Sunday, August 15, 2004

A "tourist's" view of Glacier

Beth Myers of Milwaukee enjoying a walk on McDonald Creek Falls
Sometimes a “sightseeing” trip to the local sights is just what the doctor ordered.
Such was the case last weekend when we took off for a “driving” weekend of Glacier Park.
We did the lodges (Glacier Park Lodge, Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, even the Isaac Walton). We drove the Going to the Sun Highway. We did the St. Mary boat ride. We hiked short trails. We did the evening campfire ranger-talk. We stayed in the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn rather than a campground. In short, we were tourists.
It was quite a good weekend for this kind of trip because the bears were out in large numbers. On Saturday we saw seven bears and are certain that at least four of them were grizzlies.
In fact, the grizzlies created a giant traffic jam just below Two Dog Flats between the road and St. Mary Lake. I’ve never seen such a snarl in the park. When we went back Sunday the rangers had cordoned off the area and put up signs prohibiting any kind of stopping in the stretch where we saw the bears.
Here are some of the other highlights of this two-day trip:
--- The traffic delays on the Going to the Sun Highway appeared to be well managed with no stop over 10 minutes and little congestion.
--- Logan Pass is a real problem. Unless you come early or arrive in the evening you’ll be lucky to find a place to park. That means no hiking along the Garden Wall or Hidden Lake trails. We consoled ourselves with a small hike up Lunch Creek --- never congested, and quite spectacular. I can see the day coming where you’ll have to take the shuttle or a jammer to be able to visit this pass.
--- While there are no major fires in Montana this summer, the park has been full of smoke day after day from the Canadian fires. It has been spoiling vistas.
--- It seems a shame that more American kids aren’t taking the park concession jobs. I’m glad to see the Polish, Slovakian, and other eastern European kids, but miss the days when you would see American kids from all over the country working these jobs and hiking the trails. I wonder if it is a sign of the bad economy that kids can’t afford these low paying jobs because their college tuitions have been skyrocketing.
--- It’s quite a kick to stand in the parking lot throughout the day at the Swiftcurrent Inn and see the tourists there gazing upward at the hillside below Mount Henkel, looking for bears --- which are usually there.
--- If you are depressed, go to Glacier Park. The tourists there are uniformly happy and will cheer you. I’ve never been anyplace where people are so cheerful about their surroundings.
--- While the bear crop seems huge, the huckleberry crop is really lacking this year.
--- I learned a few new things on the St. Mary boat ride: that the remains of the cabin constructed on a promontory into the lake by James Hill’s son are still there --- a pile of lumber that’s considered historic. That there is a second island in the lake --- Rainbow Island --- certainly not as famous as Goose Island, the most photographed place in the park.
Meanwhile, while my girlfriend and her daughter went off for a horseback ride on Sunday, I took the free hours to climb the ridge above Grinnell Point and the saddle between that ridge and Grinnell Mountain, in preparation for an eventual climb. The views from the top were spectacular. I had a great line on Grinnell Glacier and Mount Gould and Mount Wilbur was the biggest thing in sight. Below, Grinnell Lake was a turquoise jewel.

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