Posted by: chlost | June 18, 2011

Soul searching

My home is on the edge of the plains.

In my backyard, the Mississippi River flows to the south. It is near its beginning, waist deep and yards wide. The current is strong in the spring. In mid-summer, it becomes the lazy river favored by song writers and authors. To the north, south and east, mostly shallow lakes dot the landscape.   Many lakes. The land of 10,000 lakes (in reality there are closer to 15,000, but who’s counting? ). There is the greatest of lakes, the superior lake to our north as well.

The prairie, however, is just a few miles to the west. This area is known as the flatlands.  As you drive to the west, into “the Dakotas”, the roads are straight, there is not a tree for miles. The horizon is laid out before you like a dinner table set to feed the world. In fact, this is the land that feeds the world. Corn, wheat, soybeans, grazing cattle and sheep line the roads on both sides.There are a few prairie potholes-small lakes that are more like large ponds-and lakes of grass. Sometimes oceans of grass.

At the western edge of North Dakota are the badlands. Beautiful in their starkness. Gorges, rocks, sandstone cut deep into the flat land. This was quite a surprise, I am sure to the people who first crossed these lands. I can almost picture them skidding to a stop just in time to avoid going over the edge.

Continuing to the west beyond the badlands stretch the even flatter, dryer, and more desolate areas of eastern Montana. Cars travel fast on narrow roads whose speed limits are set by the number of white crosses erected to mark those who have died in crashes. A metal tree sporting ten white crosses tends to lift the foot from the accelerator better than a speed limit sign ever could.

But then in  northwestern  Montana, the land changes drastically. In that little corner, straddling the Canadian border, is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Here, the Rocky Mountains shoot up from the plains with very little warning. There are just a few small foothills announcing the imminent presence of these spectacular mountains. After crossing the hundreds of miles of prairie, reaching these mountains  is like slamming into a wall.

This is a place known as Glacier National Park.

Unfortunately, the glaciers are almost gone. They have melted and receded at an alarming pace. Global warming is obvious in this place.

But the mountains remain.

Glenns Lake, Glacier National Park Photo

As do the lakes.

St. Mary's Lake, Glacier National Park, National Park Service Photo

There is more wildlife here than you can imagine. We have seen moose, elk, bears (black and grizzly), mountain sheep, mountain goats, marmots, deer, and many, many more species. Some of these come very close to the vehicles. You will often see cars lining the side of the road, binoculars pointed to the hills above or below. The occupants of approaching cars stop to search the hillsides to try to determine what wildlife has been spotted by others. If you hike in the park, you may be joined by many mountain goats. They are often on the trails or up on the mountain side looking down at you. Other animals will often be seen from the trails as you hike in the mountains.

Sullivan Meadow, National Park Service Photo

Early in the season, there are wide fields of wildflowers.

Flowers front Red Eagle Mountain National Park Service Photo

After a snowy winter, there are waterfalls almost everywhere. Some are quite large and impressive, others are smaller and calming.

Virginia Falls-National Park Service Photo

This area was very special to the Blackfeet. Chief Mountain remains a holy place for this tribe. Park visitors must have special permission to climb this mountain.

Chief Mountain, Glacier National Park-National Park Service Photo

There are several hotels, campsites and cabins in the park. These accommodations were built by the Great Northern Railroad as a way to entice visitors to take the trains west. Amtrack has a station on both the west and east side of the mountains.  The lodges were built with huge trees which still maintain the structure of the buildings. Large fireplaces provide a place to gather and chat on a cool evening.

The main road through the park is called “Going-to the-Sun Road”. It is one of the most spectacular drives in the US. There are tunnels through the mountains, hairpin curves along a mountainside with views of lush green valleys. At some points, the mountainsides are just a few feet from the edge of the road, with vertical drops of many thousands of feet. It is not for the timid driver. The park does offer a unique touring option, though. These are bright red “jammers”. These are renovated open-top vehicles which are a cross between a bus and a car. Park employees drive and provide commentary on the history and features of the park.

