Sunday, November 27, 2016

Colorado 2 - Photo of a Lifetime

(Continued after Part 1)

I have been taking photos for a decade now, but that does not mean every photo that I take turns out to be a masterpiece. Most of the time a combination of a lack of skill, a lack of good equipment, a lack of patience or time on my part, and just plain bad luck produces results that are less than ideal in my eyes. Yes, I have taken some photos that I am very proud of, like this one from my first Grand Canyon trip, or this one from Ground Zero on the tenth 9/11 anniversary, or this one from a park in Columbus, or thisthis and this while walking around New York City. But I don't think taking a shot has ever given me as much satisfaction as the elk photos that I took on the third day of our Colorado trip did.

But let me continue the story from where I left off.

On the 8th of July, we woke up when it was still dark and packed up our tent. We would drive to a place called Silt today and spend the night in a hotel. If possible, we also wanted to hike to the Hanging Lake there. So leaving early was essential to the plan. After a breakfast of leftover pizza, we set out at six o'clock in our rented Hyundai Accent.

Herd of elk in the distance

About a mile from the campground, as we were approaching the Trail Ridge Road, we found a herd of elk grazing in the field beside the road. It was a beautiful sight, but one that wouldn't look too good in a photo since the animals were some distance away. Nevertheless, we stopped to take some pictures. Then as the sunlight reached the valley, we continued along the Trail Ridge Road that we had taken to the Alpine Visitor Center the previous day. Today there was hardly any traffic as it was early morning and as a result we saw fat and content-looking marmots basking by the roadside. We stopped twice to take photos and then continued up the road.


We soon reached the Alpine Visitor Center, but today we didn't stop there. We kept driving along the road which now started going downhill. We had driven for more than an hour since leaving the campground when we saw a large bull elk on the left side of the road. There was a car parked on the right side which indicated there was someone else in the area, probably photographing the elk. So I also slowed down and rolled to a stop behind the parked car. We cautiously got out of the car (since bull elks are sometimes aggressive) and I quickly fitted my camera with the telephoto lens. Then I started taking photos of the elk. Once the initial excitement had passed, we discovered there were other elks all around us. In fact, we were in the middle of a herd. Another man, probably the owner of the other car, was photographing a pair of sitting elks about 200 feet from the road. I knew it was against the law to approach wildlife, so we didn't leave the side of the car. Besides, I remember too many bad experiences with bulls and billy goats from my childhood in Allahabad to completely trust horned animals ever again. So I kept photographing the elk that we had first seen, as it was the one nearest to us and was in bright sunlight, the sun being behind us. Then he stopped eating and started crossing the road ahead of us.

"Look! There are two more behind that tree." Poulami called out.

I turned around to see two elks behind me partly hidden by a tree. Only their silhouettes were visible since the sun was behind them. Their fur and the fuzzy antlers were outlined in a bright halo. The scene showed every promise of being a dream shot, only if a little more of the elks were visible. I wanted to have an unobstructed view of the antlers at least.

And just as I was thinking these thoughts, one of the elks, the one with the larger antlers, started crossing the road, coming from the far end towards our side. He was keenly aware of our presence, and yet absolutely unafraid. There was something regal and mesmerizing about that animal's gait. He was walking as if he was out for a stroll through his kingdom, and he didn't care about cars or humans at all. We stood spellbound at our car for a few moments, watching the two elks cross the road, one in front of us and one behind. The elks were in no hurry to cross, and when our spell was broken, I had ample time to take photos. The elk behind us presented me with this photo, which is definitely one of my most satisfying photographs.

Later, when we had had our fill of this amazing scene and were about to leave, the other elk behind the tree crossed the road as well, giving me opportunity for more photos. By this time, other cars were arriving and lining up by the roadside.

Approximately three hours later, after driving through beautiful roads amidst mountains and lakes and through the canyon of the Colorado river, we reached our destination. Silt, where we had booked our hotel, is a tiny town next to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. We had planned to try and hike to the Hanging Lake while coming to Silt, but we saw signs on the highway informing us that the parking lot at the trail head was full and so we decided to come back early the next morning. I was a little tired from all the driving anyway, and it was too hot to hike. We put our suitcases in our room and explored the town on foot. Then we had fish-and-chips at a small restaurant called Miner's Claim, and their portions were so big that we had dinner with the leftovers that night.

When we had arrived at the hotel in the morning, our car was the only one in the parking lot and the hotel was deserted. When we went out for a walk that evening after our afternoon nap, we found the parking lot full of cars and the hotel full of guests. For some reason, this hotel in the middle of nowhere seemed to be quite popular. We turned in early that night. Our trip had just started, and it was already quite exciting. We had a long day ahead of us, and while I was not expecting to see more elk, I was definitely looking forward to taking nature photos of a different kind.

Although I knew I was not going to get a better photo than that elk crossing the road on this trip again.

Our hotel in Silt

(To be continued...)

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