Monday, June 18, 2007

Wild Animals Without Fear.

We did not lure this chipmunk with food. It scampered up to my teenager, who was sitting on a rock at the summit of Mount Howard. As we watched, the 'munk walked right into his hand.

That was not our only close encounter with wildlife on the mountain.

We stepped off the Wallowa Lake Tramway and started exploring the 2-and-a-half miles of groomed trails atop Mount Howard. There were still some patches of snow defying the June sun.

Barely a hundred yards away from the tram terminal, we noticed little burrows in the grass, and all of a sudden a little creature popped out of one. Quite unafraid, it scampered toward us.

Of course the kids let out squeals of delight. My slow camera missed the next shot, of the creature crawling over my son’s shoe! We were really astounded at their boldness.As there were so many burrows, I initially thought this was a prairie dog town. But on closer inspection, these were ground squirrels.

Reluctantly, we left the burrow area and followed the trail to take in the sweeping views of the Wallowas and Snake River areas - rugged canyons, stark cliffs, snowy peaks.

As we went by some sparse patches of trees, the sound of chittering caught our attention. The chipmunks were out, and spring was clearly on their minds as males chased little females all over the place.

Some of the critters had their cheeks fully puffed with food! It was absolutely enchanting the way they ventured to the trail, completely without fear.

At the mountain overlook, we sat down to take in the view, and got to see just how unfraid the chipmunks were.

There were other distractions on Mount Howard. Big nutcrackers flew about, too fast for my clumsy efforts with the camera.

And of course, wildflowers. They were much smaller than those at lower elevations. Could these little white blossoms be the famed edelweiss, I wondered?

Then, there was this little cultural observation to round out our little walk before we took the tram back down to our car.