Glacier National Park and the Northern Rockies

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Summer vacation began and ended with vegan pizza.  Specifically, vegan pizza at Allie’s Vegan Pizza in Spokane, Washington.  Even though it sounds weird, the mac and cheese pizza was fantastic, especially when dipped in ranch.  After a late arrival, our first real day of vacation included lots of driving, fueled with breakfast by Casual Friday Donuts, which has a plentiful selection of vegan donuts.  Happily full of maple bars and chocolate frosting, we aimed for the first National Park Site of our trip – Nez Perce National Historical Park.  Commemorating their culture as well as the flight of the Nez Perce from the U.S. Army during the Nez Perce War of 1877, this site is spread over many miles.  I’ve been curious to visit this site after reading, and teaching, the speeches, letters, and history of the Nez Perce, especially Chief Joseph.  We spent time at the visitor center in Spalding, Idaho and followed the Nez Perce National Historic Trail as we drove east, stopping at a canoe camp and “The Heart of the Monster” a site of cultural significance, where I scared a rattlesnake and we listened to a recorded story from a speaker.  We also stopped at Lolo Pass – which Anthony is very familiar with due to work.  Leaving our home mountains, the Appalachians, to visit these western mountains is a great change of scenery.  The Appalachians are worn down, green, and rounded.  The hills and fields we drove through from Spokane to Missoula (our stop for the night), were variously yellowed and then pine scented as we rose to higher elevations.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

After a night in Missoula, especially poignant for me after just finishing Jon Krakauer’s Missoula, we drove on to Glacier National Park.  We have both wanted to visit Glacier for years.  Anthony has spent many days working on fires near the park, but has never had a chance to step inside.  I have dreamed of coming here after reading hiking stories in Backpacker and various other outdoor publications.  My parents also wanted to plan a trip here, so while we camped, they stayed in hotels near the park.  We began our week long visit on the west side of the park.  After setting up camp at Apgar Campground, which has nice, semi-private spots, we met up with my parents for a short hike along the shore of Lake McDonald.  Our first view of the lake was mind bogglingly beautiful.  Calm waters, lush woods, and pointy peaks in the distance.  We managed to collect some of our park stamps as well, and enjoyed watching the light change over the lake as the sun set.  

The next day, Anthony and I set out to hike to Avalanche Lake.  A moderately strenuous hike of about six miles, the end view is amazingly tranquil and yet wild at the same time.  A popular hike, we shared the trail with many others, but were still able to enjoy the peaceful nature of the lake and the multiple waterfalls cascading down from Sperry Glacier.  That afternoon, we drove through storm clouds and wind to Bowman Lake.  Following mostly dirt roads all the way, we were on a quest for another passport stamp.  

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

After two nights at West Glacier we made our way to Saint Mary via the infamous Going-To-The-Sun Road.  I was driving, and constantly pulled over to marvel at the views.  Truly stunning, the road is also an amazing feat of engineering.  These views made us eager to come back someday to backpack more remote areas of the park, since we didn’t have enough time to do so on this trip.  After visiting with some mountain goats at Logan Pass (they were right on the side of the road and Anthony got amazing pictures out of the car window), we descended to the Saint Mary campground where our already reserved spot seemed to be the most exposed in the campground.  Many sites were privately tucked back, but ours butted right up with another site and offered much less space than many others.  I suppose we can’t complain too much, since we had to reserve so far ahead of time and this was the only space left!  Also, Glacier only charges half price for pass holders – which was a nice perk.  We spent the rest of the day meeting up with my parents again and driving down to the Two Medicine area of the park.  There we collected our stamp and hiked a short distance to the lake and then to Running Eagle Falls.  This waterfall cascades, in high water, from above and then within a cave.  Since we were there later in the summer, the water was only coming from inside the cave – which was really neat to see.  Dinner was at Serrano’s, a Mexican joint in East Glacier Park.  Awesomely, they had tofu specials on the menu and we ate happily alongside my parents.  

The following morning, we hopped in the car again and drove to Many Glacier.  First collecting our stamp, we then picked up our boat tour which motored us across Swiftcurrent Lake and then Lake Josephine.  Beautiful, foggy views greeted us as we managed to dodge most of the rain.  After lunch in the lodge, we headed back to the Saint Mary area and Anthony and I hiked to yet another waterfall – Saint Mary Falls.  The turquoise water rushing over the small falls was beautiful, though we hiked through increasingly intense thunder, lightening, and rain to get back to the car.

