David Whitely sets off on a wildlife-spotting tour of Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park
The bear-proof trash cans outside the Signal Mountain Lodge are a good indication of what lives in these parts. The impromptu car logjams on hillside roads are usually a great reminder, too. “Did you see them? It was two little bear cubs with their mom,” becomes a familiar greeting to new arrivals.
The Grand Teton National Park may be generally known for its photogenic mountain peaks and skiing, but it doesn’t half do well on the wildlife front, too. And Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures attempts to give visitors the best possible viewing experiences, in a safari-style truck where the roof can be opened up for better observation.
There are also some surprising facts on offer. While taking in birdlife, the guide talks swans and geese. “See those cygnets? They’re young trumpeter swans and they were almost hunted to extinction for quill pens.”
“But they’re North America’s largest waterfowl — even larger than Canada geese. Which, incidentally, were named for someone with the surname Canada, not the country.”
Part of the National Park’s appeal, both for humans and wildlife, is the variety of habitats. While the mountains provide the eye candy, the Antelope Flats are heavenly for, well, you guessed it.
The pronghorns are rather distinctive, even from a distance. And it turns out that they’re great survivors. “They’re no relation to any other antelope species in America or elsewhere. They did have some relations, but they all died out.”
The rather barren landscape, mostly sage bush, isn’t a problem for them. They’re one of the few creatures that can eat the sage bush for a start. The lack of cover for would-be predators suits them, too. They’re runners, not fighters, and can hit speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. This is an adaptation to another creature, which once lived here — although the American cheetah died out around 10,000 years ago.
The bears and wolves, meanwhile, are generally found near the treeline of the mountain slopes, while the elk are frankly ubiquitous. The National Elk Refuge isn’t here for nothing.
The most majestic sight of all, however, tends to move around a bit and can often be found blocking roads. The bison herds appear to have no concept of road safety, with mothers often stopping to suckle calves in the middle of the road. It’s an extraordinary sight, though, and arguably the world’s most welcome traffic obstruction.
But Grand Teton’s greatest creature calling card is its healthy moose population. And to find them, you generally need to head down to the rivers and streams. In particular, it pays to look out for the willow trees that they like to idly munch for the best part of the day.
Pulling up by the bridge just outside the aptly named village of Moose, a scramble takes us down to the bank of the Snake River. Sat opposite, on a little islet, is an enormous moose. “I’d like to say this was a happy accident,” says the guide. “But he comes here at 5pm every day to feed.”
His antlers are enormous, and they’re there purely for the purposes of showing off to the ladies. They’re a sign of how vigorous the male is, with size and symmetry being the key factors. And, as the sun slowly sets, he gives the air of a moose that knows he looks mighty fine indeed.