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Long after night had painted the Baxter State Park forest around our lean-to an inky black, the loud splashing began in Russell Pond. We knew it was a moose grazing on aquatic plants in the shallow water. I could picture him dunking his head under and coming up with a mouthful of greens, beads of water streaming off of his antlers. But in such darkness, there was no point in getting up to look.
When I awoke just before dawn and heard the moose still splashing, I leaped from my bag, grabbed my camera, and bolted for the pond. The moose was wading slowly toward a far shore, so I sprinted down the trail in that direction. Turning a bend, I stopped dead in my tracks. Bullwinkle stood not 20 feet away, staring blankly at me. It was rutting season, a time when bull moose can get violently territorial, so I eyeballed the nearest lean-to roof and calculated how quickly I could scramble up on top. Then I slowly raised my camera and got my photo before the big bull crashed through dense brush and disappeared.
For backpackers, Baxter offers some of the finest wildlands in New England. But to bull moose in rut,
it’s a 200,000-acre single’s bar. During the autumn mating season, you can carefully crash the moose party for a gander at the giant ungulates.
Even if you don’t
see one, you’ll hear the bulls’ low grunts echoing off the hillside. Just remember to mind your manners and don’t get too close.
Baxter State Park is about 6 hours north of Boston. Take I-95 to exit 56, and then ME 157 west through Millinocket, and follow the signs to
the park. Various
trails lead to prime moose watching at Russell Pond and other park lakes.
Late August to October.
New England Hiking: The Complete Guide to Nearly 400 of the Best Hikes in New England, by Michael Lanza (Foghorn Outdoors, 800-788-3123; $18.95). Baxter State Park and Katahdin map (DeLorme Mapping Company, 800-253-5081; $4.95).
Baxter State Park, (207) 723-5140.v