You might think mid-September would be the wrong time to visit Colorado. It's to early to ski and enjoy winter sports (although that wouldn't be an attraction for me anyway) and it's too late for the relief from summer's heat that the mountain climate has to offer. I, however, think it's the perfect time if you want to see these guys:
In the latter part of September the elk make their way down from the higher altitudes in search of more abundant grasses for grazing and it would seem that the parks, golf courses and lawns of Estes Park are among their favorites. While it seems strange to look up and see a giant bull elk making his way through the city street or an entire herd of 30-40 of elk doing their own version of "mowing" the fairway, it's also cool. Obviously, the locals are used to it as there were fences around the greens to keep the elk from damaging them. I'm guessing they put them out late in the afternoon when the elk begin to appear and take them down again in the morning when the herds move back to higher ground.
And it's rutting season too. Since elk breed in the fall, the males are paying little attention to traffic lights and tourists; they're busy trying to impress the females and gather a harem. Usually that means a lot of bugling which can best be described as part bellow, part whine...there's nothing else in nature to compare this eerie sound to. The elk bugle not only to attract females but to advertise their dominance to other males.
Obviously, those bugled boasts get tested from time to time and we were lucky enough to be front and center when two big bulls when at one another. You should know that we were in a residental neighborhood when we came across these two and about 20-25 other elk with them. We pulled to one side of the two-lane road; they battled on the other, directly across from us.
I thought the one using gravity to his advantage by pushing downhill would get the upper hand but they were pretty evenly matched. Like two heavyweights in a boxing match, they went at each other and it was amazing to hear the clash of their antlers as they ran at each other and jockeyed for position.
We could hear the grunts and snorts as they went at one another. And when their momentum carried them into a roadside sign (like a speed limit sign), it went over like a toothpick. The elk were unphased but the lady sitting in the car next to it quickly decided it was time to leave before her car was the next object in the way of the ongoing battle.
I think the battle here might have been in vain. These two macho males were still locking antlers when we pulled away but all the cows had headed on down the street with at least one other bull. My guess is this pair was going to have to do some serious bugling to get their harems back together.
Seeing these big animals engage in their fall ritual was sort of like having our own personal National Geographic moment. And who would have thought it would be right there in town.