A Night at Nature's Drive-In

Our original plan for tonight was to do a one-night camping trip with our friends the Teagues. But after seeing the forecasted lows (upper 30s), we thought that might be a bit too extreme for our 6 year olds. So after kicking around some alternative ideas, we decided to address the need to do something outdoorsy. And the outdoorsy thing we decided to do was this: drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park in the afternoon to first do a kid-friendly hike somewhere, and then follow that up by spreading out a blanket along side a large meadow to have a picnic dinner during the annual elk rut to watch the drama play out.

"What is the elk rut?" you may ask. Well, check out this video to hear it described by a RMNP spokeswoman. And if you're like us, you, too, will find it hard to believe a large animal like a bull elk is making that kind of high-pitched sound.

Having read a little bit about it prior to heading up there, we knew that dawn and dusk were the times of day with the most elk activity. So we planned accordingly and set out on a hike with the Teagues around 4:00p. Even then, though there weren't any elk in sight, we could here some of the bugling throughout the valley. We strolled around for about 90 minutes, and then headed back to the car in order to find a good spot to set up our picnic and watch the feature presentation.

Thankfully, we only had to drive about 1 mile from where we were hiking to get a good seat for Nature's show... out in the meadow were about 35 cows (female elk) with several bulls (males) doing their best to attract some of the females away from the bull who had herded them together and is now trying to keep them his. And what a show Nature put on. Several bulls in the area were bugling, and we saw one make its way about 400 yards across the meadow to try and entice some cows out of the group. The "harem owner" bull was indeed a busy fellow, for not only did he have to chase off other bulls that got too close, he also had to recollect any cow that was getting wooed away by another bull. There was also the coyote near the herd, checking things out and probably looking for an opportunity to get a meal.

Now you may think us strange for actually wanting to go see such a thing. That is, perhaps, true. But you must also know that we were far from alone, for the park roads were packed with onlookers! And we were just one of several groups of spectators that decided to make it into a "dinner theater" show. This is actually a pretty popular annual attraction in the area; for example, the nearby town of Estes Park was holding its "Elk Fest" this weekend.

(Pictures, top to bottom: the herd we were watching during our picnic dinner; a bull elk corralling some of his lady friends; a bull elk running off some unwanted competition; the first heard we saw after entering the park; a bull elk on the outside looking in; a bull elk bugling; Steelers Nation... gotta love it.)

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