Lately, I’ve had many opportunities to drive past the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area, just east of Reedsport. Each time, I always look for elk out in the meadows, and I frequently stop for a closer look and to stretch my legs. For me, there is something captivating about the elk – maybe it is their size, or maybe the number that sometimes gather there, or maybe it is how close they are and yet how undisturbed they are by our presence. I know it is not just me, because there are always people stopped there watching and taking pictures along with me.
When we visited yesterday, the males were close to the parking lot grazing on the lush grass while the females were off in the distance with their young calves.
Once we got home, I did a little research to find out more about these animals that I’ve always found interesting to watch. I learned that they are grazers, not browsers like deer are. This explains why almost all of my pictures show the elk with their heads buried in the grass — they walk along eating and rarely look up.
Each winter, elk shed their massive antlers and begin growing a new set. I find this incredible, considering how large their antlers get – they must need to consume a lot of grass to compensate for the energy and nutrients necessary to grow antlers that large every year. Right now they are in velvet, which is a soft layer of skin covering the antlers and taking nutrients to them. Once the antlers finish growing the velvet will come off.
Typically, elk spend the warmer months in the high mountain meadows and then come down to the valley bottoms in the winter where more food is available. Unfortunately, today most of this bottom land is being used for farm land or it is urbanized. According to the book “Northwest Nature Guide“, it is this loss of winter habitat which is the biggest problem facing elk today. In response, wildlife agencies and private conservation groups have been acquiring land which is critical winter habitat for elk. At Dean Creek, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the weather is so mild and the food so abundant that the elk are primarily year-round residents (a bonus for those of us who travel Highway 38!).
Logistics: The Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area is a 1,000 acre site which hosts about 120 Roosevelt elk throughout the year. To get there from Cottage Grove, head south on I-5. Take exit 162 and head through Drain and Elkton on Highway 38 (the road will take a hard right in the “center” of Drain). Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area is about 33 miles west of Elkton, and just 3 miles east of Reedsport.