Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Glacier National Park

You just stay the course, and do what it is that you do, and grow while you're doing it. 
Eventually you will come full circle. -Jon Bon Jovi

Thirty-some-odd years ago, my newlywed husband and I left our Chicago apartment and Midwestern roots in the rear view mirror and moved to Seattle.

We had no idea what would come of this decision. Kids, dogs, even owning a house were all written in our minds in the future tense, and we were living on the heady fragrance of a lifetime's hopes and dreams

Thus we rolled west across the great (and I do mean enormous) state of Montanan and up into Glacier National Park. Of course, my husband had seen the park as a child; thanks to my father-in-law's passion for the west, his family hit up pretty much every national park west of the Mississippi. But my eyes were drinking in this beautiful corner of the world for the first time, and wrapped up as I was in the new, unfolding visions of my future, I was smitten.

Many years have passed, and my life grown by leaps and bounds, but I've never forgotten that first trip to Glacier. Many times, I've dreamed of going back, wondering how I would feel to approach the park with my home behind me to the west, rather than ahead in the east; with my life's milestones mostly behind me, rather than looming in the unforeseeable future. 

This year was finally the right time to go back. We pulled through the western gate of the park around 8 a.m. on a Saturday in September, and began an action-packed day of exploring Glacier. Exploring my past. Exploring myself

* * * * *

Long, narrow mountain lakes punctuate the park and create some of its most memorable vistas. Greeting us at the west entrance is Lake McDonald. We strolled around the visitor center to get our bearings, introduced Gracie to countless admiring strangers, and headed out to the beach. 

I won't sugar coat it; the weather was grim. But between Gracie's willingness to wade, the spectacle of some bold paddle boarders, and a dreamy little river otter making the rounds ten feet out, we were encouraged to ignore the icy temperatures and enjoy the scene. 

^ The few trappings of human presence look utterly insignificant against the backdrop of nature's majesty. As they should. 

^ Gracie can never resist the urge to step into a body of water and drink up. She'll settle for a mud puddle but these crystal clear waters suited her well.

^ Owing to the frigid water, she did resist the temptation to lie down while drinking. The girl has standards. 

* * * * *

Next stop: McDonald Falls, at the northeast end of the lake with the same name. As I prowled the roadside lookout, searching for just the right angle, the right framing, the right perspective, to completely capture the poetry of these waterfalls, I knew I was doomed to fail. Sometimes, there's just no way to photograph the feeling of a place; you simply must go and see it for yourself.

^ Still, I kept trying. Here's my best though still utterly inadequate attempt. 

* * * * *

Following the McDonald River, we continued to wind up the foothills and into the mountains, on the Going-To-The-Sun Road. Unbelievably steep and dogged with hairpin turns and sheer drop offs, this route offers jaw-dropping scenery to those who survive the panic attacks. 

^ My husband remembers the name of every waterfall in the park. Sadly, I do not. 

^ Glaciers scoured out this wide, circular valleys, creating this park's distinctive look. 

^On my first trip through the park, I was awestruck at the wild, mountainous, inescapably rugged beauty. This time, I felt a sense of comfort and familiarity. This is a place that feels like home to me.

^ But let's be honest. I was still sporting three cameras and snapping photos like an Asian tourist. Ain't no shame in that game.

^Yeah, this is the Weeping Wall,  a formation of rock that runs with tiny waterfalls seeping through mostly all year long. "It's just like the rock walls on the way to Stevens Pass," my daughters observed. So true. 

^ Oh my goodness, this bridge. This cliff. This rocky disaster in waiting. Thirty-plus years ago, I had a lot less to lose and I was much more cavalier about danger. Now, I'm careful.

^Take a look at those sculpted valleys, rugged peaks, chiseled ridges. And as long as the rain doesn't fall, I'm good with those moody clouds. 

* * * * *

 My first visit to Glacier fell during July, and the park was awash in gorgeous wildflowers. That bloom season had been unusually fruitful, and my camera roll - um, film canisters - were loaded down with photos of flowers in bloom.  This time round, in September, the color was less abundant but roadside patches of purple asters were everywhere.

