I’ve surfaced for a moment.
The end of my last post referenced going to see some “Big Skies” and indeed I have. Kev and I took off for Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana on June 9 and we haven’t looked back since. After three days of driving we pulled into West Glacier, Montana on the night of June 11 and enjoyed a quiet park full of amazing scenery and wildlife. As of today – even after more driving, we’re recovering at the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island for a little rest – rest meaning a day we don’t drive 500 miles. When we get home on Monday, we’ll have covered just over 5,000 miles in 14 days and seen – almost literally – it all.
Since it comes down to fighting off a nap or recounting our trip, while sitting here in the Parlor “recovering” I might as well recount. Our drive out included a stop for the night in Sioux Falls, SD, after covering more of Iowa then I’ve ever seen. We actually visited the falls in Sioux Falls before getting back on the road – they literally sit in a park in the middle of the city. If anything, gushing water will be a hallmark of this trip as rains everywhere have led to swollen rivers and huge waterfalls. We made it across South Dakota, taking a detour through the amazing Badlands National Park. Our drive through the park was done in the rain – and the Badlands definitely profit from the sun – so I photographed little and just enjoyed the unique scenery. From there we trekked over to Sheridan, WY, to spend the night with my folks, and then raced for Glacier the next day – with another brief detour to see our friend Bill L. in Bozeman, MT.
Glacier sits above the 48th parallel. Combining that with our nearness to the Summer Solstice and it didn’t get very dark up there at night. We hit our campsite at the Fish Creek Campground on Lake MacDonald around 9:30pm and still had plenty of daylight to set-up the site. The weather – which had been cold and snowy just days earlier – was near perfect for the entire trip in Montana – so we stayed warm and dry the whole time.
On Friday we stuck to the west side of the park. The famous “Going To The Sun” road was not entirely open yet because of snow. It’s a convenient 50-mile trek from the west end of the park to the east end but that convenience won’t begin until later in June. We drove up the road as far as it would go from the west, stopping at Avalanche Creek. We hiked up to Avalanche Lake, seeing the first of literally dozens of mule deer we’d see in the park. And by see I mean up close and personal. They are certainly desensitized to people. They’re wary but are happy to feed off the flowers just 5-10 feet away from you. There was a ton of concern about bear interaction in the park. I’m happy to report we had very little of that at least – but the total flora and fauna we saw was extraordinary. Eventually we headed back into West Glacier and had dinner at the lovely Belton Chalet. Here’s the thing about West Glacier. It’s not really a town. It’s a collection of 10-12 buildings spread out along one of two roads – but the Belton was very good dining.
Saturday took us around the south end of the park on US 2 – and over to East Glacier (like West Glacier but on the east side of the park doncha know). From there we ventured into an area known as Two Medicine to see some falls and a nice drive up into the mountains. Then we headed up to St. Mary – about 20 miles north of East Glacier – and hit Going to the Sun road from the east end. We drove up to the end of the road – at the Jackson Glacier Overlook – and saw our first glacier in the park. From a max of about 150 glaciers when first explored in the mid-nineteenth century, Glacier is now down to around 15 glaciers. It was impressive – even though we were seven miles away.
We then hiked down to two waterfalls – Hidden and Virginia. Virginia may have been the most impressive falls I’ve ever encountered. You can get VERY close at the base of the falls and when we were there – it was like standing in a hurricane. The falls are large and the water coming over them is in such volumes that you come away drenched. It’s breathtaking literally. We were able to hike a couple hundred feet down below them to photograph them but taking the camera out at the base would have been pointless. On our drive back to the west side, around 10pm, we encountered a mama moose and two calves near the road. We did not get out of the car but watched them for quite some time as they got within 30 feet of us. Eventually four Harlies rounded the bend (c’mon – at 10:15pm? Really?) and made more then enough noise to send the meese scattering into the woods. Oh well.
On Sunday we went back to the east side – this time going a little further north to follow the road into an area known as Many Glacier. Our plan was to actually take a boat ride on Swiftcurrent and Joesphene Lakes, followed by a back-country hike up to Grinnel Lake – all originating from the Many Glacier Lodge. Just as we arrived, the skies opened up to a torrential mountain thundershower – including plenty of hail – so we waited it out in the restaurant at the lodge. There’s a saying out west – which basically goes “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” so the boat ride started on time and was lovely as was the hike to Grinnell. We walked within 15 feet of a moose and calf on the way back, as they were laying in the tall grass between the lake edge and the trail and weren’t feeling like moving. The drive home was also fantastically interrupted by a stop at an area called Goat Lick – where – yes – mountain goats come by in masses to lick the salt off rocks near a steep slope. And they were there – with plenty of youngins – so we watched them for a good hour.
On Monday, we headed up to the Lake MacDonald lodge for lunch, and then drove up to Polebridge, about 20 miles south of the Canadian border – where we saw the eagle above and explored up at Bowman Lake. While at Bowman – which is a couple miles long – we watched another impressive thunderstorm trek perpindicular to us across the lake. It was so cool.
There were plenty of other highlights at the park – I’ll save them for other posts with pictures. We drove back to Sheridan on Tuesday, and departed for Mackinac on Wednesday – with a stop in Bismarck, ND on the first night and Ashland, WI, on the second night. We spent two long hours in Fargo, ND, when our car died. Actually the battery suddenly didn’t have the juice to start the car so a call to “AAA” brought out a service truck and a new battery.And a few “grrrrrs” from me. We made our first drive ever across the upper peninsula of Michigan yesterday and now we’ll “rest” for the next 48 hours before heading home. Actually I’ll rest and poor Kev will do lots of homework for her ISU class. And that sucks…
I’ll be back in a few days – until then I feel a long nap coming on.