In our defence, we were only intending to shoot them photographically. So I don’t know why they were playing hide-and-seek with us.
All along the highway between Hazard and Hindman, Kentucky, where I was staying with my friend Bobz and his family during our little American roadtrip earlier this year, there were signs warning of elk crossing the road unexpectedly.
Did you know that this part of the country has a substantial elk population? I didn’t:
“With over 11,000 elk, Southeast Kentucky has more elk than any state east of the Rockies and Knott County has been declared the Elk Capital of the East.” (Knott County Adventure)
Naturally, I was curious.
Not only had I not seen elk before (nor any moose, nor reindeer either, come to think of it… – Santa hasn’t been visiting us with his reindeer-pulled sleigh for a number of years… hm… I wonder why?), but I had my faithful blog followers to think of too. I was thinking that you might like to see some elk pictures.
When Bobz thus announced one bright and crispy morning that we would be taking a little drive up to a place called Elk View, I was understandably excited. Grabbing my camera, I climbed into Bobz’ beloved little VW Bug faster than you could say “We’re off to shoot some elk”, and off we were, following a narrow winding road off Highway 80, up and down forested hillsides, until we came to a cluster of signs.
We stopped in the middle of the road.
“Warning!” one of the signs shouted in capital letters: “Explosives in Use!”
(Well, actually, strictly speaking, the “ING” part of the word was missing. Blasted off, perhaps? But the meaning was clear enough.)
“Um…. Bobz? Are you sure this is the right place?”
Bobz looked a bit perturbed.
“Hm… perhaps not… Let’s drive on a bit…”
After following the road for another kilometre or so, however, we did not see anything else that looked even remotely like a place where you might be able to View Elk, so we did a laborious u-turn on the narrow road, and returned to the turn-off that had scared us off earlier.
Once again, we paused in the middle of the road.
“What do you think, Regg? Should we give this a try?”
“Yeah, okay, let’s hope there are no explosives in use here today.”
After revving the Bug to ascend the initial steep slope, we emerged from thick forest into an open and level plateau, surrounded by hills. The road led us towards a large wooden house in the middle of a fenced-in area, and a couple of caravan-like trailers.
All was quiet. Not a soul to be seen anywhere. And no elk neither.
Gesturing left and right, Bobz explained that this was the Knott County ATV Safety Training Center (ATVs, incidentally, are All Terrain Vehicles, also known as quad bikes). Only one of five such training centres in the USA, this is “the only center that includes a training center, a skills test course, as well as beginner, intermediate and challenge trails accessible right from the training center” (Knott County Adventure). Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?
The area is known as the Mine Made Paradise Park, and “is made up of hundreds of miles of trails on 43,000 acres of reclaimed coal land located just outside the towns of Leburn and Hindman in the Appalachian mountains of East Kentucky” (Knott County Adventure). Pretty impressive!
We parked in the large parking area, and wandered aimlessly around the perimeter fence. An icy wind was tugging at our jackets.
I peered into the distance, disappointed at not seeing any of the over 11,000 elk that supposedly call Southeastern Kentucky their home range, when Bobz suddenly shouted:
“Hey, Regg, look, there’s an elk on that ridge!”
I spun around and rushed to where Bobz was standing, following the line of his finger, as he pointed at something faaaaar away.
“Um, I can’t see it… where is it?” I asked, straining my eyes.
“That dark thing at the top of the ridge… can you see it?”
Er… no… not really…
I tried looking through the camera… but only had the wide-angle lens with me, which has a maximum focal length of 55mm, so that didn’t help much.
Our Elk was not much more than a dark brown/black rectangular blob in a pale-brown landscape. They don’t have antlers at this time of year; they apparently grow those in spring, and then lose them in the fall. So it was impossible to see whether this one was a male or a female. I zoomed in as much as I could on the computer afterwards, and cropped this out for you. Can you see it? No? Darn. I’m sorry too.
As we were shivering in the cold wind by now, we climbed back into Bobz’ Bug, turned on the engine – and the heater, and had a sip of strong hot coffee. Aaahhh… muuuuch better. Feeling adventurous and fortified by the coffee, I tentatively suggested: “I don’t suppose we could follow that road along the ridge to see if we can get a bit closer to the elk?”
We had barely progressed 200 metres along said road, when two large cows appeared up ahead. They stopped, and stared at us for a long drawn-out moment, in that intimidating I’m-bigger-than-you kind of way that cows have, before they continued to move towards us. They looked very determined.
Without waiting to see how many determined bovines might be lurking around the blind corner up ahead, Bobz immediately swung the car into a skilful multi-point U-turn on the very narrow gravel road, and we got out of there! We weren’t going to take any chances with the Bug!
Thinking back rationally on this encounter, I admit that – other than one slightly nerve-wracking encounter with a herd of beautiful soft-furred and gentle-spirited Jersey cows in Knysna (look, I’ll even include a picture of them for you, because they are really quite enchanting) – I have never been stampeded by cattle and so I guess we might have been overly paranoid …
On the other hand, these were American cows, and who knows how ornery – mad cows?! – they might have been! What with all the Elk and ATVs and Explosions etc., I can imagine they might have been a mite cantankerous at the best of times.
So, unfortunately, my dear readers, you will have to be content with this video clip I found on YouTube, showing the large herds of elk that live in this area. Supposedly.
I guess that we’ll just have to go back again, hey, Bobz? Can we go back again? Can we? Can we?