Estes Park, Colorado is home to one of the two entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park, with the other being Grand Lake on the west side of the park, and the town sees a large number of visitors year-round because of this. It’s home to other landmarks, such as the Stanley Hotel, which has been featured prominently in movies and inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.
Visiting Estes Park in the fall, the summer crowds have died down slightly, but the Aspens are changing to their beautiful golden color and you have a pretty good chance at running into a herd of elk during their fall rut. The rut is the mating season for the elk, where male elk, bulls, compete to attract the attention of the females, cows, and secure their best chance of mating. Being so close to Rocky Mountain National Park, there are large herds of elk that find their way into town.
I was in Estes Park last weekend, and was on my way home, when I spotted two large elk, one bull and one cow, lounging in the fairway of the Estes Park Golf Course. I immediately turned off into the adjacent parking lot to get a better look at them. We’ve been in Colorado almost four years now, and I had yet to see an elk, so I was naturally very curious. I was almost a little surprised I was able to find a parking spot with all the others that had spotted the same pair.
They were definitely much larger than I had expected, which I think is the case with all Colorado wildlife I’ve encountered, including moose and mountain goats, so I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised. I snapped a few photos and videos of the pair as they lounged, when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the rest of the herd was a small distance away.
I quickly made my way down the trail that accompanied the golf course towards the herd, and was treated to the first elk bugle I had ever heard. I’m not sure what I expected a bugle to sound like, but it was certainly louder than I had anticipated, and almost terrifying in a certain sense, even though its only purpose is to showcase themselves for the female.
When I finally reached the herd, there was a large bull standing next to a couple of the golf course buildings, and it gives a true sense of just how massive these animals are.
I spent a while watching as two bulls sparred with each other for the chance to mate with the nearby cows. There is a difference between sparring and fighting, and you can tell depending on the intensity fo it. Neither of them seemed to be trying all that hard to actually hurt the other ones, and it turns out that actual fighting is extremely rare among elk, and happens very quickly. Even though what I witnessed was high competition, they don’t spar aggressively because they don’t want to incur an injury or deplete their energy unnecessarily. So they lock antlers and compete to push each other around, without using their antlers as a weapon.
It was great to finally be so close to such a majestic animal and to see one of the many things that makes Colorado such a unique and exciting place to live. It’s experiences and adventures like this that keep me coming back to the mountains, to see what they might hold for me next time!