Wows (Glacier Nat’l Park)

Wow…definitely the most used word after we entered Glacier National Park.  Once our senses went into overload our vocabulary deserted us.  Everywhere we turned there was another Wow!  For anyone who has been to Glacier National Park, you won’t be surprised or impressed with these inadequate photos and descriptions, but if you’ve never been to Glacier, let me just tell you it’s…WOW!!

For the first half of our visit, we camped in Fish Creek Campground on the west side of the park, next to Lake McDonald.  We grabbed the last available back-in site in the campground which as luck would have it included a charming 45-degree turn around a lovely tree, making the site barely long enough for our little Murph.  Marty and I shared a few exhalations of exasperation as the tree kept jumping out of line and getting in our way while we (Marty) proficiently and patiently parked the Murph while somebody (Sue) gave perfect hand signals.  Ahhh, Murph was soon settled in, and anchor beers were our reward.  Oh look, there’s a squirrel!

We’d been given plenty of reading material upon entering the park, so we set to work figuring out “the plan” for our week in this stunning area.  The next morning there was a Ranger led hike that sounded just about right for our stubby legs and creaky knees.  We met up with Ranger Randy at the appointed time and place and introduced ourselves to about twenty other hikers who ranged from the very young to the young at heart.

We’d chosen the hike to Avalanche Lake, which we later learned is the most popular of all the hikes in Glacier.  Since we wanted some Glacier education as we got our bearings (not the furry kind), this hike was the perfect start to our adventures.  The trail traversed some wetlands through a pocket of huge old growth cedars and black cottonwoods (a new kind of tree for me!) then we started climbing along Avalanche Creek through some colorful rock formations.  Ranger Randy explained how the glaciers carved the mountains and canyons in the area and how the green and red argilite (yay, we remembered!) rocks were formed.  At one point we stopped across the valley from the path of a recent avalanche, but the wow part was seeing the swath of full-grown trees broken off about 20-30 feet up and blown UP the mountain on the side of the canyon away from the avalanche.  Some trees were even pulled out at their roots, all from the blast of wind created at the leading edge of the avalanche.  WOW…the force of nature!

Avalanche Lake is gorgeous, ringed by steep cliffs with glacier-fed waterfalls pouring in to create the beautiful aqua color of the lake.  As we learned about the glacier’s role in the creation of Glacier Park, we also learned that the glaciers in the park are quickly disappearing.  There are only a few dozen glaciers left of the more than 150 that covered this area 100 years ago.  It’s estimated that in 12-15 years, all the glaciers in the park will be gone.  Avalanche Lake will become a seasonal lake driving immense changes to the environment that it now supports.  Sad wow…consider all the ecosystems that must adapt.

While enjoying our week in Glacier we took two other hikes, a boat ride and a trip up to Logan Pass in one of the historic red buses.  Our trip from Lake McDonald up Going to the Sun highway to Logan Pass in the red bus was great.  It was hot and sunny when we left the lodge and Marty and I scored on getting the last row in the bus all to ourselves.  We prairie-dogged (stuck our heads out the top) at all the great photo stops, laughed at our driver’s bad jokes, and ooh-ed and ahh-ed at all the incredible views.  As we neared the pass the clouds started rolling over the peaks and at Logan Pass we couldn’t see 10 feet in front of us; we were in a cold drizzly cloud!  Oh well, just another summer day in Montana!

In the middle of the week we moved to a campground that was at the south end of the Park.  The drives through Blackfeet country were probably some of the most beautiful.  It was also interesting (disturbing?) to read up on a bit of the history of the park and the ongoing disagreements with the local Indian tribes.

While on the southeast side of the park we took one of the scenic boat tours on Saint Mary Lake.  The boats are old restored wooden boats and the guides are fun college kids who come up for the summer to wow all the tourists with factoids and beauty.  During our stopover in the boat we hiked along St. Mary’s Lake up to the falls and back.  It was in an area that had burned about three years ago, so the area was going through a big change.  The scorched black tree trunks are still standing, surrounded by a zillion wildflowers…wow.  It was definitely a scenic boat tour and we loved it.

Our last hike was from Two Medicine Lake up to Aster Falls and the Aster Park Lookout.  This was a great hike to end our Glacier visit, walking through fields of wildflowers and marshy meadows, with rocky peaks soaring all around…definitely more wows.

We were extremely impressed with Glacier and not only for the beauty.  We were impressed to learn that it is an intact ecosystem and that the focus is to keep it that way.  Glacier is clean, well-organized, the volunteers and Rangers are all excellent, and the Park is maintained in such a way as to minimize the impact of the 2+ million visitors.  Sadly, it’s also being drastically affected by the changes in climate.  So big, so beautiful, so wow…

So, there you have it…Marty and Sue’s visit to Glacier.  I’m sure everyone who’s been there is remembering their own wow moments, and if you haven’t been there, go get your own Wow!!!