We saw six moose! Oh, and the gorgeous Maroon Bells
Rachel Sauer turned her head, mouth agape, her thumbs on either side of her head and her fingers spread wide: our mutually agreed-upon moose signal.
Yes, we had a mutually agreed-upon moose signal.
Rachel, my fellow features writer, directed my attention toward a mountain pond a quarter mile down a hill where three moose stood knee-deep in the water.
We simultaneously reacted the only way we could: We cried.
And we grabbed our cameras, trying to frame the moose in the shadow of the snow-capped Maroon Bells.
We held our breath. Would they charge? Would they run?
The moose looked at us, and the dozen other people watching from the road, then returned to slopping up water.
I could have died of happiness.
Instead, I retreated to a rock, where I sat for nearly 20 minutes to watch and smell and listen as late fall settled in on the Maroon Bells.
Then, farther up the road, the day got even better when we saw another trio of moose in Maroon Lake. We got close enough to hear them call to each other.
The surprise moose sightings happened Oct. 8 after Rachel insisted we visit Maroon Bells because I’d never been to this much photographed western Colorado site.
(The Aspen Chamber’s website, aspenchamber.org, says the Maroon Bells outside Aspen are the “most photographed mountains in North America.”)
We initially planned this adventure for earlier in October, but the forecast didn’t cooperate. In addition, the federal government was shut down, closing the main road to motorized traffic.
We rescheduled for an improved forecast but a still-closed government. When we learned we could hike or bike the paved road up to the Maroon Bells despite the shutdown, we decided to bike six miles from T-Lazy 7 Ranch to Maroon Lake. (Unbeknownst to us, there was parking higher up Maroon Creek Road, which would’ve reduced our climb by a mile. Whatever.)
Rachel assured me it was “not that difficult.”
It took us more than three hours to ride six miles.
I was overdressed for the sunny day, and my bike isn’t a climber, and it probably didn’t help that I spent the first two miles in a tougher gear for some inexplicable reason.
A woman we met at Maroon Lake, Joanne from Snowmass, asked if we’d walked the whole thing because we just didn’t look like cyclists.
(Do you think it was my jeans rolled up into makeshift shorts?)
All in all, I doubt I could have loved the setting more in a car. The bike ride was tough, but we took it slow and stopped often to look around and take pictures. It was unspeakably beautiful, and WE SAW SIX MOOSE!
Fliers at the U.S. Forest Service gate — the one that was then locked and bearing signs to “apologize” for the closure’s “inconvenience” — said moose were in the area, so we had been hopeful we would see some.
People live in Colorado their whole lives and never see moose in the wild. Rachel and I admittedly had become worried we’d end up as two of those people.
Not anymore. We can confirm moose are every bit as huge and long-legged and magnificent as advertised. Maybe having a hand signal was our lucky charm. Maybe it helped that we visited the Maroon Bells on a weekday with no motorized traffic permitted.
Whatever the reason, we saw moose in one of the most gorgeous places on Earth, and it was amazing. The end.
Get going: To get to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of the White River National Forest, go south on Colorado Highway 82 toward Aspen until you cross Maroon Creek. Exit the roundabout onto Maroon Creek Road and follow the road to the pay station. It’s about 2 1/2 hours from Grand Junction.
The Maroon Bells has seasonal closures and changes in access regardless of whether the federal government is shut down or not.
Before visiting the area, call the U.S. Forest Service at 970-925-3445 or go to fs.usda.gov/recarea/whiteriver/recreation/ohv/recarea/?recid=40517&actid=29, for information on fees, regulations and permit requirements.