17 June 2011

Camping Where the Antelope & Elk Play

Spring took its time coming this year, but the wet cool weather has made for an outstanding green and lush landscape. I took advantage of a few dry days to camp on the high sagebrush prairie of the upper Big Hole River where pronghorn antelope fawn and elk calve. My campsite was along a two-track dirt road, seldom traveled, and with a great view to the peaks of the Pintler Mountain Range:

There are a few mule deer, but this is primarily antelope and elk habitat (mule deer doe along a creek, probably with a fawn hidden nearby):

Hiking around the secluded area near camp, elk cows were everywhere, some solitary and some in small bunches:

Many had their calves with them. They are several weeks old, and it's only in the last few days that they are big and fast enough to keep up with the herd:

Some elk cows come into heat later than others, and some are not bred when they first come into estrus but are the second time. These cows calve several weeks later than most, and so they remain solitary and keep their calves well hidden. On a hike through the pines along a creek, MollyTheDog and I came upon two very young calves. They remain motionless to avoid detection (only one is clear in the photo, but there's another behind it--elk twins are relatively rare):

An "Indian road" passes through the area with numerous tipi rings on the level spots overlooking the creeks. Look closely around the tipi rings and you find numerous jasper flakes created when the First Peoples worked and sharpened their stone tools. Shown here with the flakes is a piece of bone, probably calcined and preserved in a fire pit:

Several pronghorn antelope bucks hung out on a meadow across the little valley from camp. The antelope does were being very secretive, which tells me they have newborn fawns hidden along the hilltops:

Oh, the delicious taste of antelope steaks (from last hunting season) roasted over an open fire while watching antelope play on the surrounding prairie:

As the sun set and the full moon rose, I walked up the hill behind camp to capture this shot of the moon rising over a low albeit snow-covered ridge (the snow line is about 7,500 feet right now):

The next morning dawned frosty, haunted by the calls of a sandhill crane as it flew past:

It was time to pack up and head home.


Janie said...

Great shot of the elk calf(s)!
Spring was a little late, but it's lasting farther into June than usual, so that makes up for the slow arrival.
We rode up to 9900 feet last week. Ran into some snow patches, but it's melting fast.

John Bardsley said...

Wow! Here's how to find that illusive sense of wonder.

secret agent woman said...

Cute calves. Looks like a good trip.

Merri said...

love it! makes me want to get out and camp right now.
- The Equestrian Vagabond

FjÀllripan said...

What a great story from your hike. I really enjoyed this post!