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Reader Participation Day: What Was Your Most Surprising Encounter On a National Park Trail?


Tommie (middle) was flabbergasted, and so was I. Jim Elder photo. 

Surprise encounters can add spice to hiking in our national parks. Consider this one, for example. Last August I was hiking the Hidden Falls Trail on the far side of Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park when I bumped into my old friend Tommy. We were next door neighbors for nearly 30 years, and even though I've moved to a different neighborhood now, Tommy and I still stay in touch. Neither of us knew that the other had made any travel plans, and it was a tossup as to which of us was more stunned by this chance meeting more than 1,700 miles from home.

This was not my only memorable encounter on a national park trail. Another one I'll never forget is our encounter with Naked Guy and his friend.

It's your turn. Tell us about a particularly memorable thing, person, or situation you've come upon or met up with while using a national park trail or walkway.


So many! But my favorite: We were hiking on the Abrams Falls Trail in Great Smoky Mountain National Park and came across a life-or-death battle between a frog and a water snake. The snake had a precarious grasp on the frog's hind leg, but the frog was fighting for his life for all he was worth. I so badly wanted to step in and help the frog, but of course, I know better than to interfere with nature. Eventually, the frog tired, and the snake secured its grasp on the doomed creature. She slithered off into the brush to enjoy her hard-won meal.

Last summer I had driven most of the day on a remote gravel road in Dinosaur National Monument.  The only other traffic I'd seen all day had been a truck and bus carrying river rafters to the beginning of their Green River trip.

I stopped to hike to some petroglyphs and parked behind the only other car I'd seen that day.  Out on the trail, I encountered a man and woman who said they were from Ohio.  I remarked that I had grown up in Hiram, Ohio.  They both became excited and said they had attended Hiram College.  It turned out that they either personally knew or knew of several people I had grown up with before I left Hiram in 1968.  In fact, one of the 15 students who had been in my graduating class at Hiram Local High School in 1959 was the grandmother of one of their good friends.  (Yes, there were only fifteen of us . . . )

While the encounter was a highlight of the trip and my entire year, it left me very depressed.  In my mind, Judy should still be an eighteen-year old girl and not an elderly grandmother.  I suddenly felt very much the weight of all those years -- even if they have been reasonably good ones.

Ah, well . . . .

I was hiking in Glacier National Park near the Logans Pass visitors center.  I was on a narrow section of a trail(narrow enough where you would have to turn sideways to let another pass), and saw off in the distance two mountain goats (a mom and kid) approaching the beginning of the narrow section.  I safely, be it quickly, noved off that section.  Both goat slowly approached, and eventually passed within 10 feet.  Wonderful!

Mine continues to be a Canadian tale. Several miles deep on a relatively unused trail in far away Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, I ran into a guy that worked with Professor Bob Janiskee. More astounding was that I deduced he might know Bob because he was wearing a South Carolina t-shirt which initiated a series of logical leaps on my part: that all people that wear South Carolina shirts are from South Carolina, and that every single resident of the state is acquainted with every single other resident. Turns out I was right.

Last year, one cold December day I hiked the Laurel Falls Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The trail is paved to the falls and is a very busy trail no matter the weather.  The trail continues beyond the falls through an old growth forest to a former fire tower at the top and other trail intersections.  Very few people seem to take advantage of the trail beyond the falls or possibly even realize it is a trail.  As we came back down the trail and neared the falls I was in front of our trio.  When I came around the last switchback before the falls, there was a woman of a certain age answering nature's call at the edge of the trail.  She was far enough away from me that she had not heard me approach, but close enough that I felt embarrassed for her.  Her husband was standing a few feet below her diligently watching the trail coming up from the falls, but never even glanced up the trail.  I quickly turned around and told my companions to do the same.  We waited for the woman to finish her business, but by this point she and her husband had heard our abrupt about face and were aware that we were there.  We waited for them to make their way down the trail before we continued on down.  The woman seemed to see no humor in the situation but her husband was having a good laugh about it.  Luckily there was a small crowd at the falls so the lady was able to melt into the crowd and allow us to pass without coming face to face with us.
I was certainly surprised to see a full moon in broad daylight that day on the Laurel Falls Trail.

While hiking near Indian Pond at Yellowstone National Park, we were following two teenage girls, when a coyote jumped onto the trail between us. The girls were laughing and making noise and didn't realize they were being followed so closely by the coyote. We called to them and pointed at the coyote so they could step aside and let it pass. When we caught up to them and their parents, they asked "What WAS that?" We told them it was a coyote. Their parents them responded that they thought it was a dog and they were mad that someone had a dog on the trail, because they couldn't have their dog too. We just said, "Well, that's why you can't!"

I was hiking down the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon in August one year, not too far past the 1.5 mile house, when I heard a rustling on the ledge just above me.  A small shower of rocks and dirt came down not more than 10 feet from where I stood.  Soon after, a big horn sheep, and I do mean big, landed on the trail just in front of me.  I stood there in complete awe, as he looked me up and down.  Neither of us moved for a a few seconds, and than he continued on his way down the side of the cliff after giving me one final nod from his shaggy head.  I'm happy that I got to see a big horn sheep close up, and very happy that he didn't land on me.

We've had several suprise encounters: A huge bull elk on the trail about 12' in front of us in Yellowstone, mountain goats walking past in Glacier National Park, a mama black bear and her two cubs on Mt. Rainier.  However, the most suprising was while hiking in Yellowstone through the biscuit basin area a jack rabbit came skidding to a stop right next to us.  His eyes were huge and was huffing and puffing.  As I wondered why he would come so close, I looked over my shoulder to the top of the ridge and seen a wolf or coyote just ducking down.  It appeared the jack rabbit was smart and used us for cover knowing the coyote would not follow.

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