Magnificent Montana: September 2015 (Part 3: Glacier)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

After a wonderful week exploring Wyoming’s Grand Tetons and Yellowstone treasure trove, it was time, Montana-ho!.  On a road trip, I hate giving up a whole day to driving, so we always try to incorporate something fun.  This time, we planned to leave by the north exit, taking in Mammoth Hot Springs on the way out.  Driving all day is hard enough being rested, so we took the sunrise off and slept to 8 am!   Out of the cabin by 9 am, northbound we headed.

Spectacular terraces of calcium carbonate (aka travertine) at Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest corner of Yellowstone

Spectacular terraces of calcium carbonate (aka travertine) at Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest corner of Yellowstone

We passed through the attractive college town of Bozeman around lunchtime. A restaurant recommendation from I-don’t-remember-who, on a Post-it on my kitchen counter for months, led us to seek out Plonk, right on the adorable main drag.  This was a good steer, yielding a delicious quinoa salad with radish and apple slivers for me and a Cubano sandwich for Steve.

Spurred on listening to Daniel Silva’s The English Assassin, we encountered rain en route.  It was a lovely drive punctuated with streams and lakes.  We arrived to warm welcomes from Monica and Charley just before sunset.

Monday, August 31, 2015

We did a little work before playing, in the form of a 9 am conference call on a research project on nasal Surfactant with Ron Simon, followed by a leisurely breakfast.  We made the acquaintance of Kalispell in the afternoon, shopping and having lunch.  We walked through a surprise architectural point of interest:  a Frank Lloyd Wright medical office turned law office.

Architectural bonus in Kalispell! One of Frank Lloyd Wright's last designs, a medical office building.

Architectural bonus in Kalispell! One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last designs, a medical office building.

We stopped back at the house long enough for Charlie to put the finishing touches on his signature apple crisp, before heading down the road to my fellow book clubber Rosanne and Joel’s gorgeous lake-front property, Sky Ranch, for a fantastic dinner of coquilles Saint-Jacques, beef bourguignon, and salad. Even without the overlooked rice pilaf Rosanne bemoaned by email afterwards (every hostess has done this, I certainly have…multiple times), it was a divine repast in a heavenly setting.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Our destination for the next 3 nights is Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, straddling northwest Montana and southwest Alberta.  Hearing the official name, I had a sudden realization that I was there years ago with my family, probably on the same trip when we went to Yellowstone.  The same spat of wildfires which initially concealed the Tetons when we arrived also influenced this segment of the trip.  When we booked way back in February, Monica and Charley’s first choice, Many Glacier, was sold out.  So was second choice Saint Mary.  We had had to settle for a motel in the Rising Sun area.  But, fire in the immediate vicinity resulted in the Rising Sun accommodation being shuttered for the season just before our departure.  Thankfully, Monica and Charley were able to score us rooms at Saint Mary, at the terminus of the famed park-traversing Going-to-the-Sun Road.

We headed to Glacier, stopping just outside the West entrance for breakfast (a round of cinnamon rolls, breakfast burrito for me), then into the park, we hopscotched our way east, stopping at viewpoints and lodges en route.

Lake McDonald, from Apgar

Lake McDonald, from Apgar

Charley’s parking karma, dubbed “Charma,” held for us, scoring parking spaces for both cars at both Avalanche Creek and Logan Pass.  We first hiked a gorgeous mossy stream, outlined by sculptural mauve and cimarron colored water-carved rocks, on Trail of the Cedars, through an aromatic forest.

Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park

Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park

 

Logan Pass Visitor Center-classic mid-century architecture! Love the desert masonry, wood ceiling, beams, huge windows!

Logan Pass Visitor Center with wonderful, classic mid-century architecture!, complete with desert masonry, wood ceiling, beams, huge windows.

At Logan Pass, set off by a mid-century modern visitor station, we gained additional mileage hiking Hidden Lake Overlook.

