Saturday, 8/27/11 Glacier Nat'l Pk

Sorry all you bears, birds and people, but I'd like huckleberries for our cereal!  On Saturday, Jimmy and I walked down toward Fishercap Lake (where I'd previously spotted patches of berries) to pick, but I had to search long and low to get half a cup of berries (they're small, like low-bush blueberries and the taste is similar).  Seems like I was a day late?  Darned grizzly bears have been stoking up for winter and cleaning berry bushes like giant vacuum cleaners.  However, I picked enough of the tasty gems for several mornings.

(Speaking of bears… we’ve seen bears every day except when we did the Grinnell Glacier hike. One morning while we were driving on the Park Road, a grizzly dashed across the grassland at a pretty good clip, ran right behind the car and disappeared into low scrub on the other side. Durn thing was almost as big as Smartie! Another time, as we were driving, a grizzly darted out of the trees in front of us, saw the car, contemplated suicide, changed its mind and ducked back into the trees. Whew! Otherwise the bears we’ve seen have been much further away – GOOD!)

After lunch we strolled around turquoise-colored Swiftcurrent Lake on the 2.6 mile loop Nature Path. Most of the path is shaded by fir trees, cooler and quieter, and we enjoyed the solitude. We stopped in at Many Glacier Hotel along the way, and learned a few things. The Hotel, designed in a Swiss Alpine style, opened in 1915. It’s large, picturesque, and perched at the edge of Swiftcurrent Lake. The lobby is three stories tall and very rustic, with a huge stone fire pit toward the center of the room. Reminded us of the lodges in Yellowstone and Glacier Nat’l Pks.

Swiftcurrent Lake from the Nature Path. Purple mountain majesties - dusk at GNP. Wildflowers galore at Logan Pass (on the Continental Divide).

Big-horned sheep milling around in the pkg lot. Equipment trailer used at the Star Party.
We signed up for the (free) Star Party at Logan Pass on Sat night. The Park provides space in the parking area, some telescopes, and amateur astronomers bring their own. The Party is limited to as many people as the parking lot will hold and tickets are available to those who want to come. It being the dark side of the Moon phase, and Logan Pass being far from any ambient light, it was a perfect opportunity to see the night sky in all its glory. First we had to shoo the pesky big horned sheep from the set up place… and they didn’t want to leave. Someone said they were addicted to licking antifreeze from the asphalt. (yuk!) Don’t know how true this is, but I did see them licking something from the pavement!

As the sky grew dark, one star after another popped out till the heavens were ablaze. The Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon and seemed close enough to touch. From the west a large moving light appeared. An astronomer called out, “It’s the International Space Station!” Awestruck, we watched it track across the sky. Satellites zoomed by. Constellations and the stars in astrological signs were pointed out, till our necks grew stiff from looking up. We watched five “shooting stars” burn up in the atmosphere. We left around 11 pm, amazed by all we saw, but tired, knowing we had a slow 40-50 min drive to Many Glacier C/G. Slow, because we didn’t want to run into anything with eyes! What a great day and night!

8/26/11 Highline Trail

The Vista fits just right in our large pull-thru campsite. We’re in a fairly wooded area, but there’s good overhead clearing so the solar panels can soak up sun rays to charge our batteries. Our dinette window looks out toward a mountain that glows positively golden in the morning’s first light, and our bedroom window faces into the woods, giving us privacy – always nice in a campground. Nights are warm, surprising to us – in the low 60’s – and we sleep with all our windows open. In fact, Thursday night’s low was 64° (really warm!), but things changed Friday nite – the low dipped to 51° (woohoo!). Daytime temps range from hi 70’s to mid-80’s and are mainly sunny. We’ve heard an occasional thunderclap and once or twice about 16 drops of rain spotted the car, but that’s about it.

After our Glacier hike, we rested on Thursday – read and did computer stuff. I’m still wading thru Michener’s Alaska and Jimmy is reading Rollins’ Map of Bones. I dug two big trout out of the freezer which Jimmy grilled for dinner… yum! Thursday’s evening program in the amphitheater was given by Ranger Bob on “Bears!” and it was both interesting and entertaining. We learned a thing or two. Tuesday night’s program was presented by Ernie Heavy Runner of the Blackfoot Nation and he spoke about the Indian’s connection to animals and their significance to them. We learned a bunch that night, too.

Late afternoons in front of Swiftcurrent Motor Inn (across from the campground) the park rangers set up powerful scopes aimed at the mountains slopes on either the north or south sides of the campground. Mountain goats/big horn sheep/grizzly bears can almost always be seen on one side or the other. Campers and day trippers and folks staying at the Inn line up to look thru the scopes, inc us. The Inn also serves delicious soft huckleberry ice cream in a cup….

