Wednesday, December 23, 2009

14 Points

The fourth full day of our trip out west, our second full day in Yellowstone, dawned clear and cool. We were up before it was light, grabbed a quick breakfast at a wildly overpriced McDonald's (we were out the door before the continental breakfast at the hotel was served) and on the road. Our plan for the day was to explore the northeast part of the park, primarily the Lamar Valley.

Past Madison Junction we came once again upon a small group of people on the shoulder, cameras in hand, staring down towards the Gibbon River. We jumped out to discover the same, 14 point bull elk we'd seen the night before, grazing along the riverbank.

And once again, there were a few foolhardy folks right down there with him, tempting fate and this animal's patience. I had to maneuver so as not to get any of them in the shots.

From what I came to learn, a balanced rack on an elk is a fairly rare thing. They often have more points on one side than on the other, and they tend to not grow in the same place or at the same rate on both sides. This handsome fellow garnered many oohs and ahhs.

He walked along the bank, nibbling grass. I wanted to get closer but behaved myself, sticking to the roadside. The river was maybe 8 to 10 feet below, accounting for the perspective of these shots.

After only a few minutes, he turned and stepped over a log,

and carefully entered the river.

Having just recently walked in a river with a rocky bottom like this (the Snake River, on the way to Yellowstone) I understood how treacherous the footing was. The smooth river stones were slippery, liked to slide and shift when you stepped on them. I knew right away that as soon as he was halfway across the river I was headed down the bank. There would be no way, without risking a broken leg, that the elk could come after me quickly enough that I couldn't get out of the way. I waited, took one more shot through the trees,

then scurried down the bank to see him emerge on the other side.

He strode off into the woods without a look back. The whole episode took six minutes.

I was thrilled and amazed and struck again by the pure beauty of this place and its inhabitants, so tolerant of us (there's no hunting in the park), so oblivious of us. I longed for more time, time to be in the presence of these creatures, without gaggles of annoying, clapping, whistling people around me. To not feel rushed and compelled to take as many pictures possible, to come out from behind the camera and actually experience them, face to face.

This was not our last encounter with this elk, but that is for another post. Next, we visit the Yellowstone River and the falls.


  1. Can you imagine the strenght that his neck has to have to carry that beautiful rack around? It looks awfully heavy to me. Very nice shots of a beautiful animal.

  2. this guy was just amazing. i'm not sure i've ever seen a more beautiful creature. and i don't understand how he can manuever through the tress with that huge rack!

  3. Wonderful shots. I know all about those river greased bowling balls. I have felt soles on my waders... they help a lot.
    Merry Christmas