Some of our elk encounters though were a little closer than that. One such encounter was when we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs. There was a hotel and dining hall there where we could get lunch. When we came out and began to drive away, I did a double take as we discovered three elk grazing on the grass in front of the park buildings in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of park visitors. The bull elk with a nice set of antlers eventually just sat down in the middle of the center green area and watched nonchalantly as cameras snapped and people moved around him--carefully.
Just as the warnings about bison were posted, so were warnings about the elk. In the introduction to the park, we were reminded that this was rutting season. Later I would learn that the Mammoth Springs area was prime territory for the mating season or "rut." That meant that if the bull elk felt threatened--as in you were coming between him and his mate, you were in trouble whether you had antlers to buck his with or not.
One of the films we watched in a visitor center showed a bull elk tossing a woman a few feet into the air. I was determined to keep my distance. As a matter of fact, viewing them from the car sounded the best to me but eventually you are lured into getting out to get the better shot. Like when we found a bunch of people who had discovered a bull elk laying in the shade of some trees. I got just close enough to use my telescopic lens and get a good shot but others were inching closer and closer. Hadn't they seen the video, I wondered? I got my shot and trotted back to the car.
The elk and bison seemed to share the same fields for grazing. At least they didn't look like there was a territorial war going on. Maybe they just had a good healthy respect for each other. Maybe the bison who had just gotten through their rut wanted to watch the bull elks fight it out over the female elks. They did stay on the fringe of any elk herds.
Unlike the bison, we did not encounter elk on the road. Perhaps because the bull elks only get up to about 700 pounds as compared to the one ton bison they are more likely not to confront things the same or larger than them. All in all, there are about 10,000-20,000 elk in the park so like the bison, you are very likely to see them without much searching.
In the winter apparently, the elk wander outside the park where they are fair game for hunters when in season. Inside the park, they are food for bears, wolves, and mountain lions and scavengers like the bald eagle and coyote.
Toward the end of our visit we didn't even take pictures of the elk and bison. How many did I want to go through back home? Instead we just stopped and watched for a time--sometimes involuntarily when the animals were backing up traffic. Still, it was amazing.