Friday, we took Smartie for a drive to Logan Pass. Here’s some notable trivia – from Triple Divide Peak southeast of Logan Pass, a hand’s width can determine whether a raindrop becomes part of the Columbia, Mississippi, or Saskatchewan River systems. Waters flow to the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and northeastward into Hudson Bay. How cool is that? Anyway, the Highline trailhead takes off from Logan Pass, and Jimmy and I wanted to hike the Highline Trail. Another tidbit: We put in three miles (before we turned around) on this relatively easy path and at that point, we were actually on the other side of the arĂȘte (called the “Garden Wall”) from Grinnell Glacier where we were on Wednesday. How cool is this? After eating our sandwiches, we looked at the sky and said, uh-oh, and made tracks. I do not like hearing thunder while on a trail. Too bad for me, ‘cause we got caught in a quick storm. I put on a poncho and Jimmy put on his jacket. The rain didn’t last long and it didn’t amount to much, but I was very relieved when the thunder quit. We enjoyed the whole six miles; well, maybe only five of the six miles, but the trail was superb!
Lenticular clouds over the Park. At the Pass.... 

Hairy-scary part of the trail... and Jimmy eating lunch at the turnaround point. Garden Wall behind. 

Rain falling near Going-to-the-Sun Road, which winds thru the Park. Another snow field (at our turnaround point).

Columbian Ground Squirrel (and eggshell?) waiting for a handout. These critters are everywhere! Jimmy on the way back to Logan Pass.


GNP -- Grinnell Glacier hike - Aug 24th

If there is such a thing as a bucket list and if we had one, high on that list would be hiking to Grinnell Glacier in the heart of Glacier National Park. Clear and sunny with very little wind, TODAY is THAT day! Using the concession boats from the hotel, our glacier hike is roughly 9 miles R/T, with a 1600’ elevation gain. We took two different boats on two separate lakes to get to the T/H. The first boat left the hotel dock at 8:30 crossing Swiftcurrent Lake. Up and over a short hill and the second boat took us across iridescent turquoise-colored Josephine Lake. This is a ranger-led hike with a group of about 45 people of all ages. Due to enormous snowfall the past winter and a lot of grizzly bear activity this spring/summer, yesterday was the 1st day the trail opened this year!  Can you say, superb timing?

Grinnell Glacier is (far away!) at the back of the bowl.
On the trail....

Lovely Lake Josephine and Grinnell Falls.
 Miles later, this is THE Glacier with "calves" embedded in it.

The group hiking up snow "steps!"
And crossing a snow field!

Wow! We made it to the bottom!
Jimmy sliding down (not intentionally!) a snow field on our return.

The boat dock is way down at the red arrow - we're only half way there.
Common bear grass in a majestic setting.

When we stepped off the boat, Ranger Diane pointed up and to the west toward Grinnell Falls (four miles away and 1600’ higher!) and said, “That’s where we’re going!” Yikes! It was daunting, yes, but worth it, especially in terms of beauty. We saw deer far below romping along the shore waters of beautiful Josephine Lake, wolverines rolling in a snow patch high above us ... but we encountered no grizzlies, thank goodness. Flowers? Ohmigosh, we encountered a cornucopia of colorful flowers! We stepped over rivulets, hiked around streams, and splashed thru a waterfall; climbed up a snow “ladder” and trudged over rough glacial moraine, but for me the hardest part was trying to look around while moving – too hazardous to walk and look at the same time! Ranger Diane stopped strategically, as in before or after steep climbs, which also afforded viewing opportunities. Lunch was in a copse of fir trees at the base of a melting snow field. Somehow rangers had dragged or carried benches way up there.

These alpine glaciers have been shrinking dramatically the past 50 years and by 2020 scientists predict they’ll be gone. Grinnell Glacier and Salamander Glacier used to be connected, but separated sometime before 1929 when Grinnell retreated significantly. Parked above both, Gem Glacier looks like the top scoop of a vanilla ice cream cone. Grinnell is now sitting in a shimmering blue lake; we walked to the glacier edge, but didn't step onto it. Even tho we were surrounded by snow and ice, we were warm in shorts and T-shirts. 

Reluctantly we began our return sometime after 2pm and we moved fast so we could catch the 4pm boat.  If we'd waited for the next boat, we'd be much later returning to the C/G (but, a slower pace would have been nice).  We were exhausted when we got back to Tergel and in sore need of showers, available at the lodge, thank goodness. This hike surpassed our expectations; it really and truly was an A+.  We'd do it again in a heartbeat.