Along the Hidden Lake nature trail in Glacier National Park

Along the Hidden Lake nature trail in Glacier National Park

We arrived finally to Saint Mary, the terminus of the Going to the Sun Road, in time for a drink (excellent Montana Mule for me and Going to the Sun IPA for Steve) before an early dinner.

View from the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

View from the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Steve and I set the alarm for 6 am.  After it went off, we peered outside, trying to assess the sunrise potential, finally mobilizing about 7 am and heading out to a windy and overcast subdued sunrise.  We didn’t go far, just back along the Going-to-the-Sun Road as far as Rising Sun, before heading back to an overlook at the Saint Mary River, not far from the hotel.  I finally played around with a newer tool, a variable neutral density filter I had bought with a $250 gift certificate to Rollie’s Camera Store in Sedona which I won in a raffle during the Sedona Photo Festival in May.  It had been in the bag ever since, but I hadn’t yet broken it out.

We met Monica and Charley in the dining room for breakfast at 9 am.  My breakfast burrito was substantial enough to carry me through to dinner, aided only by part of an apple on the trail later.  We headed out in one car towards 11:30 am, towards Many Glacier, taking the Swiftcurrent Trail past lakes and small waterfalls, through a beautiful lush forest of aspens, ferns and pines, with late summer wildflower holdovers along the way.  In the car on the way, we passed a sure sign of something interesting, generally a wildlife sighting, with a jam of cars pulled off along the road.  In addition to cars, there were many tripods and long lenses arrayed, trained on a steep granite slope.  The draw was a mother grizzly with a cub, thrilling to see, even at a safe, long distance away.

Not quite as close as at the Grizzly Discovery Center, but still a thrill to see!

Not quite as close as at the Grizzly Discovery Center, but still a thrill to see!

One of the attractions of this trail was Redrock Falls, a lovely 2-tier cascade over purple-red sedimentary stone, very different in tone from Sedona’s orangy-red rocks.  This contrasted brilliantly with yellow-green foliage.

Red Rock Falls is an attraction on the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail in Glacier National Park, near Many Glacier

Redrock Falls is an attraction on the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail in Glacier National Park, near Many Glacier

Coming and going, I saw tiny white balls of motion up on the steep granite slopes to the north of the trail.  Yes, mountain goats, the first Monica and Charley had seen in 2 years!  A loose aggregate of 4 scampered about grazing on our return.  A lovely rabbit nibbled vegetation along the trail on our return.

It was cool and pleasant for hiking, bundled up against intermittent light rain.  The wind had its way with Monica’s favorite umbrella, repeatedly.

Arriving early evening at Many Glacier Lodge, we were just settled in after obtaining drinks when we were called for dinner.  The rain really let loose once we were inside the giant Swiss chalet styled lodge, perfect timing.

Driving home in failing light, cars were again pulled over where we had stopped before for the grizzly bears, this time for a black bear at much closer range.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

We again set the alarm for early (6:30 am), but were discouraged from heading out by thick grey cloud cover and no hint of color in the sky.

In the Canadian part of Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park (the official name of the binational park).

In the Canadian part of Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park (the official name of the bi-national park).

We headed north to Canada to the Prince of Wales Hotel for lunch.

The Prince of Wales Lodge in Waterton, Canada has a splendid lake view.

The Prince of Wales Lodge in Waterton, Canada has a splendid lake view.

Up north, the skies were intermittently clearer, although we were dodging rain in the town of Waterton.  The town is a few streets wide, with appealing shops, restaurants and galleries lining the main street, just a block off a rocky beach fronting the Middle Waterton Lake.  The Prince of Wales sits proudly up on the brow of a hill overlooking the town and lake.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park in late afternoon in early September

Glacier National Park in late afternoon in early September

On the drive back, the conditions for photography were improving, with blue skies and golden late afternoon hues.  After clearing customs, including an inspection of the trunk, there was a glorious sunset of fiery colors as we were passing distinctive Chief Mountain.

