"Good luck seeing moose," the clerk at Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais, Minn., called out as my sister and I left the store. "Dusk is the perfect time."
It was 5 p.m., and pink clouds hovered over silvery Lake Superior as we embarked on a classic wintertime drive, following the Gunflint Trail on the hunt for dinner and a moose.
The North Woods giants, even as their numbers have dwindled, occasionally appear on the roadside during winter. In fact, I hoped to replicate the kind of sighting I'd had a few years earlier, when a couple of moose stood astride the road, blocking the way of my friends' minivan. As tall as the vehicle, they seemed unperturbed and unwilling to make way for the beast with headlights. We watched in awe, and eventually arced a path around them.
When night falls, the animals come out of the woods, drawn to road salt along the Gunflint, the iconic Minnesota roadway that veers from Hwy. 61 at Grand Marais to cut inland -- and into the wild.
"They don't salt the roads anymore, they just sand," a local at Bearskin Lodge told me, defying the theory that the salt used to de-ice winter roads draws the moose. Still, she'd seen a duo a few miles down the road just the previous night, at 6 p.m. "It was a mother and her calf," she said.
That confirmed my timing -- until the woman next to her said, "I've seen them further down the trail, maybe six or more miles away, much later, like around 10."
At the Trail Center, a general store and restaurant on the Gunflint, a clerk said, "Oh, they use salt, all right. They have to, especially on the curves." In this remote land heaped with snow, she had a point. "That's why you see moose on the curves in the road," she added. "You know those curves right after the straightaway toward Grand Marais?"
No, I do not. But I nodded, hoping for more intel.
"I've seen them down there this winter -- a lot."
As we slurped a chocolate malt at the bar, a server told us that her boys see moose "all the time" when they're riding their school bus.