Has a mountain goat ever blocked you from using an outhouse? If not, here’s what it looks like:
Marie and I had just hiked almost seven miles with 3,400 feet in elevation gain to reach the Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park. We were hoping for a quick bathroom break before checking out our room, but our new goat friend had other ideas. We didn’t expect the mountain goats that hang out by the chalet to be quite so comfortable around people.
Built over 100 years ago by the Great Northern Railway, the Sperry Chalet was originally part of a chain of backcountry lodges that allowed visitors to hike the length of Glacier National Park without having to camp. Today only two of those lodges remain – Sperry Chalet and Granite Park Chalet – and in 2017 a wildfire burned Sperry to the ground. The park rebuilt the chalet around the original stonework and reopened it in 2020. Reservations are tough to get. To find a room Marie and I had to constantly check for cancellations until a spot opened up for one night in early August.
Sperry is rustic by normal hotel standards. The rooms don’t have heat, bathrooms, or electricity. But in the backcountry it feels pretty luxurious to be served multi-course meals, stay in a private room, and sleep in a bed with sheets. The views aren’t too shabby either.
After lunch and a rest, Marie and I made the short hike from the chalet to Lincoln Pass. A few friendly goats were there to greet us. We didn’t understand until later that mountain goats often lack certain minerals in their diet and sometimes hang out near people with the hope of scoring some salty urine. Gross.
At dinner that night Marie, thankfully, handled our side of things when the chalet staff went around the room asking people to introduce themselves. Everyone seemed extremely nice, and we joked about what would have happened if instead of introducing us Marie just said “%$*# off!” We’re not nearly gutsy enough to try something like that, of course, however entertaining the prospect might be.
After breakfast the next morning we hiked back down to our car and headed home over Going To The Sun Road. On our way into the park two days earlier we’d passed a black bear eating berries by the side of the road.
We arrived home in time to catch Montana Shakespeare in the Parks performing King Lear on a beautiful sunny evening in our town’s small park. We just missed last year’s play and were very glad to be there for this one, which was also a nice way for us to celebrate our first full year of living in Silver Gate.
In August I continued to walk into Yellowstone along the park’s northeast entrance road almost every morning. Wildlife sightings dropped dramatically from July, and because of construction work the park closed the road to hikers at Warm Creek, which meant my walks weren’t quite as exciting or as long as they had been. But I can think of worse ways to start my day. And on the bright side, park officials say the road repairs are going well and that they’re still confident a temporary fix will be in place by mid-October.
As compensation for seeing less wildlife in the park, some of our favorite animals made housecalls in August. Early in the month a moose mom and calf spent hours grazing in Jill and Greg’s (our neighbors) yard.
A few days earlier a black bear made a daring daytime garbage raid at the lodge across the creek from our cabin. A bear – we’re guessing the same one – had been spotted pretty frequently around town this summer, usually at night. One morning we woke up to find that a bear had knocked over our hummingbird feeder and left sugar-water tracks on our deck, and Jill and Greg’s trailcam caught a bear trying unsuccessfully to break into their garbage can in the pre-dawn dark. The daytime raid at the lodge seemed like a troubling escalation. All too often wild animals are the ones who pay the price when our bad behavior (like not securing our garbage) leads them astray.
Later in the month the moose mom and calf returned to Jill and Greg’s yard, followed a few days later by a surprisingly large bull moose. All three moose visitors kept an eye on us, but as long as we maintained a respectful distance they seemed perfectly relaxed. I love being in a place where we can have those kinds of extended encounters with wildlife. It’s pretty incredible.
At one point the bull moose crossed the creek and seemed to be leaving. I moved up to Jill and Greg’s fire pit to watch him go, only to have the moose turn around, walk slowly back across the creek and head straight towards me, forcing me to retreat to Jill and Greg’s porch. The moose seemed justifiably confident that he had the right-of-way.
Silver Gate’s brief summer already feels like it’s slipping away. The air has an edge it lacked in July, and the days are significantly shorter. Every season here has its charms, but I have to admit to feeling some amount of dread at the prospect of busting out our snow shovel again…