During our adventure on Glacier National Park’s Highline Trail, we saw some amazing sights in still life. But I think it’s the wild life that we saw that will be the most memorable.
As we drove from Flathead to the trail head at the top of the Going to the Sun Highway, Rachel regaled us with a dramatic reading of an account of Glacier National Park’s famous “Night of the Grizzlies.” The story, which has become foundational Montana lore, relates the tale of two fatal grizzly bear attacks in the same night, August 13, 1967. One such attack involved a mother and her two cubs, just a few hundred yards from the Granite Park Chalet.
We were hiking on August 12.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Bear with me.
Right off the bat, we saw the GNP staples. A mountain sheep and a mountain goat within 100 feet of each other and only about 5-minutes into the hike. I’m still suspicious that they were animatronic, placed there before the sun comes up by enterprising tour guides hoping for fat tips from obese RV tourists.
As we hiked, countless ground squirrels crossed the trail all around us. Living in Glacier, they had developed no fear whatsoever of people (and probably come to associate us with food), so they came very, very close. Then, as I was looking down a valley, I heard Tiffany squeal.
That’s Tiff’s Universal Furry Animal Face™ and she’s making it because a marmut had crested a large rock to role into the lunch spot of some fellow hikers. The marmut was very brave… as you can see from the pictures, Tiffany was not. When I later asked her why she had been so trepidatious to feed a furry friend from her hand, she explained that the marmut was a wild animal. Probably smart.
After our close encounter with rodent kind, we set off again, and an hour later, were shocked by another – larger – sample of GNP wildlife. Equally brave, this four-point mule dear marched past the trail at a distance of about 50 yards. I followed him backward for a short distance, when he came across a steep drop framed by trees. I couldn’t have picked a better location if I was creating a digital deer with CGI! At which point, Muley posed. Literally posed. For 5 minutes, he stood there until I actually got bored taking pictures (!) and just stopped for a minute to appreciate the situation.
So there we were, euphoric from our wildlife encounters to that point, not thinking about the story we’d heard about that fateful August in 1967 when the Grizzlies reasserted their dominance. As we walked, another hiker hurried toward us on the trail. He warned that there was a mother grizzly bear and her two cubs just around the next bend.
I had never seen a grizzly bear i the wild. I’ve seen black bears (surprisingly, not in Montana, but in Virginia). But never a grizzly bear. And just around the corner – and a mere half mile from the site of the 1967 attacks – we saw them. Just like the that fateful night, a mother and her two cubs… no more than 250 yards away…
As we watched (and we watched for a long time), the bears walked along the ridge parallel to the trail. The closed the distance slowly until they were 200 yards away, between the Highline Trail that we were on and the Grinnell Glacier Trail. But the two trails merged, and the further they bears moved, the closer they got to the Grinnell Trail. All of the sudden, a man and his two young children rounded a bend and came to within a stone’s throw from the foraging bears. Finally, as we waved them off, they saw the bears and slowly backed away.
Eventually, the bears began to mosey back toward us. As it was about to rain, and everyone was hungry, we decided it was time to go. By the time we left, the bears were withing 100 yards away… and they had noticed us…
We were only in Glacier National Park for about 12 hours, but it felt like we’d been there a week. I can’t wait to go back! More pics below: