At first blush, Madison County and the Rocky Mountains might not seem to have much in common. But I was surprised on my first visit to the Rockies last week by how many species central Indiana and Colorado share.
My wife, son, two daughters and I spent four days in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. Our timing was perfect to witness the transition from winter to spring.
Drifts of snow up to 15 feet high still stood along Trail Ridge Road, which climbs 12,000 feet above sea level. The snow was melting, sending trickles down the slopes and tumbling into great churning whitewater that nourishes plateaus where elk graze.
Whereas we needed heavy coats on the trails near the alpine peaks, 4,000 feet down near the eastern entrance to the park, T-shirts and shorts kept us warm at midday.
At this elevation, the robin was a ubiquitous sign of spring weather, just as it is in Indiana. The melodies of sparrows, finches and swallows pierced the quiet. I watched for a half-hour one morning as hummingbirds darted about a small grove of pines.
We also saw rabbits and ground squirrels that looked exactly like those in Indiana, and Canada geese passed in pairs low overhead.
As we were hiking in the park, my younger daughter, Alix, encountered a young mule deer browsing among the trees. To our untrained eyes, it looked just like the white-tailed deer here at home.
We were thrilled by our first sighting of elk and pulled off the park entrance road to watch them. That night, I glanced out our motel window to see elk on the golf course next door. They grazed on the fairways and pranced on the greens under the spray of sprinklers. I wondered how many new “hazards” golfers would encounter on the course the next day.