Crown of the continent

The best care-killing scenery on the continent – beautiful lakes derived straight from glaciers, lofty mountains steeped in lovely nemophila-blue skies and clad with forests and glaciers, mossy ferny waterfalls in their hollows, nameless and numberless, and meadowy gardens abounding in the best of everything ….

John Muir

When I watched the National Geographic video on Glacier National Park. I was griped with a sense of urgency almost akin to that of answering nature’s call except this was a call of the wild, from the depths of the soul. As the commentary ran toward the unnerving statistic that the park had over 150 glaciers in 1910 when the park was formed, but there are only 20+ left today , there is a sense of impending doom and foreboding, the days of the glaciers in Glacier National Park are clearly numbered. While one does have a tendency to show a marked bias towards Yosemite when one is living in Northern California as can be evidenced by the last several names of the Mac OS releases, I was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the Rockies . It has always been a little disappointing that the name of one of the most spectacular mountain ranges should be so unimaginative(Did the first man who looked at them look and mumble to his woman , “it does look a little Rocky?”) but then life is full of little disappointments .  Being a road warrior at times , I had managed to spend enormous amounts of time on the road in the eastern part of the US , never had the chance for that in the western US and this was a great opportunity to view the western US . The alternative was to fly to Kalispell which is interestingly an international airport though a really small one.

 

It took me the better part of the day to cross Washington State and Idaho , it was late afternoon when I entered Montana  .For the majority of the last 20 years , I had been hearing this myth that Montana has no speed limits . Here is evidence to finally put that stupid myth to rest

I was struck by the isolation that one encounters as soon as one enters Idaho and Montana , I had never seen anything like it . But things were about to get worse as I exited I 90 to get on the state roads . It was already dark and I could not see any evidence of any civilization . I realized if I hit an animal or had a breakdown , I was in deep doo doo.  MT 135  is  a windy road , passing over several rivers and letting us peek at scenic vistas , so no fun to drive after dark but I did not want to camp outside and I definitely was not about to park my car on the side of a road with no shoulder. After what seemed like eternity , I saw some lights . Coming closer I realized quickly that it was a tiny town with one bar and just a few houses. I imagine I must have driven through over 150 miles in the dark before I finally came upon Kalispell . The last part of the drive into Glacier included a drive on Going to the Sun road which promises to induce motion sickness into the most hardened road warrior and definitely meant to be seen during the day.

Kalispell (my Indian origins made me wonder if I was meant to be under the spell of Kali , the fearsome goddess that chomps up demons and other undesirables ) but it is just a sedentary little town whose name actually means “Flat land above the lake” . For an outsider , its sole claim to fame is Glacier National park. The town is utterly forgettable , it has the all the usual suspects that make up a small American town including the motley crew of fast food chains, motels and  all other amenities which leave every small town indistinguishable from every other small town.Grabbing a quick breakfast and coffee , I romped on . Before too long , I entered the Western entrance of Glacier National Park which housed an incredibly large number of curio shops , a small store selling sundaes and milkshakes , I keep seeing references to Huckleberry everywhere  however I do not spy any Huckleberry with my little eye!! After eyeing everything , I take off and before too long I end up on going to the Sun road , it is a two lane road with lot of traffic which means I have to drive at the speed limit of 30 MPH!!! Before too long the pain vanished as I was lost in the scenery around me, the road winds up through a series of switchbacks  and I managed to pick up some hitchhikers before too long and it turned out to be one of the more fortuitous decisions that I made . I found out that my hitch hikers were a married couple from Missoula and they came here at least 5-6 times a year , I chatted with both of them about Glacier , the wife had been coming here since she was 5 or 6 , and her mother was still working up at the Sperry Chalet and last year was the first time she had laid eyes on a Pika . Needless to say I was a little jealous and concerned , wondering if I could be so lucky as to lay eyes on one. I was to drop them off at Logan Pass which is on the continental divide and the highest point passable by a car. But I was also thinking that I would try some quick hikes . The husband asked me if I was planning to hike, I promptly said “Yes” to which he responded that there would be an enormous number of people trying to park so I should take up his spot as soon as he pulled out . Needless to say I was extremely gratified when we did get to Logan pass and saw all the vehicles trying to get a parking spot. I took him on his offer and went off to my sojourn . The views from the Hidden Lake trail were spectacular to say the least

Little can this picture depict the tumult of gushing emotions that envelopes one so completely when one looks upon the sheer majesty of these mountains , the glaciers and the lakes that are fed by the glacier melt.  After I came back down from my 3 mile hike , I was suddenly accosted by a car as I was walking to my car in the parking lot , this woman asked me if I was leaving , I nodded and she promptly got down from the car and started walking along . So far I did not find anything odd , she is just staying close to me so she does not lose me . But then after I got in the car , I realized she was not about to let me leave until her son had bought their car over to park , I had to wait for a good 10 minutes during which time I started making conversation and found out that she had been driving around in a big gas guzzling SUV for the last 45 minutes waiting for a parking spot . I wanted to tell her that she was one of the reasons why glaciers are melting at the rate that they are but good old fashioned courtesy and manners can be a handicap in matters like these. She was apparently moving her son from Seattle to Washington DC so they were taking the scenic route . Finally she let me escape and I took off driving through going to the Sun road . The road is extremely narrow in spots and if I happened to see a SUV or a truck barreling down the other way , I would wait until they passed before I proceeded through one of these narrow spots. One is inclined to be extremely prudent in cases like these simply because you are between a cliff and a ravine.

