Last August I went to the park with my dad on a fishing trip.
We fly fished the northern part of the park and were
based in Silvergate. Typically when I'm in the park I notice the elk when I first get there and gradually they fade into the
background as I look for less visible forms of wildlife. This visit, however, I paid close attention to the elk because they
weren't there. In four days I saw a total of 32 elk. Another time of year I would have seen hundreds.
How do you make 30,000 elk
disappear? There were none to be seen - even at Mammoth Hot Springs, usually a sure bet for elk. I didn't realize that during summer
it gets too hot for the elk and they travel to
higher elevations and back into the trees to stay cool. I would never go to the park at that time of year
to view wildlife again, but the fishing was great.
It did help me to appreciate the elk more when they were visible.
I enjoy the elk most in the fall. It's rut season and while the elk
usually grab your attention
by virtue of their sheer numbers, now they dominate the scene by their entrancing territorial disputes.
The big bulls strut around their harems bugaling to anyone and everyone that these cows belong to him and he's willing to fight
for them. They look so stressed out trying to keep the harem in control and keep others away. You have to wonder if
those big bulls sleep at all. What a magical sight to see them in the early morning mist, their breath visible as they
whistle that erie sound unlike anything else I have ever heard.
When staying at the Mammoth cabins I have gotten up in the middle of the night to
hear them just bugaling away.
It's a sound that makes everyone who hears it smile. How does an animal that size make such an unusual sound,
a sound that defines the season. If the elk are whistling, it must be fall.
The cows always seem so unconcerned with the fuss. They just want to keep eating.
It's no wonder that the bulls are so suseptable to predators during rut.
I love having the elk at Mammoth so close, but sometimes it seems a bit unnatural for the big things
to be walking around everywhere.
It's feels great to walk down the sidewalk and suddenly realize you need to walk around the elk because
they are not going to move and the sidewalk goes right next to them.
I've seen pictures of people hiding behind trees after a bull decided they got a little too close.
Someday I want to see the great elk migration. I've seen films of the long ribbons of ungulates
steadily weaving to higher ground, but have never seen it myself.
The best places to see elk are in the grassy meadows and valleys. Along the rivers like the Madison
and Yellowstone are good as are the big valleys like the Hayden and Lamar. Early morning is best, but elk can typically be seen throughout the
day. Mammoth Hot Springs is almost always a sure bet for a close sighting. There you can get a feel for the size of these animals.
Again, there are some warm weeks in summer that are not good for wildlife viewing.
Tim Springer - 2004
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