August - Week 4 - Glacier National Park!

Grizzly Mom and two cubs filling up on berries. Papa Moose!

Admiring the view - oh yeah! One of Redrock Falls pools.

Hiking thru the red rocks. Happy people having fun!

Located in the Rocky Mtns, the Many Glacier area of GNP is unbelievably beautiful. Rising straight up out of high prairie grasslands, the mtns’ sudden emergence is breathtaking. We were thrilled to be here (and out of the fierce headwind that tried to blow us backward!). When we toured Glacier Nat’l Park three yrs ago, we stayed at a C/G in West Glacier, and talked about hiking to Grinnell Glacier, but the trailhead is located on the east side in Many Glacier and has to be a destination in itself. So, this year we signed up for six nights in Many Glacier C/G ($10/night with senior passes; no hookups, of course), specifically to hike the glacier. After getting settled in on Mon afternoon, we hopped on our bikes to scope out Many Glacier and Swiftcurrent Hotels.

Because Wednesday was forecast for less wind and sunny, it’d be a better day for hiking to Grinnell Glacier, so Tuesday morning we drove the short hop to Many Glacier Hotel to get boat tickets for the first leg of the Grinnell Glacier hike. That’s when we saw grizzly bears on the mountainside, whoa Nellie! Not ones to sit around much and do nothing, today – still windy – we picked a shorter, 4 mile R/T hike to Redrock Falls, which was recommended as a very scenic hike and accessible from the C/G. We packed PB&J sandwiches and “took a hike.” The first thing we saw off the main trail was a giant bull moose in Fishercap Lake. He was standing belly deep in cool water (all the water around here is either cool or COLD glacial runoff), minding his own business. We took his picture and left him alone. Redrock Falls is a series of cascades, very scenic, and the hike here was very nice. Surrounded as we are by spectacular mtns, any hike in these parts would be great. Along the way, I picked huckleberries, thimble (salmon) berries and raspberries, but never enough to take home – too bad. Think I’ll return to a place close to the C/G and pick more!

Great Falls 8/19 - 8/20

Enjoyed a bike ride along the wide Missouri (Lewis & Clark trail - that's them with Jimmy, plus Sacajawea). Finally found Giant Springs State Park and Fish Hatchery - those are big trout swimming in that pond!

Beautiful, clear water flowing from Giant Springs into the Missouri, always with a constant temp of 54 degrees. The day was warm, bordering on hot, but we had a great bike ride!

The Charles M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, a beautiful place. Russell was the "cowboy artist" who lived from 1864 to 1926. Quite the fellow.

Jimmy and I went to a Western Shop after the museum... where I tried on Fat Babies boots, but I couldn't make up my mind to get the black or the lavender boots! You like the contrast between my beat-up Birkenstocks and the new Fat Babies? Cute! Actually, I decided against either black or lavender when I saw the tag inside the boot that said, "Made in China."


First Peoples Buffalo Jump, Aug 18th

Entrance to the State Park. From about the half way point, I took a picture of the Visitor Center down below (red arrow).

We climbed to the top of the butte and could easily envision the scene.... Part of the cliff face.

Encountered this fat prairie rattlesnake on the trail down... it had lots of rattles. A classic tipi on the living grasslands.

On Thursday, we made what could be one of Montana's prettiest drives from Helena to Great Falls on I-15, esp considering it's a freeway. We saw the brown sign for this state park as we neared Great Falls and decided to come back after we got settled at Dick's RV Park. Ever since we bypassed Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump outside of Fort McLeod, Alberta, Canada, a few years ago, we wanted to learn more, and didn't want to pass up today's opportunity. We took off in Smartie with two water bottles, me clad in my Birkenstocks and Jimmy in deck shoes. We weren't sure what to expect, tho we both thought there would be an interesting interpretive center, and there was. Also offered was a 3 1/2 mile loop trail to the top of the butte, and so off we went! The sun was shining and the prairie was alive with birds and grasshoppers, rabbits and big ol' black-tailed prairie dogs. And up we climbed (tho now we wished we'd worn hiking shoes).

A sandstone cliff face juts out near the top. The First Peoples "herded" stampeding bison atop the butte into rock chutes and ran them over the cliffs to their death. Purposeful deaths: every part of the bison was used. The feeling we got walking along the rocks on top was the same we felt in Canyon de Chelly AZ - we were in a sacred place.

Archaeologists conducted six small digs below the cliffs, recovering some 500 arrow points, scrapers, potsherds and cutting tools, and carbon dating confirmed the use of the site as a jump at least between 1000 and 1500 AD.

