Glacier National Park: Saint Mary Falls

IMG_2108

Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

IMG_2080

We traveled to the Baring Falls dock on St. Mary Lake via the Glacier Park Boat Company and their vintage wooden boats. Once we disembarked, we had the option to visit nearby Baring Falls and then re-board to return to the Rising Sun dock. Instead, we chose to take the guided hike to St. Mary Falls with Ranger Melissa and return on a later boat.

IMG_2090

The trail to St. Mary Falls is about 1.6 miles from the dock with an elevation gain of 140 feet. Most of the climb is in the beginning as you make your way to a point above the water. At that point, we paused to discuss bear safety (Melissa had a bear run right through an earlier tour of hers, so sheer numbers don’t keep them away…you have to clap and speak loudly continuously as you hike.)

IMG_2095

The path then wound through a woodland area recovering from the Reynolds Creek Fire of 2015. Though that fire had man-made causes, wildfire is a regular occurrence in Glacier National Park and is nature’s way of restoring equilibrium. Melissa said this area was starting to look sick prior to the fire, with the trees choking out the growth on the forest floor.

IMG_2097

Melissa pointed out the prolific Beargrass, a grassy plant native to Montana with white flower clusters atop stalks. While there are some blooms every year, the park has reported mass bloomings only once every 5-10 years. They reminded me of something from the pages of Dr. Seuss.

IMG_2115

The falls were rushing…lots of glacial turquoise water rushing to the Saint Mary River and on into the lake. Scroll to the end for a video clip.

IMG_2120

We hiked back ahead of the group, wanting to see Baring Falls before boarding the boat. This is a less impressive fall, or maybe we were just becoming jaded from having seen so many spectacular waterfalls in the first day of our trip.

IMG_2132

To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

IMG_2133

Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

IMG_2122

IMG_2102

Glacier National Park: Saint Mary Lake

IMG_2144

Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

IMG_2053

St. Mary Lake is on the Eastern side of Glacier National Park. Going to the Sun road runs along its North shore. At 10 miles long and 300 feet deep it is the second largest lake in the park.

IMG_2052

We boarded a ranger guided lake tour at the Rising Sun Dock, around the midpoint of the lake. I’d reserved it in advance with the Glacier Park Boat Company. The tour traveled from Rising Sun to the Baring Falls dock at the head of the lake in about 30 minutes, with Ranger Melissa narrating the whole way down.

IMG_2056

As we traveled towards the Baring Falls dock at the head of the lake, we passed by Wild Goose Island, which we’d previously seen from a different perspective up on Going to the Sun Road.

IMG_2062

As we approached the snow-covered peaks at the head of the lake, Melissa pointed out Sexton Glacier, visible on Mount Matahpi, just beyond Going to the Sun Mountain. Like most of the glaciers in the park, it is shrinking and has lost over 30% of its mass in the last 50 years.

IMG_2074

We learned that the glaciers are the reason for St. Mary’s unique turquoise color. The slow movement of the ice grinds up the rock into a fine dust called glacial flour. The runoff carries the glacier flour into the lake where the particles remain suspended in the water, reflecting back the light.

IMG_2033

Two Medicine and McDonald lakes are beautiful, but not the same vibrant hue as the East side lakes because there are no glaciers feeding into them. The NPS estimates that all the park’s glaciers will be gone by 2030 and then the Eastern lakes will lose their color.

IMG_2075

At the dock, we disembarked and took a guided hike with Ranger Melissa. On the way back we passed another small island called Rainbow Island.

IMG_2142

To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

IMG_2054

Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

20180624_175118
St Mary Lake on a 3D model of the park at the St. Mary Visitor Center

Glacier National Park: Going to the Sun Road

IMG_2154

Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

IMG_2330

The 50 mile Going to the Sun Road first opened to traffic in Glacier National Park in 1933 and remains a key attraction in the park today. On our first trip down Going to the Sun Road, we began at the East entrance in St. Mary (scroll down to the end for the video clip) and took a Red Bus tour of the Eastern side. We toured the road in our rental car a few more times that week and saw something different each time.

IMG_2163

Going to the Sun Road is partially closed during the colder months and very difficult to plow due to the twists & turns, sheer cliffs and the fact that they get snow drifts of up to 80 feet in the higher elevations. The plow crews started work at the end of April this year and when we got on a plane bound for Kalispell at the end of June, the road still was not completely open. Late on the night of our arrival, the Park Service tweeted out the happy news that Going to the Sun was open for the summer season!

IMG_1985

When the road opened in the 1930s, it was an engineering marvel and was a three-year project that actually took 11 years to build. The design of the road changed over the course of the construction from multiple switchbacks carving up the mountain to Logan Pass to only one long switchback called The Loop, reducing the visual impact, but increasing the cost and time needed for the project.

