There’s this game that we play. It started on our very first road trip when we drove across Canada. 10,000km is a long way you see. *(We are at 20,000km across and back in the U.S!) So the way it goes is that every time you see an animal crossing sign you have to put up one of the corresponding charades signs that we made up. It’s our superstitious way of protecting ourselves (& the wildlife)- our explanation is that as long as we always do it then we eliminate the chance of a collision. It’s really just a silly game, like all the other stupid things we do when engaging on these long distance adventures and so far, it has worked like a charm.
Not for a second has it taken away from our wildlife viewing experience though. Without ever leaving the safety of our Tank, we have seen:
– Deers (millions of them. Everywhere. Plus a lot of dead ones.)
– Bears (2 babies in B.C.)
– Wolves (Manitoba & Death Valley)
– Coyotes (U.S. & Canada)
– Turtles (all over North America)
– Alligators (Georgia and Louisiana)
– Whales (California and Oregon)
– Dolphins (California and Oregon)
– Foxes (U.S. & Canada)
– Ravens (U.S. & Canada)
– Snakes (U.S. & Canada)
– Sea lions (California and Oregon)
– Harbour seals (California and Oregon)
– Eagles (U.S. & Canada)
– Pronghorns (Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota)
– Squirrel (all kinds and colours)
– Moose (Saskatchewan)
– Chipmunks (U.S. & Canada)
– Racoons (U.S. & Canada – including a whole family living in my former attic)
– All kinds of frogs (All over the U.S.)
– Skunks (U.S. & Canada)
– Hawks (U.S. & Canada)
– Dozens if not hundreds of birds species
– Alpacas and Llamas
– Creepy crawlers
– Buffalo/Bison (Saskatchewan & All over U.S.)
– Groundhogs (U.S. & Canada)
– Subway rats of unusual size (New York City)
– Sea creatures of all kinds, from wild lobster to massive popcorn eating fish
Finally, after a thousand times of mimicking the signs across two of the largest countries in the world, we came upon an up close and majestic Bull Elk. Each antler towering at three feet tall with jagged tines. Even their hooves are known to be sharp and powerful. Not to mention that with an average weight of 1,200 pounds, these guys would destroy a human being… and perhaps a vehicle.
The Roosevelt elk, also known as Olympic elk, is the largest of the elk species and lives in the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest. Just the antlers alone can weigh up to 40 pounds! (They are made of bone in case you were wondering, which I was) 😛
I was absolutely mesmerized. It is a challenge for me not to approach or disturb wildlife in situations like these. He was barely 20 feet from the road and showing no signs of leaving. A harem of lady elks (referred to as cows, a term which I don’t like) grazed and lazed nearby. That should have been our first sign to increase precaution. The elk gave us a second opportunity to move on. Mind you, moving on actually required us to approach closer to his harem, easily numbered at 20-30 individuals, to follow the only dirt path between the ocean and cliff-side rainforest.
The elk began wrestling the ground flora with his intimidating antlers. Then, we watched his body convulse as a series of loud vocalizations (known as bugling) were emitted in our direction. Each of these actions only cemented me further with interest and admiration. I had NO idea they did that! And I definitely had no clue that these were all “obvious” signs of rutting behaviour. The elk displayed every action necessary to establish dominance over a perceived threat, normally another male, but today it was about us. He was literally telling us to move on or get ready for some action.
* Check out this bugling thing, it’s so cool!
I must remind myself that these animals are wild and that the most important way for me to show my love is through respect.
We began to move forward continuing on our way.
The elk followed suit.
He seemed to be just walking along us. But our combatant was getting ready for battle. He was paralleling as a rival bull would, assessing size and prowess. Clearly he noticed our lack of antlers.
My heartbeat skipped and in my complete excitation I floored it and let my own body convulse with laughter. Oh yeah, and I put the window up as if that would do anything.
Amazingly we have the whole thing on video! Don’t miss:
I would say that the rest of the day was uneventful, but that is never the case when you live an extraordinary life.
April and I spent the rest of the day exploring a deep canyon so beautiful it was used as the settings for Jurassic Park II. Ferns drape the rock walls; softly blowing with the ocean breeze. We climbed the fallen comrades of the worlds tallest trees, the California Redwoods. We hiked for hours as the light illuminated the small stream emptying into the Pacific.
We spotted several more bull elks wandering around on their own. Rutting season is serious business. The most powerful bull elk are all ready to aggress. Speaking with other visitors we learned that the elk boss that had originally run us off had been hard at work charging every vehicle that came through. I imagine that is wildly stressful for an animal and we no longer craved our own selfish desires to be in the presence of such a magnificent animal. Unfortunately, there is only one road in and out of the park and he is the king of it.
So we made our way back with much trepidation.
Sure enough, he was there. Watching over his kingdom.
We drove at a slow and steady pace so as to not startle the elk. We seemed to be in the clear as we rolled past his ladies first. April kept us as far away as we could be, but it wasn’t enough. The elk began a short pursuit. We were easily able to get away. The truck that was parked facing the incoming beast had more of a scare than we did this time.
I continue to be in complete awe of the strength and beauty of our planet and I can’t wait for the next adventure.
~ An Extraordinary Story by Karina Noriega ~
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P.p.s. Speaking of video clips, there is a personal film clip I wanted to share, guaranteed to make you smile.