After the previous great ride up to see Delano Peak in the Tushar Mountain range in beautiful southern Utah, I knew I had to return back to see the fabulous Mountain Goats!
But First Things First…Birds!
Knowing that the hike on the narrow trail upwards to 12,175 feet would be quite a challenge from a start of around 5,000 feet, I had hopes of seeing some birds, as well as the goats. We hadn’t gotten too far from the vehicle before I spotted a bird sitting on a low growing conifer as if it was surveying the ground for a rodent to surface. Must have been meal-time for this Ferruginous Hawk!
The sunny blue sky weather was nice, and a perfect day for this hike. I surely hoped as I surveyed with my eyes the ascent that lay before me that I could indeed make it to the top of Delano Peak. Since the last time I saw the goats at a distance, I hoped we would see them better on this hike. However, I was fully aware that they would only be seen way up high, and I had just begun my journey to upwards to Delano.
The Terrain of the Mountain Goats
First off, Delano Peak is the highest peak in the Tushar Mountain range at 12, 175 feet. Lying in both Beaver and Piute Counties in the south-central part of Utah, it experiences all four seasons. Delano Peak is part of Fishlake National Forest and was named after the former Secretary of the Interior, Columbus Delano under President Ulysses S. Grant. It looks like someone rolled a fine carpet on top of them on their many peaks. There were rocky outcrop groups of volcanic rock at the start of the hike. As for the terrain, the alpine environment continues above the treeline. While I was hiking, I kept looking down at my feet at the many crystals in the small rocks shining up at me from the ground. Occasionally, I would encounter small alpine flowers in bloom as it was August.
Despite the elevation being high and cold, a variety of wildlife live above the treeline. In the summer they range about 13,000 feet, and 12,000 feet in winter. The more rugged and steep the better. This environment helps the Mountain Goats to escape predators. You can find Marmots, American Pikas, a variety of birds and even flowering alpine plants at this elevation. And of course, you will find the white Mountain Goats I was in search of to photograph!
Mountain Goats…For Real?
Yes, we have all heard of Mountain Goats (Oreamnos americanus). Let’s check out a few facts about them:
- They’re native to Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
- Were introduced into Colorado back in 1947 and last introduced in 1972. However in 1993, the International Order of Mountain Goats and the Colorado Wildlife Commission declared them as a native species in Colorado.
- They were introduced in Utah in the 1960’s.
- Researching several articles on the internet, the introduction was for possible revenue streams from hunting licenses and tourism. A resident may hunt one for $ 413.00, and a non-resident may hunt one with a combined fishing license for $ 1,518.00. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources hosts seasonal tours for visitors to see the goats and often provides spotting scopes to view the goats up close.
- The National Forest Service has the responsibility to manage the introduced non-native goats.
The Experts Weigh In on Mountain Goats
Sitting atop Mountain Goats’ heads are sharp “stiletto-like” black horns on both the males and females. Horns are not shed, but permanent fixtures throughout their life. Horns do not grow back should they be injured or fall off. In addition, Mountain Goats are ungulates and belong to a large group of mammals with hooves. Mountain Goats are excellent climbers and jumpers. Marco Festa-Bianchet (Professor of Ecology at Universite de Sherbrooke in Sherbrooke, Quebec who has studied mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and Alpine ibex for 25 years), and Steeve D. Cote (has studied Mountain Goats for 12 years, conducted research projects on caribou, muskox, white-tailed deer, kiang, gray and hooded seals, and king penguins, and an associate professor of animal ecology at Universite Laval in Quebec City, Quebec), began their research in 1988 and not much was known about Mountain Goats then.
They say “to an inexperienced hunter looking through binoculars from 200 meters away, males and females do not appear very different unless they stand side by side. Most sport hunters prefer to shoot males, but only experienced hunters can identify a mountain goat’s sex at a distance. Male goats are generally more difficult to find than females because males tend to be solitary…” An inexperienced hunter may stumble onto a group with females, juveniles and young males. If they shoot the goat with the longest horns, in this type of case, “it almost certainly will be a mature female.” They point out that mistaking dominant females with long horns could have an impact on their populations.
What the Government Says
From the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, we learn that:
- They are not TRUE goats, but are in the same family Bovidae that goats, gazelles and cattle are in.
- They are called billies, nannies, and kids.
- Females mostly do not give birth until they are 4 to 5 years old.
- Their lifespan: 15 years for males, 18 – 20 for females.
- All Mountain Goats in the mountain ranges of Utah were introduced.
- They eat a diet of grasses, shrubs, lichens, and forbs.
- Surveys of Mountain Goat populations here in Utah are typically done by helicopter due to the terrain.
From the U. S. Department of Agriculture, a printable .pdf on Mountain Goats as well as Mountain Sheep provides additional information.
Hiking Right Along
The air was getting thinner, and the hike getting steeper towards Delano. Still, no Mountain Goats were in sight. I kept trying to fight off these little voices…you know the ones…the ones that tell you you’re getting tired, you might not make it, or you better just sit down. It was getting difficult for sure the higher we went in the sun. Some of the trail was as steep as the side of a triangle and all you could do was keep going. (No way to sit down on these!)
Wait, But What did I See?
Hold on just a minute. What I saw when I turned my head to the right?
Suddenly I gained the strength and stamina of ten people! My adrenaline began to flow. My desire to see the Mountain Goats after coming this far on the trail won out over the negative self-defeating voices. Once again, I was hiking on the trail towards the Mountain Goats!
The Top of the Peak!
Even though it was a tough hike in the thin air, I was so glad to have made to see the Mountain Goats. As always, I keep a safe distance from wildlife and let the camera lens take me closer. Furthermore, I was proud of myself for continuing on to the top of Delano Peak. Birding has caused me to encounter all types of wildlife in my adventures. Although there were no birds above the treeline, seeing the Mountain Goats made up for it!