leaves & lovers

On Saturday we took a drive through the Rockies with our friends Sarah & Colin to see the leaves and a little Elk action. Yep... It's mating season in the mountains and every year the Elk come down to the same spots in Rocky Mountain National Park to do their thing for all the world to see!

 We wound our way along the Trail Ridge Road (HWY 34, the highest in the country) at an average of 11,000feet! We climbed up the windy roads, through rain, hail, and lightning, before we emerged above the treeline. We stopped around Milner Pass (along the Continental Divide) and stood by the cliffs to take in the panoramic mountain views. It was so silent except for a car passing every once in a while. No birds, no planes... nothing but the timeless presence of the powerful landscape.

 I felt like I was on top of the world, yet so insignificant all at once. 

On our way back down through the Rocky Mountain park we passed clusters of aspens putting on quite a show. Their leaves, vibrant and golden, fluttered in the wind as if they'd been waiting all year for their grand finale. 

Once on level ground, we caught up to a row of cars with their brake lights on and we knew we had come to the right place. Then we spotted him. The big buck was standing out in the middle of a field all alone. He let out a long bird-like squeal and began to wander back into the trees. For most of the year, boy elk travel together like an elk gang. But come time for rut, it's every man for himself. They each go off to gather their harem of lady-elk. The boys spend the season with their ladies and fighting with other boy elk who threaten their dominance. It's all or nothing when it comes to elk lovin', which means the lonely elk we spotted first was either too young, old, weak, or poor (lady elk are expensive) to have his own harem this year. The most effective way for boy elk to attract their women is through bugling... the loudest ones seem to have the most luck. 
(now, isn't that something?). 

Not too far down the road, we come to another stop. We parked the car and got out, figuring we could walk up to where the other cars were waiting. Just ahead, a ranger was frantically moving everyone away from the street... A big ol' elk was getting ready to cross- returning to his harem after battling it out with an intruder, and he wasn't letting anything stand in his way!

He trotted across the street and right passed a group of wide-eyed watchers, then made his way proudly through the field back to his family where he stood contently as they ate, sticking his nose in the air ever so often and letting out a pitchy bugle to warn anyone else who may have been thinking of taking their chances 
that evening.

 Once everyone seemed content, we hopped back in the car and drove 2 hours home, finishing off our day with a well-deserved dinner at a favorite spot, (the) Rio downtown! I had cleanse-friendly veggie fajitas, which were amazing... no photo evidence, so you'll have to trust me. 

I think he's sticking his tongue out at us!

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