Along the southern edge of Glacier National Park lies a hidden gem. First, approaching from the west on Hwy 2 like most visitors, you just have to know where to find Goat Lick. Secondly, the parking lot and boardwalk on the south side of the road overlook a scenic, wooded river gorge framed by a classic, old railroad trellis bridge spanning the ravine high above.
A narrow river has cut deeply into the soft soil here resulting in steep drop-offs and exposing minerals in the gray clay. This combination of terrain and minerals is very attractive to mountain goats. The minerals are sought after by many different animals, but the terrain is all goat. These alpine dwellers are ideally equipped to navigate this steep, rocky, slippery, crumbly terrain.
The shift in available food from winter mosses, lichens and conifers to the succulent greens in the spring causes the goats to seek out the calcium, magnesium
For a few months in spring and summer, mountain goats travel many miles for the minerals and socializing opportunities that this unique habitat provides.
The mountain goats are perfectly adapted to this environment. Their two-toed cloven hooves are hard on the outside, like your fingernails or horses’ hooves. That would seem dangerously slippery on these rocks. The secret is in the soles. Their foot-pads are rough, rubbery and concave allowing them to act as suction cups. This helps them to stick like magnets to these slopes and also serves to cushion their feet as they jump – as far as twelve feet – from rock to rock.
Watching them run down the sheer face of the ravine or leap laterally to reach just the right lick spot is stunning and impressive each and every time. They seem to defy physics. I will be remarking about the abilities of these charismatic creatures for a long time to come.
Other visitors came and went, grabbing a quick photo or watching them for a few minutes and then continuing on. I was so captivated by how wholly suited these animals are to their environment that I lingered, marveling, for a long time at Goat Lick.
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