As deep snow piles up along the Continental Divide, herds of Rocky Mountain elk leave their alpine sanctuaries to forage in sheltered valleys and on wind-swept slopes from Montana to New Mexico.
The fall migration is an annual ritual for many of the 900,000 elk that roam the Western mountain ranges, and a natural spectacle for wildlife watchers who gather to see large congregations of the majestic animals.
One of the longest elk migrations in the nation takes place when a herd leaves Yellowstone National Park and travels to Carter Mountain, west of Meeteetse, Wyo.
“They come out of the real high alpine country in Yellowstone and migrate 60 miles to the end of this bald mountain,” says Blake Henning, 46, a land conservation specialist for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) in Missoula, Mont. “The wind keeps the snow off the mountain so they can get to the grass.”