Thursday, August 20, 2015

Glacier National Park West

August 11 - 16, 2015:

We are on the road early at 8:30 AM as we want to be at Glacier National Park by 9:30 or so for a good shot at getting a campsite.  Twinkles as usual goes solo in the Jeep and arrives before me to scope out the best sites.  Her girl scout training is now paying off !  The Apgar campground is the largest one on the western side of the park with 194 campsites, but many of them are not suitable for RV’s or level and they can fill up fast.  We found a fairly level pull through with room for the Jeep.  It is all dry camping, but water is available and it has a dump station.  

We start out by taking the “Going to the Sun” road along Lake McDonald, stopping at a few pull-offs to look at the Lake.  It's impossible to not look at the lake, it's huge, crystal clear bluish-green, surrounded by mountains.  It is 1 mile wide by 10 miles long and very deep with a maximum depth of 472 feet scoured out by the glaciers.   At the north end of the lake is an old log Lodge, Lake McDonald Lodge, built in 1914 with a boat dock on the lakefront.  The weather was about perfect for it, so we did the ranger narrated boat ride, it was great !  As we were on the Lake, you could see these huge smoke clouds over the distant mountains from one of the forest fires, it sort of looked like an atomic blast.  Afterwards we drove a few miles further north on Going to the Sun road which follows McDonald Creek.  McDonald Creek is a fast flowing river that has lots of falls, rocks and rapids, very scenic.  It being a hot day, lots of people were in the river in shallow sections, it looked like the thing to do. 

View from the shore of Lake McDonald

View from the tour boat

The clouds from the fire were a little scary

Interior of Lake McDonald Lodge is classic

The front entrance of the Lodge

The incredible Red Buses, originally built by White Truck in the 1930's.
Ford refurbished them in 2002 with new Ford E-450 chassis and powertrains. 

These tours are extremely popular, we considered doing one but were 
turned off the poor weather and smoke conditions. 

McDonald Creek

Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada and Glacier National Park, Montana which are connected and span the international border were consolidated in 1932 as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  In the 1970’s they were designated as Biosphere Reserves and in 1995 gained worldwide recognition as a designated World Heritage Site.

The creation of Glacier National Park came about in large part due to the Great Northern Railroad and by naturalist, historian, writer and political booster George Bird Brinnell.
The Great Northern Railroad was founded by an amazing man, James J. Hill, who became know as the “empire builder”.  The story of his exploits and accomplishments are legendary.  His son took over the railroad after his retirement and heavily promoted tourism in the Glacier park area with train depots linked to a string of hotels and various touring options into the park interior.  Glacier was designated a National Park in 1910.

The “Going to the Sun” road across Glacier was an engineering and roadbuilding marvel of its day, and still is for that matter.  It was built in the 1930’s and opened for traffic in 1933.  It is considered one of the most scenic drives in the country.  Unfortunately for us, there are several forest fires going on that are obliterating many of the views with smoke and haze.  The combination of the light snow pack this past winter and the current dry and hot conditions are culminating in many forest fires this summer.  There are two fires going on at present and a couple of weeks ago the eastern part of the road was closed.

Going to the Sun Road

The Logan Pass visitors center is a very popular stop on the road for hiking,  As such parking is difficult and we rode around in circles like dozens of other motorists, playing musical chairs, hoping to be in the right place at the right time to get a parking spot just vacated.  A guy waves me down, asks if I am looking for a parking spot and tells me he is leaving and since we are fellow Jeep owners (and we look like cool people) he will wait for me to get around to his spot and then pull out so I can jump right in.  That was our random act of kindness inspiration for the day.  He went to some trouble to do that, sometimes I wonder what motivates people to do these things, possibly it’s a feel good thing for them, good Karma, people are strange ?  

We took a ranger lead hike on Tuesday to Avalanche Lake.  This is one of the more popular hikes on the western side of Glacier Park.  It is moderately uphill, through immense old growth Western Red Cedar trees, along a beautiful stretch of Avalanche Creek and ends at glacially feed Avalanche Lake.  The Lake gets its name from several avalanche chute areas in the vicinity.  I am pretty impressed with the National Park rangers, they are very personable, professional and interesting.

Ranger Hike talk

Avalanche Lake view was pretty nice

Avalanche Creek view from the trail

On Thursday we had lunch at the McDonald Lodge, the food was just good, but the ambiance of the place makes it really special.  We then went hiking on the Johns Lake loop trail which took us to McDonald Falls, the Sacred Dancing Cascades and Johns Lake.  It was beautiful trail along these water features and surrounding forest.  We are a bit spooked by all the bear warning signs and as we were walking through the forest when a tree feel in the distance, making considerable crashing sounds.  Twinkles is quite sure a Bear pushed it over, we didn’t go look.

The beautiful McDonald Creek

Very nice !

Bear scat made us a little nervous

Sacred Dancing Cascades

Johns Lake

Apgar campground is about a 1/4 mile from Apgar Village with a restaurant, store, lodging and an ice cream shop.  As it was in the upper 90’s, it was a very popular attraction which we visited in the evening.  The Huckleberry ice cream seems to be the preferred flavor and now we know why, it’s great ! 

They have a free shuttle bus system at Glacier that can take you from the west side to the east side over the Going to the Sun Road.  It is a much needed service to reduce traffic as parking along the road is limited.  The only problem is that you have to transfer to a smaller van at the Avalanche Creek area for travel further east and the waiting time for a bus can be long.  We took the shuttle to Logan Pass and hiked the Hidden Lake Trail to the overlook which was quite a workout, lots of steps, but the views and wildflowers were worth it. The weather was threatening, but the sun came out as we started the hike.  Our timing was great, on the way back down, the sun quickly disappeared, a storm developed and the rain started as were 100 yards from the visitors center.

Mountain Goat family off the trail, they seem pretty tame

Beautiful wildflowers due to water running down in this area

Bearcat Mountain with Hidden Lake in foreground

Saturday morning was cold and rainy as we left for a drive on Going to the Sun Road to St. Mary on the eastern side of the park. On a clear day the scenery here is incredible, but with the weather and the fires, we aren’t getting the best views.  The stormy day did add some dark, sinister attitude to the mountain views though, not all bad.

St. Marys lake view during storm

Tour boat docked at Rising Sun area

Young guys going under a very cold waterfall along
Going to the Sun Road

Sunday we did a hike on the Sperry Trail to Fish Lake.  It was about 5 miles roundtrip but with a long steep uphill climb.  The forest on spur trail to the lake was so green and mossy, the area is in the rain shadow of the mountain and gets considerable moisture.  The Lake was beautiful as well, looked like good Moose habitat.  On the return as we were almost to the parking lot, we passed an oncoming group of hikers heading up hill.  Almost immediately the man in the lead turned and started warning about a bear.  There was a full grown black bear walking down the trail right at us.  We must have walked right by him ?  The group quickly back tracked down the trail away from the bear who continued to walk rather quickly towards us for a while before going off the trail.  In bear territory, you want to make noise so they can hear you coming, you don’t want to surprise a bear and annoy it.  When you see a bear, you are not supposed to turn and run, but rather to slowly back away avoiding eye contact, acting non-confrontational. It’s easier said than done !

This area of the park was so very wet and green

Fish Lake

A little blurry, I was moving as I took the photo

Stay tuned for the eastern side of Glacier National Park,
Twinkles and Slick

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