Winter Wildlife

A white-tailed ptarmigan sits in the willows at Guanella Pass.

Dawn Wilson

The Rocky Mountains are spectacularly beautiful in the wintertime. Interstate 70 makes them spectacularly easy to get to. 

That’s why I-70 is famous as the corridor to Colorado’s most popular ski resorts. And that’s why it’s so baffling that I-70 isn’t equally famous as the corridor to Colorado’s top destinations for viewing Rocky Mountain winter wildlife.

Just as the state’s resorts offer slopes for skiers of all skill levels, Colorado Life presents four stops along I-70 with viewing opportunities for wildlife watchers of every level of adventurousness. 

In the pages that follow, you’ll discover double-black-diamond excursions to the top of Quandary Peak in search of mountain goats, or snowshoeing up Guanella Pass in pursuit of the elusive white-tailed ptarmigan. There are intermediate outings to see desert bighorn sheep in Colorado National Monument. And if your tolerance for adventure starts to falter the moment you leave sight of your automobile, the conveniently located songbirds at Red Rocks Park and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Georgetown should fit the bill perfectly.

Spanning the Rockies from Denver’s foothills to Grand Junction, our wildlife hotspots are cool destinations in their own right. Even if the advertised animals don’t show up right on cue, these locales have lots of other fun stuff to make the trip worthwhile. 

Each summer, more than 100 musical acts fill the air with song at Red Rocks Park – and each winter, more than 100 bird species do likewise.
The world-famous Red Rocks Amphi-theatre is the main attraction for music fans, but bird watchers flock to the park’s surrounding natural area to hear the glorious song of avian singers at the Red Rocks Trading Post.

The Trading Post is both a souvenir shop and the home of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, which features fun exhibits and rare artifacts celebrating Colorado musical greats. But what keeps birds and birders coming back, year after year, are the bird feeders on the back patio. 

Many species arrive at the feeders after migrating hundreds or thousands of miles. The common redpoll and gray-crowned rosy finch fly in from the arctic to enjoy the relative warmth of Colorado’s winter. Park Ranger Supervisor Dennis Brown of Denver Mountain Parks, which manages Red Rocks, especially loves the canyon wren because of the beautiful melody it sings, but he also has a soft spot for the park’s remarkably imperturbable raptors.

“A pair of peregrine falcons nest on the tallest rock formation above the amphitheater,” Brown said. “We have watched them to see if they are affected by the commotion they live above, but, surprisingly, they don’t seem bothered by the concerts.”

The bird feeders are only stocked when there’s snow on the ground, which is handy, as fresh snowfall makes the best backdrop for birdwatchers and photographers. The park’s easy-to-hike trails, including the 1.4-mile Trading Post Trail, feature stunning rock formations and panoramic views of Denver. Snow cover might also reveal tracks from recent visits by elk or mountain lions. 


For the rest of the story see the Novemeber/December 2018 issue of Colorado Life.

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