Saturday, October 05, 2013

Have You Ever Met a Moose On a Trail In the Dark?

A moose foraging in Cape Breton Highlands National Park
On our first full day on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, we had to visit Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Given the expansive area and our late start, we barely managed to make it to the west side of the park before sundown and hike the Skyline Trail. This particular trail is known for spectacular views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and moose. It was on this day that we saw a moose for the first time EVER. Our first moose sighting was from the car while driving the Cabot Trail in the park. Then, near the beginning of our hike, we saw a moose foraging near the access road to the trail head. We made sure to keep our eyes on it and skirted around it at least 30 feet. It was amazing to see such a huge animal up close in broad daylight.

Sunset
About 30 minutes into our hike, we met a park ranger and his tour group coming back from their sunset hike (even though the sun had not yet set). He warned us to not stay much past dark and to beware of moose. We asked him point blank if it was okay to continue to which he replied yes, though hesitantly. We jogged most of the rest of the way to the renowned boardwalk and overlook. The sun sank into the gulf a few minutes before we made it to the overlook but we were able to see it set from the trail. We didn't stay long at the overlook though the view was amazing even in the twilight.

Skyline Trail Boardwalk/Overlook
We began the trek back with dusk thick around us realizing that spotting a moose could prove difficult. Not long into our return hike, with Kelly leading the way and me bringing up the rear, we heard the thunder of hooves - a very large, hoofed animal was running.... somewhere. Kelly turned to close ranks just as I saw a 1-ton moose run across the trail not 10 feet in front of us and go bounding up a semi-clear slope. It was then that we knew we were not exactly safe! We each grabbed the hand of a child and tried to walk faster with our hearts pounding in our chests. Our 5 and 6 year old could sense our concern despite our attempt at calm demeanors. The kids wanted the flashlights, but we denied them thinking we could see a large, dark shape better in the moonlight. Well, we ended up walking within 12 feet of another big shadowy ungulate in an open area, only seeing it after it made a noise (thankfully, this one stood still while we passed). We once again quickened our pace up the trail and then gave the kids the flashlights since it made them feel better and our night vision was apparently not doing us much good anyway. We were in sight of the trailhead when we saw headlights approach. We were dreading that last quarter mile on the access road back to the parking area. It turns out that the park ranger we met earlier was concerned for us and had called into headquarters to notify them that a family of four was still out on the trail. He drove back to check on us just as we emerged from the forest. He drove us the short distance to the parking area and asked if we had seen moose. When we told him of our close encounter, he said in his French-Canadian accent, "Yeah, it is not good idea to be out here after dark." Now he tells us!

We wanted to see a moose - not be trampled by one in a twilight filled forest. I would not knowingly take such a risk with my kids in tow, but it was certainly an exhilarating experience that I will not soon forget.

Perhaps I have read a bit too much Dr. Seuss of late, but I wrote a short poem to commemorate the experience:

Have you ever met a moose
by the road in a park?
Or on a trail in the dark?
Would you, could you meet a moose in a park
Perhaps so
Would you choose to meet a moose
on a trail in the dark in a park
I think no
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