I then proceeded to a short trail which had Mary Falls

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and then onto Virginia Falls

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On the way I saw a lot of burnt trees , victims of an old forest fire and here I could see evidence of a how a fire causes sap to heat up, at some point the life giving sap becomes akin to napalm and the tree can explode or in cases like the one I found , it splits the tree vertically and kills it. I kept wondering if the parks service simply did not have funds to clear the forest of this extremely flammable tinder in case of another forest fire , so convinced was I of this hypotheses that I could not imagine any other scenario.

After exiting the trail I found several scenic spots on going up the Sun road

Finally reached St Marys and then proceeded onto Many Glacier

Needless to say the sheer beauty of the Montana landscape was bewitching to say the least , a taste that is enough to get one addicted for life.

The following day was a walk with a ranger to Two Medicine and she told us that Huckleberries grow no higher than 8 inches off the ground so knee level but Fool’s huckleberry spreads tall and wide. The most interesting part of this was learning that the dead trees that I had so wanted to get rid of , plays an extremely important part in the forest ecosystem , providing shelter to some , food to others , organic material back to the soil , definitely not the reason that I had in mind .

Two medicine lake is a blissful view

Another interesting aspect that I learnt was about geology

Blithely unaware , I was admiring the colors but the colors tell a story of a time long ago when Earth was covered in acid rain and the predecessors to the Rockies were broken down by acid rain . The colors themselves reveal what geological age they belong too . Red colored rocks indicate the existence of rust and thereby the presence of oxygen ,a relative new comer to the game but the green precedes the red by several millennia. But nonetheless all of these rocks predate us , they predate any creature on earth that needs oxygen to survive and so the ranger made a joke by pointing to the rock and saying that these are our ancestors .

The third day was a trip to the Grinnell Complex /  Glacier .

It is a round trip hike of 7.6 miles with some elevation gain  . In the picture above , one sees the Salamander glacier at the top , it is called a salamander due to the crevasse that shows up in the middle which makes it look like a line on the salamander.  The other is the Grinnell glacier named after George Grinnell.  The glacier melt is amazing to drink ( filter it), works as a wonderful ice pack too as I decided to soak my injured calf

The return hike back and rides back over lake Josephine and lake Swiftcurrent passed by and I could not have been more happy to pay a visit to the famed Two Sisters cafe , ready to take in everything Huckleberry . The huckleberry milkshake was delicious beyond belief , my sole regret is that my appetite did not allow me to partake of a Huckleberry pie as well.

The return sojourn from Glacier back to California took me through the beautiful flathead valley and the home of myriad rivers . The scenery is so bewitching that I had to stop at regular intervals just to take more pictures

With a heavy heart , I finally commenced on the long drive back but Montana keeps pull at my heart strings, I even stopped at a lot sale to inquire about the price . Stopping at a Jiffy Lube just outside Glacier National park in Columbia Falls , I struck up a conversation with the local pastor who had come for an oil change as well. He was curious as to where I was from , after he found out that I was from California , somehow the conversation seamlessly moved to politics though Politics and religion tend to be two subjects that I rarely converse about . He wanted to explain to me why Montana was red , it was everything to do with guns . I looked at him in mute surprise . He explained to me that the average salary is about $30,000 which means for most people , to be able to provide meat for the family is synonymous with hunting.  I nodded sagely , my old boss in Ohio who had imported me long long ago informed me that the salary that he was paying me (which was not quite subsistence level) was more than what an average American family made so I believed it without ever bothering to verify the same. Further more he proceeded to educate me, guns are like investments to folks out here , I looked puzzled so he proceeded to educate me “Buy low, sell high” with a querying brow. I grinned and he proceeded “Hunters buy these guns at the beginning of the season and once they had hunted for the seasons, they would sell them and gun prospectors buy them on the cheap so essentially they have had their meat for nothing”  . I listened quietly , he seems to have forgotten about the investment credo that he was preaching a few minutes ago or perhaps he is just an amazing good salesman. Regardless of whether he is peddling god or peddling guns to his brothers, he is turning a profit whichever way he looks. He certainly tried his damnedest on Montana and their need for weapons that I would never acquiesce for , in most other places.

As for selling me on Montana , he need not have bothered

Glacier National park is indeed a magical place , a Disneyland for kids and adults alike