Animal Tales from Steamboat - Routt County run-ins of the four legged kind
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Thomas D. Mangelsen is one of the world's premier nature photographers. View and purchase his images at www.mangelsen.com
Maybe it’s the moon. Or global warming. Or some whacko alignment of the stars out of a Stephen King novel. Whatever the reason, it seems that lately there have been more wild and wooly animal tales from Steamboat than ever. You hear about them in bars, on chairlifts, and even at the local shrink’s office. They involve mountain lions, bears, moose, elk and other furry creatures, and start with the snap of a twig or scuffle in the bushes before evolving into a full-blown yarn that puts even Rudyard Kipling to shame. Following are a few of our favorites.
Biking With Raging Bull
You don’t want to meet a bull on a bike, but that’s what happened to locals Mike Para, Joe Gillaspie and Ross Dyer. The trio was enjoying a ride up Red Dirt when they came upon the bull standing in the middle of the trail. “This was not a nice bull,” says Mike. “This was a bull with red eyes who wanted to kill something.” The three were trying to figure out hoto get by unnoticed when Joe decided to just shoo it away. “I thought that might be a dumb idea,” Mike says. It was. The bull did shoo away, but as Joe tried to sneak past, it turned, lowered its head and charged. Joe escaped up a hill, but his bike didn’t make it. After flattening Joe’s $3,000 brand neSpecialized, the bull then focused his attention on Mike and Ross. “Before I kneit, he was on us,” says Ross. That was the last thing he remembers. “I held my bike up for protection just before Mike and I were sent flying,” he says. “I ended up with a trashed bike and a concussion.” The only thing that saved them was that the bull was hung up on a tree by a rope. “Otherwise, we’d probably all be dead,” Mike says. The men later discovered that the bull had knocked a horse and cowboy to the ground earlier after the cowboy tried to lasso him and return him to his ranch. He then took off with the rope around his neck and stopped only when he got tangled on the tree. “The next thing we knew, we saa bunch of cowboys on horses and ATVs riding over the ridge, just like the Wild West,” Mike says. The bull broke free again, and Mike later heard that the cowboys could never catch him. “That bull just waltzed home when he felt like it,” Mike says. “He knew who was boss.”
I’ve avoided major wildlife encounters while mountain biking. Until last summer, that is, when I became a magnet for large, furry beasts. It began early in the season when heading up Spring Creek alone. Suddenly a stallion-looking creature galloped out of the woods straight toward me. I realized it was no horse; it was an agitated mama moose. The whole world stopped. It was just me, a mountain biking mama, vs. her, a moose mama. Neither one of us wanted to give up our ground. But after she charged me three times, I turned around and sped back to town. The following day I headed up Buff Pass for my ride. What should pop out of the woods this time? Two baby bears. Not in the mood for another crazy mama encounter, again I turned around. I spent the rest of the summer biking up Mount Werner, where I only encountered chipmunks and out-of-control tourists. But then late in the season I ran into a bull moose three times bigger and meaner than the Spring Creek mama. He, too, glared like he wanted me dead. This time I ditched the trail and bushwhacked through the forest to make my escape. A furry beast had won again.
Bike Bashes Bear
Sometimes looking back at major turning points in one’s life can be amusing or outright embarrassing. My visit to Steamboat Springs had a bit of both. Arriving in late summer, the weather was in stark contrast to the furnace I had left in southern North Carolina. Being an avid cyclist I had planned to log a femiles during our three-day stay. It was my second ride that left the lasting impression. I left my sister-in-law’s house up on Fish Creek Falls Road to meet her husband in town for a ride. As I blasted down the hill, a large mammal sprang onto the road from my left. While I was in the “bike” lane, he surely was not in the bear lane, so the fault of the ensuing impact rested squarely on his jay-walking haunches. The impact with the bear and subsequent slam dunk onto the pavement 20 feet away gave all the bells and whistles that near death can bring. The angel with the cell phone and the guys with the portable disco stage and magic juice changed the mental scenery from one of Saint Peter wiggling his finger to one of just blurry, spinning, mindreeling pain. While the crash totaled my brother-in-law’s bike (sorry about that, Doug), doctors put my blown-out shoulder back together and patched up the road rash. Mentally, I suffered Traumatic Brain Injury and my medical coverage left us all hanging. It doesn’t stop there. Those who have been to the edge and back knothere is a responsibility of survivorship. I was recently asked to build a rehabilitation program for wounded Marines also suffering from TBI. Using cycling and my past guiding experience, we’re nohelping Marines recuperate, giving my collision in Steamboat a farreaching positive impact. And no, this therapy doesn’t include bears.
