Plants & Wildlife
Scope it out: A likely encounter with the locals
Surrounded by national forest, viewing wildlife is simple. From bugs to bighorn sheep, you are likely to see more animals than you can count. While most commonly seen during early morning and evening hours, attentive drivers and hikers will find some animals out during the day. The usual suspects include deer, elk, rabbits and squirrels, but others might be just around the bend so don’t forget your camera! Remember to keep your distance from any wild animal. More animals you might expect to find:
Big Horn Sheep • Bear • Moose • Coyote • Raccoon • Red Fox • Skunk • Lynx • Marmot • Bobcat • Mountain Lion • Pronghorn Antelope
As you take any of the scenic driving tours in the South Fork area, notice the overwhelming variety of wildflowers that are in bloom along the road-side, in open meadows and under the shade of aspen groves. An entire rainbow of colors range from pale yellow to bright reds and purples. Note: Our San Juan Mountains are famous for their many, many species and colors of the aster/sunflower family. Please leave flowers for all to enjoy - take a picture home with you instead!
Don’t forget to bring your binoculars - many of our homes, cabins and campsites have backyard views of the national forest! Our 260+ species of birds range from shy, modest little brown birds to dramatic, colorful eagles, hawks and hummingbirds. Wild turkeys walk through our snowy yards and roost in nearby pines. A few dippers perform in the Rio Grande and its South Fork, within town limits. The night-songs of owls bewilder with haunting tunes from the forest. Birds-galore show off their colors: bluebirds, hummingbirds, eagles, and jays from shiny black to gray and metallic blue. Soaring predators and flitting prey provide drama, and feeders in town offer a likely sighting from the seat of your car!
Mushroom hunting is always a lesson in patience. What makes the area a great place for mushrooming? The mountains create a variety of mushroom habitats. Common but sporadic July rain showers create just the right amount of humidity and moisture required for a good mushroom crop! Our high altitude is perfect for two popular mushrooms, the Chantrelles and Boletus. Get insider tips and directions to good hunting spots during our Mushroom Foray, typically held in early August. Learn to correctly identify and collect a variety of species, then hit the hiking trails to hunt for the perfect mushroom! Confirm the validity of your finds at the follow-up discussion, and, if you’re successful, finish off the evening with a gourmet meal!
A Silver Thread Scenic Byway Wildlife Watching Guide is available at the Visitors Center - Stop in for your copy!
A few helpful hints to remember when viewing wildlife are as follows:
- Observe animals from a safe distance (that animals consider safe). Get a close up with your camera or binoculars.
- "Safe Distance" is when you can observe the animals without them moving away from you. If most of the animals are looking at you and appear jumpy you are too close.
- Move slowly and casually, not directly towards the wildlife. NEVER chase any wildlife and keep ALL pets in the vehicles, away from direct contact with wildlife.
- DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. While it may get you a close-up look, it is dangerous to you AND the wildlife.
- Also, regularly fed animals tend to become pests and invade campgrounds and picnic areas. Often times the only way to take care of problem animals is to have them exterminated.