Tule Elks

The Tule elks on Point Reyes were eradicated in the early 1800s. More recently, the Park Service re-introduced a herd of Tule elk to a reservation out on Tomales Point.

While mountain lions get some of the elk, essentially the growth of the herd is unchecked. So the discussion these days includes topics like elk birth control and “culling”.

We got a late start, and didn’t get to the Tomales Point trailhead until after 4PM. From the parking lot, the trail climbs up and down giant bluffs that are covered with green and seem to contain embedded granite. In a few weeks, these hills will be covered with Douglas’s Iris, but this early in the season there are only a few in bloom. I stopped to photograph a few of these lone buds in the setting sun.

Douglas's Iris

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The landscape was immense and serene, and we noticed numerous Tule elk. The elk seemed to quickly retreat as we got near along the trail.

About half way to Tomales Point along the trail, we watched the sun disappear into a Pacific fog bank from a high mound. A bitter, wet wind chill came into play. Clearly it was time to turn around. The trail was luminous, and I am always equipped with head lamps when I photograph, so the darkness was not a worry.

As the landscape grew dark, the elk became more relaxed with us. First they stopped and turned to look at us (witness the fellow above with a radio tracker aroung the neck).

It was pretty dark, so I had my camera on my tripod and exposed for about a second. The elk in motion would appear as ghostly partial figures, I knew. I was hoping for an effect like Paul Caponigro’s famous image of running white deer.

The elk continued to gather in a large herd for the night. After a while, they lost interest in us and went back to their own activities (for example, the ghost rutting below).

When I packed up my equipment and we moved away, some elk came over to where we had been standing, smelling the earth. I suppose they were simply curious.

All in all, an outstanding encounter with animals in nature.


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