Back from the Brink: Tule Elk of Point Reyes National Seashore

After backpacking in Point Reyes National Seashore, we aimed our tiny red rental car north, zooming past little towns along the edge of Tomales Bay. We followed the road to its end at Tomales Point where lies the Tule Elk Reserve.

I tried not to get my hopes up. When I lived in California, I made this drive dozens of times to conduct grassland research within the reserve. Despite there being hundreds of these majestic animals, I probably sighted elk during less than half of those visits, and on a rare one or two instances I viewed them closest at about a quarter-mile away. I thought we might see a couple from a distance, at best.

Our tires rumbled over a cattle guard, and a large sign indicated our entrance into the reserve. The late afternoon sun lit up the grassy hillsides that drop down to the ocean to our left and to the bay to our right. We scanned the landscape, and considered some shapes in the gulch below but decided they were not elk and moved on. We met a sharp bend in the road and on the other side, we suddenly found ourselves to be uninvited guests to an elk stay-cation. At least two dozen elk, including three or four males with beautiful antlers, lay about, grazing and relaxing under the perfectly blue sky. Unfazed, a few of them slowly rotated their heads to eye us, briefly, before returning to their repose.

Once on the brink of extinction, Tule Elk have remarkably recovered from just eight individuals that were brought in for captive breeding in 1978. The herd on Tomales Point is the largest in the state with over 400 individuals, but in case you cannot travel as far north, Tule Elk can also be found at their very own state natural reserve near Buttonwillow, CA. I highly recommend visiting either reserve to see them; their poise and grace are to be admired.

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