Southwest of Denver, a low ridge divides the watersheds of the South Platte River and Plum Creek, which merge in Chatfield Reservoir. Known as Sharptail Ridge since its grasslands protect habitat for threatened sharp-tailed grouse, this open space preserve (and State Wildlife Area) is also home to mule deer, a wide variety of raptors, grassland and shrubland songbirds and wintering herds of elk. Its broad grasslands are studded with yuccas and rabbitbrush while a variety of drought tolerant shrubs cluster along drainages and on higher, shaded slopes; small groves of cottonwoods and willows are spaced along the valley creek, which runs through private land.
Since the autumn hunting season has now ended on Sharptail Ridge, I decided to visit for a morning hike. A chinook wind and a gray overcast chilled the relatively mild November air and much of the autumn color had faded from the refuge. Though I observed a golden eagle, a couple of red-tailed hawks and several small herds of mule deer, wildlife was relatively sparse, consisting primarily of sparrows, crows and magpies. Nevertheless, the hike to the crest of the ridge and back provided plenty of exercise, pleasant scenery, fresh air and, on this chilly, weekday morning, a welcome dose of solitude.
Past visits to Sharptail Ridge have offered "prettier" landscape and more wildlife diversity but we cannot truly appreciate our wild lands unless we pay a visit during each season. I plan to return during the snowy months of winter or early spring and hope to encounter elk, among other winter residents; since moose have recently been wandering into Douglas County, I might even spot one of those large herbivores in the valley willows. After all, it is the anticipation of new and unexpected discoveries that draws us into the great outdoors.