East-central Utah is a gift that keeps on giving, especially in autumn. With a Kawasaki Mule secured in the bed of our Dodge Power Wagon and having topped off with fuel at the old mining town of Sunnyside--nestled at the base of the Book Cliff Mountains--we launched our rig up a twisting, tortuous path. Climbing 4000 feet in three miles, up into and through the fir- and aspen-laced mountainsides, we reached the rarified atmosphere.
At the top is the Tavaputs Plateau. In the Ute idiom, Tavaputs means "sunrise" and nowhere are there more spectacular ones than here. Reaching the plateau, we headed south for 20 miles to the lodge where we'd spend the next several days. From May through October the Tavaputs Guest Ranch and this massive mountaintop venue offer a roster of activities that includes something for everyone.
Throughout the summer, visitors enjoy mountain biking, horseback riding, ATV and dirt-bike riding, fishing, and day hiking. However, come September, the name of the game is wildlife photography. More specifically, the monster elk found here are the real trophies. When the bulls rut, a telephoto lens becomes the weapon of choice.
For those who want to see and photograph these magnificent creatures, as well as mule deer (so named because of their large ears) and honey-colored black bear, the Tavaputs will not disappoint. And just like in a luxury cruise ship, on top of this mountain, which sits at more than 9000 feet, the lodge's proprietors--Butch and Jeanie Jensen--put on a round-the-clock feed that rivals the QE2's. The lodge offers rooms and private cabins, with plenty of creature comforts.
To locate and photograph the elk, we used the services of big-game guide Kenny Leo, who's made a science out of finding the elk. He's also skilled at building blinds--camouflaged structures where you sit and wait--near wallows or watering holes.
Inside the blind, Kenny occasionally uses a bugle or a cow call. The former replicates the sounds of a bull challenging another bull. The latter makes the sound of a cow looking for a mate. With our blind positioned just yards away from a wallow and with Kenny playing these two woodwind instruments, it wasn't long before cows, calves, spikes (young bulls with only two tines), and fully grown bulls weighing almost 1000 pounds began to show up, and show up, and show up. We took as many photos as we could.