An Elk's Life

A herd of elk at the Oak Creek feeding station west of Yakima appear philosophical, whimsical, mischievous and just down-right hungry during a recent visit.

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A tour truck moves among 700-800 elk at the Oak Creek feeding station.

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People may view the elk from a covered area near the headquarters.

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A young ram (at center) jumps onto a boulder.

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A young Rocky Mountain ram enjoys winter sunshine.

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An elk clowns for its buddies with hay on its head.

OAK CREEK, Wash. — Many of the elk awaiting lunch reclined on the ground and dozed in the mid-morning sunshine.

A few picked at the remnants of hay left from past meals at the Oak Creek feeding station, 20 miles from Yakima.

I aimed the 500-millimeter lens at one of the closer dozing bulls. Its head lay on the ground in such an awkward position that its neck looked injured, or broken.

Could the elk be dead?

Nope.

Its right ear twitched.

And its side rose and fell with a sigh.

Perhaps its massive antlers simply became to heavy to hold erect.

Well, it sure looked like a sore neck in the making to me.

Many of the other trophy bulls posed for "big bull" photos. They held their antlers regally erect and stared toward the hay bales stacked in the nearby shed.

Except for the hay in the shed, they could be gazing off into the distance as philosophers do.

Unlike many philosophers, they chewed their cuds while ruminating.

They certainly appeared deeply in thought.

Some, however, clowned it up a bit.

One munched while tendrils of hay dangled from its antlers.

Another mugged by curling its lips back as it stared into the lens.

One, like a mischievous 6-year-old boy, probed its nose with its tongue as I focused the camera.

Some bent around to sniff or lick at their backsides.

A pair of bald eagles watched the fun from a tree at the left-side edge of the feeding area. One had a dark streak on its cap, indicating its immaturity. Usually bald eagles have white heads by about four years of age.

I’d arrived at the elk feeding site at a few minutes past 10 a.m. on Martin Luther King Day.

Fog had spread like fluffy vanilla icing along Highway 12 through Naches. Two miles up toward White Pass, however, the sun shined bright. My auto’s thermometer said 42 degrees.

I walked along the fence, studying the elk until I met Larry Base. He wore a name tag that said he was a Senior Environmental Corps volunteer for the Washington Department of Wildlife.

He looked as if he were in charge.

Base said tours (truck rides among the elk) would take place at noon, 1 p.m., and 2 p.m. and that feeding would take place at 1:30 p.m.

With the noon tour already filled up, Base said I should sign up for the 1 p.m. tour and if he didn’t see me around, he would cross off my name.

He also suggested I drive the less-than-three miles back to the Rocky Mountain sheep-feeding site, on Old Naches Road, at about 11 a.m.

And I did.

About 30 ewes and three young rams lay about or nibbled among the sage. They looked at me with bright yellow eyes, and many seemed to have the mysterious Mona Lisa smile down pat.

As breakfast time drew near, more sheep appeared on the high canyon walls and dashed down the steep slope to the feeding area.

Two youngsters jumped atop a 6-foot-high boulder to observe the proceedings, only to be pushed off by copy cats.

When the truck with breakfast arrived, the sheep moved close to the troughs and watched two men, who walked into the area with a feed bag.

The sheep remained 10 yards away as the men poured grain into the first long aluminum trough and walked away.

Then they converged on the trough, without bumping or challenging each other, and lined up on each side to eat.

When the men put feed in the another trough, sheep moved to that one.

After an hour with the sheep, I went back to the elk and stopped briefly at a small feeding area near the Highway 12 junction where elk can be seen from the road.

Back at the main feeding station, I spoke again with Larry Base. I watched the elk and the tour truck for awhile.

At 1 p.m., with elk feeding time on the way, I felt a rumbling in my own stomach.

I decided not to take the tour and went looking for lunch in Naches.

Don Davis may be contacted at dondavis@wwub.com or 526-8326.

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