Trip to the other side of the mountains- or Moose Encounter of the 2nd Kind

July 4th weekend in 2008 we took a camping trip over the mountains to the west side of the Rockies.....

We went camping again this weekend. We left Friday morning and headed west to Grand Lake, which is on the west side of the Rockies. We took Trail Ridge Road, the main road through Rocky Mountain National Park. We forgot the camera so have no proof that we actually went on this trip. Just have a drink or two and it will become real.... (think Peter Pan--- you MUST believe, you MUST believe-----)

The east and west sides of the park have different ecosystems and of course the watersheds go different ways-one to the Pacific and one to the Atlantic (or Gulf of Mexico). We started out in the dry, warm foothills, through a rock canyon and on up into the lower Rocky Mountain area.

Old Fall River road is open, it's a dirt road that runs a 'back' way to the top of the Great Divide. There are meadows and waterfalls along OFRR but we are anxious to get to our campsite in the Arapahoe Nation Recreational Area so we skip it this time.

It gets cooler as we go up, of course. There is still quite a bit of snow on the mountains even on July 4th. The elk are bedded down in the alpine meadows from 10,000ft to 12,000 ft. The bulls have big racks with velvet on them. The antlers look amazing with the sunlight behind them showing the velvet fuzz blurring the outline of the 12-14 points. The cows are usually in groups with their yearlings.

Across the divide the scenery changes. The pine beetles have decimated the forests here. There is still green in areas but as you go down it gets more reddish-brown than blue-green. There are waterfalls and water spilling over the roadside rock walls along the road. A lot of the road work, rock walls and infrastructure was built in the 30's by the WPA.

Brett sees a bicyclist waving her arms. He thinks she's signaling to the bikes behind her that we just passed, but no, it would be us she's signaling.... I am not quite asleep but have my eyes closed when he hits the brakes HARD.

My eyes pop open and I see the silhouette of a moose in the windshield.

BIG moose silhouette in the windshield. I also glimpse 6" of clear space between the hood of the Jeep and the moose's belly. Big moose. Tall moose. Too close moose.

It was too fast to absorb so we pull over about 1/4 mile down the road and the cyclist is still trying to slow cars down. We get out and see a moose calf bolt across the road behind its mother that we almost took out.

Brett had never seen a moose. Now he had.

We get to the campground to find they'd given away our spot. I'll save you an account of the next hour but suffice it to say they found us a spot. We'd wanted one about 9 miles off the road and wound up with one 1/4 mile off the main highway but at least we had a place to stay. The place was packed.

It was near Lake Granby, glacial lakes that take the snow melt and provide water for the Front Range (where we live). Grand Lake is just north of us and also is a big boating area. For two people from the coast it seems weird to have marinas just below mountains, but, there they are. Sail boats, race boats, ski boats, house boats, you name it. No flats boats, though.

Our campsite had a few trees but most of the pines had been cut down because of the pine beetle. Three ravens and a magpie all slept in the tree next to our campsite and spent most of the weekend-from 5am to 9pm, chattering, squawking, gurgling and cooing. When the campers next to us would leave the campsite they would fly in and check out the leavings. The magpie drank most of the dog's water while it was on an outing with its owners.

It was cool at night and the camping men had a fire-thing going. Brett was like a kid in a candy store with all that wood to cut so we had great fires to keep warm by. He kept checking other fires which might be bigger and piled on logs to compete. Fire envy is an ugly thing, warm, but ugly. He was only beaten out by a group of about 12 people who had to sit about 20ft away from their fire because it was so hot.

Because of all the downed trees the ground squirrels were having a field day trying to eat all the pine seeds. We saw one dig a hole next to a medium sized rock, deposit its seed, then cover it up with dirt and two smaller rocks. I wanted to dig it up to see what it buried but didn't for fear that was the one seed it would need to survive the winter.

On a walk we saw moose poop, elk poop, deer poop, and coyote, wolf or bear poop. Apparently starvation is not a problem this time of year.

It only sprinkled rain twice although it was cloudy all the way home. We took Trail Ridge Road back and saw three more moose. None of them near our windshield. Two were lying in a meadow and one lay down flat on the ground. How do you lay down when your antlers are 10 times bigger than your head? We didn't get close enough to find out.

Glad to go and glad to get back home.

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