Another Trip to the WDFW’s Oak Creek Elk Feeding Station near Naches
February 27, 2016
To view photos of this trip, visit www.tripper.smugmug.com
Darlene and I discussed this 160-mile busy freeway drive a few times during December, January, and early February, but we twice chose a 130-mile scenic trek to visit North Powder instead.
We felt disappointed both times because we saw so few elk, perhaps because we arrived late.
We did see pleasing scenery, a few coyotes, one red fox, many wild turkeys and half a dozen distant eagles.
Then, during breakfast on a Friday morning (Feb.27), I watched an 8:45 a.m. TV program from Yakima with coverage of the elk feeding near Naches. I described the program to Darlene -- more than 1200 elk had been counted there on the 24th -- and, excited, we scrambled to dress, load the gear and go.
We could see blue skies with scattered dark clouds as we headed west from Walla Walla a few minutes past 9:40 a.m.
We made one stop for gas and the restroom, and we arrived at the feeding site well before 1 p.m. A daily pass to park cost $10, We chose an annual Recovery Pass for $30, which would be good through next January.
I registered right away to get a seat on the final tour ride of the day at 2 p.m.
Sadly, Nora was not allowed to leave the car, so Darlene spent most of the visit sitting with her.
I spent the time before the tour walking along the fence with a 150-600-mm lens on a monopod. Many of the groups of elk fed, strutted and lounged within 20-50 yards.
Finally, after changing to a smaller, less cumbersome 28-300-mm lens, I climbed aboard the final tour truck of the day, along with 10-12 other adults and two children. We toured slowly among the 1,000 or so feeding-lounging elk.
It seemed as if we could reach out and touch some of them, but no one tried.
The woman guide kept us interested with a fluid, informative presentation about elk, their natural lifespan (up to 25 years for cows, 15 years for bulls that sometimes weigh 1,000 pounds).
The guide said Testosterone keeps bull’s massive antlers (often weighing 75 pounds) attached to their heads. The horns fall off when testosterone levels dwindle.
Darlene and Nora watched the elk feed about 20 beyond the fence directly in front of the pickup.
Darlene visited the nearby\office with its displays.
She also watched the several eagles that flew over the elk and perched in the trees on the northwest (near the office?) end of the feeding area. She saw one eagle catch some small critter (rabbit, squirrel, cat, etc.), land on the hillside and eat it.
In three-or-so hours I captured 400-plus images of elk feeding in a very large lot like cattle. The feeding aims to keep elk from roaming wild and damaging agricultural lands and crops.
I enjoyed the photographic challenge.
The bright sunlight created the usual shadows, and it created a severe contrast between the light-brown or tan sides and rumps of the elk and their dark brown-black shoulders, necks and heads.
I repeatedly worked with camera settings to avoid under and over exposure while maintaining a fast shutter speed to record sharp images and an f/8 to f/11 aperture to record adequate depth of field.
Some settings worked better than others.
We left the feeding station shortly after 4 p.m. and dined at Miners. Darlene had halibut and chips, which she praised.
I had the World Famous Miner Burger that I also praised, but, alas, my stomach chastised my choice quite harshly at the Exit-80 rest stop.