Mountain View Telegraph
Animals on camera at history center
To anyone who has ever wondered what kind of animals scurry around when people aren't there, or why south-facing slopes always seem to be a little rockier than north-facing slopes, you're in luck.
The guides at the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center are ready and able to answer most, if not all, of your questions.
Chris Modelski, who helped lead a group of nature-lovers on a short hike in the Sandia Mountains on Sunday, pointed out that, due to the way the sun dips toward the south in wintertime, the south-facing slopes tend to get more sun. What that means is that the snow melts faster and causes more erosion. It also means plants have less opportunity to grow in those areas.
The landscape directly behind Modelski — a rocky slope with very little vegetation — perfectly illustrated his point.
Later in the hike, another of the guides, Dan Bush, showed off some photographs that were taken using a motion-triggered camera. He pointed to where the camera was set up near a watering hole and held up photographs of bears, cougars, skunks, raccoons, birds, deer and many more animals.
Bush explained that hikers don't see nearly the variety and number of animals there are in the forest because those animals will tend to avoid them.
He held up a photograph that showed, at some point, a cougar and a skunk had both come to the watering hole at the same time. He said that Modelski had reported a strong skunk smell when he pulled the memory card from the camera that day.
"Who do you think won the day?" he asked.
About half the group of about 15 or more hikers thought the cougar had eaten the skunk and half thought the skunk had gotten away.
Bush held up another photo, also taken by Modelski, that showed a heap of skunk fur on the ground. Unfortunately, the skunk hadn't made it, he said.
The pair of guides talked about forest health and fire, geology, and pointed out a fossilized shark's tooth embedded in one of the rocks. They turned the sights one encounters on a simple nature hike into a living textbook.
Modelski pointed to a spread-out group of Ponderosa pine trees with orange, jigsaw-puzzle-like bark. The tree bark turns orange around the time those trees are about 100 or more years, he said. He pointed out that it was roughly 100 years ago that people started putting out most of the fires in the forest as well.
Looking at the broad spaces between those old trees, compared to the clustered growth of newer trees, it's easy to see the way the forest used to look, when naturally occurring fires were allowed to come through and clear out the understory.
Fire plays an important role in forest health, he said, and it's something we've taken out of the landscape, he said.
The natural history center is holding educational walks and lectures on the first Sunday of every month through Sept. 1, when the series wraps up with a lecture on sharks in the Sandias.
The next First Sunday event will be on April 7 at 10 a.m. and the topic will be bears and cougars. The center is located at the end of Columbine Lane, which is on the west side of N.M. 14, just three miles north of Interstate 40 and just past Coffee at Dawn.
For more information call Modelski at 505-281-5259.