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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Moraine Park’s Elk

October 20th, 2014 · 2 Comments

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Colorado’s two fall events are the yellow and orange of our trees and the elk rut. This week Sharon and I went to Rocky Mountain National Park and experienced some of each.

Mainly, however, we wanted to see elk and to hike. We went to Moraine Park, a park within the national park, hiking a trail where we had never gone before. It was a good choice.

The Pinedale Glaciation in the central Rocky Mountains, which lasted from about 30,000 to 10,000 years ago, formed Moraine Park. During this time a tongue of ice crept down what is now Moraine Park, plowing up rocks and soil. Pushing them to the side where they remain in lateral moraines to the north and south of present-day Moraine Park, they cleared the center.

A Bull Elk Studies Me in Moraine Park

A Bull Elk Studies Me in Moraine Park

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We got to the road along the north side of Moraine Park well before sunrise at 7:13, giving me enough time to set up my tripod when we saw a large herd of elk on the south side. The bulls weren’t competing for the females, but two females or immature males sparred.

Elk Sparring at First Light

Elk Sparring at First Light

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The big herd was far away from the road. So we moved on, parking at the Cub Lake Trailhead. There we saw a map that showed a trail along the south side of the moraine that cut off from the main Cub Lake trail. Neither of us had ever hiked it before and we decided to take it. At this junction we saw these classic symbols of fall in Colorado.

A Tree, a Trail, and an Elk

A Tree, a Trail, and an Elk

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The bull elk in the photo above came closer and closer to us. And all the while I moved closer to him.​

Moving Closer

Moving Closer

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When I got too close to him, he stuck out his tongue at me.​

That's Close Enough

That's Close Enough

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Then he stopped to sniff the air. I had never seen an elk do this, but I knew what he was doing from watching wild mustangs a few years ago. He was flehming, curling back his upper lips and exposing his front teeth and inhaling to check out the pheremones of a female. He didn’t make a sound, so he wasn’t bugling.

​The Bull Elk Makes a Flehmen Response

The Bull Elk Makes a Flehmen Response

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We left him so he could find a mate and and so we could hike down the trail on the south side of the park. We found another bull elk all by himself. We almost stepped on him.

“I just got a strong animal smell,” Sharon said. She was leading and stopped. I didn’t smell anything, but I saw the source. As she started to go on, I said, “Don’t move.” A bull elk was resting on the trail just five feet in front of her. He soon got up.

Sharon, I, and the elk then spent a delightful hour together. At least it was delightful for the humans, although the elk didn’t seem to mind us. He even took a bath right in front of us.

Mud and Grass Goes Flying

Mud and Grass Goes Flying

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This bull elk wasn’t threatened by me or threatening to me. He allowed me to get quite close, and I gladly took the opportunity.

A Close Encounter of a Friendly Kind

A Close Encounter of a Friendly Kind

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Posted in: Photography

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Carole // Oct 29, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Love the Elk pictures in Rocky Mountains. Missed seeing them up close and personal this year in Yellowstone.

    Missed the golden Aspen, too.

  • 2 David Mendosa // Oct 29, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Thank you, Carole. I especially like the first shot of the bull elk in his setting. Did you noticed that everything is in focus? That’s because I used a very wide-angle lens. Meaning that in this photo too I had to be really close to the elk! It was exciting and great fun, but also maybe a bit dangerous!

    With metta,
    David