Moose or No Moose?

We’ve been camping in the Beartooth Mountains in Montana for five days so far, with no cell connection unless we drive out to town. So I’ve written this and the next blog post while at the campsite and am posting them, fingers crossed, while at the brewery in town several days later.  

The Town of Red Lodge

The only day we’ve chosen (so far) to visit the nearby town of Red Lodge was the first full day we were here because of massive crowds.  (Plus we really needed to do laundry and buy tequila.) Normally, this is a busy tourist town anyway: people ski here and use it as a gateway to backcountry hiking in the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains; the main road here leads to the north entrance of Yellowstone.  It’s also the home to a big motorcycle rally each summer, which, you guessed it, happened our first weekend here. 

The Thursday we went into town was packed with very fit-looking people dressed in REI clothes, shopping in a very focused way in hiking and backpacking stores. Right alongside them were noticeably bigger folks in leather and headbands, shopping in tee-shirt shops and sitting in the bars that are behind every other doorway on the short Main Street. 

I’m sure a few people in these groups overlap in interests, but they couldn’t have looked more different to me right then, and it was a funny sight: the REI-wearing people so uptight, focused on gear shopping for being able to get out in nature later, and the motorcycle heads all whooping it between rides on the gorgeous Beartooth Highway.  (On the second weekend we’ll be here, the Hell’s Angels are holding a meeting in town.  We’ll see where we’ll be then.)

Canyon Campsite

Way above town at the campsite, Rock Creek is where we turn our eyes and ears all the time.  We’ve seen deer crossing it from the pine forest on one side to a small clearing of grass on the other, and I’ve seen Tracy way off on the distance fishing in it. 

We’ve had enough sun to keep the batteries topped off nearly the whole time, despite thunder we can hear below us (!), and short storms that pass over without warning.  

One of these flash storms brought sleet during the day! Since then, I wake up in the middle of the night thinking I’m hearing hail, but it’s the creek roaring its continuous roar down below us. 

In the mornings I walk Banjo along the backcountry trails scattered with clearings for tents; no one is around. I continuously scan the woods for large animals though: moose (see below!), elk, bear.  A park ranger showed Tracy a map where grizzlies have been spotted, and none has been spotted here, but we carry can of bear spray and a bell anyway.  Banjo hates the bell, so sometimes I keep it in my pocket where it’s only a little muffled.

One morning on our walk, Banjo’s sniffer alert went off, and as she scanned the ground and the air, her hackles went up like I haven’t seen in a good long time.  All the hair along her back was raised and her tail was like a bristle brush. 

Suddenly I realized I have no idea how to use that bear spray. It has a safety on it that I have to take off, right? 

We turned around slowly, I pulled that bell out of my pocket and rang it like a Salvation Army volunteer, and I didn’t relax until we were well down the trail and Banjo’s fur was back in place.  

I don’t know what we had a close call with. I do now know how to use the bear spray.

In the afternoons and evenings Tracy walks Banjo even farther around the backcountry trails. We’ve seen lots of elk poop as well as signs of elk bedding in the aspen stands.  No elk themselves yet, though.  

Our second night here was the winner: at dusk as were we sitting at the campsite above the creek, we watched a mother moose and her adolescent bull following in the footsteps of the deer we’d seen before: foraging in the forest along the creek, then crossing and simply ravaging all things edible in the clearing right below us.

This felt just like that time in Bonita Springs when the manatees swam up the river right behind our campsite while we watched from our chairs.  We didn’t just happen upon these moose (although that would be cool, too); they are living where we’re living, doing their thing alongside us. 

As soon as we saw them, we put Banjo inside the trailer, and we kept an eye on both of the moose for about an hour until it was too dark to see them. The bull was smaller than the mama and followed behind her, but he did have antlers and seemed more brazen, tearing off parts of branches and walking with his huge body full of penitential. They were the largest thing I’ve seen, taller than the huge bison in North Dakota.

From that night on, each evening was judged, “Moose” or “No Moose.”  You just can’t have a more entertaining show from your campsite. 

Cell Connection 

I’ve checked in with the world via the internet only twice: that day we went into town, and then after a hike when we knew that the range of the nearest cell tower was a short drive away.  

I actually have a list of things to do online so I can be efficient with that window:

  • Text Finn
  • Take a screenshot of the weather forecast for the next few days
  • Check in with a few friends 
  • Download the news
  • Download new music
  • Do various paperwork like check my bank balance, find a drugstore in our next town, etc. 

Being up here camped without any signal at all for days has gotten me thinking about an emergency connection. 


Tracy has a device from his former kayaking trips that pings a satellite; it’s not a sat phone, but if you press the SOS button, local emergency folks will get your coordinates and come find you.  You can also program in one email address and a message, so when you press another option, Finn, for example, gets an email saying, “I’m okay” along with our coordinates. 

I know chances of something happening to both of us is super slim, but I’m a cautious person.  I like having it. And the bear spray. 

Ukulele Segment

I filmed this so you could hear and see the creek right below the campsite, but don’t turn on the volume unless you’re prepared for me to desecrate Bob Dylan.  I had to shout the lyrics to be heard over the creek, plus I’d just learned the song the day before. 

The view behind me is lovely, though, so mute and watch along. 

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