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June 19, 2016

Moose

I was on a quest.  Six years ago on our family trip to Yellowstone we saw a moose from a distance.  He was running away from the road.  I captured a brief snippet of him on video as he jumped over a split rail fence and disappeared into the forest.  Although we saw several black bears, grizzlies, elk, big horn sheep, and mountain goats, we didn't see another moose the whole trip.  I was bummed.

Two years later we hit the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, and Rocky Mountain National Park.  This adventure proved exciting and unique as we showed the kids terrain that differed from red rock to mountainous forests.  While in Rocky Mountain National Park, we asked a ranger if there had been any recent moose sightings.  He directed us to a scenic trail just south of Estes Park where three bull moose had been seen regularly for weeks.  We eagerly drove to the trail and enjoyed hiking along a pretty waterfall while we strained our eyes in search of a moose.  We begged the kids to keep quiet in order not to scare off the elusive animals.  We repeated the process each day we were in Colorado.  Despite the 45 minute trip to the trail from our campsite, we trekked up to this supposed 'moose paradise' - sometimes twice a day, in order to double our chances of stumbling across this awesome animal.  We arrived early in the morning.  I passed bowls of cereal around in the car serving the kids their breakfast while we sat silently (as silently as our group is capable of sitting) hoping to get lucky.  In order to be thorough, we ate an early dinner and drove up to the trail at dusk too.  Of course, we managed to squeeze other activities into our Rocky Mountain stay until at last it was time to end our trip.  With a pit in my stomach, we loaded the car with our camping gear and headed for home. 

This year I suggested Glacier National Park as our next national park odyssey.  Coach was opposed from word one.  He cited the lengthy drive in the car, his hatred of camping, the lack of teenage interest, and the 'been-there-done-that' thought process as influencing factors in his oppositional stance.  I reminded him that we had once agreed to visit a different national park every other year.  Our DC tour and our vacation in Disney in 2015 had interrupted our national park sequence.  I suggested we get back on track and tackle this distant, yet incredible park.  First I addressed all of his  concerns. 

Teenagers.  Since when do we put any weight in what they want to do?  If we allowed them to select how our free time was spent, we would end up hanging out in our basement, munching on snacks, playing video games, paying close attention to our phones, and working hard to come up with insults directed at other family members.  No thanks.  Long drive.  True.  But I pointed out that our kids are older now.  They could tolerate longer stretches in the car.  Strong dislike of camping.  I share this sentiment whole heartedly.  Last time we camped one of our kids dropped his toothbrush under the urinal in the campground bathroom.  That same trip we failed to understand that there were stalls to shower in but no running water.  More seasoned campers marched to the wooden shower stalls erected in the middle of the campground with their own warm water supply.  After filling their water bag with water, they had laid it on the picnic table in their campsite.  The sun warmed the water while they were busy hiking, etc.  They enjoyed a warm shower after hanging their water bag on a hook mounted in the rustic shower stall.  They switched the lever on the small attached hose, which released the water and cleaned themselves in the open air concealed by the wooden stall.  Ironically, we thought we had learned so much after our first camping expedition in Yellowstone, where we woke to find some of our children sleeping partially submerged in the standing water in our tent after hours of nonstop rain.  Although it has been a few years, these nightmare camping memories haven't faded.   I reminded Coach that some of our kids still enjoy sleeping in a tent in the national park immensely.  In order to win my budget conscious spouse over, I added that National Parks aren't very expensive.  I could prepare meals in advance to warm by the fire or in a crock pot at a cabin on the nights we weren't camping.  Even the price of gas was cooperating to make this a budget conscious trip. 

In order to be fair, I researched other vacations and agreed to consider other alternatives.  A google search displayed a list of top vacation spots for families with teenagers and tweens.  Most were expensive, too far, or places we had already experienced.  The Galapagos Islands intrigued me.  I made sure to mention this dreamy trip to Coach.  As expected the expense factor made him choke a bit.  Glacier was starting to sound more acceptable.  Of course we had toured national parks already, but this would be a different location.  I admit that the increased presence of moose in Glacier impacted my inclination to visit there.  Coach eventually agreed to Glacier.  In order to make the deal more appealing to this man who dares not stray from home for too long, I compromised by shortening the trip by a day or two. 

May was a busy time of year with a graduation and a first communion.  I babysat a bit more than usual.  I worked hard to organize the house as much as possible to avoid freaking out the day before the big combo party for Lad and Curly.  As time slipped away, I became more and more annoyed that I wasn't fitting in time to pack for our big road trip.  Finally one day at breakfast, I instructed Mini to make some columns on a piece of paper.  While I busied myself in the kitchen, I dictated a list of food to prepare and gather, the limited amount of clothing I'd allow kids to stuff in their duffel bags, and the camping gear to pack for Glacier.  Once I begin a list for something, I feel accomplished.  Over the next few weeks, the list grew.  Defrosting mystery meats and offering them for meals made room for the five road trip meals I prepared and stored in the new vacant space in the basement freezer.  The date was approaching quickly, but I swore I would be prepared.

