You can't disagree! Glacier National Park is indeed the crown of the continent!
Fed by glaciers, snow, and ice, every lake and stream has a spectacular blue color; the water mostly clear and very cold!
Saturday June 18th, 2016
It always seems to happen that there is never a reasonable hour for a flight heading where I want to go. Getting started at 4 AM, I met up with my group to catch a cab to the airport where I would start a 2 leg flight to Denver, CO and on to Kalispell, MT. The flight would take me over the Rocky Mountains that I would be enjoying for 2 weeks later this year in Rocky Mountain National Park!
I've never been a complete fan of flying, even before the dawn of TSA travel and despite the tremendous time savings, and this flight didn't help with that. Departing Denver heading towards Kalispell, we were a majority of the way to Kalispell when the pilot realized the deicer on the plane wasn't working. Had we landed, the plane would not have been able to take off again should it ice up overnight and without a maintenance crew in Kalispell, that meant we were headed back to Denver. This is where it became more of an inconvenience to me... The pilot, apparently, had his own unique style of approach for landing that involved an "S" decent my stomach was not a fan of the first time through. Switch planes, head back to Kalispell, and repeat the landing again and I couldn't hold back any longer. In short, that is why it's always nice to build in a flight recovery day which is what we thankfully had in Kalispell this day.
Sunday June 19th, 2016
Feeling recharged after a good night sleep following the flight from the day before, it was time to push towards Glacier National Park and our home for the week in Apgar Village! Upon arriving and seeing where we would be for the week, I was absolutely blown away! Seeing the first sights of Lake McDonald at sunset, surprisingly late from what I was use to back home due to the higher northern latitudes, I knew this trip was going to be something special!
Monday June 20th, 2016
Today, the first full day in the park, would start with a beautiful sunrise to match the equally beautiful sunset the night before. The plan was to work our way along Going-To-The-Sun road towards the east side of the park. Along the way we would stop and see anything of interest to us, which was a lot.
Stunning vistas and beautiful waterfalls all around easily captured the attention of our cameras, and rightly so! The best surprise of all was a little black bear that decided to sprint across the road in front of us! It would be the first bear sighting in the park and a great sign for me of things to come!
Upon reaching the top of Going-To-The-Sun road, Logan Pass, we hopped out of the car to have a look around. Since Glacier National Park does see quite a bit of snow in winter, crews start in May plowing snow from the road. Mind you, this is not your fluffy ski powder snow... no, this is real snow. Snow that would easily bury a two story house if you'd let it. The crews start from both ends of the road and meet in the middle at Logan Pass. Fortunately for us, the crews finished up just a few days ahead of our arrival. That said, there was still a lot of snow at Logan Pass!
I, of course, came prepared with snow boots ready to hike in whatever conditions were to be found! We would end up hiking to the Hidden Lake vista and it was quite a sight! The lake was still frozen over and just behind the lake sat Bearhat Mountain adorned in snow. This would be one of my favorite views of the whole trip! From there we continued along to the east until we found Piegan Pass where we would hop out for a hike once again.
Although we did not go very far, we did go far enough to see a beautiful 3 tier waterfall way off in the distance. Had we had the time, I would have made the hike out to that waterfall but, due to time, it wasn't meant to be though the view we had was probably the best you could get. Closer up would have lost the distance needed to see the whole picture. On the hike back out, I had a near tragic accident while allowing another hiker to pass by. I stepped cautiously to the stream edge of the trail to allow the gentleman to pass and that's where I lost my footing. I slipped down the bank, a short drop very briefly into the stream, with my Nikon camera taking a serious hit against the rocky bank. Fortunately the camera came out with only a scratch on the body of the lens and my waterproof boots were plenty to take the short dip in the cold water. Surviving that near disaster, it was back to the car and on to Saint Mary Lake and the east end of the park!
Knowing we would be back to the east side of the park on a later date, we spent a limited amount of time looking around the visitor center before making the drive back to Apgar across Going-To-The-Sun road. How about another look at Lake McDonald? Why not! This is home for the week after all. Might as well enjoy every little bit of it!
Tuesday June 21st, 2016
With a fresh day upon us, we started out with another look at Lake McDonald which brought us yet another new view! This time there was a fog flowing down through the mountains and out over the lake. We would also see the first signs of rain on our adventure. Not to worry, we're all weather fans!
We would set our sights once again for Logan Pass where we would spend a bit more time in the visitor center and, to our surprise, a bit of wildlife spotting! Although there was an opportunity to see big horn sheep at Yellowstone National Park in 2002, it did not happen. Finally, I would have my chance! If not for a crowd of people in the parking lot staring at the mountain side, we would have never known they were there as they blended in quite well to their surroundings. It was quite a treat to see them hanging out up there. After our brief stop at Logan Pass, we started back out to Saint Mary Lake and the east side of the park stopping off at some of the more scenic overlooks along Going-To-The-Sun road. There certainly is a right time of year to visit Glacier National Park and it's definitely when there is enough snowmelt to bring the waterfalls to life! One overlook we wanted to stop at gave us a view of Reynolds Creek cascading down from Logan Pass. Absolutely stunning!
