Note that this post deals heavily with critter encounters, most of which were very quick, and as such, since my digital camera is pretty dang slow (I'd need to buy a camera that costs as much as a car to get a critter-speed worthy digital camera - and that's not going to happen!) this post, despite the title, is long on description and short on actual critter-photos.
Colorado Bend State Park's River Trail tracks along the bank of the Colorado River (Well duh!) and connects the main camping area at the south end with a number of trails further north.
At 7 miles out and back it's a hike all by itself, but if you want to wander some of the trails up there at the north end without moving The Van, or your version of The Van, to one of the closer trailheads, it's the necessary first, and last, leg of a longer hike.
I had hardly been on the trail long enough for my pack to get settled when I caught a glimpse of raccoon butt, fat raccoon butt, scurrying up this old tree.
Apparently there was a hollow up there, as well as at least one more raccoon. Not that I could see them up there as they kept the tree between me and them, but I could hear as they had a less-than-whispered discussion about who was going to nip into the hollow and hide first. And it wasn't a polite 'You go dear. No you first, I insist' kind of discussion either. It was a raucous, nasty 'Get the hell out of my way because I'm going first! No! I'm first!' kind of exchange.
and it was a special treat to be out on the trail early enough to be witness to this the delicate frost driven from the very plants themselves by the unusual physics of water which expands just as it freezes.
These ephemeral formations are quick to dissipate in the light of day so there's a small window in which to marvel at them.
Eventually I'd had enough marveling and moved on. (Either that or my legs protested against all that squatting with a pack on my back for a closer look.)
But apparently, in doing so, moving on, I interrupted this guy's morning routine and he wasn't shy about letting me know he wasn't happy about that.
In fact, at several points during his persistent harassment he climbed out on limbs - actually twigs - no bigger around than his own toes, all wobbly and twitchy like a tight-rope walker about to lose it, right over my head, and I was thinking he intended to drop down on me and kick my ass. Until I figured out that he simply wanted whatever goodies were hidden out there at the very end of those flimsy little perches. Isn't that always the way? The best stuff is juuust out of reach.
Again, I moved on and left him to his breakfast, but that didn't stop him from hollering and screeching at me until I was out of sight.
This is a photo of an armadillo that I encountered near the end of my day's hiking, many hours from now. I first spotted him running and skipping down the middle of the trail right towards me looking for all the world like a happy puppy without a single care.
Now armadillos are pretty clueless animals, and mostly blind, but it was still a bit unusual to have one run right up to within nose-touch of my left boot. At which point he stiffly turned his little head and gave me a beady eye before making an abrupt dash for the side of the trail.
But armadillos also have the attention span of an ADD gnat, and he was almost immediately distracted by the possibilities of bugs hiding under the leaf-litter and forgot that he was supposed to be running away.
But, back to current time, my first armadillo encounter of the day was just as strange. Usually armadillos are pretty chill, but for some reason I scared the holly hell out of this one and he ran off as fast as he could, screaming and wailing the whole way. "Oh God he's going to get me! Somebody help! I'm too young to die!"
I've never heard an armadillo vocalize before and I felt bad that I traumatized him like that.
OK, the trauma has already been imparted and I can't do anything about that, so back to normal hiking.
Except you see that bit of empty trail out there in front of me?
Well it wasn't empty when I pressed the shutter, honest!
A couple hundred yards or so after leaving that traumatized armadillo behind, the morning-trail quiet was again interrupted, this time by the weirdest deer-bark I've ever heard.
Normally when startled or angry a deer has a high-pitched bark that's a mashup of a spit and a wheeze. This bark was low, really low, and gravely, and I'm standing there, wrapped in my armor of flimsy skin, all soft and mushy and defenseless, thinking 'Whoa! big deer! Really big deer!'
Except deer don't usually crash and thrash through the undergrowth making such an impressive racket as this one did!
Then, just as that intimidating racket has almost reached the shit-my-pants stage two jet-black feral hogs, market sized hogs, you know, about 130 pounds with really nice, tender hams and lean bacon, burst out of the trees on the right, the river side, and soared across the trail without touching it.
Just like a cartoon, their front legs were stretched out horizontally under their chins and their rear legs in the other direction, tucked up under their tails, as they flew, yep, flew, as in pigs fly, right across the gap and disappeared, but not silently, into the trees on the left.
In the lull that followed I had a feeling - either that or I just had to pee real bad - and raised my camera before calling out 'Hey! I'm still here!'. Sure enough, after a noisy running start one more hog flew across the gap all stretched out exactly like the first two, levitated like some carnival ride minus the garish colors flying by.
Of course my camera was too damn slow, so all I've got is this rather nondescript and boring photo of an empty trail. Buuutt, I'm proud to say, that when the crashing and thrashing faded away to nothing, I did NOT have to detour down to the river and rinse out my underwear!
Usually when moving down a trail, close-up encounters like the several this morning are few and far between because, even when trying to be quiet, us humans are clumsy and noisy.
But I wasn't done yet!
Yep. That's the trail he's standing in. The trail I'm trying to hike.
This is an Aoudad, otherwise known as a Barbary Sheep, though they are in fact a goat and not a sheep.
Looks kinda sleepy and laid back doesn't he? In fact I suspect that's exactly what he hoped I would think so he could lure me in closer, but I wasn't fooled!
You see, these aren't your petting-zoo, farm-yard goats! In fact, as he stands, the curl of those horns come up to about my nose-level and he probably weighs somewhere in the 200 pound plus range. (They generally top out at 300 pounds)
Then in the dappled morning light I realized that there were more of them down over the bank between the trail and the river.
By the time they finished dribbling and dabbling across the trail in front of me, casually but nervously meandering from the river side
to the bluff side, I figured there had to be about a dozen of them in this group. The largest group I've ever seen before.
And that first guy?
Well he stood guard there on the trail until all the others had made it across, then, gave me one last 'Yeah? What a ya gona do about it?' look before following them into the rocks.
There was a diagonal ledge of sorts, as long as you're a goat anyway, along the bluff there off my left shoulder, and the entire band, all gathered together now, picked their way quickly up that ledge and out of sight. I had the time for one more photo of this but didn't even bother since I knew the camera would just focus on the branches right in front of me and leave the ledge as an indecipherable smear in the background.
Not all the wildlife I encountered that morning was of the fauna type either.
This thing is growing in a few places along the river and those leaves are big enough to serve as umbrellas!
The ping-pong-ball sized fruits are a contrast of nasty looking spikes and incredibly delicate flowers.
I'm pretty sure this is a Castor plant of some sort and these specimens are actually an invasive since it is not native to here.
Fun fact - or maybe just a sad commentary on our gullibility: Because castor, particularly castor oil, has a slightly negative vibe to us Americans, marketing departments have taken to using the Brazilian word for the fruit, graviola, when selling various health-related concoctions derived from the bean.
I finally made it to the end of the River Trail!
But wait! That's only about a third of today's planned hike.
I wonder what else is in store for me today - - -