Close Encounters with Local Wildlife

In the Vail Valley, mountain living means living with mountain lions.

By Ted Katauskas Photography by Rick Spitzer June 12, 2017 Published in the Summer/Fall 2017 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

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A mountain lion spotted in Edwards' Lake Creek area.

Image: Rick Spitzer

I first discovered that a mountain lion had taken up residence in my suburban Edwards neighborhood in December, when my wirehaired retriever started ranging into a far corner of the Miller Ranch Open Space during our pre-dawn runs. Curious, one morning I decided to follow him—and with my headlamp found my dog, snacking on the remains of an eviscerated mule deer cached in a snowbank, the mountain lion equivalent of a storage freezer.

On another sojourn a few dark mornings later, I nearly ran into my dog on the riverbank trail. As he stood on his hind legs like a griz sniffing at the air, I looked up with my headlamp and spotted a deer foreleg dangling from a branch.

At around the same time, Mirabelle chef Daniel Joly sent me a text. No words, just a photograph from a cell phone camera: a lion bathed in moonlight, standing in the snow outside the restaurant’s dining room, glaring defiantly through a pane of glass at the picture-taker.

An omen, because on my next run, my dog bawled at the deer-leg tree but this time sprinted away.  Suspended shoulder-high in the inky blackness above the frozen river, a pair of owlish eyes glinted green in reflected lamplight. As I trotted past, instead of the expected bird, I spied a cat as big as my dog curled on a branch, staring.

On Facebook, I posted this image (shot by Rick Spitzer in Lake Creek) and warned that lions had moved into my neighborhood. “No,” a friend replied, “You moved into theirs.”

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