Time to Leave

A bull elk calls out while looking directly at me on a rainy afternoon in the Madison area of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in October 2006

I started the morning of the last day of my fall hiking trip in 2006 with snow in the higher elevations of Yellowstone. I didn’t stay long as I’m not used to driving in snow and spent the rest of the day in the lower elevations, finishing the trip watching an elk herd in the Madison area while a steady rain fell. It was October so the rut was winding down and the scene was rather tranquil, this bull nuzzled one of the nearby cows as the rest of the herd lingered nearby. Although it ignored me and the others who watched from near the road, the bull did glance in my direction once while calling out.

A bull elk turns his head to the side, showing six points on one antler and seven on the other, on a rainy afternoon in the Madison area of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in October 2006

It looked like this bull had six points on one antler and seven on the other. There was a ranger there who said the elk in this drainage weren’t living as long as the others, based on analysis of wolf kills they suspected minerals in the Madison River were making their bones brittle. Fortunately I was ready for the picture up top as within a minute the bull laid down to rest. Ten minutes after taking the picture below, I had to say my goodbyes as it was time to start the long drive back to Oregon.

A bull elk lays down on a rainy afternoon in the Madison area of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in October 2006


An elk cow nurses her calf

I was walking up to see the geothermal features in the Artists’ Paintpots region of Yellowstone and was surprised to see this elk and her calf near the trail. The calf started nursing and the mother, despite looking at me in this picture, was rather non-plussed by my presence. No one else was around so it was just a quiet little shared moment between the three of us.


A young elk bull grazes in a meadow in Grand Teton National Park

A young elk bull grazes in a meadow on a rainy fall day in Grand Teton National Park in 2006. He was eating with another young bull, both keeping a watch on the nearby harem of a mature bull.

It’s a little hard to see the rain in the picture at this resolution, but I had just purchased my 500mm lens before this trip and while the lens has weather sealing, I was still a little nervous about exposing it to the elements. Nine years later it’s been through a lot more rain and is still going strong.


A young elk bull with stunted antlers in Yellowstone National Park

amateur |ˈamətər, -ˌtər, -ˌCHo͝or, -CHər|

a person who engages in a pursuit, especially a sport, on an unpaid basis.

ORIGIN late 18th cent.: from French, from Italian amatore, from Latin amator ‘lover,’ from amare ‘to love.’

The term amateur has both positive and negative connotations. When it comes to photography I love being an amateur, and I love it precisely because of the origins of the term: I get to photograph what I love.

While on the way back to my hotel in Yellowstone, I came across a bunch of photographers pulled off to the side of the road to photograph a herd of elk. I took a variety of pictures and was about to wrap up when I noticed a young elk bull down a ways from where everyone else was. I walked down to him and realized why no one else was photographing him: his antlers were stunted.

I have a soft spot for animals who have more to overcome, so I settled in to spend the rest of the dying light photographing him.

Whether due to diet or disease or genetics, the poor thing wasn’t exactly photogenic compared not only to the dominant bull but even to the other young bulls in the herd. He was mostly grazing but occasionally raised his head and sniffed the air, so I positioned my tripod so that if he raised his head again, his face would be set against the strip of yellow plants behind him. And not only did he raise his head again, but as if on cue he even looked right at me.

You’re beautiful to me, little one.


A Roosevelt elk bull in the Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park

The race of elk we have in the Pacific Northwest, Roosevelt elk, were named in honor of Theodore Roosevelt. I came across this bull, part of a larger herd, on a rainy morning near the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park.

While President Cleveland protected some of the forests of the Olympic Peninsula in 1897 by declaring an Olympic Forest Reserve, the protection did not extend to the elk who lived there and in a few years less than 2,000 survived. President Roosevelt (Theodore, not Franklin) established the Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909 to protect the elk but future politicians cut back the acreage to half of its original size. President Roosevelt (Franklin, not Theodore) granted National Park status in 1938 after visiting the area, the status it has retained to the current day, protecting not only the elk that bear the Roosevelt name but also the many plants and animals that are unique to the Olympic Peninsula.

You can find more info about the history of the park in a PDF on the official park site.

White Spots

A female elk nuzzles her calf in Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park in July 2004

A mother nuzzles its white-spotted calf at sunrise near Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park. This was my first real visit to the park in the summer of 2004 and was taken on my last day in the park. Despite wanting to get up early every day during the visit, I only managed to do it on the last day. I also saw the most animals and got my best pictures, I lesson I didn’t forget. It seemed like Mother’s Day, as within a few minutes I saw mothers and young not only of elk but also bison, black bears, and moose.