National Geographic : 1946 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine Snow in Early October Finds a White-tailed Ptarmigan Changing to Winter Dress Brown and black summer plumage of this grouselike bird is a marvel of protective coloration. "It is always surprising to find that a rounded granite rock has an eye in it," says the author. As winter advances, white feathers gradually replace the dark ones until the ptarmigan becomes snow-white (Plate III and p. 65). spruce are like glistening Christmas trees against the blue-black Colorado skies. The forest floor is a drifted, untracked carpet, for the varying hares and lesser folk remain in the snug warmth of their warrens until hunger forces them from their places of refuge. Where mountain roads cross the Divide, however, there is easy access to the skiing slopes; so, as soon as the highways are cleared, the young people of Colorado flock to Love land and Berthoud Passes. From elevations of 12,000-14,000 feet they travel down glis tening slopes at express-train speed, while photographically inclined naturalists make haste more slowly on snowshoes. Winter Haven for Deer The game animals have long since dropped to lower elevations, the deer spending the winter where the sage country merges with the spruce and pine. One of the greatest wintering areas is in the broad valley of the Gunnison, and we have made many photo graphic trips to one of its tributaries, Soap Creek (Plate XV and pages 69 and 71). There, stalking animals in the sage, we have come abruptly upon gigantic old bucks posing like statues against the sky, and we have hidden along game trails and watched gaunt old-timers following the network of deer-made paths as they searched for feeding places. The Harding Ranch, well up Soap Creek, has been our headquarters, and with sled and horses we have traveled far back in the picturesque hills while the 20-below-zero weather made the runners squeal on the dry snow and froze our cameras to useless orna ments. However, milder days were to follow, and we had no difficulty in getting our shots. Once a little fawn came nimbly along a trail, closely followed by three big old bucks. As I thrust my face into the camera, my com panion whispered, "A little child shall lead them." Thus the curtain falls on a brief glimpse of the High Country of Colorado. We have fol lowed spring to peaks at 14,000 feet and then, as spring merged into summer and fall, we have retraced our steps with the big-game animals. Now we leave them there in the broad valley of the Gunnison, where spruce forests encroach upon flats of rolling sage.* * For additional material on birds and animals men tioned in this article, see The Book of Birds, 2 vol umes, and Wild Animals of North America, both pub lished by the National Geographic Society.