A park formerly known as Glacier
Sunday morning, my husband and I scrubbed 2,300 miles of dead bugs off every forward facing surface of our little Dutchmen motorhome. It’s amazing how such little things that you don’t even notice can add up to make quite a mess.
Our latest trip took us north through new and old territory. Yellowstone – still the best for viewing wildlife, still recovering from the 1988 fire. Grand Tetons – an old favorite, since our first visit in 1974. And Glacier National Park in Montana – someplace new and a new favorite.
The stark, beautiful contrast between the vast green valleys, the blue lakes and the rugged, snow-capped Rocky Mountains were simply breathtaking. The rivers and streams are a milky aqua because of the suspended superfine silt called “glacial flour” and the way it reflects the light. The lakes are mirrors, so each mountain becomes two. Each photograph is postcard worthy.
Every day, every bend in the road brought a mountain vista or endless green plain more stunning than before. I’d think, “It doesn’t get any better than this; it couldn’t.” Then, it did.
Much to our disappointment though, part of Glacier National Park’s famous “Going to the Sun Road” was closed for repairs during our visit. It is now open, according to the park’s Web site, http://www.nps.gov/glac/. Twisting and treacherous, the white-knuckle east-west route is limited to vehicles less than 21 feet in length – so no motorhomes. And they mean it. We borrowed a car from friends (thanks Colter and Paul), but a new free shuttle debuted after we left. In addition, the celebrated open-topped red tour buses are up and running. Ford recently rebuilt the fleet of antique buses, which are now both safe and eco-friendly.
On our first full day in the park, we toured the wetter west side, which gave us spectacular views of a timber-covered landscape shaped by glaciers, including waterfalls, broad glacier-carved valleys and a winding river way below.
Later that day, as we drove toward remote Bowman Lake, we approached the town of Polebridge, Mont. “Town” may be a bit generous; perhaps “settlement” is more accurate. Polebridge sits on the northwest edge of the park, 22 miles from the Canadian border, on a dirt road that you think goes nowhere. The town has no electricity, totally off the grid. We’d heard about a bakery though and it was getting close to lunchtime.
The Polebridge Mercantile offers an array of fresh-baked pastries and bread to rival a downtown bakery anywhere. And hot sandwiches, similar to Welsh pasties, with a wide variety of interesting fillings. My choice for lunch that day? Thick-cut turkey, cranberry sauce and cream cheese. If your mouth isn’t watering, well, check your pulse.
There are also some great lodges within the park, including Glacier Park Lodge and Lake McDonald Lodge. Our favorite, though, was the Many Glacier Hotel, which sits right on the shores of picturesque Swiftcurrent Lake. Built in 1915 by the Great Northern Railroad and modeled on a Swiss chalet, it’s one of those grand old National Park Lodges. See for yourself at http://www.nationalparkreservations.com/glacier. We didn’t stay, but did eat lunch in the cozy Tyrolean-themed bar.
But we were here to see glaciers. Where were they? Most are only visible from hiking trails, but the drier east side of the Sun Road allowed us to glimpse the remnants of Jackson Glacier from the road. Nonetheless, glaciers are getting harder to find and distinguish from snow-pack. These slow-moving rivers of ice, relics of the last ice age 10,000 years ago, are disappearing. Tree-ring studies show glaciers have been shrinking since 1860 when there were 150 in the park. The rate of melting has increased since the 1980s and now there are only about three dozen remaining. Jeffrey S. Kargel, a scientist who studies glaciers worldwide, says the few left in the park are only “technically glaciers”‘ because “they are so minuscule.”
Dwindling glaciers have become the poster children for global warming. Photographs documenting their decline have become part of the mounting evidence of global warming. Go to http://www.livescience.com and search “Glacier National Park” to see dramatic before and after images of the glaciers. Scientists predict that at this rate the park could be glacier-free by the year 2030.
Like those bugs I mentioned earlier, little things that you don’t even notice, build up after a while – like the evidence for global warming or the things we can all do to help save our planet. Buying those funny looking light bulbs, washing laundry in cold water, setting our thermostats two degrees warmer in summer and two degrees cooler in winter are little things sure, but they add up. They might even add up to our grandchildren seeing actual glaciers in Glacier National Park. What a thought.
• Fresh Ideas: Personal perspectives on timely and timeless issues. Lorie Schaefer is enjoying her first month of retirement.