Hiking in Glacier and On To Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Week of August 29, 1999

We decided to move to Chewing Blackbones RV Campground which is right on the shores of St. Mary's Lake and only 12 miles from the Canadian border. See our campsite and backdoor view here. The campground is a member of Passport America of which we are members of, and provides a 50 percent discount. For more information about Passport America, click here. The campground is named for "Chewing Blackbones", a Blackfeet warrior and leader, who owned a lodge and campground until his death in 1963 at the age of 104. The name of the tribe originates from the black color of their moccasins which occured either through painting or by prairie fires. The Blackfeet consists of three independent tribes living in this area and in Alberta, Canada, and are estimated at 14,000. We have learned a phrase or two of their language so far. "Oki napi" means hi friends, and "ok-kee" is translated to mean welcome. You can view the Glacier National Park Mountains all along the horizon, with their sharp jagged peaks. The staff are friendly, including the lazy Australian sheep dogs. We set up our DirecTV dish for the first time since being on the road. It was a piece of cake, and the signal clear. We have been too busy to even think about television.

Glacier National Park

We drove up to the town of Babb, and to Many Glacier Road, which follows Lake Sherburne into the Glacier National Park. We didn't see any wildlife, but did see rocky streams and a beautiful waterfall. In the distance you can see the remnants of ancient glaciers which formed area lakes. We came back later to hear a ranger campfire program on mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Mountain goats are especially remarkable in their adaptability to the high slopes of the mountain peaks. We found that the best views of mountain goats were along Logan Pass (on Going-to-the-Sun Road) and the Goat and Rowe Lake areas.

This guy walked past me in the park. These animals have very powerful shoulder muscles that allow them to climb to remote peaks that predators can't reach. They can pull themselves up onto a ledge level with their eyes just by using their powerful front and back legs.

They stay on these peaks throughout the year, even in winter, and feed on the vegetation that grows there. The animals sometimes appear near parking areas, and have acquired a taste for anitfreeze (for the sugar content). It does not appear to affect the animals. They have sharp black horns, and long multi-layered white coats grown to protect them during the winter months. At least 50 percent of newborns do not survive their first year due to the harsh environment on the slopes. Golden eagles have been known to prey on the young, flying by to bump them off of a cliff. Bighorn sheep inhabit the meadows in the areas below the slopes, and the mature males have large curving horns which are never shed. During the ranger discussion we examined some sheep horns and could see the age of the animal by its dark rings. They are usually viewed on the slopes of the Many Glacier Valley and the Red Rock area. During November and December, you can hear rams clash heads in order to establish mating rights of the herd. Their skull is very thick to allow this butting of heads with no brain damage. See images of them within our feature this week. By the end of October this section of the park becomes deserted for the long winter season (October through April) except for the custodian at the Many Glacier Hotel.

The next day we took the Red Rock Falls Hike at Many Glacier, which was led by a ranger. She is a school teacher during the off season, and provided us with a good overview of the Swiftcurrent Valley area along the 3 1/2 mile hike. She pointed out a grizzly on a far slope. We could just make it out without binoculars. A fire occured in the valley in the 1930s, and the park at the time re-planted numerous Ponderosa pine trees (transplanted from Yellowstone Park). She pointed out fir (with soft needles) and spruce (with sharp pronged needles) trees, and an osprey as it flew overhead. Rangers provide daily hikes in many areas of the park.
Berries are abundant at Glacier. We sampled some of the berries along the trail, which included huckleberry, serviceberry (similar in appearance to huckleberry, but with more seeds), raspberry, and thimbleberry (bright red, with sweet taste). When we were driving out we got some distant glimpses of a black bear above the road eating serviceberries.

Black bears typically live about 20 years. Grizzlies live up to 30 years. Female bears breed once every three years, and stays with her cubs during this time to teach them vital hunting skills. Cubs are born during the long winter months and grow from 17 ounces when born to 15 pounds by the time spring arrives. Black bears grow to be 3 feet tall and an average 200 pounds. Grizzlies grow to be 4 feet tall and an average 350 pounds. Within the park, black bears number about 500, grizzlies around 200. Most bears begin their hibernation period in November. During this time the bear's metabolism slows until it leaves the den in April. Grizzlies dig their den about 8 feet into a slope with their powerful claws and mass of muscles which give them their humped appearance. Black bears usually hibernate in hollow trees or use thickets as their dens. The majority of a bear's diet in the park consists of plant food (It is interesting to note that in Yellowstone National Park where we are headed next, that grizzly diets consist more of meat than plants). They are intelligent animals with a keen sense of smell and hearing (and short tempers). Bears can go about 160 feet in 3 seconds and are also good swimmers. See images in our next week section.

