Spur of the Moment Trip to Glacier

Friday night, while having a few cocktails with friends, I decided to load up the car in the morning and head north to Glacier. By the time I got moving (remember those cocktails the night before), loaded the car, stopped for groceries and hit the road it was 11:30. It takes about three hours to get from Lolo to West Glacier. However, as Going to the Sun Road is not open, I drove around the Park to enter at St. Mary. I don’t think I fully appreciated, before, just how long it takes to go around. It was 4:00 or thereabouts when I finally entered the Park at St. Mary. I passed through a number of small storms with breaks of sun in between. Of course, every mile of the drive offered nice views so I enjoyed the drive.

When I arrived at the Rising Sun Campground the wind was blowing 20-30 mph and I was thinking that pitching the tent by myself wasn’t going to be the snap that it usually is. However, I found an ideal campsite against the hill on one side and sheltered by a big boulder on another side — wonderful “cozy” little campsite. That side of the campground was completely out of the wind and my little site was especially so. After making camp I decided to see how far up toward Logan Pass I could go. The answer to that proved to be the Jackson Glacier viewing area.  Jackson Glacier is looking very well fed.

There is a wonderful profusion and variety of wildflowers in bloom right now: paintbrush, lupine, larkspur, phacelia, fennel-leaved lomatium, prairie smoke, camas, etc. I found one patch of rock clematis.

Rock Clematis

St. Mary Lake is always a gem.

St. Mary - Spring

After an early dinner back at camp I parked myself in a camp chair overlooking Wild Goose Island on St. Mary Lake. Oh, to have been able to shoot time lapse! I sat for an hour or more watching as the clouds overhead flew by, constantly changing.

Wild Goose Evening

While sitting there I heard some movement in the brush to the west of me. Close, but not immediately close… I moved my chair to the other side of the overlook so I could see the brush instead of sitting right against it. After a bit more time I noticed vehicles stopped in the middle of the road 25 yards behind me. I walked back to the road to see what they were looking at, thinking as I walked that it was likely what had been making noise in the brush. It was a mama black bear and her first-year cub who had crossed the road and were heading west. I temporarily abandoned my tripod and chair there at the overlook, changed lenses, and drove west following for a few photos before returning to my gear and cloud watching over Wild Goose Island from the Rising Sun overlook.



I returned to camp early (at least for me) and enjoyed a lively campfire and a couple beers before calling it a night, intending to rise before the sun and return to Rising Sun for the show as the sun lights up the mountains and the lake. A light rain began shortly after I entered the tent and continued off and on throughout the night. When my alarm rang 45 minutes before sunrise, I unzipped my tent flap to check the pre-dawn twilight sky to see low lying clouds and slate gray sky. No point, then, in trying for good sunrise light at Rising Sun so I decided to just go back to sleep.

When I finally rose for the day (around 8:00) I made one run up the road to see if the black bear mama and cub might be in sight before heading out the St. Mary gate and back in the Many Glacier gate. The rain clouds of the morning were breaking up, revealing patches of blue sky over Lake Sherburne to the south, but lingering over the mountains to the north. The meadows along Lake Sherburne are not yet adorned with their summer carpet of wild flowers but the scene was one of beauty regardless. After checking out the Many Glacier area, I headed back for Babb and the highway to head south for the Two Medicine area and Running Eagle Fall. Outside of the Park between Many Glacier and Babb I saw a skittish young cinnamon colored black bear that darted back into the trees when I stopped the car.

Running Eagle Fall is a “trick fall.” During the spring runoff, the water flows over the top of the fall. Later in the summer when streamflow is reduced, the water falls into a chimney hole in the rock ceiling and emerges below. The second photo, for comparison, is from last summer. The plank bridge over the creek is removed for spring runoff and the current dissuaded me from attempting to cross with my camera gear to get closer.

Running Eagle - Spring Flow

Running Eagle

Running Eagle Fall is named for a historic Blackfeet woman warrior who used this site on her vision quests. The area is sacred to Blackfeet people. I share their reverence for the site.

After enjoying Running Eagle Fall, I headed south and west. I debated with myself about reentering the Park at West Glacier as the day was so gray. Yep, you guessed it. Reentering the Park won the argument. I wanted to check out Avalanche Gorge. I’m so glad it did. The gray mist and fog over McDonald Creek did have a certain subdued appeal. The usually vibrant colors of the water, the creek bed and the bordering shale were subdued, to be sure, but the muted tones offered a certain peacefulness.

McDonald Creek

I enjoyed the walk along the Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Gorge tremendously. When a visitor walks just a few feet away from the road on the Trail of the Cedars, the visitor is transported to a different world. The visitor is transported to a world of old growth cedar and hemlock, moss and ferns, like one would expect in the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest. Sound is muffled by the dense growth. The sound of the road disappears. Serenity reigns. I always enjoy the Trail of the Cedars but this last weekend I found it especially delightful. A light mist was falling, ferns hanging on the boulders along the boardwalk were bedecked in diamond rain drops, varied thrushes were calling, and Avalanche Creek was roaring.

Walk Into The Mist

Avalanche Gorge - Spring

Avalanche Gorge is a magical spot. Yesterday the water was running high and fast and the sapphire blue color of the water was diluted by the rushing water. When the water is a bit lower and slower the water color is much more dramatic as in this photo from last summer:

Avalanche Gorge

After getting my fill of Avalanche Gorge, I lingered along the Trail of the Cedars, loathe to leave behind the serenity.

Wreathed in Ferns

Reaching the road was almost painful but home beckoned.

More photos from the trip can be viewed here:  http://www.bigskycountry.net/glacier_june2011

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