Every year, as summer turns to fall and snow returns to Pikes Peak, a couple dozen resident bighorn sheep trade in their native scree slopes for greener pastures.
They descend from the rocky shoulders of the 14,115-foot mountain and head to Dome Rock State Wildlife Area.
Apparently, wildlife experts say, they don’t care for the cold.
“We get quite a few of them down here,” said Tim Kroening, Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager for Teller County. “Some of them stay up on the peak the whole time, but others come down. We get like 30. They end up going back and forth.”
On Dec. 1, a wide swath of Dome Rock’s 6,962 acres will close until July 15 to allow the sheep peace during their lambing season.
Until then, the snowbird sheep will be on the move, and visitors to the Sand Creek or Dome Rock trails might just be lucky enough to get a glimpse of them at some stage along the way.
It’s a thrilling sight for wildlife watchers of any experience level – and it’s just a small taste of what’s on display in the Pikes Peak region as the seasons change.
Here are a few more spots in the Pikes Peak region for wild encounters, understanding that not every venture will yield postcard-ready moments.
Some of these are appropriate for families or those who prefer to experience nature during a drive or short hike. Others may appeal to more seasoned outdoors people, who understand that the pleasure is in the hunt, even when it turns up a goose egg.
Take food, water and all-weather gear, and, please, don’t feed or approach wildlife.
What’s a pika, again?
Can you tell the cheep-cheeps of the marmot from the yeep-yeeps of the pika? And what the heck is a pika, anyway?
Learn all this and more firsthand atop the summit of Pikes Peak, which offers a stage for interesting wildlife to go with its 360-degree views.
Marmots, resembling an oversize prairie dog, dwell in rock piles just below the summit and often come out to regard tourists on their haunches – sometimes uttering a shrill cheep. Pikas, which belong to the rabbit family and look like fat mice with Mickey Mouse ears, have their own distinctive chirp.
Learning to tell them apart is part of the fun to a trip up Pikes Peak, but there’s plenty of other attractions besides.
“The top of Pikes Peak is pretty good in terms of nice alpine marmots, bighorn sheep, pika,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife volunteer Jenna Sanchez. “There could be elk up there, and, of course, coyotes. And ravens and raptors. We see a few of those flying around and squawking.”
No wonder there’s so much chirping up there.
A journey to the top of Pikes Peak involves driving the 19-mile Pikes Peak Highway, which costs $12 per passenger age 16 and older and $5 per person ages 6-15. Families pay $40. To get there: Head west on U.S. 24 out of Manitou Springs and up Ute Pass. In Cascade, exit at Fountain Avenue and cross over the highway. Take Fountain to the slight fork and take the left road as it climbs. This is the Pikes Peak Highway.
Or hike Barr Trail, the 13.3-mile trail that spans 7,000 feet of vertical gain up the mountain’s east flank. To get there: Find parking in Manitou Springs and walk up Ruxton Avenue (at the roundabout) about a mile to Hydro Street. The Barr trailhead is at the top of Hydro Street.
Moose in Teller County
Here’s one for the adventurous.
In the forests north of Divide lurks Teller County’s resident group of 10 to 20 moose, which stick to stream beds and beaver dams but sometimes cross roads and meadows in their pursuit of munchables.
“Just north of Divide, there’s a whole bunch of Forest Service roads,” said Kroening, of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Some of them are more Jeep trails and some are ATV trails. Kind of in early mornings or into evening times, those are times when you’d be more likely to see the moose.”
Kroening warned that people should come no closer than 100 yards to a moose, and preferably should keep to binocular range.
Dogs, which resemble a moose’s only natural predator (wolves), can incite a moose to violence, and must be kept on a leash.
“Their defense technique is, if they’re not going to run, they’re going to stomp something,” Kroening said.
“But, it’s pretty rare,” he added. “If people keep their distance it’s not an issue at all. They’re beautiful creatures. Definitely enjoy them, but keep your distance.”
See a whole herd of elk
You won’t find moose at Mueller State Park, but the elk, mule deer and turkeys are running wild, said park ranger Luke Svare.
“Your best bet of seeing elk is Trail No. 17, the Cheesman Ranch Trail, and Trail 33, which is Buffalo Rock, and Trail 34, which is Cahill Pond. Those are all kind of in the same area of the park, and that tends to be where that elk herd is hanging out – about 50 to 60.”
The elk tend to roam between Mueller and the forests north of Divide, Svare said.
By mid-September, the elks begin to rut, and bugling starts to echo through the woods. Svare suggested that people call the Mueller State Park visitor center at 719-687-2366 to learn about guided bugling hikes led by wildlife experts.
Elk herds may also be seen at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Kroening said.
To get to Mueller State Park: From Colorado Springs, take U.S. 24 west to Divide, turn south onto Colorado 67 to the Mueller entrance on the right, about 4 miles. Day use fee is $7 per vehicle.
To get to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument: From Colorado Springs, take U.S. 24 west to Florissant. Turn left on Teller Road 1 and watch for the Fossil Beds entrance on your right.
Giggle at the gobbles in Cheyenne Mountain State Park
Cheyenne Mountain State Park, the 2,700-acre refuge for bobcats, mountain lions and black bears, is also your go-to destination for wild turkey sightings.
Just try not to laugh when you hear them “gobble gobble” from the ravines just off Blackmer Trail, especially if young children are along for the ride.
Be careful. The turkeys, which can be occasionally seen as they scurry through thickets of scrub oak, are sometimes startlingly close to the trails.
To get there: From Colorado Springs, drive south on Nevada Avenue/Colorado 115 until you reach Fort Carson. At the main gate, turn right, toward Cheyenne Mountain. Drive straight through the roundabout, take the first left and find the visitor center on the right. Day use fee is $7 per vehicle.