Montana Adventures - Glacier National Park

Trip Start Jul 09, 2010
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Trip End Aug 08, 2010


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Where I stayed
Two Medicine Campground

Flag of United States  , Montana
Monday, August 2, 2010

We took a days rest in Belgrade, MT, staying for two nights (first time we stayed anywhere for two nights in a row so far!) after we exited Yellowstone National Park. This rapid-paced type of vacation is wonderful, and has many benefits, one of which is NOT leisure or relaxation. The pace had finally gotten to us, and we needed a day to catch up on rest, foot healing, and also the basic functions of daily life (email, house/job hunt, paperwork).
One of the great joys of travel is finding people where they are at (refer to aforementioned family and friends we visited in this blog), and our Montana time allowed for two such visits. Amber Root was a small group leader of mine in Campus Crusade for Christ sophomore year of college, when she was a senior at Cornell. Despite not having seen each other in 6 years, we had been in contact (thanks, Facebook) and were able to meet up for a dinner at Montana Rib and Chop House.  Lots to catch up on after 6 years, and we got to the highlights, but broke into other avenues of conversation along the way. Amber is an interior designer and works with an architecture firm that designed some of the newest main visitors centers in Yellowstone National Park. A few hours is not enough to catch up on 6 years, but it did make for a nice reconnection!
To end out July, we headed up to Plains, MT to pick up my friend Angela, a college roommate of mine. Originally from PA, she is just finishing out a two year term there with the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) working mostly with ranchers and other assorted landowners on conservation practices on their land. En route to Angela's, we stopped at two nice little State Parks I had previously visited on my Family's 1998 Lewis and Clark adventures - Missouri Headwaters and Buffalo Jump.  At buffalo jump, Indians would skillfully direct the bison into a mad stampede that left many of them hurtling off a steep cliff.  This would injure or kill the bison, making for a harvest of plenty for the plains people who so depended on them. The archaeological site of native encampments is preserved in this State Park, as well as the "jump" the bison would take. Brian had always wanted to get to the headwaters of the Penobscot River in Maine, and we never did, so I promised him that on this trip, we would get to the headwaters of an even larger river - the Missouri.  In Three Forks, the Jefferson, Gallatin and Madison rivers join to make the Missouri River, which was named for the native tribe nearby, whose name pronounced somewhat like ou-missourit.  Temps were in the 90's on the wide plains and we thought the river looked great, but were already late getting up to see Angela.
We stayed overnight in the house she shares with two other roommates, saw a bit around her small town in a mountain plain and then headed up to Glacier National Park. This is one park my family has never visited. Visit there soon if you want to see any glaciers - they are melting rapidly and predicted to be gone by 2030. Current glaciers aside, the Park was actually named for the period of glaciation ending about 12,000 years ago that formed the Park's U and V shaped valleys, carved deep lakes and left displaced sediments and rock behind (same force responsible for shaping landscapes in the northern half of the US, including New England). It is a lovely place indeed, with an engineering marvel of a road carved unobtrusively through, one of the more scenic routes we've ever driven. The road was clearly difficult to maintain, as the Park is prone to winter avalanches which fall from steep slopes, taking out rock wall edges of the road with force. The road doesn't open until mid-late June because of all the snow depth and avalanche fall that has to melt or be blasted away. Avalanches were the nature highlight for me in this park, as it demonstrates the quick forces of nature on the landscape, and represents an interesting subject I studied in one of my master's courses - disturbance ecology. The avalanches maintain youthful corridors of early successional vegetation which provides habitat for creatures aside from the Park's softwood forests.
Our first day at Glacier, we drove the Going-to-the-sun road, and then searched around for camping because all the spots in the camp were full. The drive takes you from valley bottom where cedars, aspen, birch and Douglas-fir grow, up into the spruce and fir and then near tree-line where the trees are stunted and wind-battered. We took in a many views from scenic pull-outs and walked a bit around at Logan Pass, the high point of the road with a visitors center. We saw our first mountain goat of the trip, and also ground squirrels and a marmot. I believe that means we have spotted all the charismatic big game species - elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, mountain lion (a glimpse), bison - with the exception of bears. Perhaps a relief to some, as encounters can be deadly (we carry bear spray while hiking and keep it in the tent at night) but it sure would have been nice - I'm a New Englander who has never spotted any bear (black or grizzly) in the wild.
 A big storm cell was headed our way late in the day, so camping seemed a bit difficult of a task (it was late, already raining and we were hungry). We booked the last room in East Glacier at a little motel - super retro, but providing the basic necessity of reliable shelter (our tent is not all-night rainproof!). It was a little slumber party in a tiny room, cooking pasta out on the front deck, and sitting chatting inside on our camp chairs as the rain came down. It was the first time rain had altered our plans on this trip so I really can't complain.
Sunday the 1st of August, our second day, we moved quickly to get into the Two Medicine area and secure a campsite for the evening. Jockeying for campsites that cannot be reserved in the National Parks has been a theme of our time spent in them. There is stiff competition, with folks like us arriving early and taking spots that have not yet been vacated. Some nice folks let us set up our tent prior to their departure and we left and headed out for a hike. The day turned leisurely after setup, a relief to all of us, as our trip has been full and Ang is finishing out her job in Plains. We walked out to Running Eagle Falls where the water comes through a hole with large width (nearly an arch) in the rock. Ang and I reasoned this must have been a weaker section of rock which finally eroded away to allow water through. Fun to have a naturey friend along to discuss natural processes with, although I will note Brian is quickly picking up on this habit of mine and making his own propositions on "what happened here" in natural history. :) Our day continued with a boat trip to the west end of Two Medicine Lake, where we took a trail up to the Upper Two Medicine lake, nestled a few miles into the valley, surrounded by steep slopes and towering spires. Getting away from the roads like this is really what makes me feel like I have seen and experienced the Park. Glacier is home to 700 miles of trails, most of which are backcountry, and connected with campsites, so we think it will be a great place to come and backpack together someday. On the way back from the Lake, it began to POUR and we moved ourselves quickly down the trail to get back for the return boat ride to the end of the lake. As it turned out, was the only rain destined for us that day and night despite a prediction similar to the chain of storms from the day before.
Hungry from our hike, we made dinner and relaxed at the campsite reading. At 6pm there was a worship service being held by A Christian Ministry in the National Parks which we attended. Every summer this organization has volunteers who work in the Park service industry organize worship for travelers, and hold the services out in the God's Great Sanctuary of nature. My favorite hymn, How Great Thou Art opened the service. The sermon, from Matthew 17 on the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, reminded us that our lives can be changed in a mountaintop experience (literal or figurative) if we listen for God's voice and believe what He says is true. The speaker closed with this phrase that has stuck with me "Indeed, if you get to the mountaintop, you might just see Forever."
We anticipated another night of rain, and so had our super-tarp set up over the tent and all three of us packed together inside for another cozy night's sleep. We awoke and slowly broke camp, giving up our site to a small family from Austria. We returned Angela to work Monday afternoon, and are now headed to a ranch in southwestern MT to relax and celebrate our 2nd anniversary!

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