The peace of the forest is broken with a crash as three bull elk come loping out of the aspens. They freeze instantly, swiveling their antlered heads toward me—no doubt just as surprised as I am. For a long moment we simply stare at one another before the elk continue along their way. Before me are nearly 20,000 acres of pristine wilderness—mesas sharpening into mountains, every ridge dropping rivulets of snowmelt into the headwaters of the Rio de los Pinos that sustain the basin’s mule deer, bobcats, and coyotes. I listen to the thuds of the elks’ hooves and the cracking of branches as our brief encounter fades into the enveloping quiet of this wilderness.