We started looking for moose in earnest at Kootenai National Forest and Lake Koocanusa when we stayed in Libby Montana. (Strangely the lake's name is the first three letters of the Kootenai River, Canada and USA.) The website for the lake promises that "Viewing opportunities abound for deer, coyotes, river otter, moose...” The word “abound” got me excited, but no luck. Great area though, and incredibly devoid of humans, even for Montana. Kathryn mused that bears would eat my body before anyone found it, whatever that means.
We also failed to find moose at Glacier National park, even though the park and the town of Hungry Horse, near our campsite, sold moose-themed tourist gear. In hindsight, there is a stronger focus on grizzly bear and huckleberry signs, statues and mugs in that town. After dropping a zero-moose in Montana, we were obviously beginning to worry about the success of our entire road trip.
When we pulled into the campground in West Yellowstone, I jumped out of the truck and went into the office to check in. I was lucky to find one of the owners, Ken, behind the desk. Ken gave me a very extensive run down on restaurants, sites, the current location of the bison herd in Yellowstone and other tips. When he heard that we had already seen bears and elk but were hoping to see moose, he told me that if we didn’t find any in Yellowstone, he had an “ace in the hole” location where we would have the best chances of seeing moose.
We did not see any in Yellowstone, so on our last night in the area, we followed Ken's advice and drove about 15 miles into Idaho, to Big Springs loop, which is an area maintained by the US Forest Service, and is adjacent to Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The loop is a long, dirt road and the only other vehicles that we saw were recreational ATV’s. The area is popular for ATV riders, and there are lots of dirt trails for them around Big Spring.
We drove very slowly around the loop, and even ventured a bit off of the road once or twice, all the while looking out of both sides of the truck for moose. We made it most of the way around the loop and were getting ready for disappointment when we saw a road leading down to a boat launch. It was deep pot holes all the way down to the small, deserted boat launch parking lot. Off to our left, across from the launch, we could just make out a meadow through the trees.
I burst out of the truck and went into the woods toward the meadow. Kathryn yelled that I should take our bear spray, which would indeed have been the wise thing. When I got through the woods and onto the edge of the meadow, I scanned across it and couldn’t believe my eyes.
I crept back to the truck, quietly jumping up and down and waving to Kathryn. After some high-pressure component swapping comedy with our camera equipment (camera wasn’t charged, video camera was charged, but had no memory card) we returned to the field and got some good video while watching a hungry lady moose through our binoculars.
She was a big sow, even as moose go. The field was wet, full of blooming lupine flowers and among the top three places I have ever been for sheer mosquito density. t was so bad that I’m not sure that Thailand and the Amazon are the top two.
This success made us very proud; even Sonny was impressed. However, our next stop was Grand Teton National Park, and only a few days later, while hiking the trail between Heron Pond and Swan Lake, we passed a pair of women who excitedly told us that there were two moose in the water at the other end of the lake. So, among bright yellow blooming lily pads, we got to see a medium-sized mommy moose and her small youngster. (Picture at the top of this post.)
Which was cute, I guess, sure, OK. But it goes without saying that our laser focus by that time was finding American Beaver. That's another story.
Kathryn Tully and Shane Sesta are a married couple, one American and one Brit, who are spending a year traveling across America and writing about their discoveries. Sonny is their rescue cat and fried chicken aficionado.