Elk in a Winter Wonderland

We had a pretty good snow last night and I know nothing brings out the elk like fresh snow! It was already getting close to sunrise so I scrambled to grab my camera and suitable clothing and ran out the door. Had to do a little shoveling in order to get out but I still managed to make it to the trailhead only 15 minutes or so after sunrise.

Herd of Rocky Mountain Elk

The second I set foot on the trail I regretted leaving my snowshoes at home. There was only an inch or two at my house, but up here another thousand feet it looked like three our four. But I had to beat that guy with his dogs to the top of the ridge in time to get plenty of pictures before he and his dog showed up to chase away all the wildlife. I was hoping the deer would be hanging around the tall grass at the top where I could get a nice closeup… but they weren’t there.

Young Elk Cow

I looked across the valley and there was the entire herd of elk… grazing and napping lazily in the morning sunshine on the hillside 🙂 I stopped to snap a few images and then devised a plan to get closer. I would climb to the the edge of the woods and sneak around the south end where I might be able to find a vantage point while remaining undetected until I was right in front of them. Much to my surprise… as I was plotting my next moves, a lone young elk cow ran right past me. I don’t know how she had managed to become so far separated from the herd but she was definitely in a hurry to reunite with her friends! I had time to snap a couple of shots as she made her way past and then took a few more as she galloped across the valley toward a couple of her companions that were also intent upon rejoining the main herd.

Herd of Rocky Mountain Elk

My plan mostly worked, except that the elk had already moved on up the mountainside. However I was able to get much better shots than I had from across the valley. I snapped a few and then began to move slowly toward the huge beasts. In seconds they detected my presence and began to make their move over the top of the mountain. I knew I wasn’t going to get any closer so I stopped and shot whatever I could. The groups of elk within the herd stopped occasionally to look at me which gave me opportunity for some nice group shots.

Herd of Rocky Mountain Elk

Eventually they had all moved over the mountain and I was faced with the fact that what I had intended to be a short trek around the loop trail had now developed into a significant back country adventure. The snow was fairly slick and a steep descent down the slippery mountain was ahead of me. I wished I at least had worn my ice trekkers, but they remained strapped to my backpack which I had left in the truck 🙁

Fortunately my trekking pole proved enough on this day to anchor my steps and enable a safe descent to the dirt trail below. I will not be making that mistake again, the snowshoes will be taking up permanent residence in the backseat of my truck for the remainder of the winter!

A great view of the Sangre de Cristo Range came into view and I stopped for a few of the fresh snow, including this cool pano image 🙂

Beautiful Snowy Sangre de Cristo Mountains

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Sangre de Cristo mountains the day after a big Colorado snowstorm

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