A Deer! Oh Dear.
A Columbine Lake Trail Adventure
August 13, 2020
There was a time when I thought deer were great.
Growing up, we’d often spend a summer week up in northern Minnesota at my uncle’s cabin on Battle Lake.
While there, we loved driving into town around dawn or dusk and counting the deer along the way.
There were tons of them! We’d easily hit the teens and 20’s. Some days we got up into the 30’s or 40’s.
Deer were an exciting animal to spot roaming about the wilderness.
But today, for reasons you’ll soon learn, I no longer felt that way.
The morning started out great.
It was 5 am. During hiking season I experience this time of day far more often than I like due to a desire to avoid late morning crowds and early afternoon storms.
But today felt different.
I was treated to a couple shooting stars streaking through the black sky on my drive out of town, so I felt pretty alright about being awake that early.
I started the hike in the dark and when the first signs of sunshine came over the ridge, I felt like I was in a scene from Twilight. The one where Bella sees Edward sparkle for the first time.
Don’t pretend like you don’t know the one I’m talking about.
The sun streaked through the gaps between the tree leaves and lit up the dew along the trail. It was dazzling.
Does this not remind you of Twilight?
I had yet to see a soul since I left the parking lot and with the distance I’d put between myself and the road, the only sounds were my footsteps and the occasional bird or squirrel.
It was so peaceful. Just me and serene, refreshing nature.
Or so I thought.
I crested the hill coming out of the woods and saw something that made me stop dead in my tracks.
Doh! A deer! A female deer!
The Deer Encounter
She was looking right at me.
Still frozen, my mind flashed back to high school, when one deer came in and ruined it for the rest.
Our Boston Terrier, Scooby, was outside doing his thing when I saw my dad dash out there and heard him screaming.
I looked out the window and saw that a doe was in our front yard trampling our dog!
It was terrifying.
Our tiny little Scooby, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, was laying on his back in the grass, belly exposed and totally defenseless as this large deer towered over him and repeatedly battered him with her hooves.
My dad eventually scared the deer away and I scooped Scooby up.
He was bleeding in multiple places, but what was worse, his spirit was broken. He looked terrified. He was shaking and pulled his body into as tight of a ball as he possibly could.
We immediately got in the car and took him to the vet so they could check him out.
Luckily there were no major physical injuries, but he did need a few stitches.
The emotional injuries, however, were substantial.
Scooby, who normally loved spending his days outside in the sun, hated going outside after that.
We could barely get him to go out to go to the bathroom.
He’d only go if we went with him, and even then he’d rush to do his thing, peering back over his shoulder the whole time. Once he was done he’d dash back inside as quickly as possible.
This went on for weeks.
We heard from neighbors that their dogs also had run-ins with the deer. One neighbor had spotted some fawns so we believe she thought she was protecting her young.
Safe to say, I was wary of deer after that.
Flash forward ten years.
I’m at Mesa Verde National Park. We drove up from Denver Friday afternoon and arrived at the campsite after dark.
We selected a spot that looked nice and was fairly close to the bathroom. We set up the tent and got settled. Then it was time to get ready for bed.
Grabbing our stuff, we set off up the little hill toward the restroom.
When we were done, we opened up the door and started to head back down to the tent, but when we rounded the corner of the building, there was a deer just a few feet away.
She didn’t budge.
I evaluated the situation a bit more and saw there were two small fawns behind her.
My gaze returned to her.
She wouldn’t break eye contact.
Recalling the protective instincts of mama deer over their babies and how, in my experience, it may lead to the trampling of small things, we slowly backed around the corner and back into the restroom.
We waited for a while and eventually heard other voices outside so figured it was probably safe to leave.
I peeked around the corner of the building and was relieved to see a dad and his two kids, so we cautiously started making our way back down the hill.
But we only made it a few steps when we noticed she was still there!
That same deer in the same bushes with the same murderous stare.
At this point we were too far from the restroom door so we quickened our pace and headed for the tent. I periodically glanced back over my shoulder and she continued to watch us the whole way back to our campsite.
We threw our stuff inside the car, leapt inside the tent, and quickly zipped the door shut hoping the thin tent walls would protect us from any pursuing hooves.
Twenty minutes later, I realized I forgot to brush my teeth.
I slowly unzipped the tent, grabbed my toothbrush from the car, and scanned the bushes up near the restroom.
The coast looked clear.
But then as I neared the road, I saw a figure up the hill.
There she was in the middle of the street. Staring at me. Watching me.
Needless to say, I brushed my teeth down at the campsite as quickly as I could and hopped back in the tent, hoping I wouldn’t get trampled in my sleep.
Strike two against deer.
In seconds that felt like minutes, my mind played over all this and I returned to the present moment.
I stood there contemplating my options, not daring to move an inch.
She was standing right on the path. Blocking my way into the sunshine (raaays, drops of golden suuuun. Sorry not sorry, I had to). Keeping me below in the shaded woods.
The deer watched me as it munched away on grass. She seemed a little more chill than the other deer, given that my presence was not enough to make her stop chewing.
But maybe she was just trying to lure me closer so it could attack. You really never know with these deer.
I scanned the rest of the area.
She seemed to be alone.
I made a second pass to make sure I didn’t miss any small babies because, you know, that’s when things really go south.
Feeling brave, I kept my feet planted but started talking to her in a calm voice.
“Hey there, deer! How’s your breakfast?”
She continued to stare and chew. This seemed like an okay sign.
“Are you planning to be here a while?”
“That grass over there looks awfully nice.”
Whether she agreed that grass did look nice or just wanted to get away from the strange person talking to her, I’ll never know.
But she set off into the woods without confrontation.
Maybe there is some redemption for deer.
My path now clear, I trotted on.
The rest of the hike was magnificently lowkey.
I followed the trail as it wrapped around the valley, skirted around a rock ledge, and then crossed over the saddle.
The views were stellar.
The Sound of Music Valley
I was Fraulein Maria frolicking in the mountains without a soul, human or deer, around.
Free to soak in the beauty.
Alive to witness the water of Columbine Lake get bluer each minute as the sun rose higher overhead.
Definition of tranquility
Are you looking to hike Columbine Lake? If so, you can read about the trail here.
For other things to do in the area, check out Highland Mary Lakes Loop, Mt. Sneffels, and Blue Lakes.