Sunday, August 2, 2009

Glacial Grandeur

Glacier National Park

July 30-31

Our first day in Glacier National Park, we pulled out our National Park book, and started to do the tour that it recommends if you only have a day in the park. It became clear immediately that many other visitors to the park that day shared our plan, and we would be part of a herd. There was a very long line of cars at the entrance gate, but we got to skip it, because we had a Golden Eagle Park Pass (age has its privileges).

Our plan was to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road across the park, making frequent stops along the way to appreciate and photograph scenic overlooks, take a few short hikes to waterfalls and meadows, have a picnic, and stop at the Visitor Center at the top of the mountain. The ranger we talked to at the Visitor Center at the start of the drive laughed at our optimistic plan, and encouraged us to be flexible in itinerary, as he wrote "parking??" in thick black marker across the map at the three key stops recommended by our guide book. Evidently all the guide books agree on the best places to get out of your car and walk along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Luck was with us, and we managed (1)to find a place to park at all of the trailheads and key stops we planned to make, (2)to be stopped for construction at a couple very photogenic spots along the road where we wouldn't have been able to stop otherwise, (3) to get a hotel room for the night at historic Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier (a real coup, since no rooms were available there during our prior attempts to book a room in the Park).

Dick did all the driving on Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is a very narrow snaking two lane affair which clings to the side of Flattop Mountain, and offers lots of views of the valley far below from its sheer drop-off edges. No trailers or RVs over 21 feet are allowed on the road—there is hardly room enough for two normal cars to pass by each other. Dick's assessment of the driving experience: "It rivals any mountain road I have ever been on in narrowness, sharpness of blind corners, minimal guarding, and a long way down over the edge." I have nothing to add--my teeth are clenched.

At the top, there are parking spaces, a Visitor's Center, some trails through alpine meadows, and lots of scenic overlooks. We got a spot in the lot without too much circling, and when we got out of the car we noticed a crowd nearby. They were photographing a Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep grazing in the meadow next to the parking lot. The sheep was unfazed by all the attention, and provided us with many striking poses.

We needed to chill out after all the drama of our drive over the mountain, and the Glacier Park Lodge was the perfect place to relax. The Lodge was built by the Great Northern Railroad in just one year, opening in 1913. It sits opposite the original train depot where travelers arrived to begin their Glacier vacation back then, and tourists still arrive via Amtrak today.

Like other lodges in the park, it was constructed in an Alpine style, since the railroad was promoting Glacier as the Alps of America. The impressive lobby area features sixty log columns that are sixty feet high and about four feet in diameter, with their bark still intact. When we arrived, a pianist was playing a grand piano, and the music filled the soaring space. We sat in grand rockers on the front porch, had a glass of wine, and watched the vintage 1936 touring busses drop off their passengers at the front door. Then we had a wonderfully prepared and served dinner in the elegantly rustic Lodge dining room. When we emerged after dinner, a fire was roaring in the massive stone fireplace that sits in the center of the lobby, and guests had pulled their lounge chairs around it in a convivial circle. Our time at the Lodge was just what we had hoped for—a timeless experience in this historic setting.

We got an early start the next morning, and headed north to Many Glacier, named for the many glaciers which were visible in that area of the park around the turn of the century. There were about 150 glaciers in the park in 1850, and today there are just 26. Some scientists predict that the glaciers here will all be gone by 2030.

We hiked a trail that encircled Swiftcurrent Lake in Many Glacier. The trail led through old and new growth conifer forests and a bit of meadow. We enjoyed the fragrance of the firs, the lushness of the forest still wet with last night's rain, and the beauty of the clear lake reflecting the mountains rising above it. There were a few other people on the path, and some out kayaking and canoeing on the lake, but it was much calmer and more peaceful here than the places we walked yesterday in the most popular and populated part of the park.

By now, we were both formulating plans to extend our stay. We decided to go back to the East Glacier area where we stayed last night, find a room in one of the little mom and pop motor courts there, and then explore another beautiful section of the park nearby. We got the last room in the Mountain Pine Hotel, a place with a classic '50s connected cabins design and just enough pine trees about the grounds to live up to its name.

We checked in, but didn't even bother to unload the car. We headed straight for Two Medicine, where we hiked a four mile trail that led to a lovely waterfall, then up a steep mountainside to a scenic overlook. We watched four moose drinking from a tiny lake and grazing along its shore.

As you can tell from our photos, were entranced by grandeur of the mountains here. We saw them in early morning rising mist, and in the harsh sun of midday. We loved their reflections in the clear water of the lakes. We felt a sense of accomplishment in scaling them—by foot and by car. We marveled at the ferns and flowers growing from tiny cracks in the rocky mountainsides, and the subalpine meadows that survive the harsh winters and emerge so profusely from the melted snow.

Dick would like everyone to know that about half the pictures in this blog are mine. I would like everyone to know that 100% of the post-production work is Dick's. So, even the pictures that I click are his, too, by the time they are posted. As is true in so many aspects of our lives, the pictures are a team effort.

1 comment:

  1. These pictures are AWESOME; no matter who is doing the 'clicking'