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Upon Further Review – A Rare Photo Op


Elk, or cow? Jim Burnett photo.

National parks are great places to take photos, and there are some opportunities for unusual images at the Big Thicket National Preserve in southeast Texas.

The area is home to such an amazing variety of plants, animals, birds and other life forms that it's sometimes described as the "Biological Crossroads of North America." Even after working there as a ranger for several years, I was surprised one afternoon to witness the reported sighting of a large mammal not previously known to inhabit the area.

I was driving down a narrow, dusty, unpaved lane leading to a remote area of the Big Thicket. Riding with me in my pickup truck was a guy from New York City who was on his first trip to Anywhere West of New Jersey.

The road twisted and turned through the dense vegetation, and my passenger was taking in the variety of new sights with great interest and asking an occasional question. As we rounded a sharp bend in the road, I suddenly slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a large, rangy cow that was ambling down the sandy road.

I was about to tap the truck's horn to encourage the bovine commuter to yield the right-of-way when my passenger whispered loudly, "Wait, don't scare it off!"

I shot a questioning glance in his direction, and realized he was hurriedly removing his camera from its case and rolling down the passenger side window, obviously preparing to lean out and take a photo.

"Well, okay," I thought to myself. "He's probably never even seen a cow before, at least not in any form other than beef by the pound in his local grocery store. That makes even this scrawny specimen a pretty big deal for him, and a picture of a cow on a dusty country road would certainly qualify as a classic Texas scene."

I waited patiently until my passenger fired off several shots with his camera, but I was totally unprepared for what came next.

"Hey," my guest practically shouted with glee, "These photos will be amazing! I've never seen an elk before, and I sure didn't expect to spot one here in East Texas."

You know what? Neither did I!

This story is adapted from the book Hey Ranger 2: More True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from the Great Outdoors © Jim Burnett and Taylor Trade Publishing, used by permission.


Well hello, Jim, it's been what, 23 years since we worked together at Big Thicket? My best Big Thicket wildlife siting -- alas no photo -- was a live armadillo. I'd seen so many dead ones upside down on the side of the road that I was taken by complete surprise when a live one walked out of the woods and practically into me in the Turkey Creek Unit. My wife, on the other hand, has never forgotten when a copperhead fell out of an overhead tree and into our canoe on the Lower Neches River.

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