This is a special place for our family. My husband’s family visited the park nearly every summer during his childhood. His mother took trail rides by horseback in the 1930’s as a teenager. His aunt lived just outside the park. He and his family hiked many miles of trails, camped in the backcountry for days at a time. Our children and I have also hiked many of the trails as well.

We will be meeting our daughter and her S.O. there in July. My 15 year-old nephew will be traveling with us. He and the S.O. have never been to the park.

At this point, I am not so interested in the hiking. I am looking forward to reading the stack of books which I will be bringing on the trip while sitting on the veranda of our favorite hotel in the park. We can’t get rooms in this hotel this year as it is under construction and the limited number of rooms have been booked. But I can relax on the Many Glacier Hotel’s wide balcony with a good book, and look out over Swiftcurrent Lake and the mountains which encircle it.  The people-watching is good and I plan to enjoy a cool drink (or two).

It restores my soul.

National Park Service Photo

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Responses

  1. I went to Glacier National Park last summer with my dad, and it’s really a magical place! Thanks for posting, and bringing back memories!

    • Yes, it is magical. Glad you have good memories. Thanks for stopping in.

  2. Beautiful pictures. My parents used to visit Glacier quite frequently so I have heard much about it and seen many pictures. I’ve never been there myself, I’m more of an ocean person than a mountain person. Sounds like a wonderful vacation plan. When I head out the beginning of July for a few days I will also be taking along a book or two. I’ll get some walking in as well and perhaps a bit of jogging, but mainly I intend to sit by a lake and relax.

    • The ocean is good, too. But the quiet of the mountains has a particularly calming effect on me. Maybe it is the thin air of the high altitudes. We will have to compare reading lists. Somehow, I think they may be quite different!

  3. Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies….

    Thank you for this travelogue. You make me want to see for myself.

    • Yes, you should see it. But it is best shared with someone who loves it.

  4. First, I went to that site, it has my name wrong and the number of people that live here wrong. I’m not correcting it. Second. That place is just exquisite. I want a train ride for my birthday, and maybe that will be a good choice. We don’t have the time to go where I really want, the Smithsonian, but a beautiful park might be a good second choice.

    • I didn’t correct any of the errors, either. I think a train ride to Glacier would be perfect. If you are coming from the west, be sure to go all the way to the eastern side of the park so you go through the mountains.

  5. Northwestern Montana is definitely on my bucket list. Now I am more convinced to go. Thanks for the pictures and descriptions.

    • I hope you get there. I think it is worth being on the bucket list.

  6. Gorgeous area.

    • Yes, it is gorgeous. It makes me wonder why I live here and not there.

  7. Glorious!!!!!!! One of my favorite things about blogging is the wonderful photos all y’all post and take me to places I will never get to see. Thank you!!!

    • I love to see places on other people’s blogs, too. It makes me wish even more that I had all the time and money to travel full time.

  8. It sounds like such an awe-inspiring place and I’m so happy for you having a chance to restore your soul! (That’s the way I feel about Cape Cod…) Years ago my husband went to a seminar in Montana and he and his boss got to spend some time in Glacier National Park. He was totally blown away by the spectacular natural beauty and wants to take me there some day. After reading your post I want to go even more – and perhaps we can get there by train! Have a great, relaxing time when you go!

    • I hope you are able to get there. The train sounds like a perfect option. I wish I had seminars to attend in that part of the country!

  9. That is one beautiful corner of the world! You go ahead and restore and relax! There is not a better place to do it. Thanks again for the great visit while we were in Minneapolis. We had a great time! 🙂

    • I am so glad you enjoyed your trip. Hopefully, you have warmed yourself by the radiant heat of Texas. It is still cool and rainy here. I am starting the countdown to my vacation……only 16 days until we take off!!! Were you ready to be home at the end of your trip?

  10. When I came to this country in the early 60s I spent one month near Glacier National Park, and visited it too. It was so different from Paris for me – I loved it. I went back several years ago and had forgotten how beautiful it is. It certainly would have been an experience going on trails in the park in the 30s. Thanks for the photos, they are very beautiful. I hope you will take many when you are there in July.

    • We always take a lot of photos, but this is the first time we will visit with a digital camera (actually 2 cameras). We will probably take even more photos than usual!


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