Knowing I had a full day ahead of me in the park, I took the girls for an pre-dawn walk, and made sure they were comfy in the motorhome before leaving Columbia Falls and heading up the highway to the west entrance of Glacier National Park. I’d spent a bit of time in the park upon my arrival the previous afternoon/evening, but there was much more I wanted to see. It is always my desire to head out early, when the light is best and the trails are not crowded with people. That would typically be at the crack of dawn. I enjoyed a peaceful drive up Going-to-the-Sun Road. With very few people on the road I was able to pull over from time to time just to enjoy the beautiful vistas. Still a bit early for the best light, but I knew I’d be passing through another time or two.
I arrived at the Visitors Center parking lot at the top of Logan Pass to find only 4 or 5 other cars… and several Big Horn Sheep. The Sheep were milling about the parking lot, licking what I assumed was dredges from the bottom of soda cans emptied to the ground by the thousands of tourist that visit each day. While this may be true, I found out from a Ranger later in the day that they also lick up antifreeze that leaks from some of the vehicles. THAT can’t be good!
It was amazing to see these animals so close, but other than a few quick shots, I did not take advantage of their close proximity since I found the parking lot an undesirable background. I did enjoy watching them though, as the Rams often gathered in small groups, slamming their heads together with a clatter that echoed through the empty parking lot. Practicing for the approaching rut season I imagine.
From the parking lot I hiked up the hill and across the glacier toward Hidden Lake. Thankfully there were only three other people on this glacier as I set out. It was icy and slick in the early morning, making the trek across the mountain a bit challenging.
I was on the look out for Mountain Goats above me, and finally spotted a group of six further up the glacier. I stood watching them for awhile, enjoying the antics of the two playful Kids in the group. They were leaping and prancing and egging each other on… when all of a sudden one of the adults (teen maybe) breaks out in what I can only call a “dance” down the mountain… literally spinning in gleeful circles down the glacier. It was hilarious, and literally had me laughing out load. Once again, as I often find myself doing, I looked around me wishing I could share the amazing moment with someone. I don’t know if the Kids inspired him or if he was showing them how it was done, but the preciousness of the moment was not lost on me. Two weeks later I’m still smiling at the memory.
Another notable thing that was happening at the same time… I spotted one solo Big Horn Ram standing a relatively short distance from this group, just to the left of the snow pack. He watched and waited. Fear? Respect? For whatever reason he kept his distance and waited before stepping out and crossing the snowpack. Enjoying the show maybe? I kept an eye on him too, hoping for a moment like this one…
When I arrived at the overlook above Hidden Lake there was one other person there. Jeff was his name if I recall. Nice guy. We stood talking for a long time while enjoying the stunning vista, debating whether to hike down to the lake, and agreeing the view couldn’t possibly be better than from where we were standing. As we stood talking we noticed a Mountain Goat coming up over the rise above the lake below us… and then another… and another. Ten in all, two of them Kids, and they were headed straight for us. We figured they were bound to see us and veer off in a different direction, but they just kept walking straight toward us.
We stood quietly and waited as all ten of them walked right up the mountainside to a ridge only a few yards from where we stood. Clearly they knew where they wanted to be, and a couple two legged animals weren’t going to deter them. While the “leader” lay down right below us, the others, including the Kids, came even closer. No fear. Amazing. I got a shot of Jeff standing only a couple feet from one that walked right by him. Photographing them was like shooting fish in a barrel. The hardest part was deciding which ones to share.
On the way up to this overlook I noticed white hair hanging in some of the trees. I snagged a small tuft of it to add to the little treasure trove of memorabilia I’ve collected on my journey. What I surmised is that these animals “sheer” themselves annually by rubbing their winter coat off on the trees and brush along their routes. I was just commenting on this, and how this one looked like she was wearing a tutu, when she rolled over and looked up at me like a puppy wanting attention. Yet another precious and memorable moment!
Some of these guys (including the Kids) came so close I could have reached out and touched them, and I think they may very well have let me, but I respectfully resisted the urge. As calm as they seemed, they are wild animals, and therefore unpredictable.
It was really hard to break myself away from this scene, but I still had much more adventure ahead of me, so I forced myself back down the trail. As I trekked back down the glacier… throngs of bodies now coming up… I spot the small group I’d seen earlier. Play time was over, and these little guys were now practicing what mountain goats do under the watchful eye of their mother. Amazing the agility!
From Logan Pass I continued east on Going-to-the-Sun Road. The beautiful vistas were never ending, but constantly changing as I weaved my way down the mountain.
My next hike was to St Mary’s Falls, and beyond to Virginia Falls. Again, I hiked alone (and Bear aware), but frequently passed small groups (and sometimes Deer) along the trail.
I drove along St. Mary’s Lake as I neared the east edge of the park. I didn’t linger here because I planned on being back to this spot by sunrise the following morning. (That meant driving the entire length of Going-to-the-Sun road before sunrise! Those of you who have been on that road may cringe along with me at the thought.)
Once outside the park I drove north to the entrance that would take me to Many Glacier, and I arrived as a summer storm was brewing. There’s nothing quite like the sound of the crack of thunder echoing through the mountains. Soon after, the sky opened up with heavy rain.
It had rained a bit over the last few days, but it was coming down steady as I drove out of the park and back down to the east entrance for my westbound journey over the pass on Going-to-the-Sun road. When I reached the top of Logan Pass the traffic was at a stand still. Not too far from the front of the line, I got word from one of the Rangers directing traffic that four rock slides had closed the road. I was told that it was too early to asses how long it would take to open the road again, and that I could wait or go back out the east entrance and all the way around the south end of the park.
Uggghhhhh… at the end of a very full day I dreaded the idea of adding another 3+ hours to my drive. After a short debate with myself, it seemed like the prudent thing to do. My dogs were waiting after all, and I had no idea how long I might sit here. I was not alone in this odyssey skirting the south end of the park. Although it seemed like I set out alone, it turned into a long line of cars in no time. I almost missed the short cut on Hwy 2 because my GPS was trying to keep me on main highways, but I vetoed it’s choice when I saw others making that turn in my rearview mirror.
As it turned out, the drive was really quite lovely. I pulled off a few times to take pictures, once in unison with a family just ahead of me. I heard grumbling as we all stepped out of our cars. I could relate. As the mother stepped up close to me and looked out over the valley, I asked if they had been detoured at the top of the pass as well. She said yes, and I could tell she felt much like I had… frustrated at the prospect of the long drive (and undoubtedly tired of listening to the whining). I couldn’t help but share the thought that ran through my mind only moments before, as I stepped out of my car to this amazing vista. I said, “Ah, but if not for the inconvenience we would all have missed the blessing of this beautiful view.” To that, she looked at me and simply said, “Thank you.”
I also had to acknowledge to myself that I may very well have been stuck in the midst of those rock slides had I been just a few minutes further up the highway at the time. Reportedly two people sustained minor injuries and several folks were stuck and had to wait for the roads to be cleared enough for them to be escorted out. By mid morning the following day the road was still closed. Although I had hoped for more time in the park I chose to head on down the highway and get part of the long drive to Yellowstone behind me.
So… that’s where I’ll be taking you next… Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Two amazing and diverse places that I passed through last fall way too quickly!