IMG_2025

The road is named for the mountain it cuts through on the East side of the pass. Legend has it that a Native American god came down from the sun to teach the Blackfeet how to hunt and left his image in the mountain upon his return to the Sun. The source of that legend is in dispute…is it a Blackfeet legend, or did a European settler make the whole thing up?

IMG_2168

On our trips up and down Going to the Sun, we saw tunnels, glaciers, beautiful mountains and valleys and countless waterfalls crossing the road. We were thrilled to have four bighorn sheep cross the road in front of our car one evening, pose for photos and then clamber up the cliff next to us.

20180624_193029

Another time, when all I had handy to take photos was my phone, we saw two black bears (one blonde, one brunette) frolicking by the side of the road. We’d heard a ranger talking about this duo on a hike earlier that day. Apparently the couple had come together to mate and there were multiple visitor sightings of the same bears in the St. Mary area.

20180624_193020

To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

IMG_2164

Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park, NHL

Date designated or established: 5/11/1910, Road added to NHL in 1997

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

DSC01700
Bighorn traffic jam at the East Tunnel…can you see him peeking over the hood of the car in front?

Glacier National Park: Logan Pass

IMG_2009

Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

IMG_1991

As we continued down Going to the Sun Road in our Red Bus Eastern Alpine Tour, we could see that Logan Pass was socked in with fog. When we parked in the lot, it was freezing and visibility was almost zero.

IMG_2007

Logan Pass was named after Glacier National Park’s first superintendent. It is the highest point on Going to the Sun Road and is one of the most visited spots in the park.

IMG_2000

When we were there with the red bus tour, there were kids skiing on the snow drifts. We grabbed a quick photo by the Continental Divide sign and the went into the visitor center to see the displays and get a souvenir pin.

IMG_2013

The red bus headed back up Going to the Sun Road, making a stop at the lush Reynolds Creek Valley overlook. There were waterfalls everywhere we looked. The view here more than made up for the fog over Logan Pass.

IMG_2011

We stopped by Logan Pass to see the view later in the week when there was no fog, in the early morning before the lot was crowded.


IMG_2336

This time we were able to see Clements Mountain looming over the visitor center. From the other side of the lot, we could see the sun rising over Going to the Sun Mountain.

IMG_2334

To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

IMG_2019

Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

IMG_2024

Glacier National Park: Wild Goose Island & Jackson Glacier Overlook

IMG_1965

Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

IMG_1966

The 50 mile Going to the Sun Road first opened to traffic in Glacier National Park in 1933 and remains a key attraction in the park today. On our first trip down Going to the Sun Road, we took a Red Bus tour of the Eastern side. This fleet of White Motor Company buses have been  touring Going to the Sun Road since the 1930s, with restoration and mechanical updates donated by Ford.

IMG_1967

With the canvas top rolled back and the sun shining, our guide Laura drove us to our first stop, Wild Goose Island. We filed out of the bus to see the breathtaking view of Wild Goose Island in the glacial waters of Lake Mary, surrounded by snow-covered mountains.

IMG_1968

The island gets its name from a Native American story of two young lovers who sought refuge there. But their pursuers followed them to the island and were almost upon them. The Great Spirit took pity on them and transformed them into geese so they could fly away and live out their lives together in peace.

20180624_095647

Our next two stops were ‘Prairie Dog’ stops, where the bus pulled into small turnouts while we passengers stood up and glimpsed through the roof what we’d all come to the park to see: glaciers. When the park was established, there were over 100 glaciers. In 1966, only 35 were left and in 2015 the park was down to only 26 that met the criteria for being called a glacier. These remaining 26 have continued to decrease in mass, measured since 1966, and it is estimated that all the park’s glaciers will be gone within the next 20 years.

IMG_2412

Laura pointed out Blackfoot Mountain which is home to Blackfoot Glacier, the second-largest glacier in the park. It was measured at 370 acres in 2015, down from 453 in 1966. It used to encompass Jackson Glacier, but they separated around 1929.

IMG_2414

The next stop was Jackson Glacier overlook. This lot was too crowded to get a clear view even from the top of the bus, so we came back on a different day to get better pictures. This glacier is the most easily seen from the Going to the Sun Road. It has lost a third of its acreage in the last 50 years.

