Friday, July 12, 2013

Glacier NP

One of the dangers of waiting so long to write about the Glacier NP portion of our trip is that I am starting to forget the details.  I hope that the combination of the photos, the "Day Hikes in Glacier" paper, and my birding notebook will help my memory.  Or I can treat it as a dream and make up the details as I go along, I suppose.  But really, the details did happen -- I have photographic evidence of some of them!

We drove from eastern Washington to Glacier NP (in Montana) and arrived in the evening.  However, because we were so far north (almost in Canada), the daylight lasts ridiculously late, so I was able to document the lovely view of Lake McDonald we could see from our bedroom.  (Indeed, we could walk out our back door and be on the lake.)  Unlike at Yellowstone, we also had plenty of space to spread out inside, and we even had a kitchen with a picnic table, which was convenient.

Glacier is a very different park from Yellowstone -- instead of looking at weird geothermal features, you do more typical park stuff.  In our case, this meant hiking and birding and general wildlife viewing.  There are a lot of hiking trails at Glacier.  The most iconic feature of Glacier is Going-to-the-Sun Road, which links the east and west ends of the park together.  However, we were there too early in the season and the road was closed along the highest section due to snow.  But this was OK -- there was plenty enough to do on our side of the park.

We tackled the short Trail of the Cedars (0.7 miles) and then the trail to Avalanche Lake.  The Avalanche trail was "only" 2 miles each way and gained an altitude of "only" 500 feet.  So we went before lunch (and, stupidly, without any snacks).  This was a mistake.  Factoring in the slow going of some of the climbs (which felt a bit hard anyway because we were several thousand feet higher than we're used to), as well as our frequent stops to look at/for birds, it took a long time to get to the end of the trail and see Avalanche Lake.  But we made it, and I took a photograph to commemorate the event.

One thing Glacier has that many parks do not is bears, and there are warning signs everywhere telling you beware of them.  On the return hike, my stomach started growling from hunger, and at one point, it was so loud it startled Robert briefly into thinking he heard a bear.  I had tried to alert him earlier that if he heard a growl, it was just my stomach, not a bear, but he had been ahead of me on the trail and hadn't heard me.  (It is a testament to my hunger that my growling stomach was louder than my speaking voice.)  I was feeling pretty much famished and rather done in by the time we got back.  The best birds on this hike were the Townsend's and MacGillivray's warblers.  I have no recollection of what we did for the rest of the day except we did eat at the restaurant near our room, which served an amazing huckleberry cobbler that was so good we had it twice during our trip.

The following morning, we walked along the Fish Creek/Apgar trails, which were mostly flat and hence very easy going.  One portion of this hike was along a road with houses owned by people who live inside the park (i.e., the park was established around them but they retained their own houses/land as private property within the borders of the park).  We saw a good variety of birds (nothing new).  We also encountered an extremely cooperative mule deer, who let me take his picture.

In the afternoon, we drove to a sort of remote area long a truly horrible road with the intention of hiking along Bowman Lake.  We did this for a while, but somehow got off the lakeside trail onto another, steeper trail that was narrow and bordered by poison ivy, and I just wasn't feeling it.  So we turned around and went down to a convenient bit of shoreline where we could sit on a fallen log, skip rocks into the lake, and generally relax.  I did the very best rock-skipping of my life on this lake.  Robert demonstrated his prowess by skipping some decidedly non-flat rocks.  Eventually, we got a bit crazy and started just throwing all kinds of rocks into the lake.  Handfuls of pebbles made a pleasant sound and pattern on the water, and I admit I really liked heaving the biggest rocks I could lift as far into the water as I could.  (This was the "paleo exercise" portion of my day, I suppose.)  We were definitely channeling our inner children and it was astonishingly fun.  Before we left the lake, we got some nice views of a belted kingfisher flying over the lake looking for food.

I have no idea where we went on our last day in the park but we saw a good number of birds again.  I do know that we spent much of the afternoon and evening hanging around our room doing crossword puzzles and later, sitting on the surprisingly comfortable chairs outside our door, looking at the lake -- it did have a few water birds on it, including some common loons.  We also saw some people out sailing on the lake.

At some point that day, I attempted to digiscope -- or I suppose I should say, digi-binoc -- a photo of a really cute squirrel in his hole but because I had to hold the camera against the binoculars, I was a bit shaky and the photo didn't turn out very well.  But this record would not be complete without it. 

But the best part of our evening occurred when we heard a loud bird sound from near some cabins down the lakeshore from us.  We didn't recognize it, and I just chalked it up to yet another bird that we would never identify.  But Robert was made of sterner stuff -- he went into our room and started listening to bird calls on his computer until he found it and called me in to hear it.  Yes, I said, that's the same bird.  And Robert said, It's a northern saw-whet owl.  A life bird for us.  Owls are so fricking hard to find that getting a new owl feels about like getting any 3 new songbirds.  This was the perfect capstone to our trip to Glacier NP.

On our return drive through Montana, we saw some interesting things, like a short-eared owl hunting over a field and various deer and pronghorn.  But two sightings stand out.  First, we crossed the paths of some suicidal prairie dogs on the highway.  Second, we stopped at a rest area and saw those awesome jackrabbits.  Rabbits!  The vision of these buns helped fortify me for the rest of the drive home.

The drive through North Dakota the next day was a real snooze.  The best bird of the day was a trumpeter swan.  The most disconcerting sightings were signs for Mexican restaurants that read "El Taquilas" (hello, taquilas is both feminine and plural, people) and "Del Taco Gringo" (I don't even want to think about this one too closely).

I won't say that if I never drive through the Dakotas again it will be too soon but ... man, those really are some boring states.

And this concludes our summer 2013 road trip saga.


mom said...

Once when we were visiting Jennifer and Rick when they lived in San Carlos we saw several mule deer just a few feet away from their condo. That was really weird.

Sally said...

Oh yeah, deer will come right up to people's houses...because we've basically invaded their territory and built houses on it. Jen and Rick's place is a good example of that.