Monday, September 10, 2007

A Serendipitous Elkortunity

Subtitle: Always Bring Your Monopod!

More Friday, Aug 24

The one thing I'd missed on this trip was a nice Elk photographing opportunity. Mark had a decent opportunity near the campground ranger station the evening I was coming down Longs and was able to get a few nice shots, probably of the same herd we were about to stumble upon. The opportunities I'd had so far were in cloudy, far less than ideal conditions. On my previous two trips to the park, they had been everywhere, especially in the lower valleys. And on my 2005 trip, you could count on herds of them in Moraine Park and Beaver Meadows near sunset... prime photography time.

We had just crossed the Big Thompson River in the very early evening on our way back from Bierdstat Lake on our last day in the park on a glorious afternoon when we spotted a smallish but respectable herd in the lower Moraine Park Valley area. I whipped the car into a small gravel parking area, and we treked down an old road that petered out and disappeared into the meadow where the Elk were.

It doesn't get any better than this.

We gave them a respectful berth and watched for signs that any of them cared that we were there at all. They didn't. The does were grazing and/or lying down chewing cud. There were a couple of young bucks lying down, and a magnificent buck patroling the herd.

He was occasionally thrashing the meadow grass with his horns, tossing it from side to side. He was pretty riled up, but not at us. Still, that aggression could easily be re-focused on us.

I spotted a rock from which to try photographing. The light was beautiful, but relatively low, and I needed to be "up sun" from them. Plus I needed something to help hold my camera still for the long focal lengths I'd be using.

Dang, I wish I had looked harder for the monopod before I left.

But no. Use what you have available. I tried a few tricks my Marine sharp-shooting step-son had taught me about holding a rifle steady for long shots, and also used the rock for several.

I got some decent ones.

The buck was checking out the over-active tails of many does, and it soon became quite apparent what he was so riled up about. They were in season, and he wasn't about to let his opportunity pass. We saw him breed with at least one doe while we were there.

But as the light further waned and I'd gotten all the shots I thought I might get, it was time to pack up and go back for our last night camping.

It's a relatively short trip back to camp from the meadow. Our new campsite was much closer to other campsites than our original. There were kids playing on the rocks by our site, but that's ok. I like seeing kids having a good time out here, and they weren't invasive. They were doing the same thing I did at that age when we camped in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Kind of fun.

While on the Bierdstat hike I realized that I'd never gone back to look for the flask I'd dropped back at the campground. It was one Vicki had gotten for me and it was monogramed. If it had been any other flask, I would have just written it off, but you can't replace a gift... not the "gift" part of it, anyway. It had sentimental value. I tried not to think about it and just hoped it would be there when we got back. I didn't figure it would be.

It wasn't.

I went down to the car to get the food bag, and I noticed a ranger in a golf cart on his radio. It was the same guy who had been a bit rough on Steve our first day there. He drove up to me as I got down to the car.

"Are you in 156?'
"Are your initials ..."
"PGL? You found my flask!"
He had. He'd found it that morning and taken it back and matched the initials with people registered for the surrounding camp sites. I thanked him profusely and mentally took back any negative thoughts I'd had about him before (hey, we all have bad days). I told him it had been a gift from my wife and that I wouldn't have cared about any other flask. The last possible dark spot on our last day had just been removed.

I cooked up the only instant rice/texturized soy protien meal we cooked that week. It was fine. We had three bundles of wood so we could have a white man fire as a sendoff for our last night. Sat and played music around the fire. Roasted a few marshmallows. I took a 30 second time exposure of Longs at Night just because I've never been able to do that with any digital camera I've had up until now. It turned out pretty well.

I had put the regular air matress up when we broke down camp and just used my little Thermarest pad, and actually slept in a sleeping bag tonight instead of using them for blankets on my matress, and took the neck pillow from the car for a pillow.

After a throroughly enjoyable evening talking & playing around the well-fed "white-man" fire* and going over the events of the trip, we finally turned in.

* this is a reference to an observation by certain American Indians that "white man" generally built fires bigger than they needed, making them easy to spot, as well as "wasting" fuel. Well, "waste" can be in the eye of the beholder.

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