Now is the best time to see wildlife in the Rockies
Mantled in fresh snow, the bowl-shaped valley surrounding Utah’s Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area is a scene of postcard perfection. Except, perhaps, for the piles of dark brown pellets ― elk scat ― dotting the snow. As our sleigh jounces out into the meadow, I pull my jacket closed against the chill. But for the big bull elk on the hillside ― cloaked in a shaggy tan coat and a thick brown mane ― the weather is perfect.
“See what a stud he is? With those big antlers, he has no trouble gathering a harem of females,” Marni Lee says with a little laugh. Lee knows elk. She’s the assistant manager at Hardware Ranch, which is in the southeastern Cache Valley, about 80 miles northeast of Salt Lake City.
Lee explains that, in winter, many mammals migrate down from the high country to gather and forage in vast herds in the warmer climate of the valleys. At Hardware Ranch, you have an especially good chance of seeing bobcats, deer, elk, moose, or mountain lions. Other areas offer opportunities to see bighorn sheep, bison, pronghorn antelope, wolves, or even grizzlies. As our sleigh pulls deeper into the meadow, we see elk around the snowy draws edged by cottonwoods, willows, and juniper. Soon we can see at least 200 elk, and I marvel at their big, liquid-brown eyes fringed by heavy lashes. The bulls are magnificent, though some wear scars from battling to add more females to their harems.