Fall Color and Infatuated Elk

It is fall and the Colorado High Country beckons. My regular readers will know that this is the time when I like to go to Rocky Mountain National Park to capture the last colorful embers of the growing season. I was especially motivated to go early this year because the long-range weather forecast predicted an approaching snowstorm that would knock off the aspen leaves and cover the landscape in white. Good thing too because as I write this it is pouring outside and I’m sure the skiers are busy waxing.

So I packed up the llama and took off to the west to capture the colors of fall as well as some elk merrymaking before the snow arrived today.

Let's Pack Up and Go To The Mountains!

The aspens had peaked…

Golden Aspen In The High Country

Glacier Basin Vista Captured 4 October 2011 9:45am @ 40°19'2.51"N 105°37'42.93"W

Spent Aspen Embers

This brook trout offered some submerged color…

Even the Brook Trout Are Colorful

Here’s a trout tale from the trail:

The Greenback cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki stomias) native trout was considered extinct by the 1930s. In 1957 a population was discovered in Rocky Mountain National Park!  Additional populations were found in 1965 and 1970 in Colorado making possible the listing of the subspecies as endangered under the 1973 Endangered Species Act.  A 2007 study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder indicates that biologists trying to save Colorado’s native Greenback cutthroat trout from extinction have, in most cases, inadvertently restored the wrong (but closely related) fish, the Colorado River cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki pleuriticus).

This real Greenback cutthroat’s trout range is now restricted to just 11 miles of streams in Colorado. This beleaguered fish was adopted in 1994 as the state fish of Colorado…

The state fish of Colorado

Here’s an elk tale from the trail:

After being hunted to extinction,  49 elk were brought to this area in 1913 and 1914. These elk (Cervus canadensis) were reintroduced from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.  As with native moose, this is another tale of pioneer destruction and eventual species redemption. These imported elk prospered thanks to the short-sighted elimination of most natural elk predators such as the gray wolf and the grizzly bear. Since hunting is  prohibited in the National Park, except for Chronic Wasting Disease, our elk are living large…too large. They were over-populating their habitat and depleting Park resources.

In response to this issue, Rocky Mountain National Park has implemented an Elk and Vegetation Management Plan to reduce the overpopulation and protect the Park. Scientists from the Colorado State University Department of Biomedical Sciences, the National Park Service, as well as other agencies are studying elk and trying to solve their overpopulation and disease problems. Meanwhile the elk naturally modified their migration patterns and broke into three distinct groups. This has mitigated much of the overpopulation problem.

Thanks to many dedicated advocates, Rocky Mountain National Park has become a research laboratory for the study of elk (since they clearly have so much to teach research scientists).

A few wolves would help to bring some golfer/elk balance here…

Elk Don't Read (photo:http://estespark-colorado.com/)

As you can see, our elk don’t give a hoot about people (or golfers). This provides a rare photographic opportunity during the rut when the elk come out of the woods to play out their ritual of natural selection  in the open. This is the only time that the bulls, cows and calves will co-mingle and allow us to observe them up close and very personal. This is the time of the year that the elk cows and bulls party. Next month the party’s over and the bull will go his own way leaving the pregnant cow and her calves to fend for themselves.

Elk Groups Are Temporary

The sound of elk bugling starts in the evening and their nocturnal revelry lasts until dawn…

Here I Am Girls!

They Caught Each Others Glance from Across The Field

Cud This Be Love?

My Place or Yours?

Two Wild and Crazy Guys Looking For Action

Boys Will Be Boys

A Quiet Moment Before The Impending Storm

Early Snowflakes Approach Longs Peak

I’m so glad I’m not out there now…

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