Tag Archives: elk

September 6, 2016 Leaving Estes Park, Colorado

Bull Elk Reflection

Bull Elk Reflection

One Last Trip up the Mountain

Today is the day I leave Rocky Mountain National Park and make my way to the Tetons in Wyoming, but since checkout time isn’t until 11 AM, I figured to do one last trip up Trail Ridge Road to see what I could see.

Why One Does Not Speed Up Trail Ridge Road at 5AM

Why One Does Not Speed Up Trail Ridge Road at 5AM

I always wonder what people are thinking when they zip by me in the dark while I am heading up the mountain . The speed limit is posted at 35 mph, but in the dark, I feel it is a little foolhardy to run at that speed when the forest comes right to the edge of the road and I always encounter deer and elk grazing right on the side of the road in the early morning darkness.

This guy probably weighed in at about half the weight of the Prius and would have come crashing down on my windshield had I hit him and taken his legs out from under him. He was pursuing a few cows that I had slowed for that were grazing on the shoulder of the road and didn’t seem concerned that a car was heading his way.

Above the Clouds

Above the Clouds

At the top of the mountain, I was truly above the clouds! Kind of a tough shot, shooting directly back into the sun, but it felt like a shot one would take out the window of a plane.

Above the Clouds

Above the Clouds

Above the Clouds

Above the Clouds

After a bit, the clouds moved up and out of the valleys as if they were being sucked up by some enormous vacuum in the sky.

Bull Elk and Harem at Dawn

Bull Elk and Harem at Dawn

A shot of the only elk I encountered at the top of Trail ridge.

Young Bulls Sparring

Young Bulls Sparring

Young Bulls Sparring

Young Bulls Sparring

These two young bulls, pretty decent sized animals in their own right, were grazing along the side of a trail on the east side of the summit. Graze, then spar, graze then spar, I followed them along the trail for a ways, wondering if they would ever get real serious in their shoving matches … they didn’t.

Young Bulls Sparring

Young Bulls Sparring

Young Bulls Sparring

Young Bulls Sparring

Pretty neat to see them butting heads from this close, but not really hardcore fighting, probably need another year’s growth before they will be seriously challenging any of the old bulls for command of a harem of cows.

I returned home and broke camp at 11 AM and headed east through the magnificent Thompson Canyon on Route 34, picking up Route 287 in Loveland and heading north. This road quickly got me bogged down in heavy traffic with lots of traffic lights, so as I slowly moved towards Fort Collins, I took the first opportunity to head a little east and get on I-25 north to avoid the congestion and slow going on 287.

Crossing into Wyoming, I stopped at the impressive new Wyoming Welcome Center for some maps and brochures before picking up I-80 west to Rawlins where I pulled off and overnighted at Walmart where I also got my provisions for my next extended stay at the Gros Ventre Campground in Grand Tetons National Park.

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September 3, 2016 Estes Park, Colorado

Cow Elk

Cow Elk

Strange Morning, Great Day

Saturday’s forecast had called for clear skies and beautiful weather, so I was a little surprised to see clouds obscuring some of the stars as I packed my gear in the Prius and left the campsite for Trail Ridge around 5 AM.

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

The Start of a Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

As I started the climb up Ridge Road, I stopped for a couple sunrise shots, made more impressive by the threatening skies moving in.

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

There was a weird red/magenta glow in the sky as dark clouds began to dominate the skies the higher up the road I climbed.

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

Trail Ridge Rainbow

Trail Ridge Rainbow

As I neared the top, I stopped and hopped out of the car as a fairly bright rainbow suddenly appeared out of the gloom. I was so close to the rainbow, I couldn’t get the entire thing in a photo even with a 20mm wide angle lens, felt like I could just about reach out and touch it at times.

Trail Ridge Rainbow

Trail Ridge Rainbow

The rainbow increased in intensity as the wind began whipping rain sideways, and, unfortunately, right in my face as I attempted more shots, covering the lens, and me, in rain and forcing me to retreat to the car.

Trail Ridge Rainbow

Trail Ridge Rainbow

I raced farther up the road hoping in vain to escape the windblown rain so I could get more shots of one of the most intense rainbows I have ever seen, but as I drove on, the rainbow faded and eventually all but the tail end disappeared before I could get out of the driving rain.

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

From Trail Ridge

From Trail Ridge

By 8 AM, the rains stopped, the clouds slowly lifted and the good weather promised for today started moving in.

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

On my way back down the mountain, I spotted four Bighorn Rams grazing on the slope above me, but unfortunately, there was no nearby pullout and the Saturday morning stream of traffic coming up the mountain made it impossible for me to get any decent shots.

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

Since these guys were the only Bighorn Sheep I had encountered in my two weeks here, I was more than a little disappointed, to say the least.

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

By the time I returned to the valley floor, the wonderful weather predicted for today had fully arrived. And with it my first opportunity to shoot some nice bull elk basking in the early morning sun.

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Two Bull Elk

Uneasy Peace

This actually was my first opportunity to shoot elk with some wonderful golden hour light, all my previous encounters have been in the dim light of dawn or duck, or in complete shade.

Two Bull Elk

Uneasy Peace

Bull Elk Sparring

Bull Elk Sparring

These two younger bulls would alternate grazing and semi serious sparring sessions.

Bull Elk Sparring

Bull Elk Sparring

Bull Elk in Retreat

Bull Elk in Retreat

One of them finally tired of the game and headed across the meadow at a full gallop.