Continuing on, we would again pass through an area that have been devastated by a wildfire just 1 year prior. The Reynolds fire of 2015 certainly left a lasting impression. I know this is all a natural process that does benefit the environment tremendously however I can't help but imagine a greener place filled with life! Eventually, over the course of several decades, the area will make a full recovery. Perhaps on my next visit I won't even recognize the area!
Just around the bend from the Reynolds wildfire area, we would stop and get our first good looks at the beautiful Saint Mary Lake! It is stunning in its own right but you really can't beat Lake McDonald. I'm definitely biased as I was living right next to Lake McDonald and could see the sunrise and sunset each and every day whereas that was a bit difficult to do being so far from Saint Mary Lake. Regardless of the reasons, it is still a very beautiful place.
From there we headed out of the park boundary and set our sights for a different area of the park just north of Saint Mary Lake, Many Glacier. Many Glacier is home to some of the best hikes of Glacier National Park. One I would have liked to do, the hike to Grinnell Glacier, was off limits due to a grizzly bear in the area. No matter, we had other options to work with! Unfortunately, the rain we saw back at Lake McDonald would catch up with us shortly into our hike. It was not a complete waste of a trip however. I did get to learn the unfortunate truth about my waterproof gear and how it was not as waterproof as I had thought.
Given the poor turn in the weather and the wet gear, we made our way back towards Apgar Village where we could rest and recover from the day. Typically a rainy day could ruin a good time. Fortunately, I don't share the same opinion! On the contrary, the clouds bringing rain the much of the area provided a fun display as they lifted up and over the road.
Along the way back to our room, we would encounter wildlife that would change the course of the day for me. That's right, we would see our second bear on the trip! Despite the wet gear and rain shortened hike, this made the day a huge success for me! Although it wasn't a grizzly, a black bear is still quite the welcomed find in my book. After watching the bear for a while, we jumped back in the car heading for our room at Apgar Village closing out yet another awesome day in Glacier!
Wednesday June 22nd, 2016
Today we would eventually head back out to Many Glacier and take a second shot at the hike we failed to complete due to rain the day before. Of course, before we could do that, we took a moment to do a bit of wildlife spotting around our home at Lake McDonald. To our surprise, the most common of critters, deer, were grazing near our cabins!
Sure, deer back home are a dime a dozen but still, these are Glacier deer! That's has to count for something, right?
After exploring the nearby trail to the campground as well as the campground itself, we would return for a few more pictures of Lake McDonald which once again showed us a yet another new view! This time a low cloud deck was hanging over the lake reaching up into the mountains. We would later drive through and rise above these clouds as we set out towards Many Glacier once again.
As promised, driving up through the cloud bank proved to be a spectacular sight from above! Watching what equated to a sea of clouds down below, one we had just been under and through, as Heavens Peak rises up from behind, was awe inspiring to say the least. The view has very easily become one of my favorite photos of this trip! Absolutely breathtaking and of course, Glacier National Park just living up to its title of the Crown of the Continent! Much of these moments of course depend on the right conditions, something I am still quite grateful for where ever I find them!
Before heading out of the park and over to the Many Glacier area again, we decided to stop at another hike of interest, a hike to Saint Mary Falls. It would be a short but very worthwhile hike. To see Saint Mary Falls cascading through a narrow slot canyon, the icy blue water churning in pools, and even the refraction of light through the droplets of water creating a faint rainbow all made the moment all the more memorable!
I did start to learn something about Glacier National Park... It's really, really hard to take a bad picture here! Everything is just so scenic all you need to do is point your camera and shoot! OK, maybe that's an exaggeration. As long as you can point your camera in the direction of the scenery, you won't be disappointed!
Back once more on the beautiful Many Glacier side of the park, we were astounded by the stunning beauty of the many waterfalls, blue water lakes, rich forests, and majestic mountains! Even the wildlife made a subtle appearance with a moose and calf hiding in some brush off the trail a number of yards. Of course, with grizzly bears in the area, we were restricted on which trails we could hike due to their presence but even then, those we were able to hike were very much worthwhile! If you do visit Glacier National Park, get off the beaten path and make an effort to see the Many Glacier area of the park. You will not be disappointed! I sure wasn't!
After spending much of the day hiking through the Many Glacier area, it was time to start our way back towards our home at Apgar Village. As it happens in most of my adventures, I was really starting to grow fond of Glacier. How could I not? I got to live next to a crystal clear lake with a mountain vista backdrop for a week! It was starting to dawn on me how hard it would be to leave this place in a few days.
Thursday June 23rd, 2016
Today we would set out for another new area of the park called Two Medicine. Two Medicine, like much of Glacier National Park, was once inhabited by the Blackfeet Native American tribe. This particular area was held as the most sacred area of the park by the Blackfeet tribe and they would even perform vison quests here. It was easy to see why they revered this place.
