While driving along a highway near the town of Fort Garland in Colorado recently, one motorist caught a pretty unusual traffic jam on film: crossing the road right in front of her was a river (that's really the only way to describe it) of hundreds of migrating elk.

Elk Herd Caption 2015 12 09
River of elk

It's a Colorado traffic jam on Hwy 159 near Fort Garland! It looks like a river of elk! #ColoradoLivingVideo by Stephanie

Posted by KOAA 5 on Monday, November 23, 2015


Also known as wapti, elk are one of the largest members of the deer family (males can reach 1.5m, or 5ft, at the shoulder), second only to moose. The animals were once found all across North America, but encroaching development and hunting have steadily forced them into more remote locations. Today, they live mostly in the mountainous areas of the western US and in Canada. 

Each year as winter begins to set in, elk migrate down from the higher altitudes as snow begins to fall. In the spring, they move back up the mountains and separate into small groups of bulls (males) and cows (females). The bulls use this time to grow out their antlers, which become weapons used to battle for dominance and mates. In the fall, smaller groups reconvene to form herds, like the one seen in this video. 

The largest elk migration in the US takes place around Yellowstone National Park, with over 200,000 elk per herd. Conservationists have established a National Elk Refuge to keep these animals safe during their wintering season. 

Although elk migrations aren’t easily predictable, there’s plenty of crazy wildlife in Colorado to go around.


Top header image: rob colonna, Flickr