By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
In early 2008, I was putting the finishing touches on plans for our trip to the Ozarks. I had read about the Elk reintroduction project in the Ponca Wilderness Area in Arkansas. As I talked with a friend at work and told him I planned to visit the area to see the elk, he laughed at me and told me there was no way we would see the elk.
We’re not easily deterred, so Joann and I put it on our wish list for the trip anyway. If you remember our blog “I Think We're Being Followed", where we stopped to check out armadillo roadkill, this was that same trip.
Early spring is a beautiful time to take a trip. It’s nice to see those bright green colors after our long Wisconsin winters. And even though it’s only the end of February, I am already looking forward to seeing the green of spring. I don’t want to rush the seasons, since time passes quickly enough, but usually by this time I’ve had enough of snow and can’t wait for signs of spring.
Near Ponca in the Buffalo National River area is Beaver Jim Villines’ boyhood home. William Villines built this log home in 1850 for his new bride Rebecca. Four years later, their son James was born. He became known as Beaver Jim for his trapping ability. After his marriage in 1880, he moved from this home to his own farmstead across the Buffalo River.
The native elk in this area were Eastern elk. In 1981, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Elk Restoration Project introduced Rocky Mountain elk to the area. The project was an overwhelming success. Everything I had read said that the elk were most frequently seen in late winter and early spring in the meadows of Boxley Valley.
After pulling into a parking area by the meadow, Joann mounted her wildlife lens on her camera, grabbed her tripod, and slowly made her way close to the fence. There she set up and began photographing the elk who were grazing and resting in the field. After 15 minutes or so of us being the only ones in the small parking lot, two cars pulled in and six or seven people got out of the cars.
I watched in amazement as they all reached into pockets and pulled out their small cell phones, and then each raised the phone and began to take photos. This was back in 2008 when cell phones had very small megapixels, and all I could do was smile at what their photos would show. They were all standing far back from the fence and the elk were quite a ways out in the field from the fence line. I wished that Joann would turn around and notice them, as they would have made a humorous photo. I didn’t want to call out to her since that would have ruined the photo op anyway.
After several minutes of their photo taking, they jumped back into their cars and sped off. I assume they had their tourist agenda, and that was all the time they had to devote to the elk. See the elk – take a photo - check!
We, on the other hand, were in no hurry and stayed a while longer enjoying the elk with our binoculars. Of course, we also have a big agenda when we go on our trips, but the agenda always takes us away from the areas with tourists and along the quiet backroads and natural areas of the country. After all, that’s what shunpiking is all about.