Elk, Bison and Rental Cars


The first big trip that my husband and I took was to the Land Between the Lakes along the Kentucky-Tennessee border. We had taken the scenic route through this parkland that is managed by the USDA and saw signs advertising an elk and bison prairie. I convinced my reluctant husband that seeing elk and bison would be really neat and talked him into driving through the prairie.

There was no attendant at the entrance. It was automated, and a little eerie, but I assured my husband that there would be much distance and fences between us and the animals (because I couldn’t imagine that there wouldn’t be). We paid our $3.00, learned about the elk and bison that were native to this area at one time, and entered a gate that reminded me of the entrance into the original Jurassic Park. The fence was as tall as most buildings and covered with many coils of barbed wire. We drove to the gate; it opened slowly, and we rumbled across the cattle grate to the other side as the gate ominously slid closed behind us. Immediately we saw elk everywhere. So I chatted about their magnificence in an attempt to cut the tension in the car as my husband and I both realized that there was nothing between them and us, and that elk and bison are pretty darn big.

We drove onward, and encountered a huge bison munching grass only a foot or so away from the road. “Should I go?” my husband asked.

“I don’t think so. Maybe we should let him have the right of way.”

We were in a bright red Acura Integra, which in the shadow of the bison now seemed tiny, sort of like a red cape taunting a charging bull. We waited until he finished his snack.

Our next challenge involved driving through a creek. The road was flanked on either side with poles that marked the depth of the water across the road. The creek was quite low on this day, fortunately, because we both envisioned being flooded out in a tiny red car among hundreds of bison and elk in an area where the cell phone had no signal.

After we crossed the fence, we saw little clusters of grazing animals off in the distance, and admired them from the distance. We continued along the single-lane loop through the prairie and soon were nearing the gate through which we had entered.
There was one road out of the prairie, and three elk stood between us and the fence—a cow and her young calf on the west side of the road and the accompanying bull on the east side. As we edged ever carefully toward them, the bull looked up and came toward us. We stopped. This was no bison, granted, but this elk wasn’t exactly small.

The bull moved to the middle of the road and stood between us and the exit, just looking at us, daring us to even try to exit. We sat there, silent, alternately looking at each other and the buck. We not only kept the car still, but we kept our bodies still, as well. We weren’t sure exactly how long we would be there, but it was pretty clear the bull was in control. I took some comfort in the fact my mom would send out the National Guard if we didn’t arrive in Atlanta on time, but only small comfort.
Finally the calf ran off into the wooded area to our west, and the cow and the bull dutifully followed. We lost no time crossing the cattle grate and getting through the fence to safety on the other side.

“Next time we do something like this,” my husband declared, “it’ll be in a rental car!”

© 2008 Michele Arduengo. All Rights Reserved.

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