Sunday, February 1, 2009

Oak Creek Wildlife Area

The Oak Creek Wildlife Area is located just outside of Naches, Washington near (and at) the junction with SR 410 and SR 12. For California Bighorn Sheep and Rocky Mountain Elk, this is one of the best wildlife viewing points in our state. Add in the many Bald Eagles and other visitors to the area, and it is an experience that can't be missed!

I have visited the Oak Creek Wildlife Area many times now, and each visit has been a different experience. Be it snow vs. sunshine, the turnout of the different herds, or the number of eagles feeding on the carcases of deceased animals.

The best way to visit the area from the Seattle area is to drive I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass to Wenatchee, turn south on I-82 and follow it to Yakima, then follow the signs for SR 410 to Naches.

I recommend beginning your day by visiting the big horn sheep (they are first to get fed). At the intersection of SR 410 and SR 12, turn right and follow the narrow road about a 1/2 mile to a well signed parking lot on the left. If you get there early, it is fun to watch the big horn sheep make their way down the hillsides from far above! Take your time here and enjoy watching the sheep interact with one another - especially if rams are present.

Next it's time to visit the elk back at the junction. As you approach the junction, look up. You will likely see the hillside dotted with elk waiting for the feed truck to arrive. Park on the southeast side of the junction, carefully cross the road and walk up the short embankment to the fence. The herd will be waiting for you! This herd numbered about 500 just a couple of weeks ago, and proved much more skittish than the herd at park headquarters.

Drive another 1/2 mile up SR 12 and you will arrive at park headquarters. This is where the big herd can be viewed, and many of the elk will likely already be lounging in the field near the parking lot. This herd numbered over 800 just a couple of weeks ago.

First stop should be the visitor center, to both warm up and sign up for one of the free truck tours offered. The staff here are very friendly and knowledgeable, with many stories to share. Please be sure and leave a donation to help support their efforts. Restrooms can be found on the opposite side of the building.

The truck tours take you out into the middle of the herd where they park, allowing guests time to photograph and observe the elk at much closer range. The trucks are associated with food and are accepted by the elk. People however, are not. During one tour a little girl dropped her hat on the ground. The guide waited until she felt most people were done, then asked permission from them to retrieve the hat. We soon learned why. As soon as she set foot on the ground, the elk panicked and ran away!

For more images, visit my Oak Creek, Elk, and Big Horn Sheep galleries.

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