Catherine Ryan Hyde Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 25 published and forthcoming books, including the bestselling When I found You, Pay It Forward, Don't Let Me Go, and Take Me With You.

           

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Ghost Coyote and Tule Elk

Catherine Ryan Hyde

I would hate to tool all the way up the coast to Trinidad and not get in at least one world-class hike. But the timing was tight. After all, I had to get home and get back to work on that novel. So an all-day hike didn't seem to fit.

I had hiked at Point Reyes National Seashore once before, but never out to Tomales Point. And that's where the tule elk preserve is located. I'd never seen a tule elk. And, of course, there was no absolute guarantee that I'd see one that day (yesterday), just because I walked out that trail.

I set out a little after 8:00 a.m., because it takes a while just to drive out to the end of narrow, twisting Pierce Point Road. I always like to be the first, or one of the first, out on the trail in the morning. I like the silence, the one-on-one with nature, and I particularly like to take video footage with only natural sounds in the background. No extraneous voices.

It should be noted that, on Point Reyes, to hike early is to hike in thick fog. I hiked about two miles in the thick fog, fingers crossed I would actually see an elk.

When I first saw this coyote standing in front of me on the trail, all I could see was a pair of ears. I couldn't even make out whether it was a coyote or a fawn. But I
 raised my camera. And as I did, he turned to exit, and I got it on film. Looks almost like the ghost of a coyote. You may have to look twice to even see the coyote ghost. But he's hiding in plain sight in this shot.

Then I came around the corner, and there they were. The herd. Almost all females, though I didn't realize it at the time. It wasn't until later, when I'd hiked another mile or so and saw the second grouping of males, with their amazing racks of antlers, that I focused on the difference. What I did realize at the time was that the coyote had likely been stalking the elk.

I almost wanted to warn them away, but one coyote would have to bring an awful lot of friends to bring down a tule elk. Besides, I realized, these elk lived out here with these coyotes. What could I tell them that they didn't already know?

So I just took photos and videos. Later, when I encountered the herd of males, I took even more.

 

On the hike back, it started to clear, and I briefly regretted not having seen elk in the sunlight. Watching them in the fog was ghostly and beautiful, but a clear view would be a whole different thing. Then, as if they could hear me think, I came around a curve not a mile from the trailhead, and there was a pair--one male and one female--standing in the light, with the bay (not sure if it's Tomales Bay or Drake's Estero) behind them for contrast. That's the first photo, above.

So the wildlife sightings alone made this an unforgettable world-class hike. And I never saw one other human being.

Here's the video. Note: in the final shot, with the big male elk walking away, bay in the background, you can faintly hear the strange cry they make.