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Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Fast Getaway From FTD

This big old Buck was a loner. Elk are BIG!
This herd was in a farm field about a half mile away. Nice leaves!
Heard Of The Eastern Elk Herd?

Elk are really, really big deer with ginormous antlers and fat white butts. Now ya know!

I notice that very few of the web sites about the Pennsylvania Elk mention that the current Elk population is a different subspecies. The Eastern Elk (Cervus canadensis canadiensis) became extinct in 1880 or so. The Elk that were reintroduced are from the Western Elk subspecies, which is smaller by a few hundred pounds. It is also believed that the Eastern Elk had more branches, or points, on their antlers.

There is some controversy over the classification of the Elk subspecies. DNA evidence strongly supports the argument for all Elk in the United States being the same Cervus canadensis canadiensis subspecies - the same as the supposedly extinct Eastern subspecies. The notion of different Elk subspecies allows for more latitude in getting funding for conservation efforts, so is likely more political than biological. As a side note, DNA evidence also indicates the European Red Deer is a totally separate species even though viable hybrids with Elk are common.

Though the Eastern Elk is reportedly extinct since the 1880's there are still reports of some possible surviving animals. These reports come from some remote areas of Michigan, and Ontario. There were also some animals exported to New Zealand, but those animals have reportedly interbred with Red Deer, and are no longer of a pure Elk bloodline.

Elk once lived throughout Pennsylvania. By the mid 1800s, their range was reduced to a small area in Elk County. The last native Pennsylvania eastern elk was killed near Ridgway, in 1867.
Hey look! I got the reflection of this female.

Between 1913 and 1926, the Pennsylvania Game Commission attempted to restore an elk herd by releasing 177 western elk. These relocated animals flourished so well that 98 antlered bulls were legally killed in open hunting seasons between 1923 and 1931. Because of a declining herd size, hunting of elk has been prohibited since 1932. A recent (1990's maybe?) survey indicated the herd size to be more than 600 animals, up from a low of only 35 animals in the early 1970s. The current elk range is in southwestern Cameron and southeastern Elk counties.

There are now just under a thousand Elk in Pennsylvania. All we had to do was find a few.

So, I had not really had a vacation this year. I wanted to get away for a few days. I enjoy the outdoors, and wanted to go someplace where I could enjoy some photography. My friend wanted to see some Autumn leaves in full color. (Why some people will drive miles to look at dying leaves escapes me.)  Upper Michigan, Indiana, and Southern Ohio were discussed. Somehow I remembered the Eastern Elk Herd of Pennsylvania, and that is where we ended up going. It was closer, had things to do, and was much less expensive.

We were planning to go a few weeks from now, but it worked out we went sooner and on very short notice. My friend arranged all the details. I would not have gone if I had to do it all myself. Planning, and doing stuff, are difficult for me. I had help not in just choosing a pet-friendly place to stay, and making the reservations, but creating a list of things for me to do and what to pack. It was actually a 4 page spreadsheet which included a weather report. I have never been THAT organized! I am not sure I would ever want to be that organized, but it sure worked out well. It made it much less stressful and easy for me to prepare for the trip.

I waited for this big ole Buck's silhouette. Antlers!

We took Kroozer, and he did very well. He is an easy-keeper, and slept most of the time in the car. He was very comfortable in his crate, and loved to sit with us in front of the fireplace. He was a happy lil skunk. We burned most of a rick of wood. The hours by the crackling fire in the fireplace were my favorite part of the trip . The mountain nights were brisk, and the fire kept the cabin toasty warm.

I did all of the driving. I am told I did very well. I thought so too. This is a good thing, and is always a concern of mine. The entire trip was about 850 miles. I used the GPS most of the time. I didn't get a real understanding of the area however until I purchased a local road map. Seeing it on paper helped me to get oriented. Having a good map in the car also made me feel more secure. We even explored some way-remote single track dirt roads. We had planned on making a few day trips around the area of under a hundred miles.

Anyway, the purpose of the trip was to see some Elk, maybe some other animals, and have a relaxing getaway. The trip was a success.

Before we even found our cabin we saw a couple Whitetail Deer. We were winding up a mountainside on a single lane dirt road, totally lost in unfamiliar country far from civilization. We came flying around a hairpin turn, in the middle of darkest mountain darkness,  and our Jeep's headlights suddenly painted a couple huge Whitetail bucks with their antlers locked in mortal combat. OK, maybe that is a little dramatic. We were more like creeping along a narrow paved country road in second gear with our noses pressed against the windows looking for the address of the cabins, but the big bucks were a real treat to see fighting - and it was on a hill. I have never seen bucks in combat before, except maybe on the cover of a hunting magazine. Too bad the camera was still packed away.

Right after that we saw a clan of Raccoons out marauding. The Raccoons were very dark colored compared to our local NW Ohio variety. They looked more black, and not striped. A sure sign we were getting close to the cabin - we hoped! We found the cabins a short time later, and got us and Kroozer settled in for the night. The cabin was older, and well used, but very clean and comfortable. It had everything we needed for a great getaway.

While driving to a fancy dinner at the lodge the next night we saw a wild Black Bear. That was a special treat. The bear ran across the road in front of us, and then stopped and watched us for a few minutes before continuing on up the mountain. The road ran along right next to a river, and the bear was coming from the direction of the water, and heading across the road, and up the hill. We got a really great look at it as it posed watching us from about 75 feet away. A big healthy looking Black Bear. The dinner was adequate, but the service was good, and the restaurant was cozy.

Now, I am generally not a big fan of roadside zoos. Every one I have ever seen has had ill kept animals in poor condition kept in small cages. Horrible places! We stumbled upon one which was pleasantly different. Not only did it have a menagerie of really exotic animals, including cougars, leopards, Fennic Foxes (Too cute!), and the usual bears, goats, horses, donkeys, Emus, giant tortoises, wolves, lynx, birds, and lots more - well, it was a really nice roadside zoo. All of the animals looked happy and healthy, and had enclosures which were large. The animals like the foxes, and wolves, which are more shy, had areas where they could hide. We were there at feeding time, and the animals truly seemed to like the keepers. We saw a Coyote actually lick one of the guys on his cheek, and bounce around like a puppy happy to see him. It was a pleasant way to while away a couple hours.

We spent a whole day chasing Elk around, and got the pictures I have posted here. We also saw a flock of Wild Turkeys, a whole passel of chipmunks and squirrels, and the tracks of Coyote and Lynx.

 On the drive home I was all done in. I had had about all of the relaxing I could stand, and I was happy to be heading for home. I felt tired and happy. I can never really get away from my FTD, but this was as close to feeling "normal" as I have been for a long time. Some days are better than others, and these were all good days.

Comments are welcome.


  1. So happy you were able to get away and enjoy nature for a few days. The photos are great (remember NOT to pack the camera away next time - you never know when those Black Bears will pop up, or the fighting Elk either!) and show your true artistry with a camera.

  2. Thanks for the comment Matilda.

    Sometimes for me it is better to enjoy the experience rather than to be messing with a camera taking a picture of it. I rarely ever regret not getting a picture.

    The trip was great fun, but the week after the trip was kinda rough.

    Some days are better than others.