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Nature
Nature

​​​​​​Wildlife

The State Forest State Park provides a home for a great number and variety of wildlife, providing the perfect place for wildlife watching and wildlife photography. Among the larger animals are moose, bighorn sheep, black bear, mule deer and elk. Smaller mammals include the snowshoe hare, coyote, bobcat, beaver, weasel, marten, fox, marmot, and porcupine. Common birds include blue grouse, ptarmigan, golden eagle, bald eagle, Steller’s jay, gray jay, chickadee, rosy finch, and several species of waterfowl. Fish species include brook trout, cutthroat trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and arctic grayling.

The State Forest State Park offers many opportunities to spot wildlife, from the three nature trails to the moose viewing deck overlooking the Canadian River  accessed off County Road 41. Check out the watchable wildlife kiosk at North Michigan Reservoir. To learn all about moose and other wildlife in the area, stop in to see the interactive displays available at the Moose Visitor Center near the town of Gould on Highway 14. 

Plants

Coniferous trees cover about 52,000 acres of the State Forest. Those trees include sub-alpine fir, Englemann spruce, lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, Colorado blue spruce, ponderosa pine and limber pine. The lodgepole pine is the most common, covering about 60 percent of all tree cover with the spruce and fir community accounting for 23 percent. The remaining 17 percent of cover is deciduous aspen forests.

An intensive effort to protect this natural resource is at the forefront of the State Forest management plan, check out the pine beetle epidemic document.

A major fire burned a great deal of the forest about 130 years ago. Most lodgepole pine sites were burned. The stands that escaped the fire are a source of dwarf mistletoe infection in young trees.

In Coniferous forests, kinnikinnic​k, vaccinium, common juniper, rose and Oregon grape are common plants found.

In the aspen forest, the typical plant species are daisy, common juniper, smooth brome, mountain muhly, squaw currant, fescue, golden banner and yarrow.

A shrub zone is also found on south and southwest exposures as well as flat areas that receive sun throughout the day. Common plants include bitterbrush, big sagebrush, rabbitbrush, prickly pear, serviceberry, blue grama, sedge and wheatgrass.

A riparian zone occurs along the streams, where willows are the predominant vegetation. Other species include chokecherry, horsetail, sedge and squaw currant.

In the tundra above timberline, the alpine will explode with color as the flowers burst into bloom in June and July. The yellow snow buttercup, white marsh marigold, blue ​alpine forget-me-not, moss campion, rydbergia, fairy primrose and many more create a spectacular alpine flower garden.

Geology

The Medicine Bow Range is the result of highly localized movements of the earth's crust as the entire region was thrust upward. Deposition in a huge geosyncline uplifted the Rocky Mountains at the close of the Mesozoic era. Thrust faulting, in which one end of the earth's crust is pushed over the other, profoundly affected State Forest State Park. More than one fault was involved, thus, slices between the faults were exposed. One such slice is the Nokhu Crags. The Nokhu Crags, originally shale but now hornfels, are a hard and resistant metamorphic rock. The shale metamorphosed when magma erupted from below, heating and hardening the shale into hornfels.

Volcanoes erupted and covered the area with lava flows, remnants of which can be seen on Iron Mountain. The lava flows were eroded, exposing the fault slices previously buried. This erosion exposed the near-vertical hornfel layers that formed the Nokhu Crags. A large area of granitic rocks was formed east and south of the crags. Next came glaciers, which carved out the topography we see today. Glaciers formed on the sides of the highest areas and carved out the cirques in which the high mountain lakes are located.

Also of interest, geologically, is the East Sand Dunes Natural Area, the only undisturbed, cold-climate dune in Colorado. This unique site contains one of the two active cold-climate dunes in the state, the other being North Sand Dunes located eight miles north of East Sand Dunes. North Sand Dunes, unlike East Sand Dunes, is open to recreational use by OHV's, and due to resulting disturbance was deemed ineligible for registry as a Colorado Natural Area.

The dunes in North Park differ substantially in structure from Great Sand Dunes National Monument because they contain sedimentary structures unique to moist, cold-climate dunes. The dunes formed when strong, steady winds gathered sand from eroded peaks and carried the sand across North Park. When the winds hit the Medicine Bow Mountains to the east, it lost speed and dumped the sand at North Park's edge, forming dunes. Both East Sand Dunes and North Sand Dunes are part of a larger, predominantly dormant, dune system approximately 25-square miles in size.

The forest climate is typical of the high Rocky Mountain valleys, with an abundance of sunshine, low relative humidity, low precipitation, and wide daily and seasonal temperature variations. Temperature on the Colorado State Forest becomes colder and annual precipitation increases along with the elevation. Precipitation varies across the forest and can average more than 100 inches annually.