Travel: My Esoteric Goes to Glacier Park Montana
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK AND FLATHEAD VALLEY
Meadow Lake Lodge, Columbia Falls, MTClick thumbnail to view full-size
Once Known For Its Glaciers
I HATE STARTING ON A SOUR NOTE, BUT BY 2030, 15 short years from now, the name of this magnificent park must be changed to Glaciated National Park. Why, because of human-accelerated global warming, the wondrous glaciers that covered the park will have gone extinct Would this have eventually happened? Probably so, but in 2130 or 2530 or some other much more distant time. There is also a chance, of course, that they wouldn't disappear at all, but begin to grow again as the earth goes into a natural cooling cycle. But, because of the brakes-off, uncontrolled industrial revolution, we will never know.
The time is June 6, 2015 where Spring is ending after a particularly mild Winter which dropped only a modicum of snow. Most of it was gone when we arrived and much more disappeared during the week my family and I were there greeted by record breaking 95 degree weather. The saving grace for us Floridians was the distinct lack of humidity; otherwise it would have been Florida with mountains and some trees other than pine.
To say that the Glacier National Park and the Flathead Valley to the West are beautiful is understating the fact by orders of magnitude! I grew up in California (which part depends on the year) and travelled through the Sierra Nevadas many times. While Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and Mt Shasta are extremely beautiful places (and well worth the visit), they are quite limited in scope when compared to Glacier National Park, specifically, or the Rocky's, in general.
In The Beginning
WE ARRIVED ON SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2015 after an uneventful, thankfully, trip from Jacksonville, FL through Atlanta, GA to Glacier Park International Airport (D); "International" might be a stretch, but it was a very nice small town airport which was very convenient to use and in location. Because Montana was at the beginning of a heat wave, the "Big Sky" of Montana really was (it impressed my wife so much, she mentioned it about every other day) and the view as we approached the airport gave us our first impression of the fantastic sights to come.
We (my wife Mary, step-son Randy, and his long-time girlfriend, Beth) were met at the airport by one Bobby Moore, one Mary's BFFs who moved to Montana last August and the primary reason we were visiting (also our chauffer). From there we proceeded to our base camp, a 4-star lodge we found on RCI, the Meadow Lake Lodge and began our adventure the next day.
Day One, Sort Of - JUNE 7, 2015
ACTUALLY, WE TOOK IT EASY THE DAY AFTER getting here; Mary and I don't do flying very well any more (I slept for 13 hours after getting back). Bobby left us on our own on Sunday while she and her sister, Donna, prepared a fish taco dinner for us at her home/business. So, while we waited for dinner, we drove around the local area.
We started in the late morning, which in Montana in June is mid-afternoon (I think the sun rose at 4 AM) and immediately stopped at a wood carver's lot looking for a pig (yes, there is a story about that) and then proceeded to pictureless Kalispell, MT, where Donna has her house and very successful consignment shop. Sorry Kalispell, but you definitely are not the tourist town of Montana, which may be a blessing in disguise. Instead, you appear to be a very pleasant, clean work town with a few nice attractions; I can see why Bobby moved to your environs.
From there we drove to Whitefish, MT, a real tourist town to which I recommend people visit. It was here I ran into my first true art store (I am partial to these), the Dick Idol Gallery. While Dick is a well known sculptor currently commissioned to do a piece for and at the University of Arkansas, his son Colt is making his mark as a painter. The art was extremely impressive ... and priced to match. After wandering around town a bit, staying out of the Remington Casino, we finished up at a yogurt shop where I had a combination Huckleberry and Salted-Caramel frozen yogurt with a berry sorbet and then head back to Kalispell for fish tacos.
I didn't take very many pictures on this day, sorry.
