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.

I was hiking with my in-laws on the South Kaibab trail and we came across a Grand Canyon Pink Rattlenake swallowing a wood rat almost a third its size. I stood guard over for almost an hour it to keep anyone from killing it, scaring it, or stepping on it. Whenever a hiker came by, I warned them to move to the far side of the trail. Some of them said, "Neat!" and took pictures. Some of them squealed and jumped several feet.One lady crossed herself and muttered something in French.
The rat slowly vanished, until both legs were left, then one leg, then the tail. When the snake was finished, I was able to persuade it off the trail to digest in peace, then ran out to catch up with my group. I sent the pictures to my son who complained, "I never get to see stuff like that!"

Sadly, although I've seen many beautiful things on National Park trails, the most suprising had to be when my dog, who was not being allowed to mark his territory on a near-by sign, decided to lift his leg and mark ME! I saw it was going to happen and couldn't move fast enough. The people around me just stared with their mouths hanging open.
Yep, that was strange alright!

We were at Naural Bridges National Monument on the trail down to the bottom of one of the canyons. They were repaving the parking lots and the No Dogs signs had been taken down so we had our dog with us. She didn't have much trouble getting down but we were struggling a bit with the ladders on the way up. Along came a very nice German man who picked her up, threw her over his shoulder, and carried her up the ladders. And when we met the ranger near the top of the trail she gave us a pass because there was no sign. I was pretty impressed with the way he handled our 70 pound dog. And just so all of you know, now that we know that dogs aren't allowed on trails we don't do that anymore.

Yellowstone National Park, upper geyser basin. One of the geysers that seldom erupts suddenly burst forth. My family and I sat and watched it for awhile when I saw another family come up the boardwalk. The man put his hand in the steam and I laughed at how silly people were to check if the steam was really hot. I looked again. It was my cousin's husband! My cousin and her kids were close behind! We had come from California. They had come from Indiana. Neither of us had any idea we were planning a trip to Yellowstone. Another minute or two either way and we would have missed each other but for the unexpected eruption of one of the geysers.

Anon: Perfect timing is my favorite!! Don't believe in coincidences:).

An encounter similar to one above was memorable for us. It was USFS property rather than NPS, though, on a trail probably some 12 to 14,000 foot up in Colorado just a few years ago. Sitting on top of the mountain there, and gazing down several thousands of feet at a scattered bunch of moving white spots on the mountain flank - mountain goats - we suddenly noticed a couple coming down the trail towards us. It was what appeared to be a battle-weary mama mountain goat, with one horn broken off, and her kid trailing behind her. She approached us cautiously and paused when about 10' away to watch us, they then continued on, as did we - a few photographs the richer.

While hiking the Mariscal Rim Trail in Big Bend NP. About 3 miles into the hike i meet up with 2 guys who had blooded arms and legs and white thirsty mouths. I offered them some water to quench there thirst. They began telling me how they went up for a easy day hike the day before. But that they gotten off trail and could not find there way back. As night descended on them they had little water and food. Wearing only shorts and tee shirts and no jackets. They told me how they found a small overhang shelter to huddle in for the night only to have a cougar chase them out and have them running for there lives thru cactus,brush and mesquite. What a night they went thru. I walked back with them were they was happily greeted by there very startled and stressed out wives. I was glad they made it out safely. I bid them a safe farewell as i turned and headed up the trail wondering if i would be met with the same fate as they had.

In the summer of 2000, like so many other visitors to Yellowstone, we had searched and looked for days to catch a glimpse of any of the elusive wolves in the park. On our last day in the park we were hiking up Mount Washburn. We had stopped for a rest. Less than a hundred yards a solitary wolf trotted right across the trail we had just hiked. It stopped for a moment and gazed upon us, then disappeared over the ridge. We were so surprised and enthralled at finally seeing a wolf, I completely forgot to take any photographs.

During a Colorado River raft trip through Grand Canyon, we were gearing up for a hike into Stone Canyon when a huge roar sounded. My first thought was a plane had crashed but then somebody yelled "rock fall" and I saw where a cliff face was collapsing sending tons of rock down onto the trail and large dust clouds into the air. One of our group was struck so badly by falling rock he was evacuated by helicopter and lost a toe. Can't forget that day!

It wasn't exactly on a trail, but when I lived and worked on the Blue Ridge Parkway, employee housing wasn't far off of a trail. I came out one day to find a man urinating on the corner of my house. I'm not sure if he just didn't want to use a tree or if he was trying to make a statement about his feelings towards the NPS.
Another day I was carrying groceries from my vehicle to my house in SHEN (again, close to a trail) when I found myself about 10ft from an angry momma bear. Some visitors had seen her and her two cubs on the trail and began chasing her for pictures. Unknowingly, I stepped right into her escape path and I guess I seemed the easiest person to go after. She woofed, rolled her head and headed my way. Luckily I was close enough to my truck to hop back in it.

Last Aug my wife and I were patting ourselves on the back because we thought we had seen almost all the critters in Yellowstone in one day. That included finally seeing a wolf at Soda Butte after 3 trips in 2 years.We also saw 5 grizz that day. It was late evening and we saw a beaver on the side of the road-- thought well that about everything.We were laughing about what a great day! Not over yet though!! When it was almost dark we saw something slowly crossing the road in front of us. We couldn't figure out what it was until we got closer-- a porcupine!! My wife said the only thing left was a sesquach!! ( We didn't see one though---LOL)

A wolf about 15 yards away on Lunch Tree Hill in the Tetons, about a half mile north of the plaque. Unfortunately it got tired of us while I fumbled for the camera.

