Grasslands National Park

“Watch out for the rattlesnakes,” the information staff lady repeated again as she handed us a trail map. Too bad she didn’t warn us about the other things!

A grasslands find! (Photo: M.Kopp)

Grasslands National Park lies just north of the Montana border, in one of the last vestiges of native grasslands. It’s one of the world’s largest dark sky preserves. But the reason we were visiting was to hike.

As we pulled off the gravel road to the trailhead pullout, we noticed two other hikers with huge packs, GPS slung around one of the girl’s necks and an emergency messenger dangling off the pack on another. Covering their boots, shins and calves were thick gaiters – snake gaiters. What were we getting into?

Turns out the pair were snake researchers, heading out to track tagged rattlesnakes. As they set off, they said in unison, “watch out for the snakes.”

Why didn’t they warn us about the other things?

We strolled across the wide-open river bottom and up onto a low hill with lots of sign of bison and antelope. We hauled out the binoculars and scanned for the prairie dog colony that was our goal, but the yipping of young coyotes distracted our attention. We sat down next to a shed antler on a hill covered with pale yellow locoweed and spent the next few minutes trying to find the den site.

We chose a higher route along the ridges back to the car, strolling through ankle-high grass – a scenic choice and not a snake in sight.

That night, about 11:30, as I was getting ready to doze off, I felt it – one of the other things. I turned on the light, brushed my hair and out came a tick. Time for a full-body check and sure enough we found three more.

Grassland parks are spectacular to explore – just make sure you check for ticks after the hike!

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