Posted by: bkivey | 26 September 2012

Glacier National Park Pt. 2

23 September 2012

Glacier National Park today! Started early and drove east on Montana 40 to Columbia Falls for breakfast. Along the way, I caught the Sun climbing over the mountains .

The red color was caused by the substantial amounts of smoke from wildfires throughout the West. I knew that this would have a substantial impact on viewing conditions, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that.

As far as I could tell, there aren’t any actual falls in Columbia Falls. There was  a diner to eat in. My steak was a little undercooked, so the server knocked $3 off the tab. That was nice of her.

Turned onto US 2 for West Glacier, and started to get into the mountains. I saw a sign for the Hungry Horse Dam, and since it was only 4 miles off the road, I thought, why not?. A short drive later, there was the dam, 540 feet of civil engineering in the middle of the wilderness.

Back on the road to Glacier, US 2 follows the Flathead River north, and there are abundant amounts of scenery along the way.

The entrance fee for Glacier National Park is $25 for a seven day pass. I’d only planned to spend a day here, but the seven day time frame would prove to be fortuitous. The entrance is where I found out the National Park Service had closed the middle third of  Going-to-the-Sun highway for maintenance. Uh-oh. This was most definitely not in the plans. There aren’t a lot of roads in the Park, so to see the east side of the highway would mean driving around the southern half of the park and entering from the east at St. Mary. Well, nothing for it. I decided to go ahead and drive up the road as far as I could, then make the drive east.

The first main feature in the park on the west side is Lake McDonald. Filling a glacial valley, the lake is about 10 miles long and nearly 500 feet deep. The road parallels the lake for it’s length before heading up into the mountains. Near the head of the lake is McDonald Falls. A view of the lake looking southwest. You can see how much the smoke obscures the view.

The falls proper.

There’s an overlook for viewing.

With this sign. I wouldn’t have guessed that drowning was the #1 cause of death in the park. I would have ranked falls (off mountains) and bear attack 1 -2. Who knew? I’ll note here that bears are a Big Deal in the park and in this part of the state. All of the trash containers in the park are bear-proof, and there are signs at every trail head and rest area warning of bears. Given the time of year, and knowing that bears were in the last stages of preparing for hibernation, I was not at all tempted to go wandering off into the woods.

I met a gentleman on the overlook, and we talked a bit about the road closure.  We were both of the mind that we were here, so we may as well suck it up and make the best of it.

A bit further up the road is is Avalanche Creek, and this is where the road was closed on the west side. There is some scenery here.

I thought that the way the rocks had eroded pointing upstream was interesting.

One of the Park’s red tour buses. The top folds back to for an open-air experience.

Shortly after taking this photo, my camera battery died. I realized that I’d been careful to pack chargers for all of my electronics, except, for the camera. This was bad, very bad. Taking photos was a major part of the experience, which meant the camera battery was on the critical path, and I’d forgotten to bring the charger. It was Sunday, the camera shop at the park entrance was closed, and this part of the country isn’t densely populated. The only things I had was a credit card and a single-minded determination to procure a functioning camera.

I figured my options were:

  • Best case – there would be a camera shop in Whitefish with the charger I needed. I’d seen enough of Whitefish to know that this was unlikely.
  • There might be a camera store open in Kalispell, but, like I said, it was Sunday.
  • Knowing that Kalispell had every chain store known to man, I figured that there would be a Best Buy. My only reservation was knowing the way Best Buy likes to operate, I’d have to buy some overpriced, overfunctioned device.
  • There might be a pawn shop open in Kalispell where I could by a point-and-shoot camera. It wouldn’t be as good as my dSLR, but it would be better than nothing, which is what I had.

The only really viable options came down to Kalispell, 40 miles away. It was around 1100, and it would take a couple of hours to go to Kalispell, buy a charger or camera, and return. It would take an hour to charge the battery. I’d seen as much of Going-to-the-Sun as I could on the west side, so any additional sight-seeing would mean driving the 70 miles from West Glacier to the eastern entrance at St. Mary. I knew there would be photo ops on the way, so another two hours to get there. I couldn’t see getting to St. Mary before 1600, leaving maybe 1 1/2 hours before the sun went behind the mountains. I wouldn’t be seeing anymore of the park today.

I drove back to Whitefish so I could do some research on the hotel computer. I made a conscious decision not to bring my laptop, because, vacation. I found that:

  • No camera shops in Whitefish.
  • No camera shops (!) in Kalispell.
  • There was a Best Buy.
  • There were at least three pawn shops open.

The Best Buy experience went according to supposition: $40 for a charger that would charge batteries for a dozen different cameras and would operate on 120V and 220V. It was the only one they had. I only hesitated a little bit.

Went back to the hotel and plugged the charger in while I went to the bar for food and football. Given that the Glacier experience was a wash, I went poking around town. Whitefish has public beach on the south shore of Whitefish Lake.

Seeing that Whitefish is a railroad town, I had to get some train pictures. Here a remote control locomotive does some switching. A guy with a control box hung around his neck runs the locomotives from the ground.

Out on US 93 south of town there’s the Cowboy Church. Service is Sunday at 5:59 PM. Says so right on the sign.

Back into town for beer, food, and football. So ended Day Two in Whitefish.

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