Chapel on the Rock

Chapel on the Rock

Later in the afternoon, I took a short trip back down Route 7 to get some shots of The Chapel on the Rock. I liked the dark clouds setting off the sculpture on the hill above the chapel. When I was here several years ago, I remember this building being surrounded by water, actually appearing to be built on an island, so something has changed here in the last few years.

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September 2, 2016 Estes Park, Colorado

Elk Cow and Alpenglow

Elk Cow and Alpenglow

Rocky Mountain National Park

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmots here in the higher elevations of the park are numerous and fairly unconcerned with humans approaching, so not a terribly challenging wildlife subject, but cute nonetheless.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot

I get a kick out of how they seem to love sunbathing in the first of the sun’s rays each morning.

The Sentry

The Sentry

They live in small colonies and usually one will assume guard duties while others forage.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Young Bull Elk

Young Bull Elk

High Country Elk

Two Young Bull Elk

Two Young Bull Elk

I have gotten a lot, and I do mean a LOT, of elk shots over the past few days. They seem to be moving down from the mountaintops this week and I have run into several groups heading down to their winter feeding grounds in the valleys below.

Two Young Bull Elk

Two Young Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem before Sunrise

Bull Elk and Harem before Sunrise

Four Elk CowsFour Elk Cows

Young Bull Elk

Young Bull Elk

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

I have seen several large, very large bulls, escorting their harems down the slopes. A few of them are probably the largest I have ever seen.

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk Bugle

Bull Elk Bugle

A full 14 points on this guy! And that bugle was very, very loud. This shot was taken at very close range … from the safety of my car.

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Young Bull Elk

Young Bull Elk

Needless to say, one must be very alert to when driving around up here these days as the elk are needing to cross the roads on their way down to the valleys below.

Scratching Post

Scratching Post

That post he is scratching his head on is one of many that were just put out this week to guide the snow plows … guess that’s a sure sign summer is over.

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk Charge

Bull Elk Charge

Uh-oh!

Uh-oh!

These shots just above may look quite alarming, but they were taken with my 600mm lens, and although it may look like I was in imminent danger, I wasn’t, his charge was actually directed at one of his harem, not me.

Bull Elk Bugle

Bull Elk Bugle

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Bull Elk Bugle

Bull Elk Bugle

Early morning, before all the cars and people get up here, the bugling elk are something to hear. I arrive at the top just at daybreak when the elk are most active and am very glad that few people are ambitious enough to get on the road by 5:30 to catch all the action. As I am leaving the park at 10  or 11 in the morning, I pass long, long lines of cars at the entrance booths, usually a hundred or more, plus a steady bumper to bumper crowd all the way back to town.

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Harem

Bull Elk and Cow

Bull Elk and Cow

That Time of Year

That Time of Year

Bull Elk

Bull Elk

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August 30, 2016 Estes Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

A Beautiful Morning at the Top of the World

Up and out at 5:15 every morning lately, climbing the mountain road in the dark and arriving at the top just as the first rays of the morning sun start to light up the mountains. The cloudy, overcast skies of the past week broke today, producing some of the nicest weather since my arrival here … oh, and along with the nice break in the weather, i am finally finding the elk up high in the mountains.

Elk in the Valley

Elk in the Valley

The image above, and the one just below were taken at the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park. Behind the Center is a deep valley where the elk seem to gather in the very early morning. I have also seen four bull moose bed down there in the evening. It is a long way down.

Elk at the Bottom of the Valley

Elk at the Bottom of the Valley

Elk Herding Harem

Elk Herding Harem

There is a footpath and steps to the mountaintop from the parking lot at the Center. Seeing a bull elk pushing his harem up the mountain there, I decided I would climb to the top and perhaps be in position to get some nice shots. It is probably no more than 250  feet of elevation change from the parking lot to the top of the mountain, at a slope you can see in the images of the elk climbing.

Elk

Elk

Bull Elk and Part of His Harem

Bull Elk and Part of His Harem

I wanted to get to the top before the elk so I could get some shots of them with the sun to my back instead of shooting into the sun as these climbing images were shot.

The Harem

The Harem

But since this short climb was at 12,000 feet, I never did get ahead of the elk, since I had to stop and attempt to get my breath every 30 steps or so.

The Harem

The Harem

At the top, I did get this one image of the stragglers just making the summit, and staring at the photographer who was making all these gasping for air sounds.

Pika

Pika

Just a couple of more pika shots, taken while I waited in vain for a good shot of the long-tailed weasel.

Pika

Ouch!

I have no idea how this little guy can chomp down on this piece of what I am guessing is some sort of nettle.

Pika

That Has Got To Hurt

He made several trips down to the plant, ripped off a leaf and struggled with it back up to his den. Must be some kind of delicacy, since I can’t imagine that it would be used for bedding.

Pika Warning Call

Pika Warning Call

The shot above is of a pika letting out some kind of greeting ( ? ) or warning ( ? ) call.

Long-tailed Weasel

Long-tailed Weasel

Maybe letting others know the long-tailed weasel was in the vicinity. Not a very good shot of him, but the only one I got. I was unprepared for his appearance way down the hill and had my 70-200mm lens on for the close by pikas. By the time I changed to a longer lens, he was long gone.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot

While I sit on the roadside wall taking pika shots, the yellow-bellied marmots quite often get very close, sometimes within just a few feet.

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

What a Day!

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

By 9 AM, I had to quit trying for animal shots and just concentrate on the magnificent clouds and mountains. I had been waiting for a week to finally get a morning like this.

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

The clouds were just spectacular!

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

Rocky Mountain NP, Top of the World

As always, the camera just can’t quite capture the felling of space and distance, but today was truly something special up here at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park.

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