Glacier National Park: Moose Dance on the Red Eagle Trail

After we finished driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, we stopped for a dinner at Park Cafe, one of the restaurants along US-89 in the tiny town of St. Mary, just outside the park.  We devoured a meal of burgers and huckleberry shakes.  Huckleberries are a fruit found in Montana and surrounding areas that taste similar to but not the same as blueberries.  Local gift shops sell all manner of huckleberry products ranging from jams to barbeque sauces.

Flowers along the Red Eagle Trail
Flowers along the Red Eagle Trail.  Lowell Silverman photography, 2014

We decided to do a brief hike near St. Mary Lake before sunset.  We parked near the 1913 Ranger Station, a wood structure built only three years after the park was created.  It’s a short distance from the modern St. Mary Visitor Center.  We picked up the Red Eagle Trail going south.  The trail heads through fields and marshes along the east side of St. Mary Lake.  We ran into some hikers coming the other direction who let us know that there were a couple moose at a pond about a half mile (805 m) ahead.  (Maybe it was a quarter mile.  Definitely not right around the bend, anyway.)

Moose are the world’s largest living species of deer.  Males, or bulls, with their impressive antlers, weigh in at well over 1,000 pounds (454kg).  Interestingly, it seems that the same species is known as “elk” in Europe and Asia.  That wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that another kind of large North American deer is also known as “elk”.  Here is a convenient translation chart to keep all this straight:

  • When an American or Canadian says: “I saw a moose,”  he actually means: “I saw an enormous deer with a funny snout.”
  • When an American or Canadian says: “I saw an elk,”  he actually means: “I saw a large (but not enormous) deer with large antlers.”
  • When a European says: “I saw an elk,”  he means: “I saw an enormous deer with a funny snout.”
  • When a European says: “I saw a moose,” he means: “I saw an elk but I don’t want to argue with the Americans about what it’s called.”

I’d seen moose a few times in Maine, but Rachel was very excited about the prospect of seeing them for the first time.  Actually, “excited” may be an understatement, since she began to do this, immediately dubbed the Moose Dance:

Rachel's Moose Dance on the Red Eagle Trail
Moose Dance!

To perform the Moose Dance yourself, simply bring your arms up and down in a jumping jack motion (though not as high above your head) while sort of running in place.  I can assure you that it convincingly conveys general excitement to everyone in your immediate vicinity.

Cow moose. Rachel Pulverman photography, 2014
Cow moose near the Red Eagle Trail. Rachel Pulverman photography, 2014

I’m not entirely sure where the hikers’ estimate came from, because the moose were practically around the next bend in the trail.  A female, or cow moose, was foraging with her calf in a small pond.  Amusingly, Rachel was still doing the Moose Dance as she pranced down the trail, oblivious to the animals.  I was not eager to be trampled by angry Mama Moose.

“Pssssst,” I whispered loudly to her, gesturing to my eyes and then pointing at the moose.  Rachel froze.  The animals continued foraging, apparently unconcerned, though they surely must have heard us.  Most wild animals in Glacier are pretty chill, beggar ground squirrels in areas dense with tourists notwithstanding.

Moose calf. Lowell Silverman photography, 2014
Moose calf. Lowell Silverman photography, 2014

We spent a few minutes observing and photographing the animals.  Afterward, we decided to turn around because the mosquitos were getting bad in this marshy area and we hoped to pitch our tent before dark.  Rachel was still positively giddy as we retraced our steps to the car.

Happy 'bout seeing the moose!
Happy ’bout seeing the moose!

We were camping at St. Mary Campground, located along the Going-to-the-Sun Road near the eastern edge of the park.  It’s one of the few campgrounds in Glacier that can be reserved in advance; the others are first come, first serve on the day of.  My guidebook indicated the C-loop campsites have a good view of the mountains, so I reserved site C144 online about a month in advance for a $23 fee.

Our tent at St. Mary Campground
Our tent at St. Mary Campground

The campground provides bear lockers, as well as a pretty decent restroom with good toilets and running water.  I believe there were showers but the line for them was pretty long.  The ground was pretty hard, so I was glad we had decent ground pads.  Unfortunately, by the time we set up our tent we’d missed the ranger talk at the small amphitheater on site.  Surprisingly, stargazing in Glacier wasn’t particularly remarkable.  Another park we’d visited out west, Crater Lake, had a much darker night sky and much brighter stars.  I wouldn’t have thought there was significant light pollution since we were far away from any big towns or cities, so maybe it was just an off-night.

We had a reservation for the following night at another Glacier campground, Fish Creek, though in the end we did not make it back there.  But that is another story.

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