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Steamboat Magazine

Wild at Art

05/16/2022 03:05PM ● By Jill Bergman

Jill Bergman's linocut print side-by-side with the block from which it was pressed. 

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO – For years, photographer Kevin Dietrich would track mountain lions in new snow where there were deer or a past lion sighting. Finally one day, he found mountain lion tracks heading into a rocky area that looked like a good den site. He went back again and again. He found more prints each time, but no big cats. Then one afternoon, it stopped snowing and Dietrich went out in the early evening. Two new sets of mountain lion tracks crossed the fresh snow. He measured them against his hand, thinking they were a little small. Because it had just snowed, the lions must have passed by recently, so he set out to follow. 

Dietrich walked a long way, imagining that the tracks would vanish without a sighting again. He trailed the prints around a bend in the creek, and there they were: two kits about 2 years old. They were off the main path and plowing through deep snow. With shaking hands, he lifted his camera. He only had about five seconds to take photos. It was getting dark, and the mountain lions were heading away from him into the trees. They both turned and looked right at him before vanishing into the aspen grove.

The two mountain lions were probably in their last year with their mother, who was likely nearby. Dietrich learned later that they were traveling back and forth from a deer carcass. Sometime shortly after Dietrich saw them, the two lions would leave to find a new area of their own. 

Dietrich saw two more mountain lions over the next couple of years. One lion was protecting a recent cache of food – an elk kill along the Yampa River. Dietrich and his friend were exploring on a winter day, looking for eagles that nest in the area. They noticed a lumpy pile of snow mixed with fur and settled on a high shelf across the river to watch and wait. After about 30 minutes, a large male mountain lion came strolling out from the brush to the buried carcass. The lion was approximately 10 feet long and 150 pounds.

Dietrich had gotten closer after that first sighting, but was still on the other side of the river from the mountain lion. He watched it chase away birds and coyotes without ever going far from its meal. As evening approached, Dietrich laid in the snow taking photos. His hand shook a bit, and light reflected off the lens. Right then, the mountain lion turned and looked directly at the camera. As soon as the sun set, Dietrich packed up quickly and moved out, looking over his shoulder countless times.

Find more of Jill Berman’s art at Pine Moon Fine Art, 117 9th St., and Kevin Dietrich’s photography at Natural Exposure Gallery, 507 Lincoln Ave.