I've been in Walden the past three days, driving Jackson County and the Cameron Pass area seeking moose to photograph. I've had some luck. Last night I found the granddaddy of all moose, a huge, massively antlered bull. He was obliging enough to feed and bed down within reach of my 100-400mm lens. I took lots of pictures of him and the FIVE other moose and one spike elk that filtered into the meadow over the course of my time with Mr. Big.
There were two female moose, one calf and two younger males all feeding within a couple hundred yards of each other. The spike elk held to the far side of the meadow. Perhaps, sharing is not common between the two species. Or, faced with half a dozen human observers, the elk may just have been more reticent than the moose to venture out in the open. The female moose, and this one male, seem to be inured to the presence of people. I have approached or been approached by females, even one with a calf, quite closely. The males were another story. The very few I'd seen were anxious to remove themselves from view, post haste,- with the exception of this one large bull.
This animal appeared to be favoring its right fore leg, which made me consider that it might not only be injured, but rather old as well. The rack on this animal held 14 points on one side and 13 points on the other. I could have curled up with a book within the spread of these antlers. I have no idea what all the points signify, but clearly it means something, I'll have to inquire and see if I can find out. And to think that the Alaskan males can grow to be 600 pounds heavier than those found here in the lower 48 states. That's a significant difference.
The large bull's left antler had a broad white streak down the of outside curve and several of the left side tines were also white. I deduced that the scraping to remove the velvet from his rack had begun. It is a magnificent animal.
The area of heaviest moose sightings lies about five miles east of Cameron Pass, along the length of Long Draw Road. Long Draw Road starts at Highway 14, and winds through the Colorado State Forest State Park for ten miles, dead-ending at a very large reservoir. There are camp grounds, a couple of small lakes and a half dozen very nice open willow laden meadows along this road, each seemingly more inviting for moose than the last.
I now have several hundred pictures of moose to wade through to pick the best of the best. I have shots of single females, single calves, momma and child, single males, though few, and several shots of three or four moose caught in the same frame. All in all, it was well worth the three days of dawn-to-dark searching.
Walden took a day or two to fully appreciate. It and its location. It is a town of 267 residents, but does provide the essentials, including three or four small lodgings, three cafes and a fly fishing shop. [ I am going out with a fishing guide tomorrow.] The Illinois, Michigan, Canadian, North Platte are only a few of the streams that flow through this area. There seems to be a multitude of tiny streams that converge and become another named creek or river until just a couple of major name streams leave the north end of the county. This entire area's streams flow north, an unusual and rare circumstance found for rivers. The North Platte and the Colorado River are birthed here.
I drove a self-guided auto tour through the Arapahoe National Wildlife Refuge just a few miles from town. This refuge supports 300 different species of wildlife from Hawks to voles. I was most interested in the Antelope, prairie dogs, white pelicans and blue herons. I also took the self guided auto tour through a producing gas and oil field. Signs explained multiple land use, all in politically correct, acceptable language.
There is and has been quite a bit of history in the area. The fur trade brought in the first users of the area, followed by gold seekers, coal miners, gas and oil well drillers and, finally came the railroad. Today, gas and oil and coal production are still on-going, but tourism must be important.
This high sage brush covered flat also holds many large cattle ranches. Hay fields and cattle are ubiquitous. And like green, full-bodied ribbons, solid belts of willows follow each of the many streams that weave their way through this country. With some frequency, moose are often seen in these willow belts that encase the length of the streams out in this open country. In fact, my tomorrow's guide said a large male moose was seen within just a few hundred yards of downtown Walden last evening. [And here I've been putting 150 per day on my truck searching for them.]
Yesterday's hot air balloon festival was canceled due to impending thunderstorms and high winds. [It has rained almost daily in the afternoon since I arrived in Denver. ] The balloonists float over the pass to Steamboat Springs, which is 50 miles away. That would have been nice to see and photograph. I also found out that there is a dog trial going on. The RV park where the participants are supposedly staying was empty when I went by at 8 am this morning. The office was vacant and locked, too. I will try to find out the when and where this trialing is going on in another hour or two. I also found out that Sage Grouse abound in the area and have a public accessible Spring Lek and display area.
Here in the high sage brush filled flats, it was only after I drove the Arapahoe National Wildlife Refuge, found just a few miles out of town, and traveled the local highways and county roads to see all the willow shrouded streams that contain trout, that I began to appreciate Walden's diversity. The wetlands out in this seemingly empty sage country is rather extensive.
I have been letting Peso run free in the sage brush. He can cover ground right out to the horizon! I have placed the E collar [the new politically correct name for a shock collar] on him to maintain contact. He responds very well to just the slightest low charge tap. The three weeks he spent with Chad Smith this Spring is paying dividends. By the time I put him on his first birds Sept. 1, I am certain he will handle with poise and panache. He really is a very good dog, from breeding, to desire, and he has an extraordinary nose. He's very biddable and eager to please. I'm a lucky man.
It is time for lunch and a nap before deciding whether to fish one of the local lakes or search for more moose.
Note: It remains to be seen if Walden is the best location to park the RV. The North Park KOA Campground on Hwy. 14, east of Gould may be closer to the best moose watching habitat and good fishing. After tomorrow's guided fishing, I'll know even better. But while the KOA has the hook-ups, it cost $34/day, while the very large pull-off I'm currently occupying just north of Walden, next to the willow-lined Michigan River, has not only been quiet and free of people, it is free. It costs me nothing. Nada. Sweet! And, being without hook-ups is affording me the opportunity to see how long I can last with my on-board water supply. I have a generator to provide lights and electricity so, no problem there. I like this RVing.