The next stop on our expedition was Glacier National Park in upper Montana which actually has very few glaciers – I’ll get to that in a bit. Before we settled there, we followed the Yellowstone RIver through the Rockies across to Missoula, a town that started as a trading post and has grown to be the second largest city in Montana. It is also home to the registered national historical landmark, “Three Forks of the Missouri,” discovered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805. This area is not only where the Missouri River starts at the confluence of the Jefferson River, Madison River and the Gallatin River, it is also an area originally used as a major campground for a Shoshone tribe called the Sacagawea. A short hike up to a overlook provided a great look on an area that hasn’t really changed. Here is an early sketch of the area from 1867, followed by my pics:
As pretty and peaceful as this was, we had to move on to our next destination, Glacier National Park as our driver Will pointed out – note to make his point across, he climbed on TOP of the bus:
Not only is Will an excellent driver he is also is one of the funniest I have ever had. Not only very knowledgeable, Will also was exceedingly helpful to those who needed a little extra care – truly one in a million. Will is studying to become a doctor and I know he will be a phenomenal one – good luck WIll!
Now to the Glacier National Park which is 1,583 square miles of spectacular wilderness in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, abutting the Canadian border. Often called “The Crown of the Continent” Glacier was established as a national park in 1910 and most of today’s flora and fauna was around at the time of the European explorers’ first forays into the area. It is a pristine wonderland with majestic mountains, forests, lakes, waterfalls, wildflowers, bears, elk and mountain goats. In fact, the mountain goat is the official symbol of the park, although I don’t think anyone told the goats, as the only one we saw was so far up the mountain slope that even with my 600MM lens – this is all I could get:
I was much more successful photographing long horn sheep as well as many other mammals, birds and insects of Glacier and all of the parks I visited and you’ll get a chance to see them all in a separate post, I promise!
What we did see was weather – a lot of it – and we experienced more changes in one day that many areas don’t have in an entire year. The park’s mountains do range over 7000 feet in elevation so one would expect some variances, but Glacier goes way beyond expectations. Let me take you through one day of our visit. It began overcast but not too cold – I was comfortable in a waterproof windbreaker and a long shirt and pants. The plan was to travel by van up from our home base at Lake McDonald Lodge (gorgeous lodge) to Logan Pass and then hike through the forests, exploring the many lakes and waterfalls up to St Mary’s Visitor Center:
Logan Pass is the highest point (6,646 feet) on the “Going to the Sun Road,” a 50 mile winding road that is supposed to afford magnificent views. This road is not for the faint of heart – it is very narrow, allowing for only one car to go in either direction at a time and there are no railings at the edge. Given that one of the points of interest along this road is Avalanche Creek, I was a bit apprehensive. Let me state that it is very well maintained and Will our driver was very careful.
This was our view on the way up:
The glaciers weren’t obviously not visible due to the heavy fog and mist and even more troubling is that they are quickly disappearing. There are a little over 20 active ( large enough to be moving) glaciers in the park which are estimated to be over 7000 years old. However, there were about 150 glaciers that existed in the mid 1800’s. If current climate warming patterns persist, scientists believe there will be no more active glaciers in this park by as early as 2030. So sad, as these glaciers help produce magnificent topography and their meltwater provides life-sustaining giving moisture to the plants and water for animals.
Our local guides assured us that the weather would perk up – but it didn’t and the decision was made to drive past Logan Pass and descend a bit so our hike would not be totally in the fog. We entered a lush forest and I was immediately taken by the “sounds of silence.” It was a hushed splendor all around us that made me want to speak only in whispers. This mood was helped by the now steady drizzle that fell upon us – hoods up!
And then just as suddenly the rain stopped and the skies cleared and we could enjoy the lushness of the forest:
Some of the trees were incredibly tall and I couldn’t resist taking some photo-op shots:
Talk about being dwarfed by nature’s immensity!
We continued across the trail while the clouds and steady drizzle came back – and as we neared St Mary Falls the walk became quite treacherous as the combination of the rain and mist of the falls across the smooth slate rocks afforded little traction – thanks goodness I had my walking stick to provide some extra balance. Those of who have read about my other experiences with slippery trails know that there are no pictures taken of this time for security reasons.
It was also getting steadily colder, necessitating hats, scarves and gloves but any discomfort was momentarily forgotten as we neared the falls – just look:
Here is one still pic from Lenore – my good friend and videographer of our journeys:
Just stunning – but we couldn’t admire too long for now the weather took another turn – snow. Lenore got some great still shots:
The last pic was taken from inside our van – and as you can see we were now in full-fledged blizzard mode – time to get back down to the lodge quickly! Thank goodness Will got us back to the lodge quickly and safely – for as we found out later, the rangers closed down Logan Pass andmany of the roads around us right after we left them.
Time for some hot spiked cider!
Let me leave you with this last pic taken by Lenore – she may our resident videographer but she also has some serious landscape photography chops!