Friday, April 15, 2011

Moose Encounter in Rocky Mountain National Park

         Alces alces: The North American Moose 
         These magnificent mammals project the image of goofy, gentle giants.  They are also strict vegetarians, reinforcing their affable appearance.  But a few sinister personality traits lurk beneath the surface of these seemingly benign creatures: moose can be ill-tempered; moose can attack without provocation; moose can kill. 

         Tim and I are camped in Long Draw Campground in Northern Colorado.  This evening we take a drive to the south end of Long Draw Reservoir where Tim will fish a river inside the northern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park.  We cross a bridge and walk a quarter mile along a gravel pedestrian path by the water.  Tim strings his fly rod and wades into the river while I sit on the path with my book.  After a few minutes I get up to stretch and survey my surroundings.  

         We’re in a stunning setting at 10,175 ft. elevation.  Lofty peaks reach for the sky and surround boggy, willow-filled meadows.  As I scan the river and meadows I say to Tim:  “Looks like there should be a moose in this meadow somewhere.”  
A few seconds later I look up and there he is—a huge bull moose ambling along the path toward us.  A wild animal’s normal inclination is to avoid humans and this moose is still far away, so I alert the moose to our presence by yelling: “Hey Mr. Moose.  It’s us—humans—turn around now!”  The bull keeps coming, eyeing us and lifting his head high into the air.  By ignoring my frantic message our moose declares he has no fear of us—or of anything else.
  After a few more steps in our direction Mr. Moose ducks into the side meadow about 100 yards away.  I’m relieved.  While browsing the willows the moose keeps his eye on us, then moves closer.  I’m worried.  If our bull is having a bad day I have no intention of being a part of it.  Tim and I decide to leave this spot.  We turn around and walk back toward the bridge, then settle down on the other side of a small crest in the path—now we can’t see the moose and he can’t see us.  Tim fishes this section of stream and soon hooks a nice cutthroat trout.  I settle in again with my book, peace restored.  
  Until....  the sound of something crashing through the willows reaches my ears over the din of the water.  I stand up and peak over the hill, looking back to the spot where we had encountered the moose earlier.  The big bull is now running through the meadow directly toward us.  I voice my concern to Tim, pick up my pack, walk briskly to the bridge and cross to the other side of the river.  After crossing the bridge I look back and don’t see the moose.  I do see Tim; he had rushed across the river and scurried up the steep bank on my side.  Tim shouts to me:  “The moose watched me as I climbed out of the water, but then he turned around.  I think he’s gone now.” 
  Tim returns to the river and I pick up my binoculars to scan the hillside.  I no longer see the moose; instead I notice a large herd of elk resting and browsing high on the mountain.  I relax.  
         Until.....  the familiar thrashing and crashing through the willows.  This time Mr. Moose is heading for the river.  He watches me as he eases down the bank and enters the water directly in front of me.  If he crosses the river and starts climbing the bank toward me I’m in trouble.  I look for the nearest tree to climb.  But no—he quenches his thirst with a long drink, then turns around and lopes into the hills.  Another half hour passes; he’s finally gone for the evening.  
  Perhaps Mr. Moose didn’t mean to threaten and frighten us.  Perhaps all he really wanted was a drink—and Tim and I were standing in his way.  We’ll never know.
  Back at the campsite later that night we build a fire and enjoy hot cocoa under the stars, thrilled that our moose encounter ended happily, thrilled that moose still thrive in this part of the world.


Bull Moose Quenching Their Thirst -
photo by Glen Hush for National Geographic.
Interested in a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park?  Look here:
http://rockymountainnationalpark.com/
http://www.nps.gov/romo/index.htm

1 comment:

  1. Yikes, Rita, what an encounter! Most moose "attacks" occur when you're standing between said moose and something he or she wants. Without that great sense of smell that moose have - and an understanding of what the moose considers his/her territory - it can be scarily easy to cut off a mama moose from her calf or, like what happened to you and Tim, block a bull moose from his evening libation. Glad you spent your vacation un-moose-lested!

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