Day 2, Into The Park - JUNE 8, 2015
MONDAY SAW US HEADING INTO GLACIER NATIONAL PARK. Again, we took off late driving East along State Hwy 2 going through Hungry Horse (home of the famous Huckleberry Patch; famous if you are from around there anyway) and Coram until we reach the West Glacier entrance. From there we headed up the Going-to-the-Sun road which crosses the Park at Logan Pass. Unfortunately, the road is closed until they get finished repairing it, around June 19th, so we only got as far as the Avalanche Campgrounds and trails (E) this day.
Bobby, my wife, and I are not hikers and therefore limited ourselves to an easy 0.8 mile trek one side of the Avalanche Creek, and down the other. Near the end of our stay, the much younger Randy and Beth took the 2 mile walk up to Avalanche Lake ... and were amply rewarded for their effort with amazing views in all directions. Even so, the short hike was well worth the effort as well. The trail follows Avalanche Creek up one side, crosses over and returns down the other.
With each step the scenery changed a little keeping our interest up and wondering what was next. Along the trail were signs pointing out various types of trees, mainly Cottonwood, Hemlock, and Western Red Cedar (where this side of Glacier National Park is the Eastern extent of this species of cedar's range. The barks of each tree are very distinct and make them easy to identify. At the end of the trail, I got to see a little creature I had never seen before, even in pictures .. a tiny mouse like animal called a Vole.
Before arriving at Avalanche, we stopped at the Lake McDonald Lodge to which we returned after our walk to take a boat ride out onto Lake McDonald.
AVALANCHE CREEKClick thumbnail to view full-size
WE DECIDED TO TRY TO GET A BOAT RIDE ON Lake McDonald before they closed as well as take a closer look at the lodge itself. McDonald Lodge is actually a complex of buildings and a boat ramp. It is bounded on the South by wonderful, fast-flowing Snyder or Midget Creek (depending on which map you look at) and the West by Lake McDonald. Its Southeastern, Eastern, Northeastern boundary is the "Going-to-the-Sun" road, there is no Northern boundary, it just sort of ends..
There are roughly 41 buildings in the area, including a post office, the main lodge, a separate gift shop, restrooms, and the like with the lodge obviously being the most interesting. Upon entering from the front or the back, you are essentially in the Great Room you see in the picture below. To the right is a grand fireplace and a piano for customers to play. Behind me is a very nice gift shop. Straight ahead and on the second floor are guest rooms. Behind me on the left is the hallway to a bar and the rather elegant restaurant. I have some other pictures of that room, but haven't found them yet.
To the left is the way out to the back porch and walkway down to where you board the boat. On the nicely shaded porch, looking out over Lake McDonald are a few very comfortable rocking chairs, bigger than anything you will find a Cracker Barrel, and some less comfortable straightback chairs and benches (I had pictures of those as well, but they were terrible).
LAKE MCDONALD, WHILE NOT BREATHTAKING, when you compare it what Day 3 is going to bring, it is nevertheless one of the more beautiful sights I have ever seen; and I have gotten around a lot in my 68 years. McDonald Lodge is about 2/3 the way up the South end of the lake. The boat ride and narration began there, went out to the middle of the lake, then turned South, approaching the West shore line. It continued South to a point where you could make out Apgar Village at the head of the McDonald Creek; Making a U-turn it proceeded back to the lodge.
All along the way South, the guide kept up a steady stream of facts about the park, the mountains surrounding us, the geology, and its history. It was all very interesting, but along with losing my youth, I have lost my memory; its so bad now, I have to actually start writing things down ... damn! Where was I? Oh, yes; Lake McDonald.
One of the stories I do remember is about the massive fire in 2003 which from burned from the West side of Lake McDonald Westward until it left park grounds (actually it burned the other direction, but it was easier to reference this way). The name of this fire is the Robert Fire (originally named the Blankenship Fire, named by the fire watcher who first spotted the fire. As a reward, the National Park Service let him name the fire. The story says that the lookout had been having a terrible time with his father Robert and to get back at him, he broke the long-standing tradition of naming these fires after geographical features, he named it after his father. Later on, I will have pictures to show there are areas where, 12 years since, the land has barely begun to heal from this man-made disaster. There is a link to a engaging anthology of the Robert Fire in the Related Links section.