Going To The Sun Road

We explored some of Going-To-The-Sun Road, the main road at Glacier National Park, which has been called "the most beautiful 50 miles in the world." The narrow winding road which begins at St. Mary Lake, offers scenic views of the middle of the park and passes over the Continental Divide. We traveled through several tunnels, and could see water trickling off the sides of the towering summits. We stopped at Logan's Pass and hiked up the boardwalk path behind the Visitor Center. We spotted a mountain goat right behind the Visitor Center.

His name is MR. Goat.

The goat walked right up the path beside me and kept on walking after stopping to peer into the back window of the Visitor Center.

The males' yearly battering of their horns can be heard for miles.

We hiked a mile or so up the boardwalk (which protects the delicate tundra) where we spotted six big horn sheep rams grazing a few yards from the path. We watched them for a while until they took off over the next hill. We also spotted several more mountain goats on the hillsides. The roads are steep (completed in 1932 through mostly solid rock), so check your radiator fluid before you begin. The surrounding forest contains a variety of aspen, cedar, Douglas fir, spruce, and cottonwood trees. The temperature can change quickly and dramatically. A foot of snow fell here at the northeast corner of the park in August of 1992. There are over 730 miles of hiking trails offered in the park. Visit here for more information on Glacier National Park.

A Day In Canada

Today, we headed across the border into Canada. At the border, the patrol was more interested in Gus (our golden retriever) and his paperwork rather than any of ours. As we drove on, the land appears as open prairie with mountains as a backdrop. The first major town that we visited in Canada was Cardston. It was founded in 1887 by Mormon immigrants from Utah. The town features the Remington-Alberta Carriage Centre which contains North America's largest collection of horse-drawn carriages and buggies. A large Mormon temple (the first of its kind outside the U.S.) is located here, built in 1913. With the currency exchange differences, we found that some items were a good deal less than in the U.S. We went into Waterton Lakes National Park, which is part of an International Peace Park shared with Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Nation. The weather was quite windy and rainy.

The Prince of Wales Hotel. We drove up to see the Prince of Wales Hotel which overlooks Waterton Lake and then the town of Waterton Park. It has a European appearance and was built in the 1920s. In Waterton Park, I took several photos of a beautiful rainbow that appeared over the lake with the hotel in the distance.

A rainbow over Waterton Lake and the hotel.

For more information on Waterton Lakes National Park, be sure to visit here. We shopped around in the small town of Waterton Park, and found a good pizza place. Herds of mule deer and bighorn sheep are seen in the town on occasion, and in the winter even mountain lions. The mountain peaks around Waterton.

After looking at the scenic peaks, we drove back towards the U.S. along the Chief Mountain International Highway to Babb. Near the border, you can view Chief Mountain with its steep sides. Legend has it that an Indian warrior took a Bison head up the 9,000+ feet of the mountain as a sacrifice to the gods. Later, explorers actually found the skeleton of a bison on the mountain. The Blackfeet Indians view the mountain as sacred. While we drove on the highway, we had to be careful to avoid the free roaming cattle grazing on the sides of the road.

The next day was cold and rainy, so we watched movies and did the laundry. I picked wild huckleberries near the campground later in the day for Rhonda to use in baking. We then packed up and headed south back through Great Falls towards Yellowstone National Park in the northwest corner of Wyoming. It was a long drive at night with curvy and steep roads in places. We drove up steep grades in one section where through the thick fog we could only see about 10 feet in front of us. We arrived at Valley View Campground at Island Park, Idaho; located within 20 minutes from the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Island Park professes to have the longest Main Street in America (it's a long highway). It was a basic and affordable campground, with laundry being their primary service. We decided to stay here the next week as we explore Yellowstone, Virginia City and Grand Teton.

