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?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Roaring Fork Motor Trail & Grotto Falls

DSC05531

Welcome back to National Parks 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.

DSC05523

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a few scenic drives from which you can explore the park. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is  approximately 6 miles of narrow, winding road. It is one-way, just outside Gatlinburg.

DSC05498

The trail-head for the popular Rainbow Falls hike is at the beginning of this road. We stopped there, but saw that the hike was over five miles. It was a hot, humid afternoon and we weren’t really up to that challenge.

DSC05530

A little further along the loop, we parked at the Trillium Gap trail-head to take the shorter hike to Grotto Falls. It is 1.5 miles from the trail-head to the falls. It is steep and rocky in places.

DSC05513

At the top of the Grotto Falls hike, the falls cascade over a rock shelf.  This creates a ledge behind the waterfall. We walked behind the falls and cooled off in the spray.

To see my other Great Smoky Mountain National Posts, click the following links:

Location: Gatlinburg, TN

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 9/02/1940

Date of my visit: August 2013

DSC05511

 

Crater Lake National Park: Rim Tour

Day7-IMG_6152

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.

Millenia ago,  Mount Mazama (an ancient volcano) collapsed forming Crater Lake in its caldera. The pure blue lake is the deepest in the United States and is famous for its bright blue color.  There are no rivers feeding into the lake or underground water sources…the water is replenished only by rain and snow.

The Rim Drive is a 33 mile loop around the caldera. You can explore it in your own vehicle during the summer months, but we opted to take the two-hour tour with Crater Lake Trolley. We wanted to see all the highlights without having to drive ourselves. Park loop roads are no fun for the driver.

The trolley company is privately owned, but includes a national park trained interpreter on board. Our guide was great, telling us all about the history and geology of Crater Lake, interspersed with 5-6 stops where we got out, took photos and stretched our legs.

Day7-IMG_6160

We first stopped at the Watchman Overlook where we had great views of Wizard Island. The Island is actually a volcanic cinder cone, with a peak about 750 feet above the lake surface. There is a boat running out to the island from a point on the north shore and a trail to climb to the top.

Day7-IMG_6164

Next we stopped at the Llao bay turnout. Llao Rock is a prominent high point on the lake, rising 2000 feet above the water. It is named after the Native American god of the underworld, who, according to legend,  fought with the sky god, Skell, and caused the eruption of Mount Mazama, forming Crater Lake.

Day7-IMG_6173

Next, we stopped somewhere near Cleetwood Cove. The Cleetwood Cove trail is the only way to access the water in Crater Lake. It is a steep trail down to the dock where the boats depart for Wizard Island. We did not descend as the trail takes 1.5-2.5 hours to walk round-trip.

Day7-IMG_6180

Another interesting stop was the Pumice Castle Overlook. The Pumice Castle is a colorful formation in the otherwise monotone caldera wall.

Almost full circle, we stopped at the Phantom Ship Overlook to see the small island said to resemble a ghost ship in foggy weather.

Day7-IMG_6188

Turning away from the lake to head back to the Rim Village, we made one last stop at Vidae Falls. It was too crowded to linger for long and many were anxious to return to the village for the restrooms so I didn’t get a decent shot of the falls.

The tour runs a solid two hours and there are no restrooms once you leave rim village, so be sure to use the ones by the community center before you leave.

To see my other Crater Lake posts click:

Location: Crater Lake, OR

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 5/22/1902

Date of my visit: 8/25/2016

Day7-IMG_6186

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

Congaree National Park

2010_0405(026)

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.

2010_0405(039) - Copy

Congaree National Park  in South Carolina protects the old growth forest on the floodplain of the Congaree River. When we were there, we thought it a swamp because the Cypress trees we saw were submerged in water. It is technically not a swamp, but a ‘bottomland’ subject to periodic flooding.

2010_0405(033)

The Sierra Club and grassroots environmental groups fought to save Congaree from destruction by the logging industry in the Sixties. This park preserves one of the largest collections of ‘Champion Trees’ (a Champion Tree being the largest known of its species.)

2010_0405(021)

It was declared a National Monument in the Seventies and converted to National Park status in 2003.

2010_0405(034)

We stopped at Congaree on a road trip in the Spring of 2010. We picked up a Junior Ranger booklet and perused the exhibits in the visitors center. We watched the short film and then walked the two-mile boardwalk loop.

2010_0405(032)

It was quite humid and buggy, so we were grateful for the elevated path.

2010_0405(036)

There were only a handful of others in the park, so we pretty much had the loop to ourselves. At one point, we startled a snake sunning itself in the middle of the walkway.

2010_0405(038) - Copy

Location: 100 National Park Rd, Hopkins, SC 29061

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 11/10/2003

Date of my visit: 4/08/2010

2010_0405(031)