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Adventure 10 : Part III Glacier National Park

July 11, 2012

We left Yellowstone on the seventh day of our adventure. By this point, we were cold down to our bones and unpleasantly odiferous from not having a shower in seven days (although we did wash our hair in the coldest water on the planet from a SD well). My spirits were low — not because the trip wasn’t fun, but because my mom sent me a text warning us that the weather at GNP expected lows of 15 degrees. Our sleeping bags were only rated to 30.

The drive from Yellowstone to Glacier National was one of the most beautiful and scenic that I have ever experienced. Unlike Colorado, where the Rockies are hard and jagged peaks, the mountains through this region and through Butte are graceful swells of stone that rise from emerald green fields into rounded, snow-capped peaks that look so accessible, one is almost tempted to pull over to the side of the road and hike on up. The lush hillsides are dotted with herds of cattle and with the cowboys wrangling them home. We don’t see much of this in Michigan.

As we approach the town of West Glacier (by town, I mean one hotel, one restaurant, and a handful of souvenir shops, most of which are closed because camping season hadn’t yet begun) my spirits began to lift. The temperature was in the mid 50s, not at all freezing-to-death weather. We were in low enough elevation that the early spring chill wouldn’t turn us to icicles.

After six hours of driving, we arrive at our campground, greeted by a sign that reads, “Caution: Grizzly bears DO visit this campsite. Hikers and campers have been injured and killed by bears.” Not quite the same as a Welcome doormat…but the lake and mountains surrounding our camp invited us to Montana with open arms (see the picture to the left).

For the rest of our first night, we drove around the few roads that were open (Going to the Sun road was closed until mid-July, which was a serious bummer, cutting us off from most of the park). The open roads didn’t disappoint, however, as we explored the young forest (much of this part of the park was still recovering from forest fires that spread years before) and scoped out the wildlife. The road ended just 30 miles from the Canada border.

The next morning, we wanted to make the most of our short time at Glacier National. Due to road closures, we decided to stay only one full day, and then attempt the 27 hour drive home all in one go. The Trail of Cedars and Avalanche Lake Trail promised some wonderful views (I’m a tree fanatic and my husband is a mountain fanatic), and it didn’t disappoint.

Along Trail of the Cedars, some of the trees were so tall, they must have been hundreds of years old, large enough for me to fit inside the hollowed trees with room to spare. The dead trees and begun shedding their bark (mainly the Black Cottonwoods), and the bark pieces were so enormous, the pile looked like a heap of bricks.

Once the trail met with the Avalanche Lake trailhead, the scenery changed. A creek wound along the path, crystal blue water surging through reddish-purple rocks, carving the stone into smooth bowls. (Fact: the most frequent cause of death in Glacier National Park is drowning.) The creek attracts a lot of wildlife, including deer that wander freely along the walking path and grizzlies that scour the woods for berries.

As we neared the end of the trail, the mountains, previously blocked from view by an army of massive cedars, materialized out of thin air, peaks disappearing into a haze of clouds. My husband, the logical financial analyst, is rarely speechless, but as we rounded the last of the trail and discovered Avalanche Lake tucked into the embrace of the mountains, he was definitely in awe, as was I. Moments like this are an adventure’s rewards.

Heading back to camp, we stopped at the only open restaurant for twenty miles to have a couple burgers and some huckleberry taffy. In case you’ve never been to Montana, be prepared for huckleberry everything. They love the stuff up there. We squeezed in a two-hour horseback ride before it was time to hit the road.

After nine days, four thousand two hundred and eighty miles, a vat of peanut butter, a zillion bags of beef jerky, snow, rain, hail, and cold…we arrived back home in Michigan with the following verdict: Camping Rules. One thing we would have done differently would be to check for road closures ahead of time in the mountains. We’re going to visit Glacier National again one day so we can see what we missed.

Before this trip, I had never spent the night in a tent, never roasted marshmallows over a real campfire, never washed my hair in well water, never rock climbed, never had the need to carry bear mace, never seen South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, or Montana. It really was a trip of firsts for me, but not a trip of lasts. We’ve already begun planning our next camping/hiking adventure, which will be the 97 mile West Highland Way Trail in Scotland next May. Can’t wait! Thanks for reading! Here’s some more pictures before I go:

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2012 11:00 pm

    Sorry you missed Going to the Sun..it is a neat drive. But your pictures are great and you had a trip you’ll remember for a lifetime.

    • July 12, 2012 2:24 am

      We’ll definitely be taking another trip there one day. It’s just too beautiful not to. And we’ll definitely go when Going to the Sun is open!
      Still wonderful though. Thanks for reading.

  2. October 31, 2012 4:01 pm

    Your posts are awesome (and hilarious). Well done on choosing to lead a big life! 🙂

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