Banff and Jasper – Elk Encounters (2009/8/9)

2009.8.9Today’s plan was to visit Bow Lake and Peyto Lake. As they are at least 1.5-hour drive from where we stayed, I couldn’t make the early morning trip, so we decided to leave after noon. In the morning, my wife went out for shopping and I could take some random shots in nearby places. I took a short loop of highway 1 – 93 – highway 1A. It was quite disappointing. The day was haze. The lighting was even worse than the noon time yesterday.

Elks in Vermilion Lake, Banff It was about 11AM when I finished the loop. As I almost exited highway 1 to enter Banff town, I turned my head to the right to see what the Vermilion Lakes looked like from the highway. I saw something standing in the center of the lake. I looked again to confirm those were either moose or elks. Quickly exited the highway, I drove myself to the lake side. Some people were there pointing to the animals, and I saw some rafts got very close to them and could literally touch them. Finally I could put my 2x teleconverter to use now. However, even with 2x teleconverter and 200mm lens, those animals were still too far to see from the camera. I thought maybe I could get closer to them by land, so I parked my car at a nearby trail head, put on the 70-200 mm lens and almost run to the trail. Unfortunately, the trail was separated from the lake by a river. At one point, I almost wanted to walk over a falling tree to get to the other side, but I didn’t have the guts. It’s not a creek, it is a river. I met my wife at the hotel and took her to see them over the Vermilion Lakes. I thought I was going to miss the best chance for the photos of the wildlife. I didn’t know I would watch them so close later that day.

Peyto Lake, Banff It took us indeed one and half hours to get to Bow Lake. The lake was big. Similar to Lake Louise, the color was turquoise. The Bow Lake has a unique beauty and you can view the glacier hanging over the lake at the water front. The problem was the Sun was against us and the overcast sky make it very hard to produce any good photo. Peyto is only 20 minutes to the north. It started drizzling when we parked our car. The color of the green plants became brighter but I worried the lake would be too dark. The trail to the lake was a little steep but it’s really very short. The lake sat far below the overlook, again, in turquoise color. It is fed by the Peyto Glacier and the surrounding mountains provided perfect backdrop to the perfect-shaped lake. The only thing not perfect was the weather. We waited more than half an hour, then my patience paid off. The Sun came out so I could take some pictures.

Rainbow, Banff As we drove back on highway 1, it rained quite hard but soon cleared up. A beautiful rainbow appeared over the Bow river against the mountain peaks. This was an easy day compared to yesterday. We thought that’s it for the day, but as we took a shortcut to the hotel, I heard my wife shouted, “What is that?” It was an female elk, by herself, walking around the railway station.

Elks in Banff Town, Banff We stopped the car. The elk apparently was aware that we were following her, so she nimbly crossed the rail tracks and stood far from us near a grove. We decided to check her back later. I dropped my wife at hotel, got the lenses prepared and quickly came back to the station. The elk has gone, but somehow I felt I saw something moving in the wood, so I crossed the rail tracks and walked into the grove. The elk was there, by herself again, having her meal. She was an adult elk, higher than me and must weight twice as much as I do. I tried to sneak around the trees so she wouldn’t run away, but it seemed the elk was not alerted at all. Sometimes she did see me eyes to eyes, but she just turned back having more leaves. The closest I got was less than 20 feet from her. With my 70~200mm lens, I could take the close-up shots quiet easily. I was the only one in the wood with the elk. After about 10 minutes, she had enough dinner and I couldn’t stand the mosquitoes any longer either, so she run out of the woods and disappeared in another grove. I pondered if I should check the herd in the lake area, but there was no easy way to access unless taking the raft. Then, the elk appeared again around the railway station, this time, with a young elk. I am glad she wasn’t with her child in the grove. I am not sure if she would be more vigilant or even attacked me if she had her baby on her side.

Elks in Banff Town, Banff On my way back to the hotel, I saw many people standing around Banff’s fire department, then I noticed a herd of elks having their dinner on the fire department’s grass field. There was a male elk, clearly the head of the group. I think that must be the same herd I saw in the lake earlier today. I could take pictures of them just across the road, but the background were people and buildings.

I felt very rewarded for seeing something wilder today, although I could see the elks had already got use to people watching them closely.

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