Montana's Earth Science Picture of the Week

A Pair of Goats Visit a Popular Goat Lick

Photo courtesy of

Located along U.S. Highway 2, near the southern tip of Glacier National Park, is an exposed riverbank where mountain goats and other animals come to lick the mineral-laden cliffs. From the parking area, a short paved path leads to an observation stand overlooking the waters of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Here, the river's current has cut deeply into the easily eroded soil, creating steep drop-offs and exposing a mass of gray clay containing minerals craved by mountain goats and other animals. Four natural mineral licks are known in the park, but no other lick receives as much use as this one.

Spring awakens cravings . . .
The Goat Lick is a rocky exposure of comprised of gypsum, kieserite, and sulfates. The craving for sodium and the shift to green vegetations each spring, prompt the goats to visit the Goat Lick. Calcium, potassium, and magnesium found in the lick may help replace the elements goats lose from their bones during the winter. Additional explanations for visits to the lick include: an acquired taste for salts; a need for the minerals as a digestive acid; and the high goat concentrations, which may allow for more intensive social interactions.

Like a fine restaurant . . .
Glacier National Park goats travel as far as 4 miles to get to the Goat Lick, while others from more widely dispersed areas in the Flathead National Forest, travel several times that distance. April through August is the most concentrated use period, although use occurs year-round. During late June and July, dozens at a time gather here. A population of approximately 95-120 mountain goats from Glacier National Park, and 20-45 from the adjacent national forest, use the lick. Elk and deer are also attracted to these natural minerals. Young mountain goats learn the route from the older animals. Most of their travel occurs on established trails. One well-worn goat trail traverses the crest of Running Rabbit Mountain and down the slope to the Goat Lick.

Source . . .
Glacier National Park. Goat Lick Overlook (brochure). National Park Service of the U.S. Department of Interior.

Terms: minerals, elements, social interactions


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By Rod Benson
Earth Science Teacher at Helena High School

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