IMG_2419

To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

  • Rising Sun
  • Wild Goose Island and Jackson Glacier Overlook
  • Logan Pass (Coming Soon)
  • Going To The Sun Road (Coming Soon)
  • St. Mary Lake (Coming Soon)
  • St. Mary Falls (Coming Soon)

Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

IMG_2417

Glacier National Park: Rising Sun

IMG_1950

Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

IMG_1957

The 50 mile Going to the Sun Road first opened to traffic in Glacier National Park in 1933 and remains a key attraction in the park today. Prior to its opening, visitors came by train and stayed in the lodges built by the Great Northern Railway to capitalize on park tourism. To accommodate the new auto-touring crowd, the company built the East Glacier Auto Camp in 1941. It was later re-named Rising Sun.

20180624_092836

During our stay in Glacier National Park, we explored Going to the Sun several times, stopping frequently to see the sights along the way. On our first trip down Going to the Sun Road, we began at the East entrance in St. Mary (scroll down to the end for the video clip.) We parked in the Rising Sun lot.

IMG_1961

The exhibit in front of the motel describes Rising Sun as the place “where the mountains meet the prairie.” In addition to the motel, there are log cabins, a campground and a general store. Rose Creek flows through the complex to St. Mary Lake, with the mountain-prairie convergence allowing diverse wildlife to thrive here.

IMG_1956

After exploring the area, we boarded the Red Bus for the Eastern Alpine tour. This tour travels Going to the Sun Road from St. Mary to Logan Pass. This fleet of White Motor Company buses have been  touring Going to the Sun Road since the 1930s, with restoration and mechanical updates donated by Ford.

IMG_1963

Our driver and guide, Laura, is a school bus driver during the school year and it’s apparent she enjoys her summer job as a Red Bus ‘Jammer.’ When she pulled up at Rising Sun to pick us up, she hopped out and rolled back the canvas top so that we could ‘Prairie Dog’ at stops where we couldn’t get out. And off we went for our morning’s adventure!

IMG_1952

When we returned to Rising Sun around Noon, we stopped in for lunch at Two Dog Flats Grill. I didn’t have high hopes for a park eatery in a motor lodge, but our meal was surprisingly good. It is a simple, standard American menu with a few twists, and the food is well-prepared.

20180624_121517

We had the huckleberry pulled pork, fruit salad, build-your-own burgers and the best fries we had the entire trip.

20180624_121511

To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

  • Rising Sun
  • Wild Goose Island and Jackson Glacier Overlook (Coming Soon)
  • Logan Pass (Coming Soon)
  • Going To The Sun Road (Coming Soon)
  • St. Mary Lake (Coming Soon)
  • St. Mary Falls (Coming Soon)

Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park, NRHP

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910, Lodge added to NRHP in 1996

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

 

Glacier National Park: Twin Falls

IMG_1922

Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

IMG_1907

On our first day in Glacier National Park, we explored the Two Medicine area. We took the scenic lake tour on Glacier Park Boat Company’s Sinopah, a boat that has been shuttling tourists across the lake since the park’s beginnings. When we docked at the West shore, we took a guided hike with Nathan, our boat captain and naturalist.

IMG_1932

The trail to Twin Falls is level and well-traveled. It begins with  a short boardwalk section over a bog and then becomes a packed dirt path with a bridge or two over creeks. It’s about a mile to the falls, so two miles round trip.

IMG_1903

At several points, we paused on the trail so Nathan could highlight a few things. He pointed out several dead trees and said that a Chinook Wind (a warm wind that blows over the Continental Divide from the Pacific coast in winter) fooled them into thinking it was spring and made their sap start running. When the weather returned to freezing, the trees burst.

IMG_1897

He also showed us some huckleberry patches. Huckleberries, similar to blueberries,  are a big thing in Montana…huckleberry pies, ice cream, BBQ glazes, salad dressings, etc are everywhere in restaurants and gift shops. The berries can only be harvested in the wild as they have not been successfully cultivated. Bears love them too, so one must be alert when walking through huckleberry patches.

IMG_1902

Shortly before the falls  Pumpelly Pillar comes into view. This dramatically shaped rock is named for Raphael Pumpelly, who led the Northern Transcontinental Railway Survey Party that passed by it in 1883. The Twin Falls cascade off the eastern slopes of Pumpelly Pillar.

IMG_1909

After taking a few photos at the falls, we headed back to the dock. Apparently we left a little too soon because people who arrived after us at the dock saw a moose on their return journey. While we sat on the dock waiting for the boat, we watched a surefooted mountain goat clamber up a cliff, high above the lake.

IMG_1945

The boat tours that include the guided hike only go out a couple of times a day. They are very popular and sell out quickly. I was able to reserve our tickets online a few months in advance.

To see my other Glacier NP/Two Medicine Posts, click the following links:

Location: 2 Medicine Rd, East Glacier Park, Mt 59434

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/23/2018

IMG_1920
Glacier Lilies