The High Country, Part 7

Here's the thing about Glacier National Park: scale.

Grand Teton NP is stunning from the very first glimpse--a visual slap in the face. The spectacular ridges of the Teton Range bursting forth from the treetops cannot be ignored. Your head whirls round to look at them every time you try to look at anything else in the park.

But Glacier? Glacier just keeps going.

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Glacier is not a slap, but a full-on beat-down. You can look at many, many things in there--lakes, trees, birds, streams, falls, islands, hills, meadows, cliffs. And yet, even if you're not looking at them, you're always aware of the mountains. You don't NEED to look at them. The Crown of the Continent, as they call it, stands behind and above everything. It's not as flashy as Grand Teton, but it has more height, more breadth, more depth.

Alas, we couldn't plumb those depths in two days--not even close. We couldn't even see the most spectacular part of the park: the central section of Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is the part of the fifty-mile road that crosses the Continental Divide, and it usually doesn't get opened to the public until late June because it takes that long for the plow crews to clear the road of snow. There were around fifteen miles of road open on either end, and since we were spending the night on the eastern edge of the park, we opted to make our way up the eastern section of the road, leaving the west section for the next day.

DSC00982.JPGIt didn't take long for the need to pull over and take pictures to strike us. Here you can see Dad looking over St. Mary's Lake toward the 9000-foot peaks at its headwaters. GTTS Road follows the north shore for the length of the lake, so we had its waters in sight for much of the drive.

DSC00986.JPGWe did not see much wildlife on the road, with one exception: ground squirrels were fairly frequent visitors to the roadsides, Except for their narrow tails, they looked more or less like our eastern Gray Squirrels, with the same curious, upright posture. They were also far better than our campus squirrels at staying out of traffic. And considering how often our eyes were drawn from the blacktop up toward the horizon, that's a good thing.

At Sunrift Gorge, through which a rushing stream churns down from the glacier less than two miles above, we once again parked the car to get a better look. The water was spectacularly clear, as well as noisy, as it ran alongside the path underneath the road:

DSC01007.JPGI also snapped a picture of Mom at the end of the bridge:

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A mile or two up the road from the gorge, we parked to look out over the evergreens into the deep valley, and as I peered out, I was startled by something I still get every once in a while: the thrill of not knowing what the hell I'm looking at. My overwhelming impression was YELLOW; a bright, orangey shade of it (not unlike that of my new t-shirt, now that I think about it...), but with black wings as well. And the yellow was not in the place I was used to, either: the familiar American Goldfinch has a yellow chest and back and head, but its rump is pure white, and this bird's rump blazed just as yellow as the rest of it. It sailed out to a dead branch and perched, right at the end of my camera's zoom powers, but just within those of my binoculars. And then it turned its head toward me at last: a bright orange-red head that proclaimed it a male Western Tanager, my first lifer in the park.

Before long, however, we were at the Jackson Glacier Overlook, and the road was closed to all but foot and bike traffic, though there was no snow visible on the ground there at all. I took a brief stroll beyond the gates, hoping to see an interesting bird or two, or maybe a glimpse of the plows working on the upper reaches of the road, but other than one persistently singing Wilson's Warbler, there were only trees and clouds and, always, the crowns of the mountains.

Making our way down, we were once again struck by the beauty of St Mary's Lake, as well as the tiny speck of Goose Island, which somehow sets off the massive peaks around the lake perfectly:

DSC01034.JPGReaching the bottom of GTTS Road, we turned south again, heading down the curving, vertiginous highway toward a different entrance to the park: Two Medicine, which lies only 4 miles from the train depot in East Glacier. We had the whole afternoon ahead of us. And this time we were determined to get further into the park than the road would take us.

NEXT: FAHRENHEIT O38 (or SIT DOWN, YOU'RE ANNOYING THE BOAT)

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on June 24, 2013 10:19 PM.

The High Country, Part 6 was the previous entry in this blog.

The High Country, Part 8 is the next entry in this blog.

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