The following story is based on a true account from a local prospector who values his privacy. Therefore, the name I have used is fictional and any similarity to that of others, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Chase Dupont resides in Estes Park during the long Colorado winters, but in the summer he spends a lot of time in the Rocky Mountains in search of old mines and undiscovered veins of silver and gold.
The prospectors of old were often rough men who had little understanding of nature, their eyes glinted only at the thought of riches of the material kind. Chase’s eyes, however, lighten up as he talks about camping in the woods for months on end and his love of nature in the wild.
Up until the 1950’s, many Grizzlies still called the Rocky Mountains home, but it was around this time that a hunter shot the last known Grizzly in Colorado. This man, just doing a job he was hired to do, now regrets his part in this fatal moment. However, despite it being recorded as the last known Grizzly, those words still hang in the air. A few years ago this old hunter told Chase that he feels there are still Grizzlies in Colorado.
One beautiful July day in 1998, Chase hiked up a remote valley in southwestern, Colorado. (Chase declines to name the area in terms that are more specific.) He moved silently through the woods, stopping occasionally to scan the valley below and listen to nature’s symphony. When he reached timberline at around 11,000 ft., he scouted the distance for veins in the rocks whilst weaving his way between the forest line and the more open tundra. As was his habit, any rocks he picked up were returned to their original indentation in the earth. He moved carefully taking great care not to tread on the wildflowers and disturb the infinite beauty of their pristine habitat.
After several miles, the ridge-line curved down to a rocky escarpment and Chase found himself in a wet area filled with wildflowers that grew above his waist. As he moved through this garden, the dew-soaked his pants, so he jumped onto a huge fallen tree that was about 3 feet in diameter. This tree had been magnificent in its time, and Chase guessed it to be about three or four hundred years old.
Chase walked along the tree trunk and leaped over to another tree that laid across the one he was on. As his foot landed on the other tree, a loud popping noise erupted from the bark making him jump. In the same instant a very large, dark shape loomed up in front of him startling him even more. Instantly his brain registered that it was a large brown bear that had been feeding in the huge root system of that magnificent old tree.
The bear was equally startled and both man and beast became airborne at the noise, leaping away from each other and the popping tree and taking flight.
From opposite sides of the valley human and bear eyed each other. The bear was standing on his back legs, nose in the air, sniffing Chase’s scent. Chase too stood upright, heart hammering as he peered back at the bear warily. Eventually, the bear dropped to all fours and slowly ambled up the valley. It was a large bear and stood about 3 ½ foot high at the shoulders.
Chase decided it was probably wise not to explore further up the valley that day, as the bear was obviously agitated, and so returned to his camp.
Two days later, Chase returned to the ridge-line above the wildflower patch and continued his slow, meticulous exploration of the valley. This time he remained at timberline where he had a better view of the valley below and hopefully would avoid a further encounter with the bear. Chase maneuvered his way around the back of the rocky escarpment and a little further up saw an enormous old fir tree standing like a sentry in front of the mountain. On it were some white markings.
Chase worked his way to the tree and examined what turned out to be large claw marks. They were about 8′ high on the tree and about 3 to 4 inches long. Chase, who is about 5 foot 10 inches tall, could just reach them at a stretch. He noted the sticky sap bubbling in the sunlight, and realized these were fresh markings and guessed they were from the same bear he had seen two days prior.
A couple of weeks later Chase approached this same valley from the other side of the mountain range. The route up was not so easy as he was on a north facing slope, and he had to scramble over deadfall and up rocky waterfalls.
After a good half day of this difficult scrambling he finally found the gully that led to the valley he had previously explored, and triumphantly scrambled onto the grassy tundra, recognizing the plateau and grassy slope above the tree sentry.
Sure enough, there below him was the tree with the bear markings. Chase once again made his way to the tree to examine the markings and was awed at what he found.
There, almost 3 feet above the original bear scratches, was another set of claw marks. These new markings were much larger than the others, about 5 to 6 inches long and were deeply engraved into the bark. They oozed as though bleeding, and Chase seeing the length and immense size of these markings felt a chill run down his spine.
Chase knew these were not the markings of a brown or black bear. Without question, these were the markings of a much larger bear, a bear that has long believed to be extinct in Colorado. These claw marks, nearly 11 feet high on the tree, were the territorial markings made by a Grizzly.
Written for my column Tales From The Trail, in The Estes Park News, in August 2007.
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