Loading the car with the bare minimum plus an abundance of food was a dizzy-spell inducing process.  Once in Glacier we settled into our cabin on the west side of the park.  In no time we discovered that the wildlife that attracted us (well, some of us) to the park could be found easier on the east side of Glacier.  We shortened our stay on the west side by one night and high tailed it to a couple of cabins on the east side.

After I had persuaded Coach to take this trip, I became nervous that the park would fail to deliver by not measuring up to our favorite park:  Yellowstone.  As we pulled into the entrance at Many Glacier, we asked the ranger if their had been any recent reports of moose in the park.  She admitted that she wasn't supposed to share, but she was too excited to keep it from us.  A mother moose had brought a baby into the Many Glacier campground.  She was nesting in the campground and we couldn't miss her.  I looked at my dad in disbelief as Coach slowly drove down the road toward the campground.  If the baby was indeed only a few days old, then it wasn't likely that the mother would be able to move quickly.  Could it be?  Were we about to see a mother moose with her newborn calf.  The ranger suggested a place to park so that we could approach the campground on foot.  She reminded us to be respectful.  We had no intentions of getting too close or overstepping nature's boundaries.  That is why we brought zoom lenses.  I attached my zoom to my camera and held it outside of the case, so that I was ready for action.

It didn't take us very long to spot her.  This enormous animal was laying about two feet behind someone's tent.  Her calf was panting heavily in the grass a few feet behind her.  We walked around the perimeter making a wide arc and studied different angles- seeking out the best spot to take photos.  Eventually a ranger showed up and informed the admiring crowd that he would have to try to encourage the moose to move elsewhere.  A campground was not an ideal place for this cow and her newborn calf.  He directed us where to stand while he maneuvered his truck in order to try to block her path from retreating further into the campground.  He hurled a handful of gravel - aiming it close enough to the reclining animal without hitting her.  This got her attention.  She stood up and assessed her options.  The baby wobbled up on its skinny legs and followed its mama.  The ranger asked that we clear out of the area.  He assured us that his attempts to move her would most likely prove temporary.  'She'll be back,' he explained.  'You can get more pictures later.  She likes it here.  This is the third year that she has brought a calf to this campsite.  She doesn't belong here and I'm going to try to urge her to move somewhere else, but I suspect she will come back.' 

As the ranger predicted, the mama and baby resurfaced at the campground.  Each time we visited her preferred nesting area, we discovered her in no time.  An animal that large is hard to miss.  Nearby campers had become accustomed to the moose's presence and continued to build campfires, play bean bag games, and roast marshmallows.  The last time we saw the twosome before we headed to the Canadian side of the park, we observed that the baby seemed to have doubled in size.  Displaying bursts of energy, the calf jumped and frolicked in the tall grass near its mother.  It was an awesome sight!           

Fortunately our wildlife encounters weren't limited to moose.  After we drove away from the mama/baby moose viewing at the campsite that first night, we discovered more wonderful surprises.  Between countless camera clicks and Coach's jockeying the big van onto the shoulder so that we could get a better look, animals seemed to fall from the sky just in front of the van - much to our amazement.  We saw a black bear at the side of the road.  About 100 yards later we stumbled upon two big horn sheep crossing the street.  A moose partially hidden by foliage ignored our squeals of delight while he stripped the branches of its tasty leaves.

We were thrilled over the next few days when we spotted more moose and other interesting animals.  A grizzly appeared just beyond the road and hesitated long enough for us to snap some photos.  A bull moose showed up down by the lake as we drove away from the camp sight one morning.  This fellow waded in the water, scratched his antlers, and seemed to pose for us as we crept a bit closer across a field where we were able to snap countless photos.  The next night, a mama moose and her yearling hung out some distance from the road behind a clump of trees.  All in all we saw seven moose.

After our initial moose sighting in the campground, Coach nudged me with his eyebrows raised, 'Can we go home now?'  My moose mission may have been accomplished, but the family road trip was far from over.  We suffered through sibling disputes that erupted in the bowels of the back row of seats, scrounged for food in the intricately packed system, rationed remaining favorite food items, shuffled luggage from cabin to tent and back again thanks to in-climate weather, and listened to complaints from shared bed assignments.  A family road trip like this is never easy, but we traveled home with new mmemories and tons of awesome pictures. 

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