It seems unlikely, but a healthy elk population resides in the parched canyons and bluffs of Mesa Verde National Park.
About 150 elk live in the park, and they are mostly non-migratory, said park biologist Paul Morey.
"They've figured out if they'll be hunted outside park boundaries, so we have quite a few trophy bulls that are larger than outside the park," he said during a recent talk at the Far View lodge.
Elk have a shared history with early Native Americans, who hunted them and used them for food, clothing, jewelry, and bone tools.
"Petroglyphs are known to be chipped out by antlers," Morey said. "One theory is that they traded the meat."
As pioneers flooded the area, Colorado elk nearly went extinct from overhunting. By 1910, there were just 1,000 in the state.
In 1913, Rocky Mountain elk from Yellowstone National Park were introduced to boost numbers. Today, the Colorado elk population, at 260,000, is the largest in the world.
Mesa Verde's elk are still wary of people, unlike some seemingly tame elk seen at Rocky Mountain National Park.
"They're a relative new population, and are apprehensive," Morey said.
Water in the park is scarce, but the elk are adept at finding it, including from treated effluent from the sewer plant, at springs in Morefield Canyon, and at the Mancos River.
Drought has dried up springs and reduce the 2000 population of 250 animals.
"During drought, elk will migrate great distances to find water," Morey said.
Managing a herd of 75 feral horses on the park is a challenge for park officials because they compete with native elk.
At one natural watering hole set up with cameras, a park study shows horses chased off elk 82 percent of the time. Whereas elk will move on to find water, horses tend to stay at a watering hole even as it dries up, Morey said.
To combat the feral horse problem, the park recently installed specialized, high-tensile fencing at the park boundary that allows elk to jump over, but is too high for horses. The idea is to keep horses from entering the park from the Ute Mountain Ute reservation where there are an estimated 1,000 feral horses.
Elk are a prey animal, and contribute to the ecologic balance of the park, Morey said.
Mountain lions at the park have honed in on elk, helping to control the population. In one instance, biologists determined that a mountain lion chased an elk off of a cliff, then fed on the carcass on the shoulder of the park road, a scene witnessed by lucky tourists driving by.
"We've documented a fight between two bulls resulted in one being pushed off a cliff as well," Morey said.
The elk add to the park experience, he said.
"In the evening you can hear them bugling from FarView Lodge, and I get to see them every day."
Interestingly, Rocky Mountain big horn sheep were known to have occupied Mesa Verde as recently as 2006. Re-introduction of Colorado's state animal to the park is worth looking into, Morey said.