Once again, on day five of our trip, we were up at the butt crack of dawn and on the road before the sun rose. Our plan this day was to head southeast, to the Hayden Valley, another supposed wildlife haven. Later in the day we would hike to the top of Mt. Washburn to take in the views and hopefully see bighorn sheep.
As had been the case each day, we were distracted from our goal by elk. Along the Madison River, right on the side of the road at a turn out area complete with benches, was a small herd of cow elk with their calves. How could we not stop?
I mean have you ever seen anything as cute as this?
Thanks to a long lens (and cropping in Photoshop) I was able to get good shots of these little fellas without disturbing them too much. They seemed to be very curious about us. I stayed close to the car to avoid spooking them.
What a sweet face!
None of the elk seemed too bothered by us. I like this rather contemplative shot of this cow, across the road from the others.
We left the herd and traveled along the West Entrance Road to Madison Junction where we once again picked up the Grand Loop. This would take us past the place were we'd seen that beautiful 14 point bull elk on previous days. Lisa kept a lookout as we drove along the Gibbon River. We passed his "usual" spot but he wasn't there. Moments later Lisa shouted "There he is! In the woods, on the other side of the river!"
Just up ahead was a turnout, so I pulled over and parked the car. As if I had planned it, I had an unobstructed view of that gorgeous elk, heading into the woods on the far side of the river, just as the sun was beginning to rise.
On every other occasion when we had seen him, he was completely unfazed and uninterested in all of the people around him. This morning, for reasons I cannot comprehend, he was very interested in me.
(Notice all the rubs on the trees around him.)
Here I was, alone except for Lisa, no crowds, no whistling or clapping, with a river between us, and he just stood there and stared at me, first over his right shoulder and then over his left. Nose raised to the wind he seemed to be catching my scent. We watched each other for some time until he finally walked into the woods and disappeared.
I was absolutely thrilled to have been able to share a moment with this bull elk, without the intrusiveness that a group of people brings to any experience.
We hadn't gone far when we caught sight of two more bull elk in a meadow on the west side of the road, glowing in the early morning light. I believe that is Mt. Holmes in the distance. This whole area apparently escaped the fires of 1988.
What a stroke of luck to catch this fellow with a bird hovering over his back, perhaps looking for flies for breakfast.
We finally made it to Canyon Village and headed south along the east arm of the Grand Loop Road toward the Hayden Valley. We were hopeful about our chances of seeing more wildlife. We could not have hoped for anything better than what we saw--and heard--on that magical morning.
Next: The Hayden Valley surprise