Waterton National Park

Waterton National Park

Our next foray took us up into Alberta, Canada to visit Waterton Park, which is attached to Glacier National Park as an International Peace Park.  We were again plagued by rain, but still managed to see everything we could drive to in the park, and explore the little town within.  On our way to Cameron Lake (stunning in its own right), we saw a Grizzly bear!  The bear ran in front of the car (much happier to see it from the car than while out hiking), and proceeded to dig around in the dirt for a while on the side of the road.  We also made it out to Red Rock Canyon, though again rain kept us from enjoying it for too long.  

We said goodbye to my parents, the cooler Glacier weather, and long days in order to head south into Idaho.  We had two more stops in Montana first though.  Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site commemorates cattle and the people who created this industry in the west.  Much warmer weather greeted us as we walked around the site, peering into barns and watching a blacksmith demonstrate her skills.  We also sampled cowboy coffee and viewed many photographs detailing the history of the ranch.  We finished our day by driving to Butte, whose mining history fascinated me.  Many of the mining buildings are still standing and there are various memorials to those killed in mining accidents around the city.  

We began our next morning early at The Hummingbird Cafe where we were able to have a tasty vegan breakfast of potatoes, tofu scramble, vegan sausage, and toast with fresh made jam.  Great way to start the day!  Big Hole National Battlefield was our first NPS site of the day.  The visitors center included a sad yet realistic depiction of the battle and the history of the Nez Perce.  Continuing the path we began a week before, we learned more about the men and women on both sides of the Nez Perce War.  After the film, we drove down the battlefield and walked around the beautiful Big Hole River near the battlefield.  The past echoes in the sunshine, waving grasses, and whispering water.  

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Later in the day, we made it to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.  Very hot, especially with the sun reflecting off of the volcanic rock, we still managed to fit in a few short hikes through the landscape.  There were many others outside enjoying the park as well, and the visitors center was packed.  We hiked along the North Crater Flow Trail, up Inferno Cone, and to several caves that we were able to hike through.  It was much cooler underground!  The landscape is rugged and stark in comparison to the yellow hills surrounding it.

Since we stayed in Twin Falls, Idaho for a couple of nights, the next morning I woke up early and went for a run along the Snake River Canyon.  I kept stopping to admire the views along the pedestrian path the city has built along the rim.  I always appreciate a city that has a great running path!  Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and Minidoka National Historic Site share a visitors center, so we went there before we visited either park.  At Hagerman, we walked around a little, seeing part of the Oregon Trail – you can still see the wagon tracks!! – and the hills where the fossils have been recovered.  The most famous fossil recovered is the Hagerman Horse, among 200 other species of plants and animals found.  Minidoka preserves a troubling time in American history, when the government moved people of Japanese 

Snake River Canyon

Snake River Canyon

ancestry to internment camps during World War II.  Part of the property has been preserved, as well as a few old buildings.  Most of the land was actually turned over to returning soldiers as homesteads after the war ended, but the National Park Service has saved enough space that we were able to follow about a mile long trail detailing where some of the buildings were.  Signs also offered historical data about the site while 13,000 internees were forcibly living there.  Quiet now, we were the only ones wandering around.  We baked in the sun as we observed the site and tried to imagine ourselves in the shoes of those interned here for years.  By the end of the war, the internees had changed the landscape into viable farmland and were producing most of their own food.  Asked to leave, many wanted to stay after becoming attached to the land, and knowing they had nothing to return to.  We took an evening visit to Shoshone Falls, driving down into the canyon in order to stand close to the huge falls.  

Our last stop of our vacation out west was City of Rocks National Reserve.  Mostly a haven for rock climbers, we drove through the park and stopped to admire the strange rock formations, meandering through some of them and watching climbers off in the distance.  A quiet spot, we felt very secluded, a nice conclusion to our time out west.  

We spent the night in Boise, Idaho and had a fantastic dinner at BBQ4LIFE, a restaurant with both vegan and traditional BBQ.  Dinner, and dessert, were seriously amazing.  We stuffed ourselves.  The next day, we stopped in Grangeville, Idaho to visit friends Anthony knows from working in fire, and then continued on our way to Spokane, vegan pizza, and our flight to Connecticut.  Before driving from Connecticut back to Asheville, we attended a cousin’s wedding in Rhode Island (on our wedding anniversary!), and visited Anthony’s stepfather at Sloan Kettering Hospital in NYC.  Undergoing treatment for cancer, Allen is bravely facing a long recovery from the removal of a tumor in his shoulder.  After a long day of driving, we arrived safely back home to enjoy the rest of our summer.

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