Roosevelt elk in Olympic National Park

The Olympic Peninsula in Washington.

The Olympic Peninsula in Washington is such a unique and beautiful area. The Dagobah-like area sports beautiful waterfalls, dense trees, and ubiquitous moss. The Hoh Rainforest is a beautiful area, and has some interesting wildlife, including the Roosevelt elk.

Roosevelt elk (Cervus elephaus roosevelti) is the largest of the 4 subspecies of elk. There is a large population in the Hoh rainforest, as well as a smaller population in Alaska near Kodiak Island (the Alaskan elk originate from 8 Hoh rainforest elk calves that were transplanted in the late 1920s to replenish a historic population; an additional herd was sent north again in the 1980s). Roosevelt elk tend to have darker hair than Rocky Mountain elk and larger antlers. Their name comes from President Theodore Roosevelt, who designated the Hoh rainforest area a National Monument in the early 1900s to protect the elk herds in the area. The National Monument later became Olympic National Park.

Yes, this is how they move elk.
Image source:
A beautiful Roosevelt elk cow stands in the Hoh rainforest with rain running down her back and trees and moss in the background.
Roosevelt elk doe in the Hoh rainforest.

We saw this doe (oops, they’re called cows if they’re elk, apparently) from our car, it was a complete chance encounter. I was hoping to see some of the herd, and after hiking for a couple hours we decided the rain was getting too heavy and called it for the day. Just after we packed up and started driving, we turned a corner and saw this elk standing on a hillside. You can see her coat is pretty soaked from the rain. As we saw her in the spring, I have to wonder if she was pregnant or just very well-fed (there’s a lot of vegetation for them to graze in the rainforest!) She gave us a couple seconds of viewing before she went on her way. She definitely was stockier than the Rocky Mountain Elk I’m used to seeing.

Dense pine trees covered in moss stand together.
Moss-covered trees in the Hoh rainforest.

The Hoh rainforest is about 4 hours west of Seattle. It’s not the easiest area to access, but definitely worth seeing especially if you’re heading back east from the coast. As it’s a rainforest, it gets almost continual rain in the later fall through early spring. We went in April and it was pleasant temperatures, but yes, lot of rain.

The X-Factor in Horses

The x-factor is a strange-sounding name that makes sense with a little explanation. The “x” is for the x-chromosome and factor is, well, a factor.

The quickest explanation of what the x-factor is in equines is a genetic abnormality or mutation that causes an enlarged heart. (Quick note: the x-factor is still a hypothesis, not a proven genetic mutation…yet). Normally, an enlarged heart would be cause for alarm in a beloved pet. For example, domestic cats can have a kind of enlarged heart, called cardiomegaly (if you break down the word, cardio means pertaining to the heart and megaly means abnormal enlargement– so the term literally means a big heart) which can cause breathing problems and shorten their life-span (though if diagnosed early it can be treatable and kitties can live with it and be comfortable, something I saw first-hand as a vet tech). Horses too can have cardiomegaly from heart disease that can lead to problems, but that kind of enlargement is usually seen later in life. The x-factor’s large heart can actually benefit performance horses in their work.

To learn about the emergence of the x-factor, we need to go back many years and generations through the bloodlines of thoroughbred horses. Pedigree information for thoroughbreds goes back hundreds of years, and the lineage of a single horse can be traced back to the 15th century or earlier (the names get less and less ornate the further back you go, and names like “yellow mare” become the norm). Bloodlines mean everything in the horse world, especially for horse breeders. If a certain characteristic or quirk can give a horse an advantage on the track or in the ring, a horse commanding that trait can become a hot commodity for breeding. Though males can produce more offspring, the horses predominantly in control of the x-factor are female, as they have the XX genotype and so can only pass an X chromosome on to their colts of fillies.

Though thought of as a female genetic trait, the first horse noted to have a larger than normal heart was Eclipse, a stallion thoroughbred born in 1764. (He is noted as “temperamental and difficult to train,” which is a lovely description). Eclipse is also attributed to being the foundation horse of the modern thoroughbred breed, and contributing to modern quarter horses as well.

