Hiking the Taggart lake Trail
Written by the owners of Mooseworld. © 2000 Mooseworld.
From Taggart Trailhead in Grand Teton National Park, a hiker sees the vista of the heart of the Teton Range, mountains that rise spectacularly to their 12 and 13-thousand feet peaks. The trail begins innocently enough in a field of wildflowers, forks left to Beaver Creek trail and right to a trail leading to Taggart and Bradley Lakes, about two miles away.
My wife and I were not the first on the trail that morningthe parking lot attested to thatbut there was no one else on the Taggart Trail when we started out on a sunny, cool, perfect August morning at about 9:30am. The trail turns north through a meadow and then crosses Taggart Creek, which was flowing vigorously with the loud sound of water rushing over stones. Then the trail turns west toward the mountains and begins a gentle ascent toward the steeper glacial moraines that hold the alpine lakes. In bear country we knew that rushing water could mask the sound of our approach, so when I mistook a log in the creek for the shadow of an animal my heart skipped a beat.
But I saw it was a log, felt guilty for my reaction, and kept hiking a few steps ahead of my wife. Moments later she said, "I hear something!" On our left side was the creek and on the right was a rise of fairly dense Aspens. I looked up to my right and saw two huge brown figures in the mottled sun and shade. I immediately recognized two moose, both moving! But moving where? In another instant I said, "It's moose!"
"Two huge brown figures"
As the owners of Mooseworld, my wife and I know how to view wildlife safely. For moosemagnificent animals that can weigh more than a thousand poundsthis means staying a safe distance away, preferably viewing the moose from a car or bridge. Just the day before we took photos of a cow and calf from the bridge over Christian Creek near Jackson Lake Lodge. If you happen to be hiking on a narrow trail with a creek to your left and a woody area to the right, though, the dynamics of safety change. Moving away up or down the trail would be the first line of defense.
In the instant that I identified the moose my wife only had seen the two hulking objects. For all she knew, there were two Black bears twenty feet from us. Then she noticed the antlers and said "They have antlers!" She was stunned. She had seen not just two moose, but two bull mooseright in front of her. It was like an apparition she later told me. She was amazed that it was happening. It was like a dream. She instinctively retreated and said, "I'm scared."
My only thought at that time was "they're huge" and "unbelievable." And I think I said out loud, "They're huge!" "Unbelievable!" Their antlers were spectacular, covered with velvettypical for this time of yearand wider than I can stretch my arms. Then I saw that their movement was not threatening; they were browsing the Aspens, and no longer moving. They were quite busy, actually. I told my wife, "Bring me the camera." "It's OK." "They're feeding."
It seemed almost surreal since it had become so quiet. My wife crept up the trail, more confident now with the realization that this was a moose, not bear encounter. When she reached me we both crouched down so that the moose could not see us. But I think they did, just didn't particularly care that we were there. For the most part, with the significant exceptions of bulls during the rut and cows with calves, moose are gentle creatures. And these two gigantic bull moose were just that, peacefully nibbling on the succulent Aspen leaves on a cool, sunny August morning, twenty feet from two moose-loving hikers on the Taggart Trail. Nirvana for everyone.
My wife turned around so that I could get our camera from her fanny pack. I don't recall that we said anything to each other, probably more because we didn't want to disturb the moose than because we were fearful. In fact, by now, seeing just how occupied they wereas I said before, "busy,"I was not fearful but remained alert. I knew that I would never have put myself in this position, but here I was. I wanted to get some photos to document our experience. I wanted photos for Mooseworld!
By now I learned later my wife had moved up trail of me. I was totally occupied with taking pictures of the moose and watching carefully that they were as devoted to their browsing as I thought they were. I took two initial pictures with the 90mm zoom on my Vivitar point-and-shoot camera.* I was worried about photographing the moose because the moose, and I, were in the dappled light of the sun coming through the Aspens. With my camera, a lot depends on good lighting. I was worried about that.
After taking two pictures, and not wishing to press our luck (feeding or not, these were still two thousand-pound wild animals), I turned saw my wife and walked a bit up the trail toward her, never turning from the moose. Having gained her own understanding that the moose were merely browsing, she said "How many pictures did you take?" I replied that I had taken two. She said, somewhat urgently, "I think you should take some more."
So I crept back, verified that the moose were more than busy, actually very unconcerned that I was there. (I am certain they could see us as well as we could see them.) That's when I got serious about framing a photo in the right light and I took two more pictures. For the second I really eased into the Aspens and took our prize picture of one of the bull moose eating and looking right at me.
Then I went back to my wife, muttering over and over "unbelievable" because that's what it was, unbelievable. Later, when we told this story to some long-time residents of Jackson, they seemed amazed. You can see moose up closethey can come right up to the window of your homebut, we found out, it is exceedingly rare to be as close to moose as we were with nothing in between! One resident said, "I've been living in Jackson Hole for nine years and no one I know has gotten that close to a bull moose and lived to tell about it."
That was an exaggeration, of course, but his point was well taken. Two points really. The first was that we were very lucky to have been on Taggart Trail at this particular moment of time. Later we saw hikers who had passed this same point without observing the moose, if indeed they were there. I had passed the moose! It was only my wife's hearing the rustling sound of their enormous bodies against the Aspens that alerted us to their presence.
The second point was implicit in the exaggeration. Moose can be dangerous. You should never get close to moose or any other wild animal, to take their picture or otherwise. If you happen to encounter a wild animal, you need to act according to well-known guidelines. Bear country warnings are all over Grand Teton National Park.
Once I established that the moose were seriously browsing, that they apparently saw us and didn't care, and that we were now up the trail from them and they were facing down, I felt I had to capture this moment and could do so safely. These photos are the result of that instantaneous but considered decision.
We didn't stay after the other pictures were taken. I joined my wife and we continued our hike. We excitedly told two women coming down the trail of our experience, and I told them as much for their protection as for their education. We continued our hike until we reached a point on the moraine where we could see the pristine alpine beauty of Bradley Lake.
Hiking back the same way we had come (our original plan), we wondered if the two bull moose would still be there or if anyone else had even seen them. They were not there. And probably no one else did see them.
That initial rustling sound, momentary fear, and then quick recognition of the situation is something that we will never forget. What great luck for the owners of Mooseworld.
Postscript (2018): In numerous trips to Jackson Hole we have seen the most moose along Moose-Wilson Road and Gros Ventre Road (see Where to View Moose, Jackson Hole, Wyoming) but in less likely places too such as on top of Shadow Mountain and right where we stayed most often, The Aspens. The Taggart Lake trail sighting is still a favorite because it was among our first and most dramatic.
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