Looks like the recent snowstorms have driven the elk back down from the high country:
From the article “Elk Settle In on the Plains” by Stephen Jones and Ruth Carol Cushman for the Boulder Daily Camera (02/01/2011):
Boulder Parks and Open Space biologist Dave Hoerath says the herd that winters south of Lyons has actually been making the trek down from their summer range in the Indian Peaks Wilderness for several decades.
“Old-timers talk about seeing elk west of Longmont, and we’ve seen a few along Airport Road,” Hoerath said. “My high count on the plains was 180 on one of our properties east of U.S. 36.”
Hoerath and other biologists radio-collared 15 elk and followed their spring movements into the high country over a period of nine years.
“Most of them appear to go clear up into the tundra in the summer, concentrating in the area from Niwot Ridge north to St. Vrain Mountain,” Hoerath said. “They go almost all the way to the Divide, into the Beaver Creek and St. Vrain Creek drainages west of the Peak to Peak Highway.”
In winter, this herd drifts back and forth from the prairie grasslands to the ponderosa pine woodlands of Heil Ranch Open Space and Calwood Preserve.
This specific photo was taken from the shoulder of US-36 between Hygiene Road and CO-66. The elk heard had crossed the highway at some point, as they are on the east side in this photo.