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A wee story about a day earlier this summer when I had a timed entry to Rocky Mountain National Park at what I imagined was the worst time, right smack dab in the middle of the day, but it was the only time available. I didn't expect to find any parking spaces open  at any trailheads, figured I would just enjoy driving around, brought a fun radio drama CD set to listen to.

I brought my one zoom lens in case I saw any baby elk. I have never seen baby elk in the times I've been here, so it was very high on my wish list, but I had no particularly high hopes. I got the Bear Lake Corridor entry that includes the most popular trailhead, not because I thought I’d get to park but because the valleys where I usually see elk are in that area. I didn’t know if they had moved up to the high meadows and tundra yet (mid-June), but if they hadn’t, then my best chance to see them would be these valleys.

I waited in line to get through the entry station a long time in spite of the entry ticket. I intended to head right over to the Bear Lake Corridor area to look for elk, but traffic was backed up so far with people going that way, I couldn’t even make the left turn onto the road leading to the corridor. I could have driven down and turned around and gotten in line (so that it would be a right turn onto the corridor road), but I decided instead to head toward Trail Ridge Road and see what I might find over there. It was a pleasant drive; I went up to the second gate and then spent a few moments deciding whether to ditch the Bear Lake road altogether and just head up the ridge, or whether to go back and see if the line had eased. It was mid-afternoon so I didn’t really have time to do both. I decided since I paid for Bear Lake, I’d give it another shot.

So back I went, and upon arrival at that entry station, there were ZERO cars! I couldn’t believe it. So yay, I drove in and made my first stop at the valley meadow to look for elk. I saw zero. Oh well, I wasn’t surprised.

Then I drove up to the Bear Lake trailhead just because it’s a pretty drive even if I couldn’t park and do a walk. I entered the parking lot and soon saw an open space! I couldn’t believe it. Score! By now it was about 3:30. So I thought I’d just take a leisurely walk around Bear Lake. It turned out there were quite a number of empty spaces closer to the trail start, so the score wasn’t as lucky as I thought, haha, I’m guessing the shuttle service in the park now has helped ease the parking lots? I was super surprised.

So anyway, I went part way around the lake and then reminded myself, “You know what, this is also a trailhead for Alberta Falls" which I had been wanting to hike to for a couple years now, as it had been over a decade since I was last there. And this year the run-off was particularly high, so it seemed like the perfect day. So I picked up my pace back along Bear Lake and hoofed it up to Alberta Falls, and I could not be more pleased with my decision.

I can’t explain to you how deep my love of waterfalls is and how profoundly at peace and contented I feel while watching them. So I got a perfect perch on a rock where I could watch the water rush by below and let the day wane.

I sat for about 45 minutes and then reluctantly decided I should head back. I needed to make dinner for company that night.

But when I reached a junction near the trailhead that said another lake was only half a mile away, I decided to “run” up there instead. Of course I cannot actually run with my knees such as they are, and this whole circuit taken at about as a quick a pace as I could manage was not much appreciated by my knees already. So I made it to that lake and took a quick rest break on a rock then headed back, super pleased with my unexpected outing.

As I drove past the elk valley (Moraine Park) on my way home out of the national park, despite the time, now after 6:00, I decided, “Oh what the heck, let’s just poke in again on the off chance some elk have wandered in.”

Near the end of this road I did spy a herd well off in the distance. Too far away to take photos, so I nearly drove on by; however, they were behaving in a very amusing way. The herd would sprint one direction but then halt and start munching grass. Then suddenly they’d pick up and sprint the opposite direction. Then stop and munch. Then turn back 180 degrees and sprint again. Back and forth, east and west, across the meadow. So I pulled into a little pull-out spot just to watch this amusing spectacle. And as they were sprinting back and forth, they also steadily made progress in my direction on the north side of the valley, sitting in my car. Eventually they got close enough I discerned that there were … babies in the herd!

I was excited but they were still too far away for good photos, yet close enough I felt I could check this off my wish list, that I had now in fact seen baby elk. I intended to stay a little longer to watch them when suddenly the herd started sprinting again, only this time they sprinted right toward my car! I was so taken aback and frankly a little alarmed, I barely managed to think to roll down my window and snap a few photos from inside the car.

Elk herd trotting across a green meadow, males, females and young calves.

Elk herd trotting across a green meadow, males, females and young calves with spotted coats.

Mother elk and two young spotted calves in a green meadow.

Then they abruptly veered slightly and ran across the road directly behind my car. At this point I got out and snapped a few photos of them running up into the forest on the other side of the road, lots of babies in tow with the grown-ups.

Elk herd with young calves running up a hillside through trees.

It was absolutely exhilarating. So … with the lowest of expectations, I ended up spending time at a beautiful roaring waterfall and seeing a bunch of baby elk! One of my best days ever in the park.

A postscript while I'm hear talking about Rocky Mountain NP, earlier this year I saw two animals I'd never seen before in the park: a coyote and a female turkey. 

*

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