Moose Mayhem On The Slopes
It might have been a good time to order a Moosehead beer. While Jackson Hole has its Mangy Moose bar, Steamboat Springs has the Real McCoy. Last Feb. 12, a female Bullwinkle made her way onto the ski slopes of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. after first marauding through the après crowd at the Slopeside Grill. One bystander captured the incident on film, with the clip tallying 1,800 hits on YouTube in the first two weeks. Eventually the ski patrol caught up with her and ushered her back into the woods, but not before forcing skiers into snowplows and abrupt course changes to avoid the galloping animal.
“It pretty much galloped all over the place,” says one onlooker. “People were dodging it left and right.”
While the ski corp. wasn’t surprised at the sighting, it was amazed that the moose meandered onto the slopes.
“The moose – a mother and her calf – have been hanging around the Burgess Creek area and to the north side of the Creekside bike trail,” says Ski Corp. spokesman Mike Lane. “I’m not sure hothey got so far down in the base area, but we’re constantly on the lookout for them.”
Close Call Cougar
No, this didn’t involve a stalking at Mahogany Ridge. It involved real cougar-dodging on the mountain. It started when a local (who chose to remain anonymous) met his friends at the base of the gondola for a nighttime skin up to Thunderhead, only to discover that he had forgotten his skins. So he went back to get them and then started skiing up by himself.
Near the top of the Christie lift, he sathe headlamps of his friends, who were about to top out at the lodge. Rather than follothem, he figured he’d take his skins off and ski down. That’s when he sait – the red gloof a mountain lion’s eyes watching his every move. “Thank God I had my headlamp on,” he says. “Otherwise I would have never seen it. It was crouched down about 10 feet away from the shack. I sahis eyes blink a couple of times and then he turned his head.”
He started yelling at it while gingerly reaching down to pull off one of his skins. Then the cat circled behind him. “The cat moved behind me, so I tried to move as well,” he says. “The problem was, my boots were unbuckled and I still had my heel lifts up.” He eventually got his other skin off and wadded them both up into a ball; it wasn’t the time for perfectly placed adhesion. Then he took off downhill, boots unbuckled, heel lifts up and coat unzipped and flapping. After a while he looked back and sathe cougar saunter midway down the slope toward him before finally veering off into the trees.
“I learned my lesson,” he says. “Don’t go by yourself, and always bring a headlamp. If I didn’t have my light I wouldn’t have known he was there. It saved me from walking right up to it.
“There are more cats out there than people think,” he adds. “For every one someone sees, there are probably a hundred more. If this one wanted me, it could’ve had me. There’s nothing I could have done – it didn’t back down.”
Sooner or later, each of us who lives in Northwest Colorado will have a memorable encounter with wildlife: the bear by the stream at sunset, the huge moose standing at attention in the aspen grove, the elk herd jumping off a cliff onto the highway over Rabbit Ears Pass.
If I only get to tell one such story to my grandchildren, it will be my tale of the elusive lynx.
The story will have to wait until my granddaughters are a little older, as it begins with my one and only attempt at topless sunbathing. I was living at the Timbers condominiums on the western side of Rabbit Ears Pass, and I found a large rock on the isolated slope behind my home. I had just laid back and closed my eyes when I heard a rustling from the overhang at the base of the rock. With great trepidation, I peaked over the edge only to see … a mother porcupine with three babies.
