On Sunday I just had to get outside and be outside for a good part of the day, even though it was my only weekend day (I got back from Minneapolis on Saturday night). Since we have an annual National Parks pass, we decided to get some use out of it and go hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. We picked a trail that sounded good (lots of fall color, not terribly taxing, long enough (4.6 miles) to be worthwhile) and headed up into the mountains. Traffic was stop and go entering the park, which is kind of an unusual circumstance for a fall afternoon (seriously, where were all these people going?) but when we got into the park we found that most people were driving just a little ways in, parking and ogling some elk across a large field.
We drove to the trailhead of the Cub Lake trail but had to park at the side of the road since it was so crowded. The scenery was gorgeous. Despite spending about 10 days at sea level (between CA and MN) in the previous two weeks, I didn’t have much difficulty with the altitude and we enjoyed our hike thoroughly. We saw colors galore; it turned out to be perfect weather, the perfect light, and the perfect weekend to see the aspens in all their golden glory (maybe that’s why so many people were in the park?). It turned out that we’d hiked that trail before (though it was a few years ago, and that time in the spring) but it didn’t matter, because it was so nice to be OUTSIDE during DAYLIGHT HOURS and DOING SOMETHING PHYSICAL.
Toward the end of our hike, we came upon a bunch of people peeping at some elk. They were a lot closer than other elk we’d seen, and so a large group of kids and adults were standing quietly, staring in fascination at the elk which seem to have no fear of humans. One bull started to round up his herd, showing off his massively impressive rack and obviously telling his females to move along. We watched for a while and I took a few pictures, but the most interesting part of the experience was the bugling.
Fall is when the bull elk display and fight over the females, and the echoing calls are almost eerie to hear. I can’t really describe the sound, other than it’s kind of like a whale call and kind of like the shriek of a five-year-old girl (or boy). But the sound carries for miles, bouncing off the mountains. I’m sure it’s very impressive to a female elk, but if Dan started making that sound at me I’d run far, far away.
* Mad props to anyone who can decipher this reference to a cultural reference