Glacier National Park: Lake McDonald


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.


At ten miles long, Lake McDonald is Glacier National Park’s biggest lake. It is on the West of the Continental Divide, which receives more rain, so the area is lush.


The lake is not fed by glaciers and so does not have the distinctive turquoise hue found on the Eastern side of the park. But the water is crystal clear, showcasing the multicolored Argillite rock on the lake’s floor.


We stopped at Lake McDonald on our last evening in the park. It stays light longer in Glacier in the summer than where we live because it is farther from the equator. We stopped to dip our feet in the icy lake waters before going into the lodge for dinner.


Lake McDonald Lodge was built in 1913 on the Eastern shore of Lake McDonald at the mouth of Midget Creek. Like the other lodges in the park, it has a Swiss Chalet design which was part of the Great Northern Railroad’s campaign to attract tourists to the ‘American Alps.’


Though not as big as Many Glacier, the lodge has an impressive three-story lobby and was restored in the 1980s. It includes many of the original furnishings and some reproductions of the original Kanai craftsmen paper lanterns. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.


We had dinner in Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, which was far better than the disappointing meal we’d had previously at Many Glacier’s Ptarmigan Dining Room.


This appetizer is a charcuterie platter with local game and cheeses. It was delicious.


Location: 288 Lake McDonald Lodge Loop, West Glacier, MT 59936

Designation: National Park, National Landmark

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910, NHL 1987

Date of my visit: 6/27/2018


Glacier National Park: Many Glacier Hotel Tour


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I’d read about Many Glacier Hotel’s dramatic rescue in a publication by The National Trust for Historic Preservation. I checked on the NPS website and saw that ranger-led tours of the hotel were held every afternoon. We timed our hike on the Grinnell Glacier trail to be sure we were back in time for the tour.


We returned back in time to have lunch in the Ptarmigan Dining Room. This is a beautiful place to eat, with its high ceilings, two story windows and the view of Swiftcurrent Lake. But unfortunately, the food was pretty mediocre for the price paid.


We met up with a park ranger in the hotel lobby for the tour at 2 PM. He spent some time there giving a history of the lodge.


Many Glacier Hotel was built by Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railroad. Many Glacier was the largest of all the hotels built in the park in an effort by Great Northern to attract tourists to Glacier National Park. Hill is said to have been obsessed with Many Glacier and was more involved in the design and construction than in his other Glacier properties.


It is designed to look like a Swiss Chalet as Hill considered Glacier to be the American Alps. The site for the hotel was chosen for the symmetry of the view across Swiftcurrent Lake. Grinnell Point is in the middle, flanked by ‘matching’ mountains on either side.


Time, the elements and some ill-advised ‘improvements’ took their toll on the structure over the years. In 1996, The National Trust For Historic Preservation included Many Glacier on its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places. The force of heavy winter snowfalls had actually knocked the massive hotel off its foundations and the whole thing was threatening to collapse into the lake.


Through the National Trust, the NPS and other organizations, the $42 million needed to restore the building was raised and renovations began in 2000. It took 17 years to pull the hotel back onto its foundation and restore it to its original design.


The ranger took us up to the second floor for an overview of the grand lobby. He pointed out the interesting design of the central fireplace, the restored double helix staircase and the Japanese lanterns. These are replicas of the paper lanterns originally installed by Louis Hill who incorporated Asian influences into the overall Swiss Alpine theme.


Next we went to the Ptarmigan Room where the ranger showed us pictures of what the Great Room looked like after a 1950s makeover. A drop-ceiling had been installed, harboring bats. The cathedral ceilings and pergola were restored in the 2000 renovation.


The tour concluded outside to discuss the Swiss architecture. The only wooden element remaining on the exterior is the carport. The rest is made of more fire-resistant materials because of the area’s history of wildfires.


Location: 1 Rte 3, Browning, MT 59417

Designation: National Park, National Landmark

Date designated or established: 5/11/1910 (1987 NHL)

Date of my visit: 6/27/2018


Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Newfound Gap & Clingman’s Dome Road


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Another way to tour Great Smoky Mountains National Park by car is via the Clingman’s Dome Road. The first time we drove to Clingman’s Dome, we weren’t able to get out of the car at the Dome lot because a storm had descended on us. But on the drive up, we were able to stop at several pull-outs for breathtaking views.


We began at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. We perused the exhibits, watched a short film and got our bearings for the drive into the mountains.


From the visitor center, it was about 13 miles to Newfound Gap. We pulled over at some scenic vistas. There were dark storm clouds in the distance.


At 5000 feet elevation, Newfound Gap  is the lowest pass through the Smoky Mountains. It was discovered in 1872. Prior to that, the lowest pass was thought to be Indian Gap, two miles to the west.


At Newfound Gap, you can straddle the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The Appalachian Trail is also accessible here.


The Clingman’s Dome Road begins at Newfound Gap. It is seven miles from here to the parking lot for the Dome, with more pull-outs along the way to enjoy the scenery. If you’re lucky, you’ll climb to the Dome at the end of the drive.

But on this day, we had to be content with the journey and save the destination for a sunny day.

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

Location: Gatlinburg, TN

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 9/02/1940

Date of my visit: August 2013


Glacier National Park: Grinell Glacier Trail


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.

On our last day in Glacier National Park, we decided to explore the Many Glacier Valley. We parked in the lot for the Many Glacier Hotel since we planned on touring the historic lodge in the afternoon. From the lot, we followed the horse trail over the road and picked up the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail around the head of the lake.


This short scrubby trail led to the Grinell Glacier Trail head. That parking lot was already starting to get full at 8:30 AM. The hike to Grinell Glacier is one of the most popular in the park.


