Glacier National Park – Ranger Led Programs

This week we’ve been able to take advantage of many ranger-led programs at Glacier and it’s been so great! We love our national parks and the the ranger-led programs, especially the junior ranger program! The park rangers are so knowledgeable, friendly, and such great teachers! We’ve truly enjoyed every program we’ve been to in all the parks.

When we entered Glacier, we got a nicely-organized schedule of all the ranger-led activities in the various areas of the park and I got to planning right away.

Of course I can’t document everything we’ve learned on this adventure – but I want to share some of this week’s lessons in the park to give a glimpse of what learning on the road has been like!

First up was Animal Encounters, learning all about the wild predators in Glacier and what to do if you encounter them. For example, if you ever have (a very rare!) encounter with a mountain lion you should make yourself look as big as you can, be as loud as you can, and even throw sticks and rocks.

There are about 600 black bears in Glacier and 300 grizzlies but an encounter with them is still very rare. To make sure you never inadvertently sneak up on a bear you should make yourself known on the trail by constantly talking or making human noises. You should always carry bear spray on your hip in areas like Glacier and if you do encounter a bear, you are not to be aggressive but instead slowly back away. Do not make eye contact and basically do what you can to not seem like a threat. If by some rare chance the bear is aggressive or comes toward you and you can’t deploy the bear spray the only thing left to do is curl up in a fetal position, protect your vital organs, and play dead. So, it goes without saying, that the Rooks have talked non-stop on every hike. I’m constantly telling the bears who we are, where we are, and what we’re doing. “I’m in a forest and I’m siingggiinngg” (from Elf). And we always carry bear spray!

Did you know many black bears are cinnamon or brown colored? And many grizzlies are blond? There are so many different shades of bear! How can you tell a black bear and a grizzly apart? Grizzlies have a huge hump on their shoulder and upper back area, which is muscle from all the digging they do! By the way, if you ever see an area of trail that looks like a tiller has gone through, that’s a sign that a grizzly has been there! Instead of the shoulder hump, black bears have huge hiney muscles for climbing up all those trees!

Also, grizzlies claws look like this:


Ranger Sarah did a great job and we appreciated her demonstration of using bear spray too!

Another day, Ranger Leigh taught us all about owls and we enjoyed her talk so much! We knew owls were amazing but she was such a great communicator and we loved the way she taught about owls and their super powers.

Here she is trying to show where AB’s “blind spots” of hearing are because of her symmetrical ears on the sides of her head.

An owl doesn’t have symmetrical ears but has one ear up toward front and one down toward the back so he doesn’t have those blind spots we do and can exceptionally pinpoint direction and distance!

The owls are almost-silent fliers so their prey doesn’t hear them coming. She demonstrated different types of feathers and how much noise they make by twirling around a regular rope and comparing that to a rope with soft fringes at the ends like owls have.

Here’s E getting special feet feathers for landing quietly and softly:

And those eyeballs! Technically eye-tubes because they are tubular like binoculars. They can see so far! But they can’t see up close so they have special feelers for eating and taking care of things up close. Also, because they are tubes not balls they can’t roll or move them like we can (How do the teenage ones talk to adults???) so thats why they have that great neck mobility instead.

She also taught us a new vocabulary word…crepuscular… which is an animal appearing or active at twilight (dawn and dusk). Owls are crepuscular!

Next up was Ranger Charlie and you know he must have been good because he made a 30 minute talk on Bull Trout super interesting. They are an “animal of concern” in the park so they are trying to educate fishermen and guests on them and the law which prohibits taking them. It’s fine and legal to take lake trout home to eat but never bull trout. Now we know the difference between Larry the Lake Trout and Barry the Bull Trout and the kids are itching to find a fisherman in the park so they can say, “if you don’t know, let it go!” And “if there’s no black on the back, put it back”! 🙂

The ranger also talked in general about the water in this area and how clean, cold, complex, and connected it was….. And the continental divide which goes right through the park.

The Apgar Nature Center is a super informative but small visitor center which we also loved. I saw my first hummingbird skull (so tiny!) and hummingbird nest and learned how they used spider web filament to hold it together. We touched all kinds of furs, learned about beaver tails, and laughed at how rude otters are despite what we believe of them thanks to Emmit Otter.

Finally we went on a nature walk with Ranger Leigh and used all our senses to really enjoy the nature around us and be fully present and immersed in the now!

We loved picking the thimbleberries!

They were so good!

We learned about the “soundscape” of an area and how the national parks work to protect that as well.

And we loved this beaver lodge! Remember that beavers live in their lodges next to the shore, they don’t live in their dams.

Well this dam has been there for 50+ years and is passed down from generation to generation. Isn’t that adorable!? Even more amazing is that “finger” under water that’s poking out of the lodge, which is basically their “pantry” haha. All the food is stored there. They put their favorite foods on the bottom and their least favorite on the top. The top portions will get frozen as winter comes and they will eat from the bottom up. That way they won’t have to eat their least-favorite foods until the end of winter when there’s just nothing else to eat.

On our walk we also helped picked some invasive wildflowers (which you can only do with a Ranger) and learned how to always kick the mud off our shoes when we’re done hiking so we don’t transfer plants from one park to another by accident. There’s a whole section of park employees whose job is simply to keep out the invasive wild flowers and animals. Wouldn’t that be an amazing job!? 🙂

Isn’t creation just amazing !??! I’m just so grateful for all that we’re learning and experiencing together!!!!

P.S. We also enjoyed a special treat on one of the hot days in the park. Huckleberry for me and RR of course!

Moose tracks and a moose shirt:

And we loved sitting by Lake McDonald reading and playing on that same hot afternoon! I’m so grateful they are such big readers.

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