• Bandelier Short-horned Lizard


    National Monument New Mexico


bull elk

In the 1960's elk were reintroduced into the Jemez Mountains and Bandelier to replace Merriam's elk which had been hunted to elimination.

photo by sally king

Once Gone
In winter it is not uncommon to see elk as you drive down the park road to the visitor center. This was not always the case. Based on findings in archeological sites the native elk species, Merriam's elk, had long inhabited the Jemez Mountains and Bandelier but only in small numbers. By the early 1900's hunting had eliminated these elk from the area. In the 1960's elk were brought in from places such as Rocky Mountain National Park and were reintroduced onto the Pajarito Plateau.

bull elk

Elk are large mammals that eat great volumes of plant material.

photo by sally king

Big Mammals, Big Eaters, Big Trouble
A bull elk can weigh more than 1000 pounds. With heavy hooves they can tear up the landscape and the archeological sites that are found there. With large stomachs, elk can eat great volumes of low quality vegetative material such as aspen, choke cherry, and oak. Elk, like people, have favorite foods which they will eat until they are unavailable. Aspen bark and shoots are a favorite elk food. Hard to digest and lower in nutrition, aspen is rarely consumed by mule deer. In areas where elk populations are high, aspen shoots are not surviving but are consumed over and over by browsing elk until they can not regenerate. If elk populations remain high, there may be areas where aspen will be eliminated.
elk moms and calves

Elk moms with their calves are much more likely to be seen in the higher elevations.

photo by sally king

Elk in Bandelier
Although elk may be seen any time of the year in Bandelier, you are far more likely to see them in the lower elevations, such as along the entrance road, in the winter. Elk tend to migrate through the park with the seasons, moving from the higher cooler elevations in the summer to the lower less snowy elevations in the winter. Bugling elk in the fall and young spotted elk calves in the summer are much more likely to be seen at the higher elevations within the park or in the nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve.
bugling bull elk

Bull elks sport a large set of antlers and have a unique call or bugle to attract mates and assert their territories.

photo by sally king

Elk Courtship
In the autumn if you are hiking in the higher elevations of the park you may hear a strange high-pitched whistling. Bull elks not only grow a large set of antlers with which to defend their territory and attract females, but also have a distinctive call.

elk herd
You are far more likely to see elk in Bandelier during winter than any other season.
photo by sally king
standing elk
Female elk, such as this one, are often seen along the park entrance road in the winter when heavy snow makes browsing in the high country difficult.
photo by sally king
am bull elk 3
Although less common, sometimes large bull elk can be see along the roadway as well.
photo by sally king
bull elk
Bull elk are far more often seen in the park's high country or the nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve.
photo by sally king

Did You Know?