Thursday, May 24, 2012

Yet, get better it did - Glacier National Park
A brief interlude from mountains as we drove from Yellowstone to Glacier National Park through vast rolling prairies. Stopped off at the Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge for some quite productive bird watching, picking up a number of species that we hadn’t seen before. Not only does the changing landscape throw up new suites of species, but we are also moving into the range of more northern species, not to mention the fact that the migratory songbirds are finally starting to catch up with us. No “faster than a speeding bullet” for us. More like “slower than a migrating songbird”. 
From the plains we re-entered the mountains once again - can’t help it really - the western half of the continent is riddled with mountain ranges that cross your path pretty much whichever direction you go in. 
We ended the last blog with the observation “It’s hard to imaging how it could get better than this!” Well guess what? It just did!
Whilst Yellowstone had a really solid grandeur - rolling sprawling landscapes with not unimpressive mountain ranges - you tend to look across it and pass over it. Glacier, on the other hand is a real “in your face” sort of landscape. Huge towering craggy peaks sliced and diced by glaciers that have been grinding away in all directions, with gorgeous lakes in the valley floors and waterfalls everywhere and all of it is right there, towering above you and engulfing you, which makes kayaking, hiking, biking and snowshoeing the way to get around, rather than driving, as was the case for Yellowstone. 
Recovery break on the Going-to-the-Sun Road 
So kayak, hike, bike and snowshoe we did. One bike ride took us up the Going-to-the-Sun Road, reputed to be one of the most spectacular roads in the world - who knows if it is - but it certainly is impressive. Being closed for car traffic (the pass at the top is still snow-covered) the cyclists took ownership of it, and being mother’s day, everyone seems to have decided that they should torture their mothers by making them cycle up the mountain. Consequently we found ourselves among hundreds of others grinding up the hill, but the weather was stunning and the mood was festive, with everyone being incredibly friendly so it was great fun. Even the masses of mothers and grand-kids were not sufficient to phase one black bear which wondered across the road only  meters away from the passing cyclists. 

Hiking with the 3 bears
An afternoon hike took us up to Avalanche Lake. Someone coming back down mentioned that they had seen 3 grizzlies heading up the other side of the valley towards the lake.  We figured that if we positioned ourselves at the narrow entrance to the lake, we should get to see them go by. After waiting for a few minutes we heard some people behind us calling out and clapping their hands - turns out the bears had crossed the river below us and followed us up the track and come face to face with the other people going down. Both hikers and bears (Mum with two big cubs) got a surprise and backed off in opposite directions!

Taking Lionel out for a spin on Lake Bowman
We then took advantage of the perfect weather to kayak once more, this time on Bowman Lake, combined with some short hikes to other nearby alpine lakes.
 As the glorious, summer-like weather came to an end (yep - snowing again) we moved to the east side of Glacier where we hunkered down for the day waiting for the weather to pass.  As soon as the cloud started to lift, we took the kayak out on Two Medicine Lake. Under cover of cloud and beneath the towering, almost foreboding peaks we set out on the cold, black water, negotiating the ice-floes as we made our way to the end of the lake. By the time we got there, the cloud was lifting so we put the snowshoes on and hiked up to some waterfalls, by which time a few patches of weak sunlight started to appear, lighting up the mountain goats perched on the cliffs above. 
Breaking the ice on Two Medicine Lake
Followed by some snow-shoeing
End of the road
So on foot once again
Next day we tackled the Going-to-the-Sun road again, this time from the eastern side, starting of by bike and then switching to snow-shoes when we hit the end of the cleared road. Managed to progress a couple of kilometers before we hit “the big drift”, a huge, steep snow drift that comes down from the mountains above. Some crevices at the top of the drift suggested some slippage had occurred and the real potential for an avalanche so we were a bit leery about going further. We did however see some tracks across the drift so we went a little further to investigate only to find that they were extremely large bear tracks. Well, that decided it - we were on our way back down, interrupted only by a brief chat with some bighorn sheep that wanted to share the path. 

Out of the way Buster - you're in my way!

Another young grizzly entertained us on a subsequent evening as we took a late afternoon drive up the mountains. It took an interest in the newly repaired potholes on the road, digging up the fresh bitumen and then rolling around in it. We felt a bit more secure on this occasion as we watched from the comfort of our car!
One of the remarkable things about Glacier National Park is that it has a number of focal points, each very different from the next. Our final point of interest was called Many Glacier where again, bears were a highlight, this time a pair of grizzlies mating!
Just another campsite
So we’re not sure why Glacier doesn’t get the same rap as Yellowstone, but for us it was one of the best parks we had visited. Our advice? Add it to your bucket list. 
A concerning footnote: Glacier National Park now only has 26 of the 150 glaciers that were here in 1910 and the remainder are all projected to be gone by 2030, but we know its couldn’t possibly be due to climate change - no such thing here in the US - particularly in the Republican heartland of Montana’s cowboy country. 

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