Marolt: Taking time to gawk at the elk | AspenTimes.com

Marolt: Taking time to gawk at the elk

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic

Roger Marolt

The license plate game is too easy along Owl Creek Road these evenings. It's not just the variety — Texas, California, Arizona, Oregon, New Jersey, as a recent sampling revealed — it's also the speed at which the visiting cars are traveling, which is zero miles per hour.

It's like playing that old travel game in a parking lot. But it's not a real parking lot. It's the shoulder of that old, perfectly paved, speed-bumped, yellow-striped country road, and the drivers aren't off shopping. They're snapping pictures, scoping the scene with binoculars or just sitting on the top rail of the fence that runs alongside the road taking it all in.

If elk are the frosting on the cake for leaf peepers and shutter bugs, those groups of tourists must be due for a diet. How can they eat it every evening and not get sick of it? I wouldn't say the locals who drive that route get tired of the spectacle of antlers, but after you've seen it hundreds of times, other ideas grab your attention as the sun is setting, like a glass of wine and a plate of dinner waiting at home. Obviously avoiding even a sideways glance as you pass in plain sight of the tourists is satisfaction enough ­­— a true local at the wheel.

Aside from human beings, elk must be the most common animal around Snowmass Village. On a good day, you might see upward of 50 or more of the creatures in the pastures of Owl or Brush creeks. On average my guess is that I see a dozen a day year-round.

We see lots of coyotes and foxes, too, but I think if I saw three or four of either in one day that would be unusual. Squirrels are common, but you have to be sitting still for a while before their presence becomes apparent. It seems like we see gophers a lot, but I think that's mostly because we see the abundant mounds and holes from their digging. The animals themselves spend too much time underground for us to really get a good look at.

Getting back to the elk, though: I don't think I even see as many cats or dogs in the average day. I'm sure I don't see as many mice, humming birds or snakes.

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Seeing the small crowds along Owl Creek watching the herd makes me wonder what natural animal event I would gawk over as a tourist that the locals would mostly ignore. I would say seeing dolphins or whales from the beach, except the locals seem to get pretty excited over that, too. A gator in Florida? A rattlesnake in Texas? A tiger in Nigeria? A stray elephant in India? Naw, those get everyone's attention.

Elk are certainly dangerous, but they're not aggressive unless you get too close, which they won't let you do too often. As we've been discussing, they are also abundant and not afraid to be seen. If you're interested in taking photos, they seem to pretty much pose for you. It's like they are the perfect wild animal tourist attraction.

The easiest thing for villagers to do is to scoff at the tourists for stopping along the road to gawk at something that is so common and ordinary to us that it would embarrass them to know it. I've tried. But, why? We are not really superior people because we are harder to impress. Besides, tourists are into a lot of things that we don't really get too excited about, like rolling in the snow between dips in the hot tub, private ski lessons from goggle-tanned people with exotic European names and roasting marshmallows for dessert over a flaming can of disguised Sterno at the restaurant table. To bring our noses out of the air at all these things might be about the same as not taking this great place for granted. It doesn't mean we have to stop to watch the elk.

Roger Marolt stopped last year to watch two elk lock antlers. That was worth being a few minutes late for dinner. Contact him at roger@maroltllp.com