Without delving too far into horse bloodlines, the results (or probably results, remember the X-factor is still technically a hypothesis) of the x-factor gene can be seen in race horse history easily with some big names. Secretariat, Sham, (the horse who was Secretariat’s closest rival), and war Admiral were all descendants of Eclipse and were all found to have larger than normal hearts to go along with their impressive race records. When Sham was necropsied after his death, his heart was found to be 18 lbs, or more than double the size of heart that was expected. Sadly, Sham died of a heart attack (a side effect of the x-factor?). Secretariat has been thought to have had a heart weighing 23 lbs, while Eclipse had a 14lb heart (which is still almost double the average thoroughbred heart weight).

(Kaprys Photography is my former business, if you’re wondering about the additional watermark).

So what good does a large heart do? Why isn’t it a hindrance? Well, it allows more blood to be pumped because of larger heart muscle. This means the muscles of the horse get more oxygen more quickly than a horse with a smaller heart who is the same size otherwise. The x-factor horse will tire less readily and could potentially be better at distance races or even sprints.

Because many stellar race horses have larger hearts, the x-factor has been the presumed indicator of performance. However, like most things genetic, it’s probably not just one gene or one anatomic abnormality that is responsible for success.

I will say I have a horse who may have the x-factor himself. He’s a big boy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a big heart (he already does in spirit). He’s a good performance horse, though now enjoying semi-retirement at 21 years old. He’s fast and doesn’t tire easily. Does he have the x-factor? I’m not sure. He is a direct descendant of Sham (a bit strange as he is a Polish warmblood, but when you consider Sham’s daughter Long Meadows was sent to England and Austria for breeding it makes more sense) and he was a champion jumper in his youth. If he inherited anything from Sham that I’m most impressed with, it’s his personality and willingness to work, which are both stellar qualities in any horse.



An interesting find in the Utah west desert

The Utah West Desert: perfect for social distancing.

Out on the border of the west desert in Utah, you’ll see some odd things: the salt flats, the Dugway bombing range scars, and strange plaques. This modified cairin and plaque in the Grassy Mountains were accessed by dirt bike; there are some nearby roads (primitive, “roads” is used loosely) on BLM land. This area is open for recreation: just on the west side of the Grassy Mountains is the Dugway proving grounds. Don’t wander into Dugway, aka Area 52 (as a former colleague and former Dugway employees tells me). This site used to be a test site for chemical weapons, though that was stopped years ago (check out the Dugway Sheep Incident for an incident involving Dugway in the 1960s).

The plaque in the Grassy Mountains.

Anyway, the plaque is definitely not anything official. It reads “This monument was made by Geo [George] Davis Bower in Dec 1895 herding sheep for Deseret Livestock Co plaque was made by Bower family put on Aug 15 1973.”

The map below shows the I-80 Grassy Mountains rest stop, the mountains directly north are the Grassy Mountains themselves. The marker is in the upper 1/3 of the mountains on the west side.

I was curious about this, so I sent an email to the Research Center of the Utah State Archives & Utah State History. The response was quick, and they’re very helpful and nice! They have no record of an official monument or plaque on the site, but they did find a young George Davis Bower on the 1880 census record for Croydon, Morgan, Utah (line 21 below). Also, there may be some evidence of polygamy in the census below. Three women heads of households with young children and the same last name (lines 9-18 below). This was in 1880, and Utah wasn’t granted statehood until early 1896 on the condition polygamy be outlawed. So, not illegal at this time, but still interesting. Utah’s late statehood was mainly due to the resistance to giving up polygamy.

They also sent me a bit of info on the Deseret Livestock Company, which was (and is) owned by the LDS Church. They had Mainly sheep, and now it seems another area owned by the same company is a bird refuge out in eastern Utah (according to the Audubon Society). The area out by this plaque was the Skull Valley Winter Range. The company wasn’t incorporated until 1891, so this monument must have been placed before it was “ officially “ a company. The Skull Valley Range was apparently purchased from the Iosepa Ranch in 1917 (so really this plaque may be off on dates or who actually owned the land when the monument was built). Iosepa is now a ghost town of a Hawaiian Mormon settlement. The town was actually deserted in 1917, when the Iosepa Ranch was also bought out. The area is really harsh, and it’s pretty easy to see why crops didn’t grow well before widespread irrigation was available. I have not been to Iosepa yet, and there’s not much of the buildings left. There is a monument and a cemetery that is still kept up by descendants, however.

For more information on the Deseret Livestock Company, I was sent this link to a digital book. If you happen to know anything about this area or monument/plaque please let me know! I’d love to learn more. Thanks for reading! I’ll update here if I learn any more.

Cliffs out in the west desert.