Late summer has been hot and dry in northcentral Pennsylvania, not good conditions in which to head for the elk range. The arrival of a brief spell of cooler weather was enough to persuade us to make the journey. Accompanied by our daughter, I decided to take a circuitous route to visit several spots in the remote southern portion of the elk range.
The area is a high portion of the Allegheny Plateau between the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and Sinnemahoning Creek including some of the most remote portions of the state. Our drive passed through the 50,000 acre Quehanna Wild Area, once the site of a test facility for a proposed nuclear powered aircraft in the 1950s.
Quehanna was also the location of a handful of widely scattered farms in the late 1800s. It must have been a hard life on those farms, with no nearby neighbors, a short growing season and poor soils. Eventually some of the old farms were converted to food plots to enhance wildlife habitat. The history of Quehanna is outlined in Quehanna: The Blemished Jewel Restored by my old friend Ralph Harrison.
On one of the gravel roads we came upon a timber rattlesnake basking in the sun –
After urging the snake off the road, we stopped at one of those old farms to look over the fields where flat-topped white aster was in bloom –
The water level in the man-made wetland was rather low –
and some arrowhead was in bloom –
Then in was on to the heart of the elk range on Winslow Hill. We went to my favorite spots for viewing elk, BUT … with the hot dry weather the herbaceous plants on which elk feed in the summer were brown and dry.
A group of wild turkeys fed in one of the dry fields where grasshoppers were abundant –
The only elk we saw were in moist meadows along larger streams or in areas that had been mowed recently. But, we did see elk – a band of four bulls – some with shards of velvet still hanging from their antlers –
By then it was getting late, the light was fading and it was time to leave –
Note: Timber rattlesnakes are calm and non-aggressive and aren't out to get you. In over 50 years of working and recreating in rattlesnake habitat I've seen countless rattlesnakes and have stepped over two (that I know of), that I hadn't seen, without incident. This one was a mature snake close to four feet long, we may well have been the first humans it had ever encountered.