One of the things I was really looking forward to when I went to Santa Fe for a long weekend was hiking in Bandelier National Monument.
Known for its ancient cave dwellings, it was definitely on my bucket list of U.S. parks to visit. The trail to the caves was a mile and a half loop from the visitor’s center, with options to veer off onto longer trails to see more caves. I decided to stick to the main loop since my feeling was, once you’ve seen one cave dwelling, you’ve seen them all. It’s not like going on a house tour. The decor didn’t really change all that much from one cave to another, especially since they weren’t really into window treatments or designer kitchens back then.
My hiking companions, however, were a little more adventurous than I was and decided to abandon me on the loop back to explore some more caves. There was a 140-foot climb on a series of ladders to more caves they wanted to scale. I have a rickety ladder at home I use to get into my attic and that’s about all the ladder climbing I’m game for. Call me crazy, but if I’m going to fall off a ladder and split my head open, I prefer to do it in the comfort of my own home.
The section of the loop back to the visitor’s center took me through a forest and I took my time, enjoying the solitude amongst the towering trees and singing birds. There were no other hikers on the trail and I felt like I was the only person on the planet.
As I made my way down the trail I saw a sign identifying some of the plant life in the forest. Then I came upon a sign identifying some of the birds in the forest. The third sign had pictures of some of the animals I might encounter so I stopped to check it out. There were all the usual animals you’d expect to see – deer, squirrels, bats, badgers… and mountain lions.
I looked again. Mountain lions. WHAAAAAT?
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and quickly looked all around me. Mountain lions! What the heck? Why didn’t someone tell this to me when I picked up my trail map? Didn’t they think it was worth mentioning that you might encounter a large, predatory cat with sharp teeth and long claws and a bad temper while you are out strolling through the park? I could see omitting the information about the badgers, but mountain lions? Kind of an important warning to pass on, I would think. In their defense, they did warn me about ticks. Not that I’d have to worry about lyme disease if I was eaten by lion.
Since I didn’t think to bring any mountain lion spray with me or perhaps, maybe, a tranquilizer gun, I wondered what I could do to protect myself in the event of a run-in with a lion. Keeping one eye out for any large, man-eating felines, I rummaged through my pack to see if there was anything I could use as a weapon. I found a pen, which probably wouldn’t do me much good unless the lion wanted my autograph. Then I found my car key, which he could use to steal my car after he mauled me. The last thing I pulled out was a laser pointer with a whistle attached. I thought this might actually help. If the mountain lion was anything like the housecats at home, I could point the light at a tree and the lion would go chasing after it. And if that didn’t work, I could blow the whistle really hard and maybe a badger would come rescue me.
With the whistle in my mouth, I picked up my pace and scanned the forest around me for any movement.
All my senses were on high alert. If a mountain lion came out of the woods, I was ready!
I was within visual distance of the visitor’s center when suddenly I saw a rustling in the bushes off to my right. Suddenly an animal came charging out of the bushes onto the trail and I blew the heck out of my whistle like my life depended on it. The animal stopped in its tracks, blinked twice, and then ran back into the woods.
Yeah, I showed that squirrel.
©2017, Beckerman. All rights reserved.
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