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Wednesday August 10- Glacier National Park

We woke up to bright blue skies, with no clouds; the temperature high is forecasted for 84. We left the motor home at 8:40 and went east to the West Glacier entrance to Glacier National Park, about 15 miles away. They accepted our interagency National Park card, so we easily cruised through one of the three entrance booths. We drove about 2 miles in to the Apgar Visitor Center. We asked the Ranger to point out the waterfalls, and she happily did, giving us a day hiker’s map, and highlighting the waterfalls. We started our drive on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road (GTTSR). We had read in the literature that dogs were not allowed in picnic areas, trails, roads, or parking lots. Well, that didn’t leave anywhere else, so we did not take them with us. The Ranger also warned us that there is construction on the GTTSR for 2.8 miles from Logan Pass to Siyeh Bend. This included the visitor center at Logan Pass. GTTSR was completed in 1922, so it is a narrow winding road and they do not allow vehicles longer than 21 ft. or 8 ft. wide, including mirrors. Also, bikers( bicycles, there were a lot of motorcycles) were not allowed between 11 AM and 4 PM, although we saw about 10 of them at various points on the drive.

GTTSR starts from the western entrance and goes along Lake McDonald, a pristine mountain lake. There are trails along the lake, a campground, and boating is allowed. The Rangers are worried about invasive species, so all boats are checked before being allowed into the park. We quickly noted that they have a lot of dead pine trees. We forgot to ask the Ranger about this, but our assumption is that they also have the pine beetle which is killing the trees in Colorado. What a shame! All those beautiful trees, now dead…

Our first stop was at McDonald Falls. This was a pretty, ‘rapids’ type of falls. We hiked down to the bridge that spanned the river and took this picture.

Our second stop was at the “Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail”.  This short hike is on a ‘boardwalk’ and is handicap accessible, although the 0.8 mile trail seemed to have a slight uphill slant. We wandered through the ‘old growth’ red cedar trees, which are quite tall. This is one of the few ‘old forest’ areas in the park, as the last time that there was a fire in this area was in the 1500’s. Most of the areas of the park are only about 250 years old, having experienced later forest fires. There were ‘weeping walls’, which are rocks that ‘weep’ water from the ground almost all the time. We saw this tree, which had fallen down, with these roots.

Evidently these cedars have shallow roots, as the dirt in this area is only 6” thick. This area has a lot of ground cover and remains ‘moist’ most of the time, allowing a lot of moss to grow, which also helps to keep this area from having frequent fires. At the curve in the trail, we found this pretty waterfall.

After a quick stop to use the restrooms at Avalanche Creek, we continued on our way, now climbing up to Logan Pass. There were numerous waterfalls along the road and a weeping wall.

We ended up stopped by the construction, but only for about 5 minutes. It gave us a chance to look at the scenery. Bob spotted a badger, running down the hill, but he disappeared before I could get the camera booted up. Many of the pull outs were closed off, as the construction company had equipment in them, making us just stop on the road to take pictures. Everyone was doing this, so it was not much of an issue.

Arrival at the Logan Pass visitor center was a disaster.

The place was mobbed, under construction, the rest rooms were closed, and there were port-a-potties, with long lines. We wanted to get our park pass stamped, so Bob jumped out of the car and ran up to the visitor center while I cruised the parking lot. I finally found a place to stop, behind some cars which had a way out from the other side, while I waited for Bob to return. We had no cell reception, so I had to stand by the car, watching for Bob. Then we had difficulty getting out of the parking lot, but finally continued on our way, to go about ¼ mile before we were stopped for construction, again. This time we were on the downhill and only stopped for about 7 minutes. Our next stop was at the Jackson Glacier overlook. This glacier is melting rapidly, and it is estimated that the glacier will be gone in 200 years.

These glaciers did not look anything like the glaciers we saw in Alaska! In fact, this was the only glacier that was clearly marked, which disappointed us. Evidently we drove below several other glaciers without knowing it!

We had planned to stop at St. Mary’s and Virginia Falls, but could not find a parking place. We were able to park at Sunrift Gorge, and hiked up to the top of the gorge. The picture does not show as far up the gorge that we were able to see, but you get the idea.

This river runs down to St. Mary’s falls and Saint Mary Lake.

