Goatspotting in Little Cottonwood Canyon

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Spotting mountain goats

This Saturday, the girls didn’t have soccer, my wife didn’t have work, and it wasn’t raining. After a long winter and wet spring, we were ready to get outside. So when my wife emailed me Tuesday asking if we could go mountain goat spotting Saturday, I was all in.

Before this week, I’d have only expected mountain goats to live in the Uinta mountains of Utah. Turns out, there’s a herd in the Wasatch Mountains, only about 15 minutes from our house.

The city’s zoo was holding a mountain goat spotting and outdoor play time for families with kids, right at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon. From the park and ride lot, naturalists had spotting scopes angled up to the mountains above. Kelly, the zoo’s education coordinator, had binoculars for our girls.

Usually, at things like this, I tend to see no animals at all. Today, though, we had good long looks (through the scopes and binocs) of a good half-dozen mountain goats, grazing on the rocky slopes and generally posing for the camera.  (Note: I have no pictures because I only had my cell phone camera and the zoom was… not great)

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Some of the best viewing was right from the parking lot.

After a few minutes we crossed over into the Temple Quarry Trail park, where Kelly gave a short talk on mountain goats’ weird history in Utah (turns out they’re not native. Well, they sort of are, but it’s been a few millennia. They were reintroduced in the 1960s with aims of creating a huntable herd and have since been spread throughout the state, not without controversy), and went over the importance of letting kids play in nature.

With that, she turned us loose, encouraging parents to let their kids climb rocks, get down on their bellies in the dirt, lift up logs, smell plants, hug trees, and in general be kids in God’s playground.

It was a bit of preaching to the choir, but Kelly’s message resonated: You can’t expect kids to grow into adults who care about the environment unless they spend a lot of time in the environment. To love it, they have to know it. And our environment needs all the love it can get.

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Geneva leading blindfolded Norah on a plant-identification project

Plus, as a bonus: Kids outside are happier and more well-adjusted, and generally have some great memories to build on.

How to see Mountain Goats:

  • Park at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, in the Park and Ride lot. There are two scopes (like the kind you drop a quarter in at tourist spots, but no quarters required). The best chance is seeing them on the rocky peaks to the south.

Hogle Zoo Family Nature Club

Outdoor activity ideas:

  • Blindfold a kid, let them feel & smell a tree, unblindfold them, have them find the tree
  • Climb things
  • Lift over rocks and logs, and see what crawls out. Use your magnifying glass.
  • Sit and just listen
  • Be a mountain goat: Climb all the things
  • Sit and draw what you see
  • Take paper and crayons and make rubbings of tree bark
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Tree bark rubbing

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