At one point, Nicole and James stopped near a beaver dam. Ordinarily, I would look for a moment, mumble something like "nice," and move on. But this time I stood still for a long time, gazing in awe at the architectural and engineering feat accomplished by the beaver, who gnawed, cut, designed, schlepped, and constructed a multi-tiered habitat that included a home and a storage area.
It was less than an hour later that we spotted a black bear, with golden fur, about ten feet from our vehicle. He was lifting a rock, looking underneath for ants and insects, which he licked to accumulate calories for his long winter hibernation. Then he placed the rock back on the ground, walked, picked up another rock, and licked some more. After the third rock, the bear turned in our direction. He clearly saw us, but he didn't run away or exhibit any fear. He allowed us to watch him, as he continued his feeding on the underbelly of rocks. By this time I was so deeply in love that I spoke to the bear in my mind, thanking him, blessing him, telling him I would always, always remember him.
From that moment on, I was in nature, with nature, connected to nature. There was nothing else in my mind. Nicole stopped the car when she spotted a herd of cow elk (there are 8,000 elk on the ranch), and I bonded emotionally with the grazing ladies. She stopped again near a group of pronghorn and wild turkey. I smiled as I recalled that Benjamin Franklin wanted the latter to be the national bird. Then James beckoned me to observe the winged ones that won the coveted title. Through James's scope, I watched babies in a bald eagle nest, with the papa perched nearby.
At night, I chose from a menu that included pan seared bison tenderloin served with lump crab meat and butter poached lobster; steel head trout picatta; and five peppercorn seared elk rib eye adorned with a red currant and madeira glace. As a fowl aficionado, I thought the grilled Cornish rock hen with celery root and parmesan puree were culinary bliss. And then I wondered if perhaps I should become a vegetarian so that the animals could continue to live outside of me, rather than inside of me.
I envy the next visitors, who, perhaps, will fall in love with nature for the first time as I did, when they open their hearts to damselfly nymphs and golden-hued black bears. I am already eyeing my calendar to see when I can go back again, as I miss the elk and pronghorn, the skies and the streams that are now so much a part of me.
If you go:
Accommodations are comfortable, rustic ranch style. The price of $375 per person per day includes all meals, accommodations, private guide with vehicle, and customized tours. Half-price for children aged 13-17, and children under 13 are free. Special themed events and packages available throughout the year. http://www.vermejoparkranch.com (575) 445-3097.
Judith Fein is an award-winning travel journalist who has contributed to more than 100 publications and is the author of the book LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel. Her website is www.GlobalAdventure.us
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