Road Closed? Park and Walk! Just Watch Out For Moose…

Sarah scampering around the road closure in Rocky Mountain National Park

Spring in Colorado is a such a tease. The mountains look so inviting, but all the forest roads are closed until Memorial Day and the trails are knee deep in mud.

This past weekend, I swung by Denver to pick up my friend Sarah, who you may remember from our epic Labor Day weekend trek through the Collegiate Peaks, and we headed into the mountains. To avoid wallowing around in the mud, we parked outside the locked forest service gates and hiked up the empty paved roads.

Rocky Mountain National Park. We don’t need no stinkin’ roads!

Snowplow, but no snow. This was an unusually snow-free winter in the Colorado Rockies. Most roads are passable, but the park service likes to stick with Memorial Day weekend as the opener.

Nothing plows like a Deere

One such hike took us down a paved forest road into the Pleasant Valley campground in Roosevelt National Forest. Not yet open for spring, all the sites at the campground were buried under layers of winter-downed pines. While I sat at a picnic table for a few minutes, making notes, Sarah waded off into the thick trees and came back to report a large marshy area, flooded with rushes. “Did you see any moose?” I asked her. Nope, she said. If I were a moose, I’d live here, I said.

At the end of the campground we followed a trail into the woods, wondering where it might lead. My wild dog Dio and Sarah’s scrappy mountain mutt Oliver ran ahead of us. As soon as they were out of sight, both dogs began bellowing. Sure enough, through the trees ahead, not twenty feet away was a very unhappy cow moose.

St. Vrain Trail sign near where we ran into the moose

Given a choice between meeting a bear on the trail and meeting a moose, I’ll take a bear any day. I’ve crossed paths with more than a dozen bears while hiking, including a grizzly in Montana and every single one of them has either completely ignored me or immediately run the opposite direction. Moose, however, in my experience, are hideously behaved beasts, prone to charging and stomping, especially when there are dogs involved. As far as a moose is concerned, a dog, any dog, is as bad as a wolf, its main predator.

As soon as Dio sounded, before I knew what was ahead, I yelled for him in my most serious leader-of-the-pack voice and he came right back to me. No wonder. Dio learned his moose lesson the hard way three summers ago in Montana, when he was nearly pulverized by an angry mother moose. Oliver has never seen a moose. He doesn’t know that when a dog chases a moose, the moose turns around and chases the dog right back.

Tough Guy Oliver. To his credit, he has kept up with my big dogs on 4-day backpacking trips and scaled several 14′ers.

All we can see through the woods is the moose charging back and forth with Oliver’s little white fluff running circles at her plunging feet. He’s barking wildly. Sarah’s yelling like a banshee mother and I’m holding her back from charging into the fray. There’s really only one thing we can do: retreat and hope Oliver follows without the moose in pursuit. I’ve been on the business end of a moose charge before and it’s a sight I hope to never to see again.

I order my dogs back down the trail, towards the campground and shove Sarah ahead of me. We yell for Oliver and upon hearing us leaving, he retreats. Thank god, the moose does not follow. Back on the pavement, Oliver immediately goes on leash, with Sarah threatening to revoke his free running privileges forever. Good thing too, because on the way back to the car, I spot large brown movement through the trees on our right: another moose! Do I know moose country when I see it or what?

Sarah on the Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Nope, sorry, no moose photos. I was too busy trying to keep Sarah from sacrificing herself to save her idiot dog. Has Oliver learned his moose lesson? Unlikely. Later that day, in the car, he barked at a beef cow running alongside the road and then at an oncoming Mack truck.

Moral of the story: know moose country when you see it (dense trees & deep water), make plenty of noise when you’re hiking to warn them off, get the hell out of their way when you do cross paths and unless your dog comes immediately when you call, keep it on a leash!

Enough of these muddy, moose-ridden mountains. We’re heading to the plains! Stay tuned for a post about camping in the storm of century from the questionable safety of the Teardrop. It was quite the eventful weekend… :)

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Road Closed? Park and Walk! Just Watch Out For Moose…

  1. Primal Outdoors says:

    I agree: I’d rather see a bear than a moose on the trail. Moose are burly!

  2. mountainmae says:

    Wonderful post – I can imagine a huge moose and the white ball of fluff charging in circles. I’m glad you did not waste time taking pictures.

  3. GraceinAZ says:

    RMNP is one of my favorite CO places. I stayed on the roads, though, so only saw moose from a distance…which was fine by me! Stay safe and keep those great pix coming!
    Hugs, GraceinAZ

  4. amazingved says:

    awesome photos, great post

  5. When I first read your title, your font made it look like you said ‘woose’…and I thought, what the heck is a woose?? Sounds like a Dr Seuss story. haha!

    Whew! Good that Oliver didn’t get trampled. Those little scrappy dogs are pretty good at moving fast and small enough to be a difficult target.

    That’s a beautiful area in CO. My 15 yr old twin sons, with their Boy Scout Troop, are doing a 50-Miler backpacking hike in the Collegiate Peaks in July. They’re planning on bagging a couple 14-ers, including Yale. I’m sure they’ll have lots of great memories, just as you have from your own backpack trip, when they return.

    ~Lisa
    Tijeras, NM

  6. Oldfaz says:

    Love Rocky Mt National Park…. My Greatest Thrill was Going to Headwaters of the Colorado River, & STEPING Across… Did the Same w/Salmon River… Get a Real Perspective of Nature When Experiencing Both Ends of a Great River…

    Ed Fazio

  7. agreco71 says:

    Great post. As a native of Colorado and loving Rocky mountain national park I would rather see a bear too! We have a cabin in Grand Lake, one morning my 5 year old son woke me up to go for our hike. However, he said “Daddy” you know how we saw that moose yesterday across the lake?…..it’s right outside the window. Needless to say, our hike started later that day as the moose took its time to leave the area. Took great pics, but from inside! Love your posts and pics from Colorado!

  8. ritaroberts says:

    Hello. Love this post especially as I have friends in colorado I am hoping to meet shortly.It looks a little cold there at the moment but still lovely scenery.My interest there is the Native Americans. Hope to go there soon. What is your favourite adventure so far.

  9. Pingback: Explosions in the Sky: Pawnee National Grasslands « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  10. Larry Schweitzer says:

    A great way to live! I’ve known Egon for many years. The sides of your tear drop were glued up @ my shop. I back packed across Europe in my younger days. I’ve been in all but 3 states. Love to travel & see what others have experienced. Try “Crazy guy on a bike” some evening on your ‘puter. Larry

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