I normally prefer the mountains to the beach, but in northern California I find both. Mountains here march right up to the edge of the sea. I am photographing redwood trees at Redwood State and National Parks, which are jointly managed by the California State Park system and the U.S. National Park Service. Knowing government bureaucracies, I imagine this mix is lots of fun for all involved.
This afternoon I am in Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park, named by someone with a love for words. California – as a state government – is perpetually in debt. It seems to me they could save at least a few bucks on sign costs by shortening the name to Del Norte State Park. The same goes for Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, which I visited this morning. Why isn’t it Smith State Park? But I digress…
Del Norte is where the mountains kiss the sea. This mix of habitats produces an interesting phenomenon: elk on the beach. I am here in early September, start of the rut. This is when bull elk show up for a fight and tourists show up on YouTube (hashtag gored). I see the massive antlers of a no-nonsense bull resting in the midst of a thicket. There is no opening for a clear photo and I am not about to walk through the brush for a closer look. Instead I explore a nearby canyon and return to the beach at sunset.
When I arrive at the thicket, the big bull is standing just outside. He is a magnificent specimen of a male, with a swagger and lust that says stay away unless you are a lady elk. As I admire him from a safe distance, I am joined by a group of twenty-somethings who could be the cast of the next Friends. A pond separates humans from ungulate, the latter now walking towards the beach. The bull turns along the beach and starts running parallel to our position. Is he chasing another elk? No, he is running towards a path that leads through the brush to us. Once on the path he slows a bit, but is still walking with purpose in our direction.
We bid a hasty retreat, looking back to see if he is still coming. The short answer is yes. As we take a narrow path between the restrooms and the parking lot, he is perilously close. Two gals and a guy dash for their cars. Two other guys jump into the first restroom and I jump into the second, peeking out as the elk passes. We are filled with an odd mix of fear, adrenaline, and uncontrollable laughter.
The big bull walks across the dirt lot, away from the threesome and their vehicles. He is heading straight for a lone car parked on the far side of the lot. The young people joke, “Watch as he thrashes that car.” Hey wait a minute – that is my rental car! Enterprise tried to give me the hard sell for their insurance, but I declined because my credit card covers damage. Now I am envisioning the awkward phone call to Visa.
“Mr. Hood were you in an accident?”
“No, the car was parked.”
“Did someone drive into the car?”
“Then how did the car get damaged?”
“It was attacked by a horny elk.”
“Were you in the car when it happened?”
“Then how do you know it was attacked by a horny elk?”
“Because I watched it happen.”
“Where were you?”
“I was hiding in the bathroom.”
Thankfully the big guy walks past my car and I never make the call. I leave my cinder block bunker and follow at a distance. Tripod in hand, I am still looking for that one clear shot. The elk is now on the canyon path I took earlier. At the first bend he pauses to look back. Focus…click…nailed it! I escape unscathed and live to shoot another day.