Monday, September 19, 2005

RMNP - Elk Bugling and Fall Colors

On Friday we took a drive back up through Estes Park and into Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park one more time. On this visit we were looking for two things: bugling elk and fall colors. It is rutting season for the elk. This basically means the men are looking for the babes to build their harems for mating season. Occassionally when the younger men try to hone in on another man's turf (and harem), the defending male will put on a display of machismo. Generally it's the older, healthier, more mature elk that get the harem first. They are the ones carrying the larger set of antlers. So chasing the younger ones away appears to be easy for them. In the process they make a sound referred to as "bugling". It sounds more high-pitched, though, almost like a whistle with some barks in the beginning and end. Bugling is used to attract the females and intimidate the other males in the area. We did get lucky. Near the top of Old Fall River Road we found a herd. One large male was just chased off and he was bugling for quite awhile. He looked strong and had a nice set of antlers. I told Andy that I'd go with him (if I was of the elk-species). See...isn't he a beauty! The color of their coats had changed since our last visit - their backs are lightening up for the winter. Then as we were leaving the park, we stopped at the visitor's center, to return a pair of glasses we found, and right there at the VC was another small herd. The dominant male was busy chasing away two young rogues (with barely any antlers at all). Then, to show that he was serious, he started thrashing a bush nearby. I think it was to impress them with his antlers (6 points). Quite a great display (I tried to get a video of him, but by the time I thought of it, he finished his show). We did get lucky to see the show, though!

For a new route, we drove up to the Alpine Visitor's Center via Old Fall River Road. This was the original route the buggies took to travel through the park back in the 20's. It is one-way, dirt, and 9-miles long. As you can imagine: sheer drop-offs, very narrow, very winding. Which is why they built the new, faster Trail Ridge Road that most of the traffic uses. But a gorgeous drive with views of a different valley. Along this road we started to see some of the aspens turning to gold. It had snowed up here in the park just a few days ago, shutting down Trail Ridge Road for the day. But no snow was left on the ground (except near the peaks where the glaciers or icefields still hung in). The sky was clear, the air was crisp, and with the gold splattering the hillsides it truly gave the essence of fall.
At the Alpine VC, we took a short hike to the 12,005 summit. You can't help but feel "on top of the world" in a place like this. A 360-degree view. Just makes you want to throw out your arms, throw back your head, spin in a circle, and take it all in.


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