• Matt Dirksen

The Beauty of Grand County, CO

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

Grand County, Colorado is one of my favorite places to visit when I get a day or two off. I always look forward to the moments that I have to head to the mountains as it’s the best way to clear the mind and enjoy the simpler things in life. While I’ll always have my camera in hand, it’s still a great way see the natural world and the beauty of it.

Grand Lake has a lot going for it. It is the gateway town to the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park and it still has that small mountain town vibe. This park is one of the most heavily visited national parks in the country and it is easy to see why. The park is rich with mountain vistas and an abundance of wildlife.

This year, I was about a week early for peak color but you could see the signs of fall every where you looked. Some trees and bushes had already burst to bright oranges and vibrant yellows. High altitude mountain sides could be seen speckled with groves of colors as well. Soon the aspens will dominate the landscape with such vibrant yellows that send leaf watchers crazy and all over the state of Colorado. Many will head to the San Juan Mountains while others will head up the eastern part of the divide on Highway 34, the Peak to Peak highway, in search of Rocky Mountain Gold. I, personally, like the simplicity of Grand Lake. It’s not known for its rich number of aspen, like other areas, but it is known for its wildlife, which keeps me coming back again and again.

Just outside of the downtown area, I spent some time searching the surrounding areas looking for wildlife. Over the past month, I’d come across an old bull moose, who looked to soon be shedding his velvet. I wanted to see if I’d be able to find him close to the time that he would loose that velvet or in the process of shedding it. To my delight, he was in the same area that I had found him one week earlier. This time he was bedded down deep in the trees with no hope of getting up. I did notice that earlier that morning, he had begun to shed off his velvet on a nearby tree.

Two weeks earlier, I waited over 3 hours hoping that he would get up and walk into a clearing nearby for a shot that I was envisioning, but he obviously didn’t seem to want to get up anytime soon. So, I went into RMNP on a trek to find elk that would be gathering in the meadows. We were pretty lucky in what we found but not so much on the light as it got pretty dark quick when the rain came in. After not seeing any other bull elk or moose in the park, I decided I needed to do a quick trip past the bull that had bedded down for the day in hopes that I could get a shot of him before the light was completely gone. I was in luck. He was up feasting on willows in the middle of trail right at the trailhead! The light was pretty much non-existent. I ended up needing to shoot at 1/125, F2.8, ISO 4000 to get close to any usable images, which is easier said than done with a 400/2.8. After that evening, I wasn’t able to locate him again. He seems to have left the area as the rut has begun.

The elk rut is one of the main attractions for fall visitors. Some travel from all over just for the opportunity to see and hear the bugle of an elk in rut. It’s quite the sound and it can be heard up and down the valley late in the evening through early in the morning. It’s a sound that can really make the hair on your neck stand up if you aren’t aware they are near by. Watching the bulls spar and gather their harem are two integral parts to the elk rut. The harems can range in size from a few cow elk to as large as several dozen! A harem can have a few different sized bulls running around with it as well. A couple large males are usually the dominant bulls fighting for the harem, but a few smaller sized bulls and a few young “spikes” can be found in or around each harem. The cow elk and many of the seasons new borns can be seen herded together as they congregate in the trees and meadows.

Nothing brings me to Grand Lake more than my quest to find moose. I generally have good luck finding moose around Grand Lake as well as in RMNP through out the early and late parts of the day.

They can be found in the small lakes and ponds around the park, most notably the along the Colorado River as it winds through the Kawuneeche Valley. Some times the light works out just right to get some interesting photos as it sneaks through the trees in the valley. The moose are plentiful but they do take some patience to find as they can be in the shadows or deep in the trees. Other times they may make their way right across the road in front of you.

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