Sleepy sightseers piled into vans at a state resort park for a nearly hour-long drive in the dark to an Appalachian coal mining site that’s become home to another valuable natural resource in eastern Kentucky.
The group gave up some extra sleeping time on a Sunday morning for a chance to get a close-up look at a majestic animal that has made a strong comeback after disappearing from these Kentucky mountains for more than a century.
That first glimpse of an elk at daybreak, as the sun peeked over the crest of hillsides, was well worth the early wake-up call.
At that point, the hunt was on for visitors armed with cameras and binoculars. The two vans rumbled along bumpy dirt roads cutting through a broad expanse of countryside flattened by years of coal mining near the city of Hazard.
“We’re in chase mode now,” said tour guide Trinity Shepherd, the park naturalist at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park at Prestonsburg.
Everyone had caught elk fever. The visitors peered out the van windows looking for antlers or patches of brown nestled in the green vegetation. It didn’t take long to find more elk and to hear a bull elk bugle — a foghorn-type bellow heard during fall mating season.
At first, the animals were spotted in solitary clusters of ones or twos.
“There goes a big bull, right there,” Shepherd said, pointing to a hulking male elk with an impressive rack of antlers.
Not far away, five elk were found at an area that provided panoramic views of patchy fog draped over the hollows.
Everyone climbed out of the vans to gaze at the animals, found meandering a few hundred meters away in lush grass and brush planted by the coal company as part of a reclamation project once surface mining had ended. Elk in the region have thrived on the man-made meadows planted after mining companies removed towering ridge tops in a controversial mining method known as mountaintop removal.
Soon, everyone was back in the van, ready for the next sightings. It wasn’t long before three more were spotted — two females and a large male about 64m away in a field.
“My lord, he’s a nice one. Isn’t he gorgeous,” said Sharyn Mallicoat of Albany, Kentucky.
The elk didn’t scamper when the van pulled up. They stared right back. The only sound was from a flock of geese flying over a ridge.
“He’s a good bull, but there are bigger,” Shepherd said, estimating the animal was 4 or 5 years old.
After several minutes, the show ended as the animals meandered off.
“He said he’s had enough,” Shepherd said. “He’s decided we’re the ugliest looking elk he’s ever seen.”
A few minutes later, a small bull elk crossed the road ahead of the vans. Then, at the top of another ridge, the sightseers came across a massive bull elk and 10 females that stood for several minutes before finally running off.
“Is that not awesome,” Shepherd said.
Male elk grow to about 385kg, and females reach about 295kg.
Other clusters of elk were soon spotted, but Shepherd had a new quest — to find a massive bull elk seen the day before by another tour group. The vans passed thousands of hectares at the sprawling mining site, but the prize bull elk wasn’t found. “There’s the big one on top of the hill. Oh, you just missed him,” Shepherd teased as he kept a sharp lookout.
The area is teeming with other wildlife — deer, turkey, geese and many other birds. But the elk are the star attractions.
Elk disappeared from Kentucky around the time of the Civil War, mainly because of overhunting.
They returned in 1997, when wildlife managers started the restoration by bringing in elk from several Western states in what was heralded as an important ecology and tourism program. The startup herds have grown to about 10,000 as the elk have flourished in southeastern Kentucky. They have no natural predators, lush food sources and milder winters than out West.
As their numbers have swelled, some elk have strayed from the Appalachian backcountry to come into contact with people. Those rogue elk have trampled gardens, flattened fences and caused car crashes.
There is a limited elk hunting season in Kentucky.
But more and more visitors are stalking the animals with cameras and binoculars. Two state parks in eastern Kentucky — Jenny Wiley and Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park at Buckhorn — offer fall and winter elk tours.
Shepherd said he scouts the animals before the tours begin to make sure the sightseers from Jenny Wiley get a look at the animals.
“We have a 100 percent success rate,” he said.
During the fall mating season, many herds feature one or two mature bull elk and their “harem” of 15 to 20 females. Small clusters of bachelor groups of young male elk also roam the countryside.
In the winter, once the mating season is over, the elk herds will expand to as many as 100 to 200 animals, Shepherd said.
Once the viewing was finished, the vans stopped to give the sightseers a chance to stretch their legs and listen to a short elk lesson from Shepherd. Then it was back in the vans for the 45-minute drive back to Jenny Wiley park to complete the five-hour tour.
The tours stretch from mid-September to March, and Shepherd said he never tires of looking at the animals.
“When you go out and see these animals back in their native range here, there’s nothing like it for me,” he said.
Sept. 28 to Oct . 4 A large number of 3000-year-old slate coffins were unearthed on a hill near Nanhe Village (南和村) in Pingtung County on Sept. 30, 1985. Unfortunately, the United Daily News (聯合報) noted that they had been seriously damaged by construction, and no artifacts or human remains were found. Although the newspaper called the find a “significant discovery,” little information can be gleaned about this specific site because it’s just one of countless locations where stone sarcophagi have been unearthed across southern and eastern Taiwan, and as north as Yilan County. These stone receptacles for the dead were
Until this summer, when the idea of hiking the length of the island first occurred to me, I didn’t even know that Cijin (旗津) had been a peninsula until 1967. That’s when diggers and dredgers severed Cijin from Taiwan’s “mainland,” because the authorities wished to create a southern entrance to Kaohsiung’s fast expanding port. The island is just under 9km long, but a bit of research quickly convinced me that a south-to-north trek wasn’t a good idea. The southern third of Cijin is dominated by container-lifting cranes, warehouses and other facilities off-limits to the public. Dunhe Street (敦和街) forms the boundary between
Sitting at the bar, martini in hand, Kristin Scott Thomas rolls her eyes briefly heavenwards. And then she declares, in one of the most memorable monologues of the cult BBC drama Fleabag, that menopause is the “most wonderful fucking thing in the world. And yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles and you get fucking hot and no one cares. But then — you’re free! No longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person, in business.” When an entranced Fleabag says she has been told the whole thing is horrendous, Scott Thomas’s character responds: “It is horrendous,
As if the climbs and views and snacks and companions of cycling in Taiwan aren’t sufficient, the GPS-generation of route-planners are now using apps such as Strava and Endomondo to create works of art as they ride. One such is nicknamed the Dove Road of Sijhih (汐鴿路), a 25km ride that follows the riverside bike path from the Nangang-Neihu Bridge (南湖橋) to New Taipei City’s Sijhih District (汐止), climbs around 400m up the Sijhih-Shiding Road (汐碇路), before dropping back down past Academia Sinica to generate a very dove-like pattern. Originally called Kippanas by indigenous Ketagalan people and transliterated into Hoklo (more commonly