Second place would be two bull snakes caught in flagrante delicto in the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. Fortunately I did get an image of them.

OK not quite a trail but since we kayak we view it as one in the same. Off San Juan Islands NHP, we were just out for the day, saw a bunch of tourist boats way off in the distance so figured they had something they were looking at. We just put up the paddles to see what would come our way and to be safe. A minute later the whole pod of Orcas was right in front of us, they dove under us and came back up on the other side.

Took my grandson to Yellowstone for his first National Park Trip. Hoping to show him the high lites and get lucky with seeing some animals. I told him we had the whole week to find all the animals and we would have to patient. The first night in Hayden Valley we found a large black bear that soon ran away because a large Grizzly came out. Then we watched Bison and Elk feeding in the meadow when all of a suden here comes a large black wolf following a flock of geese down the river. The elk took off running at the sight of the lone wolf. This all occureed within the first hour. Needless to say the grandson was impressed (So was I) and was somewhat disappointed with the rest of the trip when the animals didn't appear on cue.

When hiking up Avalanche Lake trail in the Tetons we heard what sounded like an Alpenhorn. We heard it again several times. Finally we met a hiker coming down carrying an Alpenhorn. He was from Switzerland and had hiked to the lake to give a concert at sunrise. We had heard him playing for each hiker he met. He did the same for us and was thrilled that we had visited his homeland.

It's a toss-up between two wildlife encounters. The first was one morning at Agate Fossil Beds NM. I decided to walk out to the quarries to pass the time before the visitor center opened. About a mile away from the parking lot, I was startled by a sudden hiss and rattled and nimbly jumped backward from a big rattlesnake I'd surprised. He hissed at me for awhile, giving me a chance to snap some awesome pictures, before he moved off into the brush. After a couple more minutes, I started to continue up the trail, but hadn't gone more than ten feet before I was rattle-warned back again. Wearing only sandals and not being able to see the snake this time, I decided discretion was the order of the day, I turned back to the visitor center where I shared my pictures with the ranger on duty.
The 2nd encounter was near Windigo Vistor Center in Isle Royale NP. While waiting for a ranger-guided program, I walked the nature trail by myself. While crossing a particularly brushy area, I was surprised by something suddenly crashing out of the brush ahead of me. It turned out to be a sizable moose cow, who leaped across the trail and down into some brush below the trail, remaining visible. I walked the rest of the trail and got back in time for the ranger program, which turned out to be a walk on the very trail I'd just finished! So when we came back to the spot, I was able to point out the still-visible moose to the rest of the group. I'm just happy it wasn't Isle Royale's only other large mammal species that I'd encountered that day!

When I was 14 (far, far too many years ago!!!) & on vacation in Yellowstone with the folks, I was hiking a backcountry trail in Yellowstone on my way to photograph yet another lovely lake.....About 2hrs into the hike, I crested a ridge in the trail and happened on a delightful sight - 2 of the cutest Grizzly cubs playing on the trail about 100 yards ahead. And no sign of Mother anywhere. Needless to say, I curtailed the hike & quickly reversed my course before they had even noticed my presence. Always wondered just where Mother was lurking......

Two encounters at Glacier are quite memorable. The first, while on the trail to Bullhead Lake my daughter and I came around a corner and fournd a family that was arranging their kids on a rock outcropping to get a picture. I stopped and asked if they were trying to get a picture with the grizzly bear behind them, for about 200 ft behind them on a higher ledge was the bear. They had not seen the bear and quickly got their kids down from the rocks and moved away. We snapped a quick picture and also went on our way. Another time on the trail to Ptarmingan Tunnel, I met a young lady who was headed to Iceburg Lake and hiked and talked with her until the trail split. I continued up to the tunnel and on the way back, a little bit above Ptarmingan Lake, I looked down below me and saw a dead mountain goat that I did not notice on the way up. I looked around for any predators but did not see any and hurried down the trail. About 1/2 mile down the trail, I came upon the young lady from earlier in the day headed up to the tunnel. I mentioned to her about the goat and to watch out. The next day, by chance, she was at the same trailhead for my hike that day and said that when she saw the goat there was a grizzly bear feasting on the goat. I was very lucky or unlucky, depending on how you look at it, not to have been that close to bear.

Just remembered another one. (There are so many, it's hard to choose.)

After hiking to the top of Yosemite falls I was sitting on the edge of the cliff looking down and just watching the valley below. Suddenly I started to hear what sounded like a flute playing. For awhile I wasn't sure if it was really music or just the breeze. I finally spotted another lone hiker sitting some distance away at the edge of the precipice -- playing some haunting music on a flute.

I don't know if he ever knew that I was there, and finally after about half an hour, he packed the flute away and headed off up the trail away from the falls.

It was a purely magical moment.

A NP Ranger at Mesa Verde who chastised my daughter for one foot barely stepping off the trail. It was entirely "over the top." She was a very conscientious child, wasn't being unruly at all. Sad that that is one of our strongest memories of the park.

The big question is how that "attitude" came about while there is apparently a push for bringing more young people to appreciate the Parks. Somebody needs their ____kicked and I don't mean just the Ranger! How does that stuff trickle down?

Mine isn't as interesting as some but.... My husband and I were hiking to St. Mary's Falls in Glacier National Park and came upon what appeared to be a stuffed animal squirrel. Someone had placed it on the rocks and we assumed they were watching to see people's reactions. Imagine our surprise (after joking and taking pictures) when the squirrel ran away. He sat so perfectly still, almost not breathing.
On the same hike, a deer stepped onto the trail directly in front of my husband. They stood within 10 feet of each other. My husband raised a hand and waved at the deer. The deer in turn waggled his ears and then took off!