I don’t believe 18th- and 19th-century pioneers in Indiana encountered elk, big-horn sheep (we spied some on a mountainside in Rocky Mountain National Park) or moose (we saw one grazing in a meadow), but I’m fairly sure they ran into pumas and black bear.
Black bear and mountain lions still live in the Rockies, and bear encounters in Rocky Mountain National Park are not unusual. Mountain lion sightings are rare. These stealthy cats can range more than 100 miles and remain wary of humans.
There is one last animal I want to tell you about: the humble marmot. This creature resembles a small groundhog and can be found many places in the Rockies. It thrives in the treeless alpine tundra. At 11,000 feet above sea level, a marmot, seemingly oblivious to our presence, waddled up to the trail and licked minerals from rocks at our feet.
We used to shoot groundhogs on the farm where I grew up in northern Indiana to prevent them from eating our crops and making axle-breaking holes in our hay fields. Three decades later, a groundhog-like creature in another environment was revealed as a hearty and unique species, worthy of our fascination and of preservation.
Editor Scott Underwood’s column appears Mondays. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @THBeditor. Contact him at email@example.com and 640-4845.