Glacier National Park

Glacier SM10-721

A year ago to this very day I was departing from Glacier National Park in Montana. Arriving the day before Labor Day, I stayed until the following Sunday morning, including three days at Many Glacier. I regard Glacier as the most scenic National Park in the United States. While it doesn’t have the granite carved monoliths of Yosemite or giddy elevation of Grand Tetons or Rocky Mountain National Park, it nonetheless features a number of massive mountains of its own in shapes and colors that one doesn’t find anywhere else (except in the Canadian Rockies), looming over massive, gleaming lakes, lapping against odd-shaped peaks:

The sheer variety of the scenery is what makes Glacier special. No National Park that I’ve ever visited contains so much range. Yosemite is spectacular, but it’s all spectacular in the gray granite kind of way. Zion is spectacular, but in a red, pink, and white sandstone kind of way. Bryce Canyon is spectacular, but in hoodoo kind of way. But with Glacier, you not only get the steep mountains, massive canyons, lakes and waterfalls that one finds elsewhere; you get a variety of rich, piquant colors that other scenic locales in the lower 48 can’t quite match. From Two Medicine Lake:

—to McDonald Lake:

—to Swiftcurrent Lake:

—to Swiftcurrent Creek:

—to St. Mary Lake:

—to Baring Falls:

—to St. Mary’s Falls:

—to Avalanche Gorge:

—to No Name Lake:

—to Wild Goose Island Overlook:

The scenery in glacier is unique and spellbinding. Glacier, however, is one of the most problematic weather areas in the country, as it just happens to exist at the very point where moist Pacific storms often run head on to cold masses of arctic air sneaking across the border from Canada. It’s often cloudy and/or windy, particularly on the eastern side of the park, where the lion’s share of the most spectacular scenery resides. It was mostly cloudy the entire week I was there; it even rained from dusk to dawn one day; and it blew like crazy on three remaining days. While it would have been nice to have a tad more sun, the clouds were preferably to straight sunshine, as they added drama to the scenery. The wind was fairly unpleasant, but there are places, nestled in deep canyons, where the wind abates, and one escapes the full blasts of 40 mph gusts. On the day before Labor Day, when I arrived at Glacier, it was snowing at the higher elevations; and at East Glacier, where I stayed for the night, I woke to find a sheet of ice attached to my wind shield.

Curiously, the weather has been conventionally “good” the past week at Glacier, with blue skies and a minimum of wind accompanied with mild temperatures. While a minimum of wind is always welcome anywhere you go, Glacier is at its best with sun lighting upon dark, looming clouds.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in my Glacier trip was a lack of wildlife. Glacier is rich with critters; and with the mostly cloudy weather providing a wonderful softbox affect on the wretched sun, it would have been a great time to photograph wildlife, if only the wildlife had been willing to cooperate. Unfortunately, most of the wildlife was only fleetingly seen. I did see a mama grizzly and her cub just outside the park, crossing the road right in front of me as I drove toward Two Medicine Lake. The she-bear looked back at me as I drove passed, then took off (she clearly didn’t want anything to do with me). I saw a few female moose and female big horn sheep, but didn’t get very good shots of them: