It seemed like a pleasant, simple task. Drive through Yellowstone, spend some time enjoying the thermal features and great views on the road from Madison to West Thumb, then head to Jackson, Wyoming, to spend a few days in the autumn splendor of Grand Teton National Park. Its about a four-hour trip, but with stops it will be a bit longer. The weather is a bit iffy today. We have some snow falling, rain, even sleet, but the roads are clear. We’ll hope for the best as we begin our journey driving through the Gallatin River Canyon to the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Besides, you never know, so many times the journey is the adventure!
Schwabacher Landing is an area along the Snake River that lets us wander through the Snake’s floodplain and along the braided meanderings of the river. This area can change dramatically depending on the time of year primarily due to the amount of precipitation and snow melt. Sagebrush dominates the view along the dirt road that leads us down to the Landing, but once there, the landscape is a wonder of plant and animal life, marshes and wetlands, all indicative of a rich floodplain. Best of all, it is autumn. Today we are walking below the Teton Range not long after sunrise on a sparkling blue-sky day (I have not modified that blue sky, in case you were wondering). The beauty just takes my breath away! Let’s explore.
The remote northwest corner of Glacier National Park is a seldom visited, sparsely populated area with beautiful vistas and finger lakes that take your breath away. Today we are driving to Bowman Lake, the third largest lake in Glacier behind Lake McDonald and
St. Mary Lake respectively. We’ll be taking a walk along the northern shore. I have found, however, that the journey to the hike can be just as marvelous as the hike itself. I think you’ll agree today.
After our beautiful drive up the eastern side of Going-to-the-Sun Road, it is time to travel down the western side to Lake McDonald and West Glacier. We begin our journey at Logan Pass, mile 18.1 west of the East Entrance.
Mile 18.4–Oberlin Bend is a sharp turn that will begin our decent almost 3,500 feet to Lake McDonald near the West Entrance of Glacier National Park. Let’s park and walk up to the falls on Oberlin Creek. Well, the falls are just on the other side of the road, but as the clouds drop we can’t even see the falls. Everyone is leaving so let’s head to the car and wait to see if the clouds clear. Great! Five minutes and the clouds disappear. We now have the place to ourselves so let’s walk up and try for this picture again.
After breakfast, with a great mountain view at St. Mary Lodge, it is time to head to Logan Pass for a short hike to Hidden Lake. It is 8am and looks a bit cloudy, but we’ll hope for the best as we drive just over 18 miles up Going-to-the-Sun Road from the eastern side of Glacier National Park. We’ll be climbing over 2,100 feet and the views will be gorgeous!
Mile 2.2–Singleshot Mountain rises above Two Dog Flats, where the prairie meets the mountains offering a rich and diverse ecosystem.
The Whitebark Pine, a foundation species, a keystone species, is dying in great numbers across the mountain west, which includes Yellowstone.
I stand tall, proud, ancient. Overlooking the beautiful valley, the Caldera, and the mountains. Through wind, snow, ice, and rain–I stand tall. My brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles are not doing well. It is getting too hot and we have no defense against the diseases and insects that thrive in warmth. We love frigid weather, standing high above the tree line, loving the windswept mountainsides; some of us only 16 feet tall, others 66 feet tall, and our seasoned relatives are over a 1,000 years old. Regardless of size or age, we all stand guard on the mountainsides, using our shade to keep snow hard and in place until it can gently melt filling your rivers and streams. Stabilizing the soil around us which allows other plants and trees to live in our community. Feeding and giving protection to many animal and bird friends, as well as being nurseries for Lodgepole pines, Englemann spruce, and Subalpine firs. It is becoming too warm and staying warm for too long each season–I’m weakening and many of us are dying. I’m very worried–what will happen if we can no longer stand guard?
We do our jobs for humans quietly, consistently, and proudly. Humans must now do their job to save us–the dangers are real and getting worse! In the meantime, I stand tall, proud–and hopeful.
Let’s take a closer look at the amazing importance and struggle of the whitebark pine.
Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, became famous for its supernatural landscapes of geysers, boiling mud, brilliant-colored hot springs, and amazing geological formations. Journalists as far away as New York talked of America’s Wonderland and every sort of person, rich or those of modest means, from America to Europe, became interested in one of America’s most spectacular places.
The Northern Pacific Railroad, looking to expand their tourism trade, began service to Yellowstone in 1883. In their effort to entice people to the park, they produced two brochures called Alice’s Adventures in the New Wonderland. Written as if by a grown-up Alice to her friend, Edith, she explains the marvelous sights, a bit of history, and beautiful scenery as she travels by railroad from Chicago to Yellowstone.
Today we are still awed by the beauty of this wild Wonderland, but in August we have a different kind of wild experience: Fires and Smoke.
Driving north up Montana Highway 83 we see the Swan Mountains on the right and the Mission Mountains to the left. Gorgeous scenery as we drive up the Swan Valley. There is a hike that has been on my mind for two years and today, finally, I will make it to Lower Cold Lake. Look, there’s Swan Mountain, the rocky peak between the tree-covered mountains. It is the second highest peak in the Swan Range at 9,289 feet and it even has glaciers, but today we hike in the Mission Mountains. It’s only a little further to US Forest Service road #903 which begins our climb to the Cold Lakes’ trailhead. It’s a beautiful day and I’m sure you’ll enjoy this hike with me!
What a great idea. We have the maps and a free day, so leaving at 5am we journey three hours east to the unique Pryor Mountains. They are very different from what we expect in Montana that boasts of the Rocky Mountains in the west and the Great Plains in the east. Rather than the glacier-carved granite of the Rockies, such as the Beartooth range only 40 miles west, here we have an island of sandstone and shale mountains reaching up from the prairie high enough to including spectacular limestone canyons. The Pryors are not only geologically unique, but culturally, ecologically, and meteorologically as well. What an unexpected and beautiful landscape! Continue driving with us . . .
There is one thing about mountain goats; they really blend into their surroundings. Considering they were about 10 yards off the road down a slight slope with a nearby parking area, it didn’t seem possible that no one saw them, but no one stopped. I don’t think people knew what we were photographing so intently as they drove by. We loved it!
Glacier National Park is a gorgeous and amazing testament to the glaciers that covered the area for thousands of years with ice up to a mile deep. All that moving, melting, and re-melting ice formed this northern section of the Rocky Mountains. A carved masterpiece of U-shaped valleys, hanging valleys, cirques and tarns, paternoster lakes, and moraines. So let’s walk a little over two miles to see a glacier-formed valley which is the home of Avalanche Lake. I know it is uphill all the way, but we just have to go. Come on!
Is there any better way to spend the July 4th weekend than taking a photo seminar at Lamar Buffalo Ranch? Hint: the answer is NO! Bison walking around the cabins, badgers visiting, Pronghorn and even moose wandering through the valley, and a short walk into the mountains for flowers and quiet.
Wait a minute, it is July 4th. We are missing the fireworks, the ooo’s and aaaah’s, the smiles on everyone’s face. So as the sun begins to set, looking west we have an amazing golden evening. Not fireworks, but beautiful. The clouds begin to cover the sun that we will not see again today except for it highlighting the clouds and offering orange along the horizon.
In Yellowstone it is always a good idea to turn around. There might be something big coming your way, but more often there is a beautiful sight you just couldn’t see from the other direction. Right now is no exception. The storms are coming in from the east, and as the golden sun hits the storm clouds–we have our “fireworks”!
Don’t forget to slow down and look behind you! Until next time . . .