Chief Mountain panorama at sunset, in Glacier National Park

Chief Mountain panorama at sunset, in Glacier National Park

Chief Mountain in northern Montana in Glacier National Park in northern Wyoming

A spectacular cloud sets off majestic Chief Mountain in northern Montana

Friday, September 4, 2015

We headed back to Bigfork in rain, by way of Browning and the Museum of the Plains Indians, then East Glacier to West Glacier.  The museum had some nice artifacts, especially beaded garments, baby carriers, and explanations of the techniques.  We lunched at the lodge at East Glacier.  The drive back was along the railroad route, with the train tracks paralleling the Middle Fork of the Flathead River gorge.

Lake McDonald

By the time we made it to West Glacier, the skies were blue again, with great puffy clouds and a rainbow.   There was a farmer’s market in progress, where we picked up some baked goods.  Monica and I chatted with a woman from Orange County with a most striking dog, Lily, which proved to be a wolf-dog mix, her second.

Steve and I headed to Apgar to take advantage of the sunset light, while Charley and Monica headed back ahead of us, with plans to procure pizzas for dinner.  The lake surface was very choppy, a perfect substrate for subduing with my new variable neutral density filter.

Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Rainy day in Bigfork!  We did walk through the forest on Charley and Monica’s property, under umbrellas.  The rain didn’t let up all day, with fog rolling in and completely obscuring the Swan Range.  When the fog eventually cleared, new snowcaps were visible on the peaks, the earliest Charley has ever seen here.

Beautiful Bigfork, Montana

Beautiful Bigfork, Montana

The rain presented challenges at our evening’s destination, the Crown Guitar Festival at Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, the 6th annual, turning the dirt parking lots into mud.  This was Monica and Charley’s first time to attend as well.  The weeklong festival features concerts every night, with workshops during the week.  There was an open mike session in the lodge, where we had a BBQ dinner of hamburgers, coleslaw, and salads before the evening’s concert. Highlights of Saturday night’s finale, the Extravaganza, included Brazilian Romero Lubambo, sultry-voiced Madeleine Peyroux (rocking Gershwin’s “Summertime”) and Steely Dan guitarist Jon Herington (remarkable versions of the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” and John Phillip Souza’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”).

It was a wonderful cap to a fantastic 2 week tour of a spectacular triumvirate of very special and unique national parks.  I almost titled this piece “Glacier Grandeur,”  which would have been accurate in the sense that Glacier National Park IS gorgeous.  The beautiful deep glacial lakes we saw (McDonald, Saint Mary, Waterton) form the bottom of steep-sided, U-shaped glacial valleys formed by the action of glaciers on mountains, freezing and thawing, eroding the peaks into ever steeper forms as rocks are pried loose and carried down valley.  Sadly, actual glaciers themselves are barely in evidence.  One of impetuses to go now are the dire predictions that Glacier National Park’s glaciers will be gone by 2030-in 15 years!- at the current rate of warming.  From 150 estimated glaciers at the end of the Little Ice Age in 1850 to 50 in 1968 to 25 now, the trend is clear.  Multiple displays in the visitor centers showed historic photos of glaciers, juxtaposed to contemporary views, making it clear that even those that remain are slivers of their former selves.  At the Sedona Film Festival a few years ago, we saw the award-winning 2012 documentary “Chasing Ice” in which nature photographer James Balog conducts the Extreme Ice Survey, deploying time-lapse camera rigs around the globe to dramatically and unequivocally demonstrate the current rate of glacier loss.  It’s sad to think that very soon, the only evidence of glaciers in the namesake national park could be the eroded, sculptural peaks which remain as their testament.

-Marie

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3 thoughts on “Magnificent Montana: September 2015 (Part 3: Glacier)

  1. Toujours un plaisir de vous lire et voir vos belles photos!
    Souvenir d’un souper en Islande!
    Hope Steve is well
    Lucie Doyon et Renaud Giguere

  2. I have visited Yellowstone & Glacier over the years, your meanderings and writing brought back many memories. Thank you. s

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