As many of you might have guessed, I have my favorite animals throughout the park. It is tough to have a favorite unless you see it quite often and can identify the creature in some way.
And, so, of course, Bull Elk #10 was a favorite – not really because he had a history, because I knew nothing about his past. I only knew #10 for a short time, during the winter of 2012-2013 and always got a kick out of his ornery indifference to humans. I swore that #10 knew when a camera was aimed at him and knew just what to do to get the human behind the camera away from him – he would turn away or lower his head to eat.
All during that winter I tried and tried to get shots of #10 with his head up, looking like the regal bull elk he was, despite his advanced years. And, time and time again, I’d raise the camera and he would turn the other way. If one was smart, they could tell that #10 would just as soon stick an antler up someone’s butt as to have them bother him – he had had enough of that over the years. Presumably when he was king of Mammoth and took his aggression out on cars.
Well, one morning I hiked out behind the bathroom on the Blacktail, which was his favorite place to hang, and found him and two other bulls down in some willows having a feast. Their fondness for hanging out behind the bathroom earned them the nickname “The Bathroom Boys.”
I went up on a little knoll and watched #10, not expecting much of anything. But, on this morning, with gorgeous light shining on him (that was another thing, he knew about bad light), he looked up, saw me and wandered up the hill. Only, he kept eyeing me and coming my way so I was backing up and trying to get pics. He still would not put that head up like I wanted to see him, but he was coming my way. At first I thought that maybe I would get the shots and then it seemed apparent that it was best to leave. He was about to block my path, which could have kept me out there in the cold for a long time.
He just had that look in his eye that told me that he was up to no good.
And, so, not wanting to risk disturbing him, or getting trapped by him, I left the beautiful #10 and morning light behind and returned to my car, parked near the bathroom. I remember some other photographers thinking me dumb for leaving behind that light but, even back then, I was concerned about disturbing the animals. Maybe being too cautious but not wanting to take any chances.
Ever since I have been here, there have been 3 bull elk hanging around the bathroom, making up the “Bathroom Boys” club. Except when #10 was still alive and then there was a 4th that would be there from time to time.
Bull elk number 10 met his death in the Spring of 2013 when the Canyon children visited the Blacktail while the White Lady was in the den. Number 10 had lost his antlers and made it through a hard winter, looking fairly good. He had gotten very thin and then was able to gain weight again and so it looked like he would be around for another year. But, early one morning a pack of wolves took that dream from me. I hated wolves that day. I don’t hate them really, but it was like losing a friend when #10 was killed. Even though I had only been in Yellowstone a short time – I needed all of the friends that would have me!
Well, he is gone and I still think about #10. But, last winter and this, thee are 3 bull elk that hang close to the bathroom at the Blacktail. Perhaps one is the 4th that came to visit when #10 was still alive. Two look quite fit and young, while one looks rather old. I can’t help but wonder if they are all the offspring of Bull elk #10. Do siblings find each other? I often wonder this.
And, so the current Bathroom Boys.
And, that is the Blacktail bathroom line up for 2014. Last week YNP posted a shot of one of the bulls right behind the bathroom – I would say that their group name fits.
BTW, one of the most fitting and sensitive things that I have seen rangers do since coming to YNP is that, because #10 was killed next to the road, they moved his carcass onto the trail, behind the bathroom where he had spent so much time. His final resting place was his home.
He truly had had a hard winter and most likely his quick death was a blessing, but I felt cheated for not getting to know him more than a few months.