I’d already checked online and warned my family that we would not be able to go all the way to the Glacier. It was the last week of June, but the trail is not usually cleared of snow and ice at the top until late July.


There were signs at the trail head saying basically the same thing, so we were mentally prepared to have a nice hike along the first two lakes and then go left at the fork towards Grinell Lake instead of bearing right to the steep trail to the glacier.


The first two miles were relatively flat, travelling up the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake and then Josephine Lake. When we reached the end of Swiftcurrent Lake. we looked back to see Many Glacier Hotel against the mountains where we’d started.


Then a gradual incline took us to a path above Josephine Lake through fields of wildflowers. We passed an inlet with an iceberg floating in it.


When we got to the fork, we saw young people descending from the glacier trail. They confirmed that we could not get all the way to the glacier, but that we could get to a great overlook of Grinnell Lake by following the glacier trail for 10 minutes.


Ten minutes turned out to be a steep, slippery, rocky climb of about a mile and maybe 45 minutes in the world of adults who have a less limited concept of time passage. Tall steps were carved into the rock in places and in others, little waterfalls rained down on us, cooling us off.


The view of Grinell Lake from the overlook is breathtaking. The color of the water is the most vibrant of the three lakes in the valley because it is the closest to the glaciers and receives the glacial flour runoff first.


At about the three and half mile mark, there was a ranger making sure that no hikers tried to go past the signs and risk traversing the ice covered cliffs.


As we headed back down the trail, we had to break the news to hopeful hikers on the ascent that they wouldn’t be able to go all the way to the glacier.


When we got to the start of Swiftcurrent Lake, we decided to hike the other shore back to Many Glacier Hotel. We were rewarded with some different scenes of canoes on the lake with Grinnell Point rising above it.


Location: 1 Rte 3, Browning, MT 59417

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/27/2018


Capitol Reef National Park: Panorama Point


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We’d had a full day in Capitol Reef National Park, having begun our tour before dawn to watch the sun rise in Cathedral Valley. As we headed towards the park exit at the end of the day, we made one more stop at Panorama Point.


If you are driving east on Route 24, the parking lot for Panorama Point is the first one after you pass the park entrance. Everyone stops here, so it can be crowded.


The short rock trail takes you from the parking lot to the top of a plateau where there are 360-degree views of the park. There are some educational displays up there about the pure air quality in the park that contributes to the amazing views.


From this vantage point, it’s easier to visualize the waterpocket fold as a reef, or barrier to travel. The rocky spine of the fold stretches on as far as the eye can see.


Capitol Reef posts:


Location: Wayne, Utah

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 12/18/1971

Date of my visit: 4/13/2017


Capitol Reef National Park: Scenic Drive


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.


After our hike to Hickman Bridge, we drove back to the Visitor Center where we perused the displays about the park’s geological history. The rock formations in the park are sedimentary…loose matter that has settled in layers and has compressed into rock. Each layer is from a different period of the Earth’s history.


Next we continued on the service road past the Visitor Center to the Gifford Homestead. The Giffords were the last residents of Fruita and sold their property to the NPS in 1969.


The NPS and the Capitol Reef Natural History Association maintain a working farm on the homestead site with a store that sells baked goods.


We admired the horses and then got back on the road to begin the Scenic Drive. Just past the Gifford barn is the entrance to the drive with a lock box for the fee charged to drive the road. This is the only section of the park where there is an entrance fee and it is on the honor system.


The drive itself is five miles out and back and is indeed quite scenic. We were there towards the end of the day and there weren’t any other cars on the road with us.


We stopped at a few points to take photos. There are trail heads all along the road worthy of exploration, but we will have to save that for a future visit.


Capitol Reef posts:

  • Cathedral Valley
  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • Hickman Bridge
  • Scenic Drive
  • Panorama Point

Location: Wayne, Utah

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 12/18/1971

Date of my visit: 4/13/2017


Capitol Reef National Park: Hickman Bridge


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.


Having spent the morning exploring Cathedral Valley, we needed a short hike in the main section of Capitol Reef National Park after lunch. Two miles east of the visitor center, we parked in the lot for the Hickman Bridge trail head. From this lot, you can access the 2-mile round-trip hike to Hickman Bridge, as well as the 4.5-mile hike to Rim Overlook.


The Hickman Bridge Trail is a pretty popular one because it’s fairly short and moderate. Most of the elevation gain of 400 feet is in the beginning of the trail with stairs carved into the rock and switchbacks. There is no shade, and even in April, it was a thirsty climb.


The canyon views once you get to the midway point are great, with many unique rock formations in sight, like the Capitol Dome.


As the trail started dipping down, we came to a small double natural bridge named after a 19th century Fruita homesteader,  Nels Johnson.


After the Nels Johnson Bridges, the trail climbed again, winding around the 133 foot span of the Hickman Natural Bridge.


The arch is the largest in the park and is named for Joe Hickman. Hickman, together with his brother in law, Ephraim Pectol, paved the way for Capitol Reef to become a National Park. The two men campaigned for the ‘Wayne Wonderland’ to be given protected status.


In 1924, Hickman, as a state legislator, succeeded in having the area set aside as a state park. After the dedication ceremony, Hickman petitioned the federal government to designate the Wayne Wonderland National Monument, but he was killed in a boating accident shortly afterwards.


Pectol took over and spent more than a decade working with the federal government, helping to survey the area. FDR created Capitol Reef National Monument in 1937. The monument was elevated to National Park status by Congress in 1971.

Capitol Reef posts:

  • Cathedral Valley
  • Goblin Valley State Park (Coming Soon)
  • Hickman Bridge
  • Scenic Drive (Coming Soon)
  • Panorama Point (Coming Soon)

Location: Wayne, Utah

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 12/18/1971

Date of my visit: 4/13/2017