We stopped for a picnic lunch at the Sun Point Nature Trail and picnic area. Again, lots of construction, mobbed and the parking lot was full. We were able to find a place along the road into the area, to pull over, and we ate our lunch sitting in the sun, on the stone wall. There were several people sneaking their dogs into the trees for walks! We drove past St. Mary’s Lake. 

We continued past Rising Sun, a spot with visitor services and out to the St. Mary Visitor Center. This is the east entrance to the park, and the end of the GTTSR, for a total of 56 miles. At the visitor center, as we turned in, there was a small motor home leaving. We stopped and waved to them to stop, letting them know that their steps were still out!

We had to cruise the parking lot two times before we were able to find a parking spot. Outside the building, Rangers had telescopes set up so that we could look at solar flares on the sun. That was kind of cool, as the Ranger explained to us what we were seeing.

When we left the park, we turned right (southwest) onto Rt. 89. We continued through forest which had a fire, sometime in the recent past, and was just starting to re-generate.  We turned right on Rt. 49, taking us to the Two Medicine entrance to Glacier. Two Medicine is named for the two lakes in this area. This entrance is small, with only 1 entrance booth, manned by a sleepy, bored young female ranger. Mainly in this area are entrances to some of the hikes, a campground which was full, and boating on the lakes. We were there to see the Running Eagle Falls.

This falls is named after Running Eagle (Pitamakan), a Blackfoot tribeswoman who lived around 1825. As the story goes, she gravitated to the skills of a Blackfoot warrior. She became a great hunter and was incredibly brave in the face of her tribes’ enemies. At one point, Running Eagle was instructed by the village elders to go on a vision quest in order to find her true calling. It is said that she went on this quest near the falls. Running eagle was able to tell of her adventures in the Medicine Lodge ceremonies while also becoming a member of the Braves Society of young warriors. She continued to lead successfully war and hunting parties until she died in a battle against a party of Flatheads near the Sun River. (Taken from http://www.waterfallsmontana.com/waterfalls.aspx?id=12 )

This was the most unique falls that we have ever seen! It is actually two falls. If you look closely, you will see the upper falls, then the lower falls. We hiked a short distance on a very nice, flat path to the river. We crossed over the bridge made of two railroad ties with a rope along the side to hang onto; the railroad ties are settled on a wooden box. 

We then continued on a regular trail out to the river to see the falls. The path had some wild flowers long the sides.

We drove 4 miles back out to Rt. 49 and continued south to Rt. 2, turning west on Rt. 2. We were stopped two more times for road construction on our 79 mile drive back to Columbia Falls.

Our last stop was at Goat Lick Overlook. Goats, mainly in the spring, migrate down from higher up the mountain, to this area, to lick the salt off the side of the mountain/rocks. The theory is that for some reason the goats need the minerals in this area to maintain their health, after the cold winters. We jumped out and looked for goats, but did not find any. There were lots of other people looking also! The only wildlife we saw all day were the badger and a ground squirrel.

We returned to the motor home, arriving at about 4:30, and walked the dogs. I still had some Chinese food left over from Monday evening, so I ate the rest of that. Bob grilled a brat for himself. After dinner we took the dogs to River Edge Park. Columbia Falls proudly calls itself a ‘park city’ in that they have a lot of parks( they also have a Casino on every street corner, with several also in each block!). They do not have a dog park, but they have a kids park, a park with the town swimming pool, a fishing park on the river, and  a couple of small parks. This is their newest park, allegedly on the river. We think it is so new, that they really do not have much there yet. We parked near their Community Garden, and followed the path towards the river. The area opened up to a large field, which had been mowed recently. You have to cross a large mud puddle to continue on the path to the river, there were two of these. We did not want to get muddy, and definitely did not want muddy paws! So we just let the dogs run in the field, which they thought was just great!

We returned to the motor home and sat outside until we heard thunder. We moved back into the motor home, just in time, as we had a pretty violent thunderstorm with pea size hail. Fortunately, we did not have any damage from the hail, but we did wonder why our neighbor did not pull in their large awning. Although, it does not appear that they had any damage either!

One Response

  1. Man we were there the 10 and 11. Just left this morning. Was camping at Apgar Campground. Did a boat ride and going to the Sun road. Wow!

    BTW Tom went to your Dr. Thomas for his knee problem. Miraculously the pain all went away in 3 days. Not sure what it was.

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