Days 32- 35 Glacier National Park

Saturday September 6 (Muriel)

After leaving our hotel in Kalispell, we drove to the local Costco to fill a prescription.  We had decided that switching our prescriptions to Costco would allow us to refill prescriptions while on the road.  After we leave Montana it will be quite some time until we are in a state that has a Costco.  While the pharmacy staff did their thing, we found hiking sox to replenish our dwindling supply.  Afterwards we found a Walgreen’s where we acquired necessities like smallish tubes of toothpaste.

Shopping was accomplished, we headed north to West Glacier Park.  We discovered our hotel for the night is in East Glacier, but took a pleasant nature walk in West Glacier before crossing the park.  We walked along a river, where we saw and learned about beaver lodges.  We also learned about the impacts of fire in this climate and observed the ongoing recovery from a 1929 burn and another from about 4 years ago.

While we paused at a bend in the river, one of the participants asked me, “What is that bird?”  It took me a while to identify the two small birds that were using a snag in the middle of the river as a base for resting and flycatching.  They had backward pointing crests, reddish heads, and bills too narrow for Cardinals.  Once I got a decent look through my binoculars at them flying, I recognized the yellow terminal edge of a Waxwing.  But the birds weren’t yellowish like Cedar Waxwings.  Borrowing Allan’s Sibley’s guide, I finally figured out that we were watching a pair of Bohemian Waxwings, a life bird for us.  It was quite a magical scene:  a pair of a species of life bird posing and flycatching straight ahead of us, while a Great Blue Heron and a deer stood in the water to the right.


After the nature walk, we set out for East Glacier through the park, despite knowing that it would take at least 3 hours, opting for the longer, scenic route.  We headed up the Going to the Sun Highway, pausing along the scenic shores of Lake MacDonald to admire the view.  Soon we were heading up the portion of this famous road that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and dedicated in 1933.  The road became very narrow and twisty, the scenery increasingly dramatic as we headed up to Logan Pass and the Continental Divide.  The sky became cloudier.  Small droplets of water began to dot the windshield.  The elevation peaked at 6,646 feet.  The roadway narrowed to one lane, for a while, going through a tunnel with window-like openings along the drop-off side of the road.  A traffic signal controlled this one-lane stretch that seemed to be about a mile long.  We passed a second traffic signal for a short stretch where one of the lanes had collapsed and was being rebuilt.  We were glad we were traveling this road on the weekend, as repairs being made to the highway were apparently causing greater delays during the week.  As we descended the west side of Going to the Sun Highway, the rain intensified slightly.


We were to discover that Going to the Sun Highway is the only road that goes a long distance through Glacier Park.  Otherwise one drives Montana roads on the outside of the park, entering on relatively short spur roads.  We left Glacier NP and headed south along a Montana Highway to East Glacier.  The route involved a few stops for cattle and horses that were grazing along the sides of the roadway, when they decided to cross the road.  The rain, became heavy by the time we reached Glacier Park Lodge.

Our room was on the third floor of this 1913 lodge, essentially in the attic.  The ceiling was sloped at the sides of the room, and the tops of the windows were at chest height.  In addition to the king size bed we expected, there were two single beds.  We didn’t need room to sleep four people, but that wasn’t a problem.  However, there were sprinkler pipes dropped about a foot from the ceilings, including the sloped parts of the ceiling.  We couldn’t use the big bed for fear the person on the side with the sprinkler pipes would smack themselves on the pipes when half asleep.  We decided we were grateful to be warm and dry, had dinner in the lodge restaurant, and went to sleep in the extra beds in our strange room.

Sunday September 7 (Muriel)

After each clunking our heads (Allan’s on a sprinkler pipe, mine on the bathroom ceiling), we drove north and re-entered Glacier NP at Two Medicine Lake.  There we took a short walk to Running Eagle Falls.  At this time of the year, this waterfall emerges dramatically from the wall of a cave.  The rocks in the creek below the waterfall were of many colors, especially green and red.  We saw many different kinds of berry-bearing shrubs.  We found a large, papery white nest of the Bald-faced Hornet near the path.  Allan managed to photograph one of the hornets going into the nest.


We headed back to East Glacier and asked the lodge staff if they had a smaller but more comfortable room available.  They did and did not understand why they had given us the large awkward room, since there were only two of us.  They said they would move us to a normal room on the first floor as soon as it was cleaned.  So we packed and drove a few blocks to Brownie’s, the local Bakery-Deli-Hostel with WiFi.  We bought huckleberry coffee which we sipped on the establishment’s porch while catching up with email on our laptops, a sleeping dog next to my chair.

