I assumed I had left the zoo behind. The quantity and diversity of wildlife in Theodore Roosevelt, Tetons, and Yellowstone spoiled me. By the time I left Montana, I resigned myself that nothing else would offer up quite as much excitement. This was reinforced by the relative paucity of animals I saw in North Cascades, Olympics and Rainier. The good times were behind me and ahead lay California, which has no shortage of wildlife but none that I regarded as warm and fuzzy.
However, checking into the camp near the Redwoods, I was asked to sign a waiver. This is not such an uncommon practice as the national parks are quite adamant about keeping a clean camp so as not to attract hungry wildlife that would turn the campground into a buffet. All those had been for bears. This waiver was regarding the elk, oh and yes, sometimes a bear or mountain lion wanders by, too, but her great concern was for the elk. I don’t exactly think elk when I am at the beach but I took her for her word. She also advised me that people “fight” over my campsite because it gets the most elk traffic, so I was to be sure to look out my camper before stepping outside in the morning so as not to step on any elk. My campsite had plenty of evidence of hoofed beasts and the place smelled like a barn so maybe this wasn’t so far off.
Indeed there were 40 elk hanging out the next morning. And you can imagine my disappointment that they had not chosen my campsite, making them the only people that have expressed no interest in the teardrop. They were clear across the gravel path in the site directly opposite of mine, probably avoiding their own piles of shit as I am attempting to do with varying success. They settled in like they owned the place. My return from my day of sightseeing found them in very nearly the same spot. All was going well until 4 large bulls decided to saunter through. This had the ladies all up and prancing. It is good to know that flirting has no biological boundaries.
What was most disturbing was watching the herd attempt to cross a busy highway to get to water. National parks have a slow speed limit for a reason. They say they want you to slow down to see the animals but really they want you to not hit them. I have learned to enjoy going a bit slower and it makes it one of the more challenging parts of returning to civilizations. Unfortunately, the Redwoods were cobbled together through an accumulation of land donations, state parks and national park designation in a sad scrambled to save the last of the trees. However enough development had occurred that the end result is a narrow, winding highway through the park areas with a 65mph speed limit. The herd is left playing leapfrog through a race course. I was shocked by the impatience of motorists who would honk and accelerate by frightening the poor animals who really just needed a drink of water. Even the police vehicle, who had the power to really hold up traffic and just let them cross, did the same. I was subject to this same impatience this morning when I stopped for a herd crossing the road. Trucks behind me blared their horns and attempted to maneuver around me. It is amazing how brave they can be up against these animals as they sit behind one ton of steel. Somehow I don’t think that they would be quite so aggressive without it. It is a little disheartening to see so many people with so little regard for magnificent wildlife that they saw it as a hindrance to their day instead of a special addition.
So as it turns out, it’s a zoo in California, too, but at they have some nice animals at least.