Last week, we introduced you to the infamous Rocky Mountain Locust, a grasshopper species that plagued settlers trying to make their living on the plains during the 19th century before being suddenly and (somewhat inexplicably) wiped out in the early 1900’s.
Unfortunately, their eradication was so swift that scientists and collectors were left without specimens to study, and very few exist today. Unless you get lucky and find a few unlabeled individuals tucked in the back of a specimen drawer, chances are, you and I may never see one.
Unless, that is, you make the trek to Grasshopper Glacier.
Grasshopper glacier was first described by Dr. J.P. Kimball, an engineer and mining geologist with the US Geological Survey. He and his team were awestruck by the 5-mile long glacier, located in the Beartooth Mountains in south central Montana; unlike most glaciers, Grasshopper glacier bore what an unusual grey coloration, described by those on the expedition as looking like “elephant skin.”
The color (which you may have already guessed) was due to the thousands of preserved grasshopper specimens. Kimball and his team were able to extract a few individuals and send them off for identification.
Some of the preserved grasshoppers were, you guessed it, the infamous Rocky Mountain Locust. How and why they ended up trapped in ice 11,000 ft above sea level is a mystery, but there are theories.
The most accepted theory is that a swarm of the locusts, numbering in the billions, was migrating over the Rockies over 300 years ago and became trapped in a sudden, early season snowstorm. They became hopper mummies, entombed in the ice for centuries until their discovery in the 1900’s.
Grasshopper Glacier is not the only glacier in the Rockies known for their “hopper phenomenon.” There are two smaller glaciers in the region also named Grasshopper Glacier; the Crazy Mountains, north of the Beartooths, have their own Grasshopper Glacier. There is an additional Grasshopper Glacier in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming.
Unfortunately, due to a warming a climate, many glaciers are rapidly melting, and Grasshopper Glacier is no exception. When Dr. Kimball’s expedition described the glacier in the early 20th century, it was nearly 5 miles long. By 2003, it had broken up into several smaller glaciers, and was only 1 mile long at its widest. One only knows how large it is today.
If you want to explore Grasshopper Glacier for yourself, check out the following description of the trail access via Atlas Obscura:
“Hiking Grasshopper Glacier is only possible from late July to September. To access the Glacier, head south on Highway 212 toward Cooke City and turn north onto Lulu-Goose Lake Road. From there, you must walk the four-mile trail that heads up an old road to Goose Lake. The trail then heads northeast to a column connecting Sawtooth Mountain and Iceberg Peak. Grasshopper Glacier is attached to Iceberg Peak on the north side, just past the first rock ridge.”