It was early evening as I turned off the four-lane highway and onto Range Road 201A which cuts through Elk Island National Park North to Lamont, the nearest community to the park. The drive from Prince George had been quite uneventful with two exceptions: the annual summer circus in Jasper National Park and “close quarter combat driving” through Edmonton during rush hour. But all this was behind me now and I was looking forward to spend some time with the Plains Bison and hopefully get some cool shots of these magnificent animals.
As usual two of my cameras were right beside me on the passenger seat, ready should the occasion arise. I followed the narrow road through the gate. My destination was the campground but I was easily distracted by the sign “Bison Loop Road”. I did not hesitate and made the turn. The road meandered through the prairie which was covered with grass and brush. Some patches of coniferous trees and aspen also dotted the landscape. There was only one thing missing: the bison. But these things happen and so I carried on to the campground. There was room (I never make reservations) and I proceeded to set up my tent. The night was uneventful and I slept rather well on the hard ground. Awakened by the dawn I got myself ready. It was not quite time for breakfast so I decided to check out the “Bison Loop Road” again. This time I was not disappointed. There were bison everywhere. Bulls, cows and calves intermingled with each other on the plain. The sheer size of some of the bulls was quite impressive and the air was filled with their low grunts. They almost sounded like angry burps. And, the larger the bull, the louder the grunt. I started shooting from the relative safety of my car. I am quite sure that if one of the larger bulls decided he did not like me the car would be toast. I spoted a large, mean looking individual. He hung out with some cows a short distance away from me. He grunted quite loud as if to claim his territory and to let any challenger know that he was not be trifled with. He looked right into my camera and let out several menacing grunts. Then, without a warning, he started walking toward me, all the while looking straight at the camera. Did the clicking sound set him off? As he reached the front of my car he suddenly turned and joined some other cows in the meadow. I breathed a sigh of relief. For a moment I thought that he did not like to have his pictures taken.
It was now time for breakfast and so I took a trip to Lamont to see about some breakfast. I found a diner along the main street. Some locals populated the establishment, eating their breakfast and sipping their morning coffee while chatting about the latest local news. I had bacon and eggs. After finishing I headed back to the bison. The place was busy now. The earlier tranquility had been replace by the hustle and bustle of modern life. There were a lot of cars now and people were taking selfies with the bison. The behavior of the bison had also changed. They were still grazing but there were also scenes reminiscent of a bar before closing time. Bulls sniffing the cows and hanging out with them as if to say: “honey don’t you like me? I am your dream bull and you know it.” Usually the answer was negative and the bulls lost interest. They then walked off and try to charm another cow. One of the younger bulls tried to mate with one of the cows. She did not want to have anything to do with him and rejected his advances. A couple of bulls butted their heads quite forcefully. After all it is rutting season. Just as I said earlier: a bar before closing time.
There were other scenes too. Calves were still suckling from their mothers. But some of them seemed rather annoyed with the process and shooed their calves away once they had enough.
One of the large bulls stood close to a small SUV in front of me. He was taller than the vehicle. I was impressed.
For the remainder of the day I kept revisiting this place but the scene did not change.
The next morning I headed back to my favorite spot. A morning fog covered the plain and the bison started slowly to move. A few nice shots and then I headed for breakfast. And then I spotted him. When I first saw him he was bedded down but as I readied my camera he stood up. He was huge. The winner of many battles, except the last one. A younger bull had replaced him in the herd just like he had his predecessor. There he stood tall and proud in the low sunlight, his cape ragged and one eye gone. It must have been some battle. He is no longer part of the herd he once ruled with an iron fist. He was on his own now without the protection of the herd. Life can be brutal when you are a dominant bull.
I went and had breakfast. When I came back the bull is gone. I stoped once more by my favorite spot to take some more photos. One of the bigger bulls rolled in the mud. As he got up steam rose from his fur. I had one last look around before heading out on the highway for the trip home.
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