After a wonderful few days in lovely north-west Oregon, Randy, Whitney and I flew to Great Falls on the morning of Aug. 18th. It was a short hop up to Seattle and then a quick flight to Montana. Great Falls is the city where I lived as a teen, and went to junior high school and graduated from Great Falls High (go Bison!). When I lived there, it seemed like an exciting place to grow up, but after returning now (and three years ago), I thought it seemed a rather sleepy place, where downtown closed shop around 6 o’clock. Granted, high school wasn’t in session when I was there, so perhaps it’s livelier when the kids are back in school and running around with their friends in the evening.
I stayed at the Midtown Motel, which isn’t a bad place to spend a few nights, and it’s connected to Perkins Restaurant, a good, convenient little eatery. Although the restaurant didn’t open until 7 a.m., I, early riser that I am, was able to get a pot of coffee from the check-in desk of the hotel at 5 o’clock. Nice! Though the motel and restaurant are good, the location is a bit sketchy; there are a lot of homeless people wandering around here, so walking alone at night might be something to avoid doing, though the denizens of the area seemed harmless enough. Still . . . This is the Great Falls that I never saw when I was a kid. Have the homeless always been in this part of town? This seemed very different from back then. I don’t recall ever seeing homeless folks when I lived here. Is this something new, a sign of the times? Or is it something that we overlooked way back when?
Anyway, later that evening, my brothers and Whitney and I met up with a niece and her husband and a few of their kids at a Great Falls Mexican culinary institution, El Comedor Restaurant. The restaurant has been around since 1970. Of course, the food is wonderful. Give it a try if you’re ever in Great Falls, and, especially, try one of their justifiably famous fluffy tacos.
Glacier National Park
Then, back to the motel and to bed early, because the next day, in the wee hours, we were driving north to one of my favorite places in the world, the beautiful Glacier National Park. It turned out to be a gorgeous, clear day, and the approximately three-hour drive is far from boring. If you’re in a big hurry (and you shouldn’t be), you can take I-15 up to Shelby and then go west to the park. But the best drive is north on US Highway 89, which follows the incredible Rocky Mountain Front all the way to the park.
Once in the park, it’s up, up, up to the Continental Divide on one of the world’s most spectacular roads, the Going-to-the-Sun road. There are many places along the road to stop, get out of the car, hike, take photos and just be out in the fresh air. This was the highlight of my visit to the ‘States. It always is. I backpacked here a few times back in the day, but there are many short hikes along the road. We stopped and hiked three miles or so to St. Mary Falls, a beautiful, easy excursion. Lots of folks along the trail, as there usually are in August.
We stopped again for about an hour at (packed) Logan Pass, atop the Continental Divide, then drove down the west side to McDonald Lake and Lodge, then west out of the park, and south and east around the southern boundary of this marvelous area, and then back on US 89, we returned to Great Falls. It was a long day, but well worth the effort.
The Loss of a Friend
One thing dampened this entire trip, however. I learned that I high school buddy of mine had died recently. We had kept in touch all these years and we were able to meet up every time I had returned to Great Falls. I hadn’t heard from him in some time, and, in the back of my mind, I feared the worst. And so it was. He had died of cancer a mere month or so before this trip. We were bowling buddies from a long time ago and he was also friends with my mother before she died. In high school, we worked together as pinchasers and hung out at the long defunct Skyway Bowl, but we also bowled together at other bowling centers around town. The only center remaining in Great Falls from that time is Little’s Lanes, which is just a couple of blocks from the Midtown. After returning from Glacier, I walked to Little’s and had a couple of beers, going over old memories and reflecting on the past. Many very good memories. Rest in peace, Ken Larson.
I’ll complete part 2 of this leg of my journey in another post soon, our trip to The Gates of the Mountains. More later.
Here are a few photos of the park, just a few. I took many more and perhaps I’ll put them in a gallery when I get the chance. I’ll let you know.
This was an early morning trip, but I tried to take pictures from a moving car of some of the butte-like formations along the way to Glacier Park. This was about the only successful shot. There are many of these isolated hills, including Square Butte, one of Charlie Russell’s favorite subjects.
The drive north on US 89 follows the Rocky Mountain Front the entire way. This entire area features the vast plains crashing into the Rockies to create some amazing, chaotic and awesome vistas. The several towns along the way deserve a stop, historic places like Choteau, Fairfield and Dupuyer. And don’t forget to spend some time in Browning, just outside the park, to visit the Museum of the Plains Indians.
Another view of the Rocky Mountain Front along US Highway 89 on the way to Glacier National Park (Again, from a moving car, so the quality could be better).
The southern reaches of Glacier National Park. As you get nearer to the park, the views become ever more amazing. In certain locations on the highway, the hidden mountains seem to all of a sudden spring out of the prairie.
We’re in the park now, and this is THE iconic photo in Glacier National Park, St. Mary Lake, looking toward Wild Goose Island, which is just to the right of the tall trees in the center of the photo. Also to the right, in the sky, you can see the moon. I thought that I might remove it, but no, that’s where it belongs. It’s difficult to take a bad photo here. It’s an amazing view and it represents everything that GNP is.
You’ll see these throughout the park. Heed them! I’ve never seen a grizzly on a backcountry trail, but that doesn’t mean they’re not around.
This is the main waterfall, but there are smaller ones above this, and you can climb up a short, steep trail to reach them. There were lots of people here, so getting a good shot of the falls was a bit difficult. Even though it might be crowded, it’s still worth the trek to see this beautiful cascade.
Doug, Randy and Whitney at the falls. Don’t know where my brother Bob is at–he’s probably looking for birds–that’s his hobby, a good one to have.
The view from the St. Mary Falls trail parking lot is pretty awesome, too. There are so many spectacular views to be found everywhere in the park.
This is a panoramic shot taken on the way up to Logan Pass. I stitched a couple of photos together in Lightroom to create this, trying to give a sense to how utterly beautiful the park is.
Logan Pass is quite crowded this time of year, so it was a bit of a hassle finding a parking spot. Some folks were parking farther down the Going-to-the-Sun-Road and walking back up to the pass.
Another view from Logan Pass. I’ve been here in earlier months, even early July, when very large snowbanks filled the paved parking area. Fun for the kids, and adults, too, especially if you’re from the South. Snow? In July?!!
Doug takes in the view from near the Logan Pass visitor center. There’s a nice gift shop here, so stock up on souvenirs. They take credit cards and accept donations to help improved the area.
Lots of signage at the pass. This one’s an information sign.
In addition to the straight information signs, there are several whimsical signs around. Head Bangers, for example.
Some more whimsy–Cliff Hangers. You can see a lot of these sure-footed creatures on the various trails leading out from the pass.
Beautiful Lake McDonald near the west entrance to the park, at the bottom of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. There are a lot of burned acres around the lake from wildfires in recent years. If you’ve ever seen the lake in past years with its lush forests, yes, the fires have created quite a blight on the landscape, but the area is still gorgeous.
Another park icon, the Red Jammer Buses. I’ve never been on one, but it looks like a great way to see the park, with their open tops and a driver serving double duty as a tour guide. They’re not free (I think), but they’re probably worth it.
A somewhat chopped-off Jammer info sign. Sorry, I couldn’t fit the entire sign in.
This is near the west entrance to the park. Do I look tired? I think I was a bit. Tell you what–just let me sit here for a while and come back and pick me up next year, OK?