FOLLOWING AVALANCHE WE WENT BACK TO Lake McDonald Lodge, a rustic complex of accommodations, gift shops, an excellent restaurant, and other facilities. It was laid out in the decor it had from the beginning. Behind the great room, which contained a massive fireplace and a piano for guests to play, was a porch full of shade and rocking chairs to view the lake from and meditate. Inside, in addition to the rooms, was a gift shop, a bar-snack shop, and an elegant restaurant where we dined before leaving.
Our purpose for coming back was to take the boat tour around Lake McDonald and listen to an excellent presentation on the lake's and surrounding mountain's histories.
Lake McDonald LodgeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Lake McDonaldClick thumbnail to view full-size
Day 3, JUNE 9, 2015
I have a lot of pictures to go through, so I thought I would publish Day's 1 and 2 now and add to it as I go along.
THIS DAY BEGAN WITH WHAT TURNED OUT TO BE BY FAR the best part of the vacation; a 1-hour helicopter tour over 80% of Glacier National Park. I have been a lot of places in my almost 68 years including flying over and driving through the Alps, being in the cockpit of a C-130 as we flew from one end of Vietnam to the other, palaces in Thailand, temples in Indonesia, the wonderful old cities of Europe, helicopter tours into the Grand Canyon and over the mountains.and many others (did I say I like to go places?). But, nothing, in my humble opinion, compares to what I was about to experience as we lifted off from the Glacier Heli Tour company.
While I have a lot of great pictures, and even more that are not so great, they all suffer from my inexperience in taking pictures and therefor do not even come close to replicating the jaw-dropping (literally) sights on this tour.
I use to fly helicopters for the Army during Vietnam as well as the Maryland National Guard, afterwards. Mainly I flew UH-1's (Huey) during those two periods; from I got back from Vietnam until I left active service in 1975, I flew OH-58s, like the first picture below, It was fun being back in the cockpit, although they wouldn't let me fly it for some reason and besides, the cyclic and collector were missing.
TAKING OFF ON THE MOST FANTASTIC FLIGHT EVER!Click thumbnail to view full-size
ONCE WE GOT IN THE AIR, WE COULD EASILY SEE LAKE McDONALD (B) and began our flight heading slightly South, toward the Southern border of the park, for a bit before turning East to fly up the Harrison Valley. It was here where I saw my first eye-popping sight at the end of the valley - the valley floor rising up quickly on all sides to snow-covered peaks, some of which contained the Harrison and Jackson glaciers. Covering the sides of the valley, stretching from the just below the peaks at the edge of the snowpack, was a panoply of water falls (E). Not just Niagra-sized (in terms of height), but falls and cascades a 1000 or more feet long, each one taking a different path down the mountainside as your gaze moves from left to right.
While I have seen glaciers before in California (now long gone) and Alaska, I have never seen such a collection of falls spread out before me; it was actually breath-taking. We approached the mountain face(s) from the East and began to climb up. Soon, on our ascent, we are above and directly over a couple of the falls (F1) before cresting the mountain over Jackson Glacier (F2). From there, it was all down hill ... sort of.
The pictures below are in sequential order. Those with a letter at the beginning in the caption refers to the approximate location marked on the map even further down and in the narative.
SOUTH TO THE BORDERClick thumbnail to view full-size
Helicopter Tour Route
The Next Valley
ONCE WE CRESTED MT. JACKSON, WE HEADED DOWN into what I will call Gunsight Valley (I am sure it has a real name, but Google Maps doesn't provide it), in honor of Gunsight Lake (G) off to the left. Guarding the valley to the right is Citadel Mountain (NE of H) which is where we turned our attention. Looking at the map above, you might be able to imagine glaciers sliding north on either side of Citadel Mountain toward Lake Mary.