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.
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.
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.
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?
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…