Yellowstone National Park

On Friday we drove into the town of West Yellowstone and looked around. It is a quaint town with wide streets and lots of old wooden buildings (and many souvenir shops). We then drove on into Yellowstone National Park at the eastern edge of town, the first national park in the country, dedicated in 1872. We were amazed at the amount of damage still evident from the fires that raged here in 1988.

Some damaged trees from the 1988 fire.

About one million acres burned in the park in the summer and fall of 1988. This was almost half of the total area of the park. There are still dead trees standing just about everywhere you look on the west side of the park. The fire did have some good effects. Small pines are shooting up around the dead trees or "snags". You can see much further across the horizon in some areas with the tall trees gone. The fire solved a pine beetle infestation in the western part of the park. There is less of a chance that fire will cause any damage in the park for the next several hundred years. Within the park, there is the largest amount of free-roaming wildlife in the lower 48 states. We spotted elk grazing along the banks of the Madison River.

Elk tend to travel in groups, unlike deer.

Gus in the backseat didn't much care for the elk. He did a "houdini" several times and was able to twist out of his halter connected to the seatbelt. He took a delight in doing this while we weren't looking.

Busy looking over his harem.

We also spotted a bull elk with a huge sixteen point rack . They are rarely this large. We were awed by the boiling, bubbling pools of water and streams with steam rising from them along the roadside. These areas give off a sulphur smell similar to rotten eggs. We viewed a beautiful waterfall along the Gibbon River.

Old Faithful spewing out steam and boiling water.

On Saturday we drove back into Yellowstone and headed towards Old Faithful (Yellowstone is huge with 370 miles of paved roads over 3,472 square miles). Along the way we stopped to see several small geysers, hot springs, boiling mud pots and fumuroles (hot springs that lack liquid water). We got to Old Faithful and waited for the next eruption. It erupts every 80 minutes, give or take 10 minutes. It used to be every 20 minutes, before the earthquake of 1959. It was impressive as it shot up over 100 feet in the air. It can expel up to 8,400 gallons of boiling water. The steam surrounding it could be seen from far away. We walked around the area after the eruption and admired several more small geysers and quite a few bubbling pools. If you visit here, be sure to also see the Morning Glory Pool which is a blue hot spring.

Bubbling hot pools near Old Faithful

Within this area of the Upper Geyser Basin is the world's largest concentration of geysers. Research on bacteria contained in these geysers has led to revolutions in science, including the discovery of DNA "fingerprinting" now used in solving crimes.

Grand Teton National Park

Next we headed south towards Grand Teton along a parkway named for John D. Rockefeller (who started purchasing land for a park back in 1926). We passed several large lakes before leaving Yellowstone (Shoshone Lake, Yellowstone Lake and Lewis Lake). We crossed the Continental Divide several times. We crossed over into Grand Teton National Park with its pristine mountains, lakes, streams and pine forests.

The Grand Teton at dusk.

The same entrance permit allows visitors to enter both parks. We drove alongside Jackson Lake for many miles. It was very beautiful with the snow-capped mountains in the background. Mount Moran (named after the painter Thomas Moran) was the tallest mountain visible across the lake with at least five glaciers around its peak. A few miles down the road we came to Jenny Lake. We could see the three Teton mountains (Grand Teton, Middle Teton, and South Teton)in a row across the lake. Grand Teton (with its Teton Glacier) is the highest peak in the park at 13,770 feet.

A bull moose watches the world go by.

We continued driving south until we spotted a moose in a meadow alongside the road. We were excited as this was the first moose we had ever seen. It was a bull moose lying in the tall grass. We could only see its head and antlers. As we watched a herd of antelope crossed the road and ran through the meadow a few yards from the moose. We continued on down and spotted a few elk grazing also. We drove out of the park and toward the town of Jackson, Wyoming. The large flat area between the mountain ranges from inside the park to the town of Jackson is known as Jackson Hole. The latter part of the name is derived from fur traders who referred to a valley as a "hole". We passed the Jackson Hole airport to the west and then the National Elk Refuge to the east. The town of Jackson was rustic and unique. There is a park in the town center with arches above the entrances made entirely of elk antlers. We passed several old saloons. After eating supper and loading up on groceries we headed back to Island Park. We crossed over Teton Pass to get there. This is a very steep road with a 10% grade. Next is a visit to the old West town of Virginia City.

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