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November 2006

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Moose sightings more common on Colorado trips

By Stephen Hlawaty
Outdoors Columnist

Wilderness is a matter of scale, a matter of proximity to what you might call the wild.

As a teenager, I would pass the time waiting for my train to arrive by watching the rats scurry along the rails of the New York City subway. Living among the concrete and steel mountains of the city left little room for wilderness exploration, as some might see it. But is watching rats in a subway any less a wilderness experience than watching a moose take its morning drink among the willow-lined banks of a mountain-fed stream?

After moving to Colorado, the scale against which I weighed my wilderness experiences grew. And as a result, I began to nourish a somewhat arrogant view of the wild. If it wasn't bigger than a fox and somewhere far from where I lived, it wasn't wildlife.

Viewing wildlife in Colorado is something of a spectator sport. A drive through Rocky Mountain National Park during the summer testifies to that. For Coloradans, life is good, particularly if your view of things includes the perspective bigger is better. Big horn sheep, elk, bear and moose: these are the stars of Colorado Sunday afternoons. And among these, the moose stands the tallest.

Called the "Bull Pen" by native Ute Indians, Colorado's North Park was once home to large herds of bison. Thanks to the Colorado Division of Wildlife's reintroduction of moose into North Park in the late 1970s and the area's many willow-lined streams, the area is now home to roughly 600 moose. As a result, the Colorado Senate in 1995 designated North Park and the nearby town of Walden as the Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado. And rightly so.

I've had the good fortune to view moose in the area many times. The best times to view moose are fall and spring during dawn and dusk, although I've spotted moose in all seasons and at various times of the day. Oftentimes, you can spot a moose among the willows on the south side of Highway 14. While most of my sightings have been from the seat of my vehicle, I did happen upon a bull moose while mountain biking in the Colorado State Forest State Park. Unbeknownst to me, the moose was just off to the side of the old logging road that I was on. Needless to say, both he and I were spooked by each other. As the moose turned to run from me, I couldn't help but stare in awe as its 1,000-pound frame ran through the woods as gingerly as if it had been a fox. Luckily, that moose ran away from me instead of charging toward me, as they are known to do if they feel threatened. Indeed, moose can be especially aggressive during the fall (their rutting season) and the spring (their calving season).

With that in mind, know that you should never approach a moose, but rather, view it from afar. Just 4 miles from the entrance to the Colorado State Forest State Park on County Road 41, the park provides a moose-viewing platform from which to safely view these wild animals. For more information, contact the Colorado State Forest State Park and Moose Visitor Center at 723-8366. But if paying the $5 daily parks pass isn't for you, know that the Laramie River Road and Long Draw Road offer good moose-viewing potential.

Although moose can weigh up to 1,200 pounds and stand taller than a small car, they blend well into their surroundings. To spy for moose from my vehicle, I try to notice any out-of-place shapes or movements in the willows. A quick scan serves me better than a single focus in any one area. If hiking or biking, I pay particular attention to sound. Rustling of willow branches or scraping of antlers against aspen trees can oftentimes expose a moose. Also, keep an eye out for their distinctive hoof prints. Moose have large, two-toed hooves that leave a similar, 6-inch impression on the trail.

While spotting moose is undoubtedly a magnificent wilderness experience, can't the same be said for a forest of grass, a mountain range of pebbles, a herd of deer on the corner of Taft Hill and Vine in Fort Collins, rats in the New York City subway? Maybe seeing the universe in a grain of sand, as William Blake suggests, appreciating the wildness in the everyday, might be a more appropriate response to the call of the wild.


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