Snow angel

Darcy Mount collapses in the snow after three grueling days working solo in Eleven Mile and Spinney Mountain state parks during the Christmas holidays.

Like many of you, I worked during the Christmas holidays. It was my first Christmas at my new parks – Eleven Mile and Spinney Mountain state parks in the high country of Park County – and it turned out to be more of an adventure than I expected.

For those who don’t know, our 41 state parks stay open year-round. Even when temperatures plunge below zero and snow piles up, as it does at my parks in winter. We have passionate ice anglers who pull their huts and augers and fishing equipment far out on the creaking ice, drill holes and spend days pulling huge fish from the water below.

Others come with their snowshoes and cross-country skis to rejoice in the tranquility that parks offer in the deep of winter. If they are lucky, they may see raptors, including bald eagles, or elk and deer, or even the “beggin’ burros” that run wild in this country a century after their ancestors were turned loose by miners in the gold camps around Cripple Creek.

Anyway, having spent most of my career at Front Range parks of Lake Pueblo and Cheyenne Mountain, I wasn’t quite prepared for what winter, and especially my three days alone over Christmas at Eleven Mile and Spinney Mountain, would throw at me.

My adventure started Christmas Eve. It was cold and blustery and I had the park mostly to myself. I climbed into my patrol truck to make my rounds and found it would not start. (This happens regularly when our temperatures drop below zero.)

Unfortunately, my truck was parked in the pole barn, making it difficult to reach the battery from another truck with jumper cables. If the other trucks would start. Finally, I got the senior ranger’s truck to start and decided to simply drive it for the day.

Next, my safe-driving skills left me stranded. I put on the parking brake at one of my stops on patrol and when I tried to leave, I was unable to release the brake. I tried so hard I actually broke the brake handle. Jolly Old Saint Nick I was not.

With the brake stuck and the truck immobilized, I decided to try to get my own truck started. But all the jump packs in our shop were dead. Finally I found a large battery charger that I dragged to my poorly parked truck and used an extension cord to plug it in and attach to my battery.

However, I didn’t notice the cord was wrapped around the hitch of my truck, and when I rolled it forward to access my battery I heard a crash. The tangled extension cord had pulled down steel ramps on a nearby snowmobile trailer, shredding the cord. Since I could not find another cord, I delicately attached it to my truck battery and plugged it in.

Fearing it might set fire to the barn, I decided I needed to stay and keep an eye on it. So I climbed into my truck to do email on my phone until the battery was charged. Not exactly the idyllic view of the park I usually get.

Finally, with my truck battery charged, I was able to resume my patrols before heading to my office. It was windy, but the ice was full of anglers. Even our ice rink was busy.

I decided to talk to some of the folks fishing along the shore to update our fishing report. So I put my ice spikes on my boots, walked out and talked to several groups of fishermen. It was actually a highlight of my day as I had some good conversations and found everyone was in compliance with all regulations.

I returned to my truck and my holiday fun resumed as I fought to get my ice spikes off my boots. Like the truck emergency brake, they had become frozen to my feet. I fell gracefully under my truck trying to get them off. Eventually I drove away and promptly forgot all the fishing report information I had just received.

On Christmas Day, I was determined to put the previous day’s problems behind me. Among my chores was to empty the pay tubes. So I gathered supplies and headed to the south side of the park.

I started at the southernmost pay tube and worked my way around the park. I got back in my truck and went to the next tube, where the local herd of donkeys “helped” me empty it. Actually, they stuck their faces in my work and bumped into me a dozen times, probably begging for a handout.

I happen to like them so I spent a few minutes talking to them before heading to the next tube. I got all the way back to the north side and realized I had been so distracted by donkeys that I missed a pay tube. So I had to backtrack 20 minutes and grab it before finishing my chores.

As I patrolled, I saw many anglers trying out brand-new Christmas fishing gear and having a successful day of fishing. I returned to the office to process the pay tube contents – a chore I haven’t done much in my six months as park manager. In fact, I had completely forgotten how to enter the data in the computer. (It was my little gift to our office administrator when she returned to work.)

On my last solo day, I managed to crash the snowmobile into the front of the trailer as a large contingent of firemen and fishermen watched. Luckily the only damage was to my ego, and I’m sure I was the subject of some conversations.

My holidays were full of, let’s call them learning opportunities that tested my holiday spirit, but honestly I would not trade my Christmas for anything.

If you have general questions about Colorado Parks and Wildlife, email Darcy at AskARanger@state.co.us. Darcy may answer it in a future column.

If you have an immediate question about wildlife or a state park, call the nearest CPW office in your community. For CPW office locations and contact information, visit cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/ContactUs.aspx.

Darcy Mount is manager of Eleven Mile and Spinney Mountain state parks.