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Glacier National Park: Part 2

posted Jul 20, 2005

Logan Pass Panorama

View on the way to Logan Pass. This panoramic image was created using Autostitch—a really amazing (and free) program that can stitch several pictures together into a panorama completely automatically. 5 pictures were stitched together to give this expansive field of view.

Saturday – Hiking

We woke up to great hiking weather on Saturday morning-not too hot, or too cold with overcast skies providing plenty of shade from the July rays. As we drove towards the park, the clouds thickened and occasionally freckled the windshield. We had picked out a few hikes that we wanted to do inside the park, but if the rain kept up like this, the trails would be pretty muddy.

Wildflowers on Going-to-the-Sun Road

Wildflowers drink in the rain along Going-to-the-Sun Road

Glacier National Park features a beautiful 50-mile route connecting the east and west entrances called Going-to-the-Sun Road. Given today’s cloud cover, the name seemed a bit ironic. We entered through West Glacier and cruised past Lake McDonald before beginning the climb to Logan Pass. Turnouts are frequent and we pulled over to take a few pictures whenever the view looked particularly striking. We managed to enjoy the views without wandering too long in the now constant rain. We’d take a few pictures, soak up the landscape and breathe in the humid air before racing back to the car to crank the heater. Our rental car displayed the outside temperature and we watched it continue to drop as we climbed higher up the mountain. The lowest reading was 42 degrees-a harsh contrast to the 100+ degree temperatures back home in Boise this weekend. We had definitely accomplished our mission to escape the summer heat.

Running stream
Purple flowers

The rain continued intermittently as we made our way up the steep and narrow road. Groups of motorcycles were frequent, and there were even a few bicyclists, and seeing them drenched made me appreciate our warm and dry car. We finally made it to the high point of our drive, Logan Pass. At an altitude of 6,646 feet on the Continental Divide, the views (like the one at the top of this page) were stunning even with the clouded ceiling. Everything was amazingly green. The scenery was very different from our visit in 1998. The park was experiencing a major wild fire seven years ago and the background haze prevented us from seeing the entire landscape from Logan Pass. We decided to stop and check out the visitor center in search of the ideal souvenir. We didn’t find a lot of knick-knack options, but we did find plenty of people happy to be inside and out of the rain. Most of them weren’t dressed well for the rain and chilly temperatures (some women were even wearing flip-flops). The storm clouds had been following us all morning and they too, seemed to stop for a break at Logan Pass. Everyone’s eyebrows rose as thunder rattled the building followed by sleet, high winds and then extremely heavy rain. The visitor center was crowded so we decided to wait out the storm in the car. Getting to the car was an adventure, rushing through the driving rain.

I laughed uncontrollably as we sprinted towards the car. My usual attitude towards rain is that it’s just water. There’s something about a good storm that makes me feel 10-years-old again and I’ll do anything to get out of wearing my raincoat or carrying an umbrella just to play in the rain. I questioned my mindset as I glanced at Phil who remained comfortable in his brimmed, waterproof hat. I hadn’t packed any rain gear for this trip. Then I began to wonder about Murphy’s Law. If I had packed rain gear, would the conditions be sunny and dry? Needless to say, we didn’t take any pictures at Logan Pass because of the downpour.

We resumed our route to the east in search of sun. Our next stop was Sunrift Gorge. On the way there, we found a crystal clear stream swirling over a bed of vivid colored rocks. The stream ran under a wide bridge which gave us a nice break from the rain and a chance to get the camera out again for a few more pictures. Nancy’s favorite color is purple, so I had to take this close-up of these wildflowers with a few drops of rain left on them as the Sun made a brief and welcome appearance.

In a few more miles, we arrived at Sun Point, our initial destination. From here, we had planned to hike to Virginia Falls passing two other waterfalls along the way. Unfortunately, the terrain was now muddy and the air was still cold and unstable. We had plenty of water falling around us to enjoy without hiking towards more. Glacier National Park is a true wonder and we both agreed that this would not be our last trip. Each time we get to stay a little longer, so we were happy to save the hike for the next time.

We scoped out the beginning of the trail and found it quickly opened up to a panoramic view of St. Mary Lake. The lake stretched for miles and the sun would pop out just long enough to show off the bright turquoise color. A map identified each of the twelve peaks that surround the lake. If this is the view just off the road, the view inside of the backcountry must be truly breathtaking. I can’t wait to see it next time.

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