Fifteen years ago this month, I took one of my sons to Colorado on an elk hunt. I had taken three of them (J.B., Travis, and Andy) separately and in groups of two at other times, but this was to be the last one (although I didn’t know it at the time) and it was just Andy and me.
A friend of mine (Theresa) had recently sent me a running commentary of her trip to Las Vegas so I decided to steal her idea and keep a journal of our hunt.
I’m so glad I did.
I’d like to share that journal with you, not just as a way to commemorate one of the happiest times in my life, but as a way to celebrate the simplicity and the complexity of a parent and child relationship. I’ll post a few pages at a time so that I hopefully won’t overwhelm you, but I do plan to get the whole thing on my blog within the next week or so.
10-07-2002 Monday First day in camp
As I sat to begin writing I heard it again, that squeal that sounds like two, maybe three different notes from a child’s toy flute played simultaneously, starting low and going higher till it reached something akin to a scream before falling off quickly to the original sound, then followed immediately by the same notes coughed out several times. The bull elk’s awe-inspiring bugle. I could see him in my mind’s eye, stinking, urine and mud caked belly and legs, slobber dripping from his mouth, and a lovelorn look in his eyes.
He’s been bugling somewhere southwest of camp all evening, since just after we got the tent up. After the second time he bugled, Andy and I took the binoculars, flashlights (just in case) and my new cow elk call and made our way toward where we thought the sound was coming from. We didn’t see him. He bugled twice again before we got back to camp. Andy even thought he heard a cow call. I didn’t.
It’s only 8:11 pm here (9:11 pm at home) and Andy is already asleep. Tough last couple days.
We started out yesterday a bit before 11 am. We stopped at Van Buren for a potty break. They took down all those nice deer heads that used to be at that station. However, they had a couple of those slot machines there – you know, the ones where you put in a quarter and it falls down onto a ledge and a paddle pushes it toward the edge. Eventually some fall down into a little bowl where you can scoop them out. Several guys were playing the machines and discussing how a pile of quarters was about to fall but never did. They kept shoving quarters in until I told them that I had seen those machines in Europe and Las Vegas and had never seen anybody win.
They left and I was looking at the magazine rack next to one of them (waiting for Andy to get out of the bathroom) when, all of a sudden, about $10.00 worth of quarters fell out…and I hadn’t even played! So I gave them to the girl behind the counter and she let me keep half.
Andy said, “There’s more about to fall,” so I let him play a couple quarters to show him it’s not a sure thing. He lost.
We drove through the day and into the night and nearly ran out of gas because we couldn’t find an open station, so we slept in the truck at a Texaco station until it opened. I use the word, “slept,” loosely.
Andy got scared half out of his wits when a cat jumped up on the roof of the truck and peeked through the windshield at him. Truthfully, I don’t know who was more scared because the cat jumped off the truck and I honked the horn about the time it hit the ground.
As soon as the station opened we bought gas and headed out, arriving at Marvine Creek Campground just before 2 pm.
Along the way, we saw over 20 bison, several mule deer and antelope, a few bighorn sheep (although none of them had big horns), and about 50 elk! Oh, and a bald eagle.
Time for bed. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
10-08-2002 Tuesday Second day in camp
Tired. That pretty well sums today up. At least two, if not three elk bugled in the forest surrounding camp all night, but that’s not what kept me awake. A splinter that I didn’t know was stuck under my fingernail, along with mice running around on the tent’s plastic-tarp floor and chattering to each other did that job quite nicely, thank you.
Andy and I backpacked southeast from camp to the big valley that Marvine Creek runs through. With golden quakies (quaking aspen trees) crawling across the mountainsides, it was beautiful, but we saw no fresh sign and were so tired that we came back to camp. On the way back we met a couple men from Minnesota (Jeff and Dwayne). They were fishing with spinning reels, using night crawlers 12 inches under a split shot. They came by camp later to show us the nice batch of brookies (brook trout) and one rainbow they’d caught. They said that yesterday a herd of about 30 elk skimmed the edge of East Marvine campground, where they (Jeff and Dwayne) are staying. The herd then passed north of Marvine Creek campground (where we are staying) and then headed up the mountain. I hope they stay there until we get to shoot a couple.
The jays are thick around camp today. Both the gray (camp robber?) and the dark blue (Stellar’s) are here but not bothering anything…yet.
Although I woke up several times last night, only once was due to cottonmouth (it is so dry at altitude and the air is so thin that low-landers do a lot of mouth breathing and our mouths get very dry). I’m making a special effort to drink more water. The downside is that I had to get up several times to go…you know. The night sky is gorgeous out here. No light pollution to hide the stars. Billions and billions of brilliant points of light against a black velvet background. Incredible!
I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
10-09-2002 Wednesday Third day in camp
I am SO ready to get accustomed to the altitude. I woke up with dry mouth a few times last night even though I’m drinking lots of water. I had to get up to go outside at least three times. When I got up this morning I had absolutely no energy and everything seemed dream-like and distant. Unreal.
I fixed pancakes again this morning. They are getting better if I do say so myself. Andy made the first one. It ended up very crisp and oily. He went ahead and ate it though.
Despite feeling just awful, I didn’t want to let Andy down so I donned my backpack and he grabbed the .22 and we climbed the mountain. I wasn’t too sick to enjoy the beauty that surrounded us. There is no way to describe the interplay of hues in the various stands of aspens. It is definitely fall out there but the aspens don’t all turn the same colors at the same time. They seem to change in groves almost totally regardless to elevation or variations in topography. From where I sit at the picnic table in our campsite, I can look up on the mountainside north of us and see one grove that is still mostly green but with a decided yellowish tint. Others have more yellow and less green. Still others have turned brown or lost their leaves. I suspect the brown ones may be scrub oaks but can’t tell from here. Most though are that beautiful golden yellow that almost seems to glow with a light of its own. One grove stands out with a definite reddish blush.
On the way up the mountain, Andy took a couple shots at a squirrel but missed. Once up on top we spied a mule deer through the trees. I snapped a quick photo before he ghosted silently away through the surrounding aspens and spruce. Not a branch stirred to indicate where he had gone.
We managed to scout out a couple good stand sites before exhaustion forced us to head back to camp. On the way back Andy threw up everything he had eaten all day. I think the oily pancake is the culprit.
Back at camp now, Andy is alternating working on a fort he is building with half-hearted assaults on his homework. He has finished his spelling and is working on his math. Next: social studies, then science last as Mr. Bates assigned him a lot of work. A small price to pay as I see it. I don’t think Andy would agree.
Back to today: I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my narrative written so long ago. I’ll continue it when I post the next installment in a day or so. In the next installment, we will battle sickness, do some exploring, and make friends with some like-minded people, and Andy experiences success.
(above) A bull elk bugles to the ladies. Several other bulls wander nearby but only one cow shows up. By the way, all the bulls in this video would have been legal for Andy to shoot.
(below) This guy is hiking to the place he will set up camp along the Marvine Creek, not the Marvine Creek Campground where we stayed.
(below) The Marvine Creek Campground lies in the White River Wilderness in northern Colorado. On the map below it is the bottom of the two green square icons with a tent in it.