The sky was darkening and I was tired, so we headed for our room and relaxed.  The sky brightened and we took a stroll around the hotel grounds and into town.  Then we went back to the hotel for a drink and dinner, during which it rained again, but not as severely as the previous evening.  Now that we were more comfortable at the hotel, we were able to enjoy this old wooden hotel.  An unusual feature of its structure was columns made of huge tree trunks with their bark still on them.  The column capitals were huge pieces of tree.  The columns and capitals were proportioned like classic ones.   The columns on the exterior were varnished with a shiny protective coating.  The interior columns were more natural in color and finish.  The hotel was built by the Great Northern Railroad around 1913, and apparently much of it was the original building.

There were sprinkler pipes suspended from all the ceilings, no problem when the ceilings were reasonably high.  We were to discover that all of the old wood hotels in the area had modern sprinklers and their pipes suspended from the ceilings, apparently required by modern fire safety requirements.

Monday September 8 (Muriel)

After checking out, we headed north to the tiny community of St. Mary, where we stopped by the more rustic St. Mary Lodge and discussed our arrangements there for the next two nights and activities in the area.


Then we headed part way up the Going to the Sun Highway, where we parked at the trailhead for two waterfalls.  We walked through forest and clearing, where we saw a pair of Gray Jays and a Red-naped Sapsucker.  St. Mary Waterfall was lovely, and we continued on to the bottom of Virginia Waterfall, about a mile and a half from the trailhead.  We decided to skip climb above the bottom of Virginia Waterfall and headed back.  After passing St. Mary Waterfall, walking became fairly easy.  I stopped to let a couple heading toward the waterfalls pass us.


Allan looked up to see why I had stopped, tripped on a rock and fell with a thud.  Fortunately his only significant injuries were a couple of nasty cuts on the palm of his left hand from some rocks on the fairly soft soil.  We poured water from our drinking bottle on his hand and stuck bandages on the cuts and continued back to our car.  We got back to the lodge and checked in and headed to our tiny but comfortable room in a rustic wooden building across the Going to the Sun Highway.  Allan cleaned the cuts on his hand the best he could tolerate, before we crossed to the main lodge for dinner.

Tuesday September 9 (Muriel)

We drove north a short distance to the Many Glaciers park entrance.  We took a boat tour of two lakes from the boat ramp of Many Glaciers Lodge, like East Glacier Lodge, a very old wooden hotel built in the early 20th century by the Great Northern Railroad.  After crossing Swiftcurrent Lake, we disembarked and walked 0.2 miles to Josephine Lake, where we boarded a second boat.  After circling Josephine Lake, we disembarked, walked back to Swiftcurrent Lake where a boat returned us to our starting point.  The scenery was lovely, but we struck out almost entirely on wildlife.  The only birds were a crow and a trio of Common Mergansers resting on a sandy bank.  The only mammals were a pair of mountain goats on a mountain peak at least 2,000 feet above us.

We had lunch at a lounge of the hotel and took a ranger-led nature walk from the nearby Swift Current Motor Lodge.  We learned about the wildlife and plants, especially the many kinds of berries we saw, walked to a small lake and a lovely small waterfall.  Once we were back in the parking lot, some tourists called out to our ranger guide about a grizzly bear high on the mountain above the lodge.  Allan got his spotting scope from our car and let people look at the grizzly through it while the ranger went to get her scope.  I would have preferred a somewhat closer look at a bear, but greatly prefer too distant to too close a look!  Having set up his scope for the bear, Allan then pointed it at a mountain goat on the opposite mountain.

We returned to St. Mary Lodge.  Toward the end of our dinner there, we joined quite a few other diners on the restaurant deck, as a mama black bear and her cub had been seen ambling toward the lodge along the river that flows alongside.  Apparently the bears decided not to visit our stretch of the river, so we returned inside to finish our meal.

Glacier Park is lovely, although its glaciers are shrinking and many have disappeared.  Predictions are that all its glaciers will be reclassified to mere ice sheets between 2020 and 2030.  The topography is dramatic, the forests are lush, and the colors in the rocky mountainsides are lovely.  Most of the rocks are mudstone, with the majority being a pinkish maroon (the oxidized form) and many others being green (un-oxidized).  There’s a layer of black volcanic rock in many of the peaks, and other areas of golden tones.  There are many, many rivers and lakes.


1 Response to “Days 32- 35 Glacier National Park”

  1. 1 Dave Surtees September 15, 2008 at 5:00 am

    Hi you two! Just thought you’d like to know SOMEONE is reading and appreciating your journal. You apparently just missed my Niece and “Cousin” who now live in Lakeside, MT situated at about 11 O’clock on Flathead Lake. Oh well.
    I bring you greetings from the 2nd Sunday/Descanso birdwalk. Bettina (who works at KCET) asked if I was following your adventures – which reminded me I hadn’t visited for several days.
    Keep up the good work and I hope you see a few more sunny days in future. -D

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