Wildlife in Glacier

Glacier SP12-815

Glacier National Park has a reputation for wildlife: the park is teaming with animals of all kinds, from bighorn sheep to grizzlies. Yet photographing wildlife in Glacier is a challenge. The animals, when seen, are usually too far away to photograph; and many are not seen at all. In my four days at Glacier, I saw plenty of mule deer (they are a dime of dozen nearly anywhere you go that is forested in the West), countless chipmunk-like and squirrel-like critters (some smashed on the highway: mere tufts of blood and fur in the process of becoming PPPs [i.e., a Permanent Parts of the Pavement); a bull moose traversing along the shoreline of Lake Shelburne; what looked to be an owl in flight (difficult to determine in poor light); wild horses; and a grizzly bear. Most of these animals (particularly the moose and grizzly) were too far away to photograph. I actually had my longer, “critter” lens on my camera when I came across a smallish (probably female) griz feeding along the side of Going-to-the-Sun road between St. Mary Lake and the Jackson Glacier overlook. I snapped one picture through the front window of my car and tried to drive up closer; but the bear didn’t want anything to do with me and began to retreat into the woods, looking back at me through thickets of vegetation as I drove by. As can be seen, the one image I got of the bear is rather poor:

Glacier SP12-494

Close-up, one can appreciate the poor quality of the image:

Glacier SP12-494-2

Not sure why the image came out so poorly (other than shooting through the car window, which reduced the contrast). Perhaps cameras shake or inaccurate focus. In any case, it’s not the lens’ fault, as the following crop of a Yellowstone bear taken with the same lens demonstrates:

Yellowstone SP12-179

The other grizzly I ran across at Glacier was actually outside the park, a few miles from East Glacier. Back in September of 2010, as I was driving to Two Medicine Lake, a female and her frisky cub ran out in front of me. If I had left five seconds earlier I would have hit the bears. As I slowly passed by, the bear looked back at me, and then took off, her cub frantically trying to keep pace.

Perhaps the strangest animal sighting I ran across was the lone horse pictured above (and below). In the morning, long before anyone else had bothered to drive out on Going-to-the-Sun road, I noticed at various intervals piles of fecal matter in the middle of the road, obviously deposited there by a fairly large animal. These piles continued for miles up the road, all the way to the point where I spotted the grizzly. However, it is unlikely that the griz left those piles. As I was returning, I notice an odd sight: a lone horse wandering about in the Two Dog Flats prairie, looking a bit disconsolate and lost:

Glacier SP12-821

The horse was in the same prairie, several hours later, trotting back and forth. It is odd to see wild horses alone, doing the solo routine. It is particularly odd that this horse should have trotted over ten miles up Going-to-the-Sun road, only to turn around and come back. Where was the animal going? Why did he trot so far into Glacier National Park? There are few meadows that time of year to feed upon: just immense mountains covered with trees. The only explanation I can come up with for this odd behavior is that the horse was a raving lunatic, suffering from a form of equine psychosis.