^ The petals may be imperfect but the overall effect is spot on. 

Speaking of roadside beauty, Gracie was more than happy to hop out of the car and explore at every turnout. Dogs are not allowed on hiking trails, so she made the most of her legal opportunities to romp.

^Since our first visit to Glacier, we have shared life with three gorgeous red heads and traveled with them back and forth across the continent countless times. I can't imagine my life without my pups. 

* * * * *

All my life, I've been obsessed with grizzly bears and dreamed of seeing one in real life. Seeing one from a considerable distance in real life. I'm smart enough to be terrified of bears but awed by their beauty and majesty. In my dream encounter, I would get a glimpse of a grizzly far off across a mountain vista and enjoy its presence without it ever getting a whiff of me.

Well. that box has now been ticked.

At a roadside pull-off, we noticed a fellow traveler peering away across the way through a shooting scope, and talking animatedly with fellow gapers. We wandered over to join the group and sure enough, up on the hillside was a gorgeous grizzly, golden-tipped fur aglow in the afternoon sun, lolling about in a patch of berries, oblivious to its giddy observers. 

Though my photo barely does the bear justice, the view through the telescope was much better. I could make out the bear's face - fuzzy ears, deep-set eyes, long muzzle - and all my dreams came true. 

^ See the brightest reddish brown patch? The one that's smack dab in the middle of the photo? Now let your eyes drift across to the far left edge of the patch, where it bumps up against some greet trees. See the greyish brownish bump just to the right of the trees, with the light silvery bit on top? That, my friend, is a grizzly bear. I am in love.

* * * * *

Going-To-The-Sun Road reaches its high point at Logan Pass. First time through, we stopped there for a glorious hike and a midday meal that was the highlight of our tour. But this time, the pass was jam-packed with tourists and buffeted by outrageous winds. Rounding out this trifecta of terrible, the rain that had been holding off all morning finally began to fall. We drove on.

^An iconic view on the east side of the park, Wild Goose Island stands small and proud in a sea of white-capped waters. So cute. 

* * * * *

With our traverse across the park complete, we ran north up the eastern boundary and slipped into the Many Glacier area. Back in the day, the park was developed as a respite for the rich and weary East Coasters who, for a price, might take a train west to the park boundary, and then hop in one of the park's red buses to be whisked off to one of several gorgeous scenic lodges. 

^ The lodge at Many Glaciers stands strong and tall. Last time, we ate dinner here; this time, we hiked around the lake. 

^ The trail we followed looped around the shore of the lake, with countless options for popping off the trail and up to the water's edge. I'd like to believe my daughters were performing a Lewis and Clark reenactment for my entertainment, but I think they were pointing at a bird. 

^ Another view from the hike around the lake. Looks like it's still raining at Logan Pass. 

^ I'd be down for a boat tour of the lake, but dogs are not allowed. It bums me out that National Parks have such restrictive policies around their doggy visitors, but I trust them to know what's best. I do not need my dog going mano a mano with a grizzly. Or even a skunk. 

* * * * *

With Many Glaciers behind us, we had time to squeeze in one more stop at the park; this time, an area called Two Medicine Lake. We drove south along the eastern park boundary, through a section of wildly graded, twisting and turning, minimally marked construction which gave rise to a new family expression. "We're being tossed around like kittens in a burlap bag," has officially entered the Streicher lexicon.  

^ When we weren't being jostled in our seats like said kittens in a bag, we could look out the window and see vistas like this one. So worth it.

^ Ever game for a dip in a body of water, Gracie boldly stepped into Two Medicine Lake. But holy iceballs, it was chilly, and she quickly headed back to dry land. 

* * * * *

With our day in the park satisfyingly spent, we pointed the car east and ran toward Great Falls, where dinner and a soft bed awaited. Along the way, we were treated to breathtaking views of the mountains and the setting sun behind. 

* * * * *

As we drifted east across the high plains, away from our current home and toward our original home, I thought how true it is that life often moves us in circles. Cliched as it may sound, my second visit to Glacier really did bring me in a full circle from my first, and showed me just how much my life has grown and changed over the years. 

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