– Great Falls, Montana to Waterton Park, Alberta –
We were a little lazy this morning. Our alarm went off at 5am, but we lounged in bed until 5:30 before we finally managed to get up and get dressed. Luckily, our hotel was right on the path, so we didn’t waste too much time, since we didn’t have far to go. The trail in Great Falls wasn’t quite as nice or as straight-forward as Casper, but it was better than average, for sure.
Our run ended up being just a little shy of 5 miles, with the first half being directly into the sun. Yes, the sun is rising up here at 5:28am. I expect it to get a little worse the further north we go. The path right out from the hotel did a lot of meandering, and was hard to follow. Once we were about half a mile in though, our biggest problem was generally crossing the road. Ripley missed a baby bunny hiding in the bushes along the path, too scared to move, not once, but twice. She’s a little nose blind for a hunting dog. Or maybe she was just too excited about running to pay any attention?
When we finished our run, we went back to the hotel where we showered, packed up, and loaded the truck. In the hotel room, Ripley hurked up a little water post-run, which she managed to get on our travel pillowcase. Luckily we managed to get the pillowcase off the pillow before anything got through. We left her in the truck while we had breakfast, which was in fact better than yesterday’s options. they even had a pancake printer, though we didn’t try it. Those things never work right.
Since our pillowcase was dirty and we aren’t doing laundry until several days from now, we decided to run to Walmart to grab a replacement. We also bought more cold brew iced tea, before it disappears from the shelves when we venture into Canada. We have to get our iced tea fix somehow. We also picked up more of the little snack-size Tillamook sharp white cheddar cheeses, because those things are addictive and are a cooler must-have.
We finally left Great Falls only a few minutes after 8am, which isn’t bad considering our shopping trip and our later start. Ripley finally got breakfast a little later, when we were sure she wasn’t going to puke up any more water. I think she just managed to gorge herself on water when we came back from our run without Mark or me noticing. We usually catch her and make her wait a few minutes between drinks, but we weren’t watching her closely enough today.
From Great Falls, we drove up I-15 just past Conrad, then turned west over to 89, which we took to St. Mary, Montana. St. Mary is the town just outside the main entrance to Glacier National Park. We’ve stopped in St. Mary every time we visited Glacier, including during our big Alaska Trip back in 2015. The gas station there is a nice landmark, and we always get sandwiches there.
Since it was nearly 11:30, today was no exception. We decided to have a sandwich and some chips before we left to go into the park, thinking that we wouldn’t be back out for a couple of hours, and there’s nothing else around there to eat. It’s all true. The sandwiches are fine, but they aren’t anything special. The most interesting thing about the place is the fact that the seasonal workers they hire are all college-aged people from foreign countries, visiting for the summer. The people helping us today were from Lithuania and the Czech Republic.
When we finished our sandwiches, we took Ripley out for a walk. In the past, we’ve had a little trouble there with prairie dogs, but she didn’t spot any today, and neither did we. We could see evidence of prairie dog holes, though, so I’m glad they were feeling shy. It’s not very helpful when they pop out of their hidey-holes while I’m trying to get Ripley to go to the bathroom.
At the entrance, to Glacier, we went ahead and bought our national park pass for the year. We also discovered that in the highest parts of the park, the road is still closed due to snow, so we were only able to drive up the Going-to-the-Sun Road as far as the Jackson Glacier overlook, which is about 14 miles into the park. Considering the whole thing is about 60 miles across, that’s not a lot. We hadn’t intended to do more than about 15-20 miles, as we wanted to reach Logan’s Pass, but that was beyond where the road was closed, so we missed the last bit we were hoping to see today. It will probably be open in a couple of weeks, according to the park rangers.
In any event, we drove on into Glacier. Right after the entrance you can see the St. Mary Lake, which is nice and clear and blue. Today, you could see the reflection of the mountains on the still water very briefly as we drove in, but the wind picked up before we really found anywhere to stop to get a picture. Some people were just stopped on the road, but we decided that probably wasn’t the best plan, and took our pictures of the lake a little later on.
The park still looks like mid-spring, with wildflowers blooming everywhere. They have these tiny blue flowers that are everywhere, and they are the cutest little things. We also saw some ivory/yellow bells, and what they call beargrass, which looks like a giant cotton ball on the end of a long asparagus. I’m not sure if it counts as a flower or not, but it does seem sort of flower-like.
There’s definitely still snow on a lot of the peaks, but the temperature is a lovely 65°F down where we were, so it was pleasant shorts weather. Since only 14 miles of the park was open, those 14 miles were packed with visitors. Most of the pull-offs and turn-outs were quite busy, with few or no parking spaces available. We had to make do with what we could get, but between driving in and out on the same route, we didn’t really miss anything we wanted to look at or photograph.
We drove all the way back to the Jackson Glacier overlook at first, where we stopped and took a bunch of photos of the mountains and the glacier. Ripley had her photo taken there as well, and her “stay” was much admired by onlookers. Who doesn’t love a dog that follows commands so well?
Down a little side path from the glacier overlook, you can see an old tunnel that visitors used to use way back when people rode horses through the park. The tunnel was running with water from snow melt, so we couldn’t get a picture that wasn’t horribly back lit, but the tunnel was neat, and it was so well hidden that I would never have known it was there without the signs.
