Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_4A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the mountainsides at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California After leaving the Malibu area, I headed north. My next destination was Point Reyes National Seashore about an hour north of San Francisco.
This location had not even been on my Year in an RV list until I met another photographer during my fall colors trip in southern Colorado. Turns out he was from San Francisco and told me about these elk that live along the coast. I started having visions of elk on coastal ridges with waves lapping in the distance. It would be a very different setting for a photo compared to those of the elk I photograph in the Rocky Mountains.
The drive through Oakland, San Francisco and the surrounding area was not the easiest in a 44 foot rig; not all drivers are very accommodating especially in rush hour traffic. And then I discovered that the roads up to Point Reyes were quite narrow and twisty on the Pacific Coast Highway - another lesson in better preparation and timing.
Elk_Tule_2015_1A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands in a hillside of brush changing into fall colors near the historic Pierce Point Ranch at Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California I arrived late in the evening - I think it was approaching midnight. Roads were dark, I had no reservation (only backpacking and tent camping are permitted in Point Reyes) and I was exhausted. I decided to head to the north end of Point Reyes National Seashore where I wanted to start my hike well before sunrise to find the elk so sleeping in the RV made much more sense. I never saw the sign for no overnight parking and the road was very rough and narrow out to the ranch - no turning around on that road.
After sleeping for about three hours, I woke a couple of hours before sunrise to a foggy and cool morning with the sound of waves crashing in the distance. I was excited to get out on the three mile hike to Tomales Point, the location where I was told I would find the elk. Elk_Tule_2015_2A tule cow elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the Pacific Ocean at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California
Before heading up to Point Reyes I did a little research about these elk. It turns out these elk, called tule elk, are a subspecies of the elk found in the Rocky Mountains and can only be found in California. The difference with these elk is that they are the smallest elk found in North America. Typical Rocky Mountain elk bulls can range from 600-1,000 pounds; tule elk bulls range from 450 to 550 pounds.
So off I set to find the elk. It took me five minutes before I found my first one. Turns out the elk had been roaming around the parking lot of the Historic Pierce Point Ranch. There were hoof prints all over in the sand and sure enough there was a small group of cows just off the trail munching on the bushes and one large bull elk in the distance.
I considered ending the hike right then and there; there was a lot of ground to cover. But I was determined to get this coastal shot. To the point I went.
Black-tailed_deer_doe_Point_Reyes_2015_1A black-tailed deer doe (Odocoileus hemionus) stands in the drying lilies found along the trail to Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore, California It was a beautiful and pretty easy hike along the edge of the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The fog began to lift revealing a pretty landscape. Along the trail I saw black-tailed mule deer, hawks, California quail and American crows. But sure enough, after about two and a half miles, I came across the elk herd near a watering hole on the north end of Tomales Point.
There were several bulls, all with pretty impressive racks. These males, especially from a distance looked just like the Rocky Mountain elk. But as you approached them you could see that the racks were smaller, the neck muscles less defined and their height a little shorter.
Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_7A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the mountainsides and Pacific Ocean at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California I spent about two hours with the elk but the light was getting very harsh and the temperature was rising into the low 80s, even on this mid-afternoon day. So I started back to the parking lot.
As I have discovered with many places I have visited, there is much to learn about an area. The best way to get to know the wildlife, the best locations to see them and to have the best opportunity to photograph wildlife in the best light is to have multiple days to explore. I regretted only budgeting one morning to visit Point Reyes National Seashore. I would have enjoyed photographing the elk at the Point in earlier light but I saw enough other wildlife along the trail to focus my attention. All in all the photography was successful; I now had my photo of tule elk set against the Pacific Ocean.
My camera was heavy this day but I was happy I had the long lens with me. After hiking with it for six miles, I was ready to head on to the next place - a visit to Muir Woods National Monument - where a shorter landscape lens and lighter tripod would do my body good.
If interested in learning more about the tule elk at Point Reyes National Seashore, visit http://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/nature/tule_elk.htm. Little_brown_sparrow_PRNS_2015_1A little brown sparrow sits on top of a green bush along the trail out to Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore, California