For about half of the year, we live at the intersection of the San Juan
Plateau (a “high” desert) and the Southern Rocky Mountains. This area is
largely empty of people, rugged, and wild. Yesterday, while hiking up the
trail to McPhee Overlook, we had an encounter which left me with a lot to
think about. Being a writer and to a degree, a journalist, I felt the need to
record the event, and share it with a few close friends. Here’s what
About halfway up the trail, we flushed a Golden Eagle from a thicket
to our left. That is curious because Eagles generally do not hang out on the
ground unless there is a good reason to do so. Upon further examination,
the spot where the Eagle had been, was also surrounded by Ravens and
Magpies. These are all scavengers and when meat is available, carnivores.
Being curious, I decided to go check it out. Ann, being far more reasonable,
decided to stay on the trail and wait for my return.
I plunged into the scrub oak thicket and was immediately hit with the
pungent, lingering odor of blood and flesh that got stronger with every step
I took. Continuing on, I came to a small clearing where, lying on the blood-
soaked snow was an adult mule deer. Her right flank had been ripped off
and parts of her body scattered around. But what struck me was the fact
that her exposed body was still steaming. The air temperature was about
twenty degrees, so she was cooling fast. I’m not forensic doctor but I
guessed she had been killed and opened within an hour. Maybe thirty
minutes. This was definitely the work of a Mountain Lion. I walked over and
looked into her eyes. That in itself was moving, and I paused to try to sort
out my feelings. Then a few startling thoughts popped into my head. First,
Lions don’t hunt during daylight unless they are desperate. This deer had
definitely been taken down during daylight. This was a desperate lion. The
second thought that occurred to me was the lion was likely nearby. My
approach had interrupted her (or his) its dinner. It wouldn’t have gone far,
perhaps not far at all. Perhaps it was crouched in the nearby thicket,
watching my every move.
So, let’s see, there I was, standing over a starving mountain lion’s
meal, while the lion – maybe nearby - was crouched on a hair-trigger, ready
to attack. Male lions are roughly my body weight, females a bit smaller.
These are big, powerful animals. From the ripped flesh, it was clear that
large claws had pulled apart the hide with ease. A primordial fear overtook
my body from the soles of my feet to the top of my head. My brain began
screaming “get the hell out of here!” and thankfully my feet obeyed. One
step at a time, I backed out of the clearing, through the ticket, and back to
the trail where Ann awaited.
A close call? Maybe. But an encounter I’ll remember for quite some