Walden - Moose capitol of Colorado
Walden – the Moose Capital of Colorado
With their over-sized bodies somehow supported by tall skinny legs, bulbous noses at the end of really large heads, and funny looking dewlaps hanging from under their chins, the hump backed moose is not the prettiest animal on the planet. In spite of that, ever since he became the leading man in the early 90’s television hit Northern Exposure, I have yearned to see the elusive moose of Colorado in their natural habitat.
The opportunity arose when I learned of a herd of some 600 head of Shira’s moose in the vast area of North Park that surrounds Walden, Colorado. Moose are often seen wandering through the town? Suddenly, the words ‘road trip’ were ringing in my ears!
North Park, a high mountain basin in the north central part of the state is bordered by the Never Summer Mountains and Rabbit Ears Pass to the south, the Medicine Bow Mountains to the east, and the Park Range to the west, with the Wyoming border just a stones throw to the north. This vast wetland valley is sparsely populated, with cattle ranching the primary economic mainstay.
Moose rarely travel in groups, preferring to wander in pairs and the adult males don’t spend much time with the girls unless it’s mating season. We were advised that there are two large males often seen at the top of Cameron Pass among the willows, (their favorite food), in the draws on either side of the highway, but we were disappointed to find they were not in attendance. I guess I should have sent word we were on our way.
In any case, we continued on toward the 71,000 acre State Forest State Park, stopping at the Moose Visitor Center located about one mile east of the hamlet of Gould. Outside the building is a fascinating life size moose fashioned by three generations of the Gueswel family from a steel frame and barbed wire. Inside the spacious center we found wildlife exhibits, books, educational materials, gifts and very informative Forest Service folks. Just inside the front door is an easel where visitors share their moose sightings with location and time seen. We saw that 2 had been spotted 4 miles back earlier in the day. Hmmm. Is that a tinge of jealousy I’m feeling?
The drive along Hwy 14 is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. There is a lot to take in – from the wide open vistas across North Park’s valley floor, to the distant snow capped mountains and the lush green pastures of the cattle ranches. Here and there we saw evidence of North Park’s pioneer past, old log cabins, barns and corrals standing as testament to a rugged lifestyle of hard work and perseverance. We drove in awe of our surroundings, and stopped often for photo opportunities.
Not long after climbing back up to tree line, a collective yell of “Moose!” came from each of us as a yearling male crossed the highway not 50 feet in front of the car! Stunned by his sudden appearance, I pulled over and we watched as he ran alongside the road, and out of sight. His mother was off to our right, partially hidden by the pines, so we waited to see if he would return. Sure enough, a short time later, he sauntered back to rejoin his mother and together they moved away into the woods. Our luck held, and a few miles up the road we saw another. A few cars had stopped, everyone with cameras clicking furiously. As we watched, a young male descended from the trees and casually crossed the road directly in front of a “Game Crossing” sign. Clearly the area’s moose are mindful of the traffic signs.
Moose are docile animals unless provoked, and these two were not in the least perturbed by our presence. We bystanders moved slowly and spoke softly in deference to these amazing, funny looking creatures and were treated to about 30 minutes worth of picture taking and ooh-ing and ahh-ing. In all, we had the intense pleasure of sighting six moose that day.
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