Looking down on the grasslands below, we spied the Missouri River in the distance. And in the words of Meriwether Lewis, on July 11, 1806, "... the Missouri bottoms on both sides of the river were crouded with buffaloe - I sincerely believe that there were not less than 10 thousand buffaloe within a circle of two miles around that place." (in the vicinity of Great Falls)

So, the only thing missing today was: buffalo....


Bye-bye, Livingston MT - third wk in August '11

Two (delicious) trout one day... three the next day! Thank you, Jimmy!

Kim "flipping burgers" for the crowd. The Rock Canyon canoe planted with Kim's beautiful flowers.

Donna and me with a newcomer looking on. Part of the crowd - the rest were inside the cabin.

We had "no bites - no fish" days and then days when we'd catch trout for dinner and put some in the freezer for later. Jimmy did most of the reeling in, especially early mornings (that would be after the sun topped the east mountain between 8 when we first showed up in July and 8:30 when we left Rock Canyon on Aug 17th). Some mornings the wind blasting down the canyon made fishing impossible... not to mention the wind chill factor that made your teeth chatter when standing by the River! But by afternoon, the temps always warmed to 80 or above. We had very little rain to mess up any plans.

For a month, we hiked and biked and played and fished. We enjoyed the Wednesday Farmer's Mkt with its great homegrown produce and Max's different colored fresh eggs. Meeting up with Donna & Danny and Fred (our first-rate fishing buddies) made our month a whole bunch more fun, not to mention the terrific fishing tips Danny & Fred delivered regularly! Donna and I walked the bike path many mornings while the three men fished (win-win!). Having Susan and Tom join all of us for ten days was icing on our cake! Jimmy and I esp liked the day trip to Yellowstone Park with Susan and Tom. Speaking of cake, the group of us enjoyed several yummy fish cookouts, as well as one "dog" feast. Fun, lots of fun.

We always have a great time @ Rock Canyon RV Park... it's right on the Yellowstone River, and across the highway is the paved bike path that takes you into Livingston. Kim and John and Punky (John's Mom) are terrific hosts. One evening they sponsored a taco cookout for the whole park (everyone brought a dish to share) and the night before Jimmy and I (and Fred and Donna & Danny) left, they provided a delicious hamburger dinner for all the campers and this time everybody was told to "just bring a plate and utensils and your APPETITE." O boy! Thanx for everything Kim, John and Punky! Looking forward to seeing you next year!


Yellowstone Nat'l Park! Wed, Aug 10th

Me and Jimmy posing on the Tower Falls Trail by the mighty Yellowstone River.

Jimmy on the Specimen Ridge Trail, and Tom, Susan, and me further along on the same trail.

Throughout the day, we had vistas like this! Near the end of the Specimen Ridge Trail, the landscape changed, but always the views were outstanding!

Jimmy and I piled into Tom and Susan's truck for a day of Yellowstone sightseeing and hiking. We packed sandwiches and drinks and set out for a couple of (not too long) hikes relatively close to the Tower-Roosevelt area. The day was warm, bordering on hot by afternoon... but doable. Saw lots of critters along the way (see photos below), but the strangest was the fox that appeared out of the brush and hung around for a while, actually shadowing us at one point. We all agreed that seemed like strange behavior for a wild animal (no, it wasn't rabid).

The Tower Falls area was crowded with people, its parking lot full of vehicles, so we walked down to the Falls viewing platform and then hiked back up and left. We ate lunch at a picnic table near the Specimen Ridge trailhead, tho I shared bits of my sandwich with the raven below. Smart fellers, they are. After eating we took off up Specimen Ridge Trail which follows the Yellowstone River... from a high ridge. This is where we spotted most of the critters, including hundreds of various butterflies on everything in bloom. I guess we weren't in a hurry this day, because it was after 4 pm by the time we got back to the truck. We got stuck in two traffic jams on our way out of the park - the first caused by a herd of bison crossing the road (and not being able to make up their minds which side to pick!) and the second was cars completely stopped in the road (and blocking traffic in both directions) so people could get out and take pictures of the black bear! We were way too hungry to drive back to Livingston for dinner, so we ate a pretty good dinner in Gardiner at Town Cafe. And then Tom drove us home... we were all tired and full, and eyeing our comfy beds! It was a wonderful and exciting day - how could it be otherwise in YNP?

This raven wasn't ashamed to beg for a hunk of bread! A scrawny fox that followed us like a dog!

   Aphrodite fritillary "flutterby" on yellow rabbitbrush. And here's a badger that didn't seem to mind humans.

This big boy bison wasn't aiming for us on the trail - it wanted to collapse in it's dirt "wallow." And finally, a black bear we spied from the road.