Feeling more than a little exposed, I packed up, eased myself off the far side of the rock and walked quietly back to my condo.
Once safely behind glass, I dared to peak up at the hillside. There, standing silhouetted against the horizon on the rock I had just vacated, was a lynx. I had no idea what it was at the time, so I went to the library and looked it up. I didn’t trust my eyes and was sure that what I had seen was a bobcat. That is until the next evening, when the lynx returned once again. He came every day for a week or so, staring down at me with cold, predator’s eyes. Was it just my imagination, or was he commenting on my wanton behavior?
Sock and Awe
It was a gorgeous late fall day and I was watching the clock. Even at 36, I felt like a kid stuck in class, desperately wanting to sneak out of work early for a ride. Unfortunately, time wasn’t on my side. The days were getting shorter and evenings cooler.
I did the typical power commute home and did my best Superman imitation to change into my riding attire. I kneI’d ride half at dusk and half in the dark. I hastily grabbed my gear, shoved grub in my jersey pocket and slammed a water bottle into the cage of my nehard-tail 29er. I hoped the night lights attached to my bars had enough charge to get me down safely.
Looking at my two Labs starring at me with those “Where are you going?” eyes, I closed the door and jumped on my bike.
All went according to plan as I wound up Zig Zag trail on Mount Werner, the sun descending behind Emerald and casting alpengloon the upper mountain. As I grinded up the climb’s middle section before popping out on the access road at Vagabond saddle, my head down and legs and lungs burning, I peered up to enjoy the last moments of sunlight.
That’s when I heard a heavy rustling in the woods. I jerked my head to the right and within a split second I was in full panic mode, screaming at the top of my lungs like a little school boy. A rush of adrenaline like I’ve never felt before surged through my body. I was being chased by a 1,200-lb. bull moose, head down and gaining on me. Still going uphill, I stood up out of the saddle and clicked up as many gears as possible. I was in flight-for-life mode, cranking on my handle bars and slamming the pedals as hard as my tired legs would allow.
I looked back for a split second and sahis antlers scraping the ground a mere two feet from my rear wheel. I was a goner! Another surge of energy and final scream. I lost focus for a moment and suddenly went down in the dirt. I jumped up in a full panic, raising my bike in front of me to ward off the impending trampling while screaming at the top of my lungs.
Luckily, the moose stopped 10 yards away and decided he’d made his point. He turned and walked back into the woods knowing he had protected his territory. Shaking, I got back on my bike, the moose paralleling me on the trail a ways as I slowly road up toward Thunderhead.
I rode to the top in awe and disbelief. I still can’t believe I escaped unharmed. Freakin’ lucky, is what it is. After coming down Valley View in the dark, I rode home in desperate need of a post-ride beer and to tell my girlfriend about the close call. Maybe next time I’ll head out a hair earlier.
The Sawtooths. A fitting name for a stunningly beautiful place in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. The spine of rocks running from plateau to plateau is as jagged as alligator teeth, but softened with a rusty red rock covered with bright limes, oranges and reds of lichens. I was halfway along the spine relaxing in a precarious sprawl along the narrowest section of rocks just wide enough to settle my butt on, eyes scanning the cliffs for the determined wildflowers dotting them. I took a bite of sandwich when out of the corner of my eye I caught a speck in the sky. Hmmm, that must be one big hawk soaring way up there. But then I noticed that it was moving, and FAST, downward in a ferocious dive.
I had read the previous year that peregrine falcons had recently been seen in the area, and watched this bird scream through the air. Was it diving for another bird? Nope, no others around. Was it going for something on the ground? There was no way I was taking my eyes off that feathered bomb to look. By noI had flattened myself against what little rock I could. With only about 10 feet to spare from slamming into my face, the peregrine pulled up in a shriek of feathers. The whoosh of wind slapped at me, and the falcon was gone in seconds. My only guess as to why I had such a close encounter is that I was near a nesting site. Either that or it was having a heck of a laugh at my expense.