Estee Rivera Murdock gets early morning wake-up calls this time of year.
“There are mornings where I grumble, because it starts happening outside my bedroom window at 5 a.m.,” she said from her Estes Park home. “And I’m still hearing elk bugling after 11 p.m.”
So goes local life in the fall, the season of love for one of Colorado’s most iconic residents in their most iconic home. It’s the season of the rut around Estes and Rocky Mountain National Park, when bulls boisterously call for mates.
And though she might grumble some mornings, Murdock will be savoring these last weeks of the mating season. “It never gets old,” she said.
As executive director of Rocky Mountain Conservancy, the national park’s nonprofit partner, Murdock is intimately familiar with the sights: elk taking crosswalks in town; elk clashing with big-antlered rivals; cows selecting bulls and harems forming; bulls sometimes chasing those group members that leave for another harem. There are dramatic scenes of winning and losing.
“You feel like you’re in a crazy nature documentary,” Murdock said.
Right in the middle of it. That’s what makes the viewing in Rocky Mountain National Park “a very unique situation,” said Kyle Patterson, park spokeswoman.
“The roads go right next to open meadows and areas where elk gather this time of year,” she said. “As the temperatures drop, they usually come down in elevation, and where they congregate often times is freely viewable and accessible.”
The elk come with fall colors, snow-capped mountains and some of the most favored temperatures of the year. It has all combined for September weekends becoming the park’s most-visited weekends of all, Patterson said.
She said the park’s second-year reservation system hasn’t hindered the wildlife watching experience, as permit times end before sundown, when elk are most active. Starting Tuesday, reservations won’t be required; the system meant to control peak season crowds will take its annual break.
In the evenings left of the rut this month, admirers will line the park’s roads as they do, waiting for the show.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Patterson said. “To step away from all these other things we have going on in our world, and just watch this natural thing take place.”
Some tips if you go into the park:
• Dawn is also a good time for viewing and not as busy as dusk. If not around 7 p.m., think closer to 6 a.m.
• Go on a weekday if you can; weekends tend to be crowded.
• Best areas for roadside viewing: Horseshoe Park, Moraine Park and Upper Beaver Meadows on the Estes Park side; Harbison and Holzwarth meadows from Grand Lake. Look for the tailgaters.
• Bring binoculars and cameras with zoom lenses and keep your distance. Leave pets at home.