Speaking of snow melt, the park is full of water falls right now, and not just the named ones. It’s hard to look anywhere without spotting a long, thin waterfall sliding down the face of some rock formation or other. Most of the mountains have dozens of tiny waterfalls all along their faces at the moment. There are even a couple sheeting down the rock face along the road. Not big ones, mind you, but thin sheets of water sliding down into the ditch.
After we left the Jackson Glacier viewing area, we set about visiting the spots we hadn’t been able to stop at on the way up. We did several mountains and gorges, including another waterfall at Sunrift Gorge. You can go underneath the bridge there at the gorge to get a look at the water moving through. It’s a great view. The water has huge trees stuck in tight crevices, despite the fact that the water isn’t all that deep or wide. I bet it would’ve been terrifying to be standing on the bridge when whatever flood brought those trees down the gorge was going on.
One of our stops, near one the clearly burned areas of the park, talked about the Reynolds Fire, which happened on July 21, 2015. We were in the park July 13, just a little over a week before. The fire burned 4,850 acres of land total, and you can see the damage throughout the park. It’s a little crazy to think we were here and nothing was wrong just over a week before. Still, the sign said that three weeks after the fire, grass had started to grow in the burned out areas again. If I were Jeff Goldblum, I’d tell you, “Life, uh- finds a way.”
We made one last stop to see Goose Island on St. Mary Lake, and get a good photo looking back into the mountains. Glacier is such a pretty place. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. You might come in July or August though, to be sure the roads are open. Unfortunately, everyone else will come with you, and the park will be much busier than it was for us.
We swung by the visitor center before leaving the park. Back in the town of St. Mary, we stopped around 2:30 for ice creams at our favorite gas station/restaurant/hotel. I usually hate coconut, but I had some “Yeti Tracks” ice cream that nearly changed my mind. I didn’t realize it was coconut when I ordered it, but it turned out not the be bad at all. I’ve been promising to make my family a coconut meringue (or coconut cream) pie for the 4th of July, so maybe I’ll even taste it after my ice cream adventure. Or maybe not.
There are several ways to get into Glacier National Park, with several different entrances that lead to different places in the park. There’s another entrance just up the road from St. Mary that turns toward the park in the town of Babb. That portion of the park is called Many Glacier, and we decided to visit that next, since we’ve never actually been before.
The road back to Many Glacier is terrible, with tons of potholes and washouts. It’s worth it for the view, though. The park is gorgeous from that new angle. Along the way, we spotted a bear eating along the side of the road. I know the photo looks very up close and personal, but I promise we were safe and far away in our truck on the road, leaning out the window with our zoom lens. We never got anywhere near the bear. I was so happy to see it, and told Mark how jealous my Mom will be. She loves watching for wildlife, especially bears and whales.
We finally made it back to Many Glacier, where we pulled off to take some lovely photographs of the lake and mountains there. The lake is called Swiftcurrent Lake, and there’s also a small waterfall there called Swiftcurrent Falls. Up on the hill, overlooking the spectacular view in the photo below, is the Many Glacier Hotel, which looks like it has been sitting there forever. Someone has been taking very good care of the place, because despite its age, it is still a lovely place.
From Many Glacier, we had to drive back to Babb to once again join the highway north to Canada, though not for long. There’s a seasonal border crossing to the west of the main border crossing that takes you right into Waterton Lakes National Park up in Canada. The road goes past Chief Mountain, and the road was incredibly empty today.
On our drive up to the customs station, we had to stop for a little herd of horses in the road. Three of the mares had babies with them, and I probably almost permanently deafened Mark when I squealed, “babieeeeees,” at the sight of them. Baby horses are some of the cutest things on the planet, but be warned, they are colossal assholes. I suspect this to be true of a lot of babies, though, and think that’s why they have to be so cute: so we won’t toss them out the window when they are acting up. We also had to stop for cows in the road. It was an eventful drive.
Chief Mountain was a pretty sight, and the mountains back in Glacier were lovely from this side. They were quite striking this afternoon in particular, with thunderstorms broiling up around the peaks as we were driving past. We made it to Waterton Lakes and our hotel not a moment too soon, because not long after, the thunder started, then it started to pour. Our hotel room has a screen door, and Ripley’s been enjoying the weather and the local wildlife through the screen since we’ve left our door open to enjoy the outdoors.
On an interesting note, and I’ll talk a little more about it tomorrow, a lot of Waterton Lakes National Park is closed due to a fire in 2017, and we aren’t going to be able to see as much of the park as we’d intended. Anyway, for dinner, we went out and got vegetarian hot dogs at Wieners of Waterton sometime during the rain, since the rain was keeping us from doing much else. The veggie dogs were good, but the fries and fry sauces were to die for. I am going to have to learn how to make curry ketchup. Yum.
Tomorrow we are going to take a run up one of the roads that’s closed to vehicle traffic but open to pedestrians and bicycles. I’m not sure which one, but hopefully Mark will tell me more before morning. After we’ve explored the rest of what we can see in Waterton Lakes, which isn’t a lot, we will be moving on to Kootenay National Park, which is about 4 hours from here. I’m hoping the weather holds, because it has been mostly wonderful so far.
– Trip Total : ??? miles –