The air was crisp and clear as we left for a morning hike. The ground underfoot was covered with pine needles blown off the towering Ponderosas yesterday and last night. Its always windy in Flagstaff, but the changing seasons are bringing in more wind. I swear the pine needles just turned yellow the day it turned Fall - September 21.
This morning we shroud out just after dawn. Dan promised that it would be light at 6am -- but give it a few more weeks and we'll be using our headlamps. A head in the woods I heard a distinctive deep "chirping." "Sounds like cow elk to me, " I said to Dan, "And they sound really close."
"Or it could be a hunter," Dan replied. A lot of hunters are in the woods now, scoping out where the herds are before hunting season.
The the bugling started. "That's no hunter," I said. "That is one big bull." The forest was echoing with his deep trills and calls. The herd crossed the path just ahead of us. I counted 15 with the "Big Boy." As we climbed up the hill, I saw movement to the right, and another smaller herd disappeared into the shadows. Within another half mile, we were soon experiencing a "jazz session" perhaps a jam between tow competing males. The larger -- or so he sounded -- was with the first group and was now to the south of us. He bellowed and bugled to the younger male that was now headed off to the north.
I did my best imitation of a female chirp and tried to draw them back towards us. I don't think they heard me, but kept bellowing back and forth - first the loud, low rubble of the "bass" of the elder to the south. Then the return of the shorter "alto" blasts from the younger. I had not heard such elk bugling since I first moved to Arizona 15 years ago. Then, the concert hall was my kitchen, and the music came in through the kitchen door. Here i was first row center. What a magnificent experience.
"Have ypu ever heard elk like that before?" Dan my husband asked. He knows of my former life as "Elk Hunter" when I lived in Colorado.
"Never," I said. "Let's do this hike again tomorrow! ...and maybe we should wear orange."
Arizona elk are some of the largest elk in the U.S. September to October is breeding season. I-17 that runs past my community of Munds Park (south of Flagstaff, AZ) has the highest elk kill rate of any U.S. Interstate highway.