It is a testament to the immense importance of Glacier National Park as a keystone habitat for the northern Rocky Mountains (the storied Yellowstone to Yukon ecosystem) that in six days, our IDed species list bested the previous record set by our three-week honeymoon in Alaska.
At Glacier National Park, we saw a record 110 identifiable species of animals and plants.
On Sunday, August 5, Angela’s birthday and our final full day at Glacier National Park, we woke early to be on the road by 7. Angela’s birthday hike for 2018 would be the 3.8-mile (one-way) hike up to Grinnell Glacier, a favorite of all of our Glacier-loving companions. Our day’s adventure would also involve four boat rides on two lakes, because that’s what all the fanciest people have done in Glacier for over one hundred years.
On Saturday, August 4, we decided to do the wooded hike to Florence Falls, 4.6 miles from the trailhead at Jackson Glacier Overlook on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Our hikes the previous two days had been up in the alpine heights, and the following day we’d be hiking to a glacier, so a hike through a valley to a waterfall was perfect for seeing another side of Glacier National Park.
After our morning hike at Hidden Lake on Friday, August 3, we spent the afternoon running errands in anticipation of “Prosecco Hour,” which is that hour when you drink Prosecco in your campsite. But when running errands is as scenic as going to the Many Glacier section of Glacier National Park, you certainly don’t mind.
As we had the previous morning, we woke early on Friday, August 3. Our goal was to return early to Logan Pass to do the short hike to Hidden Lake Overlook and hopefully see some Mountain Goats and other wildlife. Then in the afternoon we’d go over to Many Glacier and reserve boat tickets for a hike over the weekend.
The Highline Trail along Glacier National Park’s Garden Wall is one of the great hikes in the entire National Park system. It is simultaneously splendor-drenched and intimate. As gorgeous a view as you can find anywhere unfolds around you while up close, a delicate micro-habitat is home to bouquets of wildflowers. It is the extreme of expansiveness and quiet. It is also terrifying for someone, like me, who is afraid of heights.
Nevertheless, Sean’s and my first full day in Glacier, Thursday, August 2, was spent on the Highline with friends who return to it like a pilgrimage to a holy site.
Mount Gould (left), Bishops Cap (center), and Pollock Mountain (right), along the Garden Wall
On July 31, a Tuesday, our journey to Montana began with a 5:20pm flight from O’Hare to…Seattle. Then we’d continue on to Great Falls. Sean and I both worked from home until it was time to head to the airport. And we both were stressed tying up some final things before the trip. Our stress continued on the way to the airport in a Lyft. Traffic was extremely heavy, and we’d left later than we’d wanted to because of work stuff.
Glacier National Park was established by Congress on May 11, 1910 with the enabling legislation signed by President William Howard Taft. The Park protects over a million acres of the northern Rocky Mountains along the Continental Divide in northwestern Montana. It was the tenth most visited National Park in 2017 with over 3.3 million visitors.
For years Glacier National Park has been writ large in Sean’s and my minds because it is so beloved of our friends Angela and Dan, fellow National Park enthusiasts who have visited the Park many times, often at the conclusion of long summer road trips. (They are both Chicago Public Schools teachers.) During the long Chicago winter, the four of us were part of a Wednesday night Skeeball league at a local brewery. Over the course of our weekly hanging out and playing (often terribly), the subject rose of our joining them at Glacier in the summer of 2018. We knew that we were going to California in July for Andrew’s wedding and that my birthday trip was coming in November, so an August trip to Glacier might work out quite nicely.
Refreshed by our lunch, we discussed what to do next. It was Thursday, September 11. We had an afternoon and a morning left in the South Unit before heading to the North Unit the following afternoon. We also wanted to see Elkhorn Ranch. We decided to save the ranch for the next day, planning to visit it on the way to the North Unit. For the afternoon, we’d hike to the park’s petrified forest out in the western portion of the South Unit.
We stopped at the C-Store. Virtually every time we were in Medora we stopped at the C-Store. I believe that this was the time we discovered Dot’s Pretzels, locally made seasoned pretzel rods. The fellow who works at the C-Store who is originally from Eugene, Oregon, recommended them to us.
To get to the petrified forest, we would have to hike through the South Unit’s designated wilderness. We had two options: ford the Little Missouri River at the campground and climb the bluffs or drive out of the park and into the Little Missouri National Grassland, starting the hike at the park’s western boundary. Since the Little Missouri was obviously high, there was really no choice.
Prairie Sunflowers, Cedar Pass area, Badlands National Park
With the exception of a lovely long weekend in Florida in March with my parents, by Labor Day 2014 Sean and I had not taken a real vacation in 2014. This was due both to the whims and vagaries of his firm and that the summer months are busy at Openlands. (For comparison, by Labor Day 2013, we’d already visited the Virgin Islands, California, and Florida and had driven around the whole of Lake Michigan.) It was past time for a vacation. It was time to sleep in a tent.
We decided upon a trip to the Dakotas (and Wyoming). We’d hit three parks: Badlands, Wind Cave, and Theodore Roosevelt, plus three monuments.