Posted on Thursday, 18th August 2011 by

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As a youngster growing up in northern Indiana, wildlife consisted of skunks, raccoons, deer and opossums and I did not find them particularly interesting since their natural setting was usually lying in the middle of the road lifeless.  But that changed in 1980 while I was enjoying a training assignment in Oklahoma City.   I stumbled across a marathon showing of Marty Stouffer’s Wild America program as part of the local Public Broadcasting System’s annual fund raiser.  It was the first time I had watched or even heard of the program but I was fascinated by all the stories being told showing the behavior of not only creatures I was familiar with but also some I had never seen or heard of.  My cat took the trip to Oklahoma with me and Wild America mesmerized her as well to the point she thought she could catch the birds as they soared across the television screen.  I spent my entire Saturday watching those programs.  From then on I was hooked on watching wildlife.

I wanted to be able to go out and watch some of those creatures myself so I relocated to Colorado in 1987.  It would be hard to find a better place to go for a hike and view wildlife in the lower 48 states than Colorado.  Every weekend was a vacation to see Big Horn Sheep, Elk, Mountain Goats, Deer, Prong Horn and smaller creatures that live in the mountain habitat.

Mountain Goats reside in alpine habitat and often can be spotted walking sure footed along sheer steep mountain sides.  I could always count on finding them on Mount Evans just an hour west of Denver.  If you drive to Summit Lake, stop and patiently look around you’ll spot them.  They dig and graze in the mountain tundra often with a kid next to them.  Adults display beautiful white fur from their head to their shoulders with the rest of the body in the process of sheading a heavy coat from winter.  The little ones are sometimes playful and active near their grazing mothers.  I usually have to stifle my urge to sing the The Lonely Goat Herd from The Sound of Music when I see them.

I lived near a favorite spot of Big Horn Sheep, Waterton Canyon National Recreational Area along the South Platte River.  There is a road for walking and bike riding that goes back 6 miles to a damn and it is not only home to many of the Big Horn Sheep but is also a great place for fly fisherman.  If a road trip and exploring a mountain town is more to your liking, you can find Big Horn Sheep as you travel to Georgetown on Interstate 70.  They often graze on the north side of I-70 along the sheer mountain sides.  Color variation is limited and the Big Horn Sheep tend to blend in very well.  To spot them look for their white behinds on the mountain side.  If you want to sit and watch them there are several areas to pull over and safely get out of the car and take photos or watch with a good set of binoculars.  It can be interesting if they are on the mountain side looking precarious on little ledges sticking out from the sheer rock face surrounding Georgetown.

The Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to see large herds of Elk and to watch mating behavior during the fall rut.  People come from all over the country in late September and early October for the rutting season.  A bull Elk sounds a warning referred to as bugling while watching over his harem of females during the rut.  If the bugling does not prevent a challenge from another male, they face off and interlock their antlers and jockey for position to determine who will win the harem of females for mating.  This can be dangerous, so watch from a distance.  The Elk are easiest to see on the east side of the park about a 15 minute drive in from Estes Park.

Moose are another treat you can find inside the national park.  You’ll need to go to the west side of the National Park taking Trail Ridge Road from the east side of the National Park over the highest point in the park to the west side between the Bowen Baker Trailhead and the west entrance to the park.  You will need to be observant to spot a Moose because they are not easy to spot.  You’ll need to watch the wet areas with Willow brush that stands about 5 or 6 feet high.  They are usually alone which makes them harder to find.  You may find them by pulling over where other cars have stopped to see what the fuss is about.  If you can find one in the water it makes for great photos especially if the light allows for good reflections.  The best time to spot activity is early hours around dawn and as the sun is setting at dusk.  Make sure you take good binoculars to view the wildlife.

Eagles are easiest to find if you are familiar with the sound they make.  If you hear them vocalize look at high perch points to see if you can find the Eagle.  Click on vocalizing at this link to hear a bald eagle to assist you in knowing what to listen for.

I don’t want you to think those are the only wild animals that reside in our western states.  After all mountain lions and bear also live there along with rattle snakes and other creatures you may not want to run across.  If you do plan a trip to the back country of the west on your American Safari, be sure to stop at park visitor centers and check to see if they have any warnings posted for these more dangerous animals.  Visitor centers also have information on what to do to avoid or protect yourselves should you find yourself in the vicinity of a bear or mountain lion.  Read the literature before going on your first hike so you know how to respond should you have an unexpected encounter.

If you have children going on an American Safari can be a great way to learn about our country and the diversity of wildlife it holds, especially if you live in the eastern United States.

Here are some web links to assist in planning an American Safari vacation.

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