresh snow I could identify.I’m employed as a wilderness camp winter caretaker. I had heard that in the off season, the wild beasties come back onto the property. The previous year, one caretaker lasted only two weeks because he had seen mountain lion prints the size of coffee cup saucers on the lodge deck. I had to see for myself.The deeper I went into the woods, the more tracks I saw. When hiking, I feel confident about being able to recognize animal tracks. It is a little more difficult when they kick up power snow as they walk.Some tracks were easy to identify, like rabbit and fox. Others were tougher, such as being able to differentiate a large deer from a small elk. One set of prints I simply had to guess at.Woodland critters are smart to take the path of least resistance through the forest, so they follow the people trail, as was my discovery this day. Sometimes, the animal tracks overlap, making it hard to tell prints apart. One such print looked like some kind of weird hybrid between a bear and a gorilla. How utterly ridiculous ó everyone knows bears are in hibernation this time of year, and the only gorillas close to the Rocky Mountains are in zoos!Thankfully, I didnít see mountain lion tracks. I had gone farther than planned, and I had forgotten to bring a hiking stick, pepper spray and a small air horn. I had also forgotten my cell phone with the built-in camera. You will have to take my word for it about the bear-gorilla creature footprints.T. Duren Jones spends time in the Colorado wilderness as often as possible. He has hiked hundreds of trails, completed the nearly 500 miles of the Colorado Trail, and has summited all 54 of Coloradoís 14,000-foot peaks. He loves the outdoors. He hates snakes.

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