Virtuoso Life - September/October 2017 - 174
Call of the wild: A bull
elk bugling and (below)
aspens' fall splendor.
stanza ends in the refrain, "Some are sadder than hell." A squad of
deer clumsy with broad antlers lurks in the shadows, as if they want
their portraits made. It doesn't matter that we didn't see elk this
morning. I could sit here beneath the rocks, the wind hissing in the
golden aspens, and listen to Frank's twangy musings all day.
Back at Casa Grande for lunch, the rest of the photographers
are buzzing: One group came into a herd of 50 elk and called a
bull in close. Another got shots of a bear and a bobcat. In the images, the velvet on the elk's antlers is so soft you want to stroke it,
and the bobcat, while maybe not Nat Geo caliber, is close enough
to identify, maybe even by sex. It's hard not to feel envious, but
part of the trip's appeal is that the creatures are feral, capricious.
Seeing them up close as they move about the land the same way
they have for centuries is elemental.
We get our turn the next morning at dawn, the landscape
creamy with heavy frost as if dipped in icing. The rising sun casts
staffs of light through distant ponderosa, and elk bugles vibrate
the air. We're in the wide open, but Frank throws a few calls to
draw the animals by the time we reach cover. Within minutes,
while we're still in the clear, two bulls storm in. We do our best
scrub-oak impersonations, and the bigger of the two struts to
within 30 yards.
He's insane with testosterone and keeps nosing closer. It's the
moment we've been waiting for. Before the bull gets suspicious,
we snap a few photos - it'd be impossible to get such close-up
shots without an expert caller. Photos aside, what I'll always
remember is the way the bull's shrill screams rattle in my chest,
the hot fog of his snorts in the frigid air, and the dirt clods that
erupt as he stamps away to the dark timber. When he's gone, we
stammer over the encounter and slap each other on the back as
the endorphins subside. It's tempting to check our cameras to
see if we got the shots, but it's early and the animals are likely still
foraging, so we creep after the elk into the dusky ponderosas.
"Plan to have lunch on the patio at
Vermejo's Costilla Lodge, 10,200 feet up
in the high country, about 25 miles from
Casa Grande. And don't leave the ranch
without arranging for a private guide to
take you fly-fishing for cutthroat trout."
- Karen Benson, Virtuoso travel advisor,
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