We would set off for a hike to Appistoki Falls and I would hike on much further to a scenic overlook that would provide views of Two Medicine Lake and Lower Two Medicine Lake. The view is well worth it though you might want to be ready for a more serious effort in hiking to the overlook. This trek would run 8 miles round trip and take me up 2,500 feet in elevation. Ready for a challenge, I set out for the overlook and whatever else I may find. To my surprise, it would be teeming with wildlife!
Finally getting some elevation on this trip, I found myself in the realm of the big horn sheep and mountain goats! Much to my surprise, I even had an up close encounter with a trio of mountain goats while on my way up the trail to the overlook.
Of course, after this run in with the fellas, the trio of mountain goats, I learned from the warning of some passers by that I should be more careful in getting that close. Apparently they witnessed a big horn sheep headbutt another hiker for intentionally getting too close. Not what I would have liked to hear after my close encounter but a good reminder that wildlife is in fact, wild. Continuing on I would be more careful of any other mountain goats or big horn sheep I would find on my way to the top. Wouldn't want to be headbutted off the overlook!
As promised, the overlook was worth every bit of the climb to the top! The views were incredible!
Having left my group behind and powered to the top, solo, it was time for me to turn around and head back to meet up with the rest of the group again. Back at the bottom, I would learn that the fellas I had encountered on my way up would find their way down to the bottom where my group was waiting. It was interesting to think the mountain goats were more or less accustom to people and using the trail built by them. Every so often I think of the impact we have on these beautiful places, whether we know it or not.
Before moving on, we would explore the Two Medicine Lake area before setting our sights on a historic landmark of interest within the park. This particular landmark, Glacier Park Lodge, has ties to the very founding of Glacier National Park. Built in 1913 by the Great Northern Railway company, it is used to house visitors brought to the park by the Great Northern Railway. Although Great Northern Railway no longer exists, the lodge still stands and still offers rooms to visitors wanting an upscale experience. This lodge is really something to see! The craftsmanship and overall design are a perfect pairing to the surroundings. If I ever have the money, I would definitely come back and stay here!
After our visit to Glacier Park Lodge, it was back to Apgar Village at Lake McDonald. Although our cabin at Apgar was nothing like Glacier Park Lodge, I would take the view of Lake McDonald anytime!
Friday June 24th, 2016
The day I was dreading was finally here, the final day in the park. Today we would do the last of our exploring before setting our sights on Kalispell where we would catch our flight back home, once again, bright and early tomorrow morning. Until then, it was time to get the last of our exploring in! One last time, we would gaze out across Lake McDonald. Absolutely beautiful! I still can't believe this was home for a week!
We would make our way our to Logan Pass one more time and to our surprise, it was swallowed by clouds! Having always seen this view in near perfect conditions, this was quite a change. Also a surprise, it was a chilly 40°F up at Logan Pass, some of the coolest temperatures felt on this trip. I guess this was fitting for the farewell tour as none of us were ready to go back home.
From there we slowly made our way back towards Kalispell making sure to stop at as many of the viewpoints of McDonald Creek along the way as we could. Having not seen too much of the water way that feeds the lake, it really was quite scenic! The clear blue water, tumbling down out of the mountains heading for the lake and eventually out to the Flathead River, provided some unique and scenic views of its own. Very suitable for the end of an amazing trip!
Saturday June 25th, 2016
For course, today we boarded the plane that would take us back home. As great as it was to be out in Montana, Big Sky Country, it was also just as nice to be back home. Although the flights themselves did not wreak as much havoc with me as the first flights heading to Glacier, they were not without their issues. Somehow, as is the case more often than now, we managed to book a connecting flight minutes apart from our scheduled landing that also happened to be on the opposite side of the airport from our landing gate. On your marks, get set, GO! We were sprinting from our landing gate to our departure gate in Denver and, as you might have guessed, there was no way our baggage from the Kalispell flight was unloaded and on our departing flight with us. We would learn this truth on the ground back home. Not to despair though, the airline managed to get our baggage delivered to our door just a few days after we arrived home with everything in one piece! Not to shabby! For such a circus, I would have expected the worst but Delta airlines managed to pull through. Regardless, just one more headache with flying!
The wildlife was not as active as it was in other adventures like Sequoia National Park (my 2014 visit) where I saw a record 14 bears out in the wild! The previous record was from Yellowstone National Park were, in 2002, I saw 7 bears out in the wild. Glacier, like Yellowstone, brought the opportunity to see Grizzly Bears though, every time one was close, we missed it by minutes.... We did see 2 Black Bears which brings my lifetime count to 23 and, as much as I enjoy bears, the real prize this trip was completing a mission left unaccomplished from Yellowstone; see some Big Horn Sheep! In addition to the Big Horn Sheep, I did get up close to several Mountain Goats with video of the encounter. How cool is that?!
This trip certainly left an impression on me and has me ready to go to trip number 2! Rocky Mountain National Park in September! Until then, back to the local challenge of Missouri State Parks for the Centennial Passport Challenge!