SCIENCE NEWS: Letter from Colorado: Finding patience and searching for bighorn sheep

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SCIENCE NEWS:

Sarah Matusek/The Christian Science Monitor

Visitors can learn about bighorn sheep and their habits at the Georgetown Bighorn Sheep Festival in Georgetown, Colorado. Here, festivalgoers try to spot sheep on the mountainside, Nov. 13, 2021.

November 18, 2021

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By Sarah Matusek
Staff writer

The annual Georgetown Bighorn Sheep Festival in Colorado is back after a pandemic hiatus. This is an autumn tribute to the state animal, with curlicue-horns. This event coincides with their “rut”, or mating season, when rams head-clash with ewes. Sounds like gunshots, locals say.

The festival offers education while also boosting tourism in a town that’s “kind of like a Rockwell painting,” says Paul Boat, executive director of the Georgetown Trust for Conservation and Preservation, which co-organized the day.

SCIENCE NEWS: Why We Wrote This

After moving from the East Coast to the Mountain West, one Monitor reporter adjusts to a slower pace. There are many benefits to patience, especially when you’re outdoors.

To help visitors view the burly herbivores, volunteers like Jane Frobose spread out with binoculars. This was the one accessory I had never considered buying.

This summer I moved to Colorado from New York City. My experience was that Queens fauna consisted mainly of puddle-hopping pigeons, and subway rats who drag pizza slices through the filth.

I do miss New York-style pizza, but not my impatience. It has been built up over many years of living in cities the same way that a gait gains speed down the sidewalk. As my eyes focus more on the sights, I find spindly wildflowers and tapestries of stars. As the celebrations wind down, I spot two bighorns.

Georgetown, Colo.

Binoculars burrow into brows as a cluster of Coloradans squint up the slope. The main attraction is yet to be revealed. The absence of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep may be due to the wind pulling at the baseball caps’ brims.

“You look for moving rocks,” says volunteer Jane Frobose. Another tip is to look for their rumps, which are “white like long-johns”. One man outside the visitor centre on Saturday morning claimed to have seen them. We all keep looking, waiting.

The annual Georgetown Bighorn Sheep Festival is back after a pandemic hiatus. This is an autumn tribute to the state animal with curlicue-horns. It centers around the local “Georgetown herd,” a hoofed posse of up to 350 sheep that rock-scramble above Interstate 70. The event syncs with their “rut” – or mating season – when rams head-clash over ewes. Sounds like gunshots, locals say.

SCIENCE NEWS: Why We Wrote This

After moving from the East Coast to the Mountain West, one Monitor reporter adjusts to a slower pace. There are many benefits to patience, especially when you’re outdoors.

To seek out suitable females, males protrude their upper lip into a curl and taste the air. At a midday talk, Joe Walter, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s district wildlife manager (CPW) said: “I think it is kind of silly-looking. But don’t tell anyone that I said that.”

Georgetown, population roughly 1,000, grew out of a 19th-century silver-mining town. One of the few stores is open all year. The station is equipped with telescopes that can be used to observe wildlife on the mountainside. Paul Boat, executive director at the Georgetown Trust for Conservation and Preservation who co-organized the festival, said that the festival provides education and boosts tourism in a small town.

Wayne D. Lewis/Colorado Parks and Wildlife

A pair of bighorn rams enjoy the Colorado sun.

The event has several offerings, from train rides and library crafts to a fire pit with s’mores in a town park. Volunteers from CPW, such as Ms. Frobose, set out binoculars to help people see the burly herbivores. This was the only accessory I had never considered buying.

This summer I moved to Denver from New York City. My experience was that Queens fauna consisted mainly of puddle-hopping pigeons, and subway rats who drag pizza slices through the filth.

I do miss New York-style pizza, but not my impatience. It has been built up over many years of living in cities the same way that a gait accumulates speed on the sidewalk. I have had to slow down because of the Mountain West. I think it’s the vastness of the area that requires patience to navigate.

Yes, Denver’s a city, but one where my grocery trips involve driving a car. Few places stay open 24/7. Hikes take time; so does making new friends. Over the last few months, my old pace has been slowly letting go. As my eyes absorb more, I find that patience has its benefits: tapestries of stars and spindly wildflowers as well as mountain peaks that are already sparkling with snow. Although I might not be able to catch the sheep today (or tomorrow), it is a pleasure to wait.

Sarah Matusek/The Christian Science Monitor

Bighorn sheep watchers gather for a glimpse of the animals outside the Gateway Visitor Center in Georgetown, Colorado, Nov. 13, 2021.

Right before festivities wind down at 3 o’clock, I see a man standing solo in the park. He is standing still, his eyes fixed up through binoculars.

Volunteer Bill Mock is patient; it takes a few minutes for my gaze through the lens to align with his guidance. Past the beige blur of rocks, past a rooftop in the way …

There they are. Two pairs of longjohns.

Part of the fun, says the man in camouflage, is helping others see.

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