Scenes from Glacier National Park (2004)

Twenty-four hours is not enough to do justice to Glacier National Park in Montana, but even in that short time I gained an appreciation for the wonders of this wilderness along the Canadian border. Soaring mountains, rushing waters, flora and fauna compete for your attention in this 35-image set.
Soaring Clouds Over Lake McDonald  Our visit to Glacier National Park began with probably the most important "must do" of any visit: driving Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of the most spectacular mountain highways in the United States. Our first stop was Lake McDonald, an oblong body of water whose southern shore hugs the westernmost several miles of the road. The beautiful rocks and calm water were a joy for our children, while the soaring clouds portended storms we'd dodge for the rest of the day. Lake McDonald Kaleidoscope  A close-up view of some of the incredibly beautiful rocks in the shallow water near the shore of Lake McDonald. We saw countless shades of yellows, oranges, greens, red and purples, and the entire lake bed was like this. Can you imagine mile after endless mile of such pretty rocks? Some of the stones were even many colors at once -- look in the lower left corner of this image, and you can see a single rock with cream, pink and beige bands. Small McDonald Creek Fall  McDonald Creek feeds McDonald Lake (convenient), the rushing stream paralleling much of the western half of Going-to-the-Sun Road above the lake. Naturally there are many falls and cascades due to the changes in elevation, including this short but pretty one. McDonald Creek  A pretty view, looking east, of the rushing green waters of McDonald Creek. This sunlit image is deceptive; it was taken mere moments before we were hit with a torrential downpour -- typical summer weather in the Rocky Mountains. Trail of the Cedars  This scene is definitely not one I had expected to find at Glacier National Park: a thick grove of cedar trees with incredibly luxuriant undergrowth. In fact, this wonderful, fragrant forest and the wooden path that meandered through it made me feel like I was in a coastal redwood forest like Muir Woods, not near the continental divide in the Rockies!  My understanding is that it is the position of this area on the western slope of the divide that leads to the moist conditions that permit the forest to flourish. Whatever the reason, it was wonderful to walk through. Devil's Club Along the Cedar Trail  Devil's Club is both a famous and infamous plant: it is poisonous but has been used for medicinal purposes in the past. It grows in abundance along the Trail of the Cedars.
Dripping Water, Ferns and Moss  This capture gives you an idea of the lushness of this cedar forest. To really appreciate it, though, you'd need to be able to see and hear the water dripping down the rock faces feeding the mosses, and smell the fresh, moist air. Avalanche Creek Cascade  Avalanche Creek intersects McDonald Creek near the Trail of the Cedars area of Glacier National Park. In late June, it was still roaring with the spring thaw that continues well into July. Into the Sun  As we began the main part of our late afternoon ascent on Going-to-the-Sun Road, the scenery became more and more spectacular. This image was taken looking back into the sun behind us, facing southwest, with McDonald Creek far below the snow-capped peaks of the Livingston Range. Late Afternoon Sun on the Garden Wall  This shot was taken very shortly after the preceding one, only looking in the opposite direction. It shows part of the Continental Divide section called The Garden Wall, which runs through the heart of Glacier National Park. In fact, part of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is in this image, though you can't see it from this distance -- it is carved right into the edge of the mountains that dominate the left-center of the image. You can see a sizable seasonal waterfall descending from the cirque on the far left. Waterfalls Galore  Combine tall mountains, wide valleys, Pacific moisture and spring thaw, and what you get is a whole lot of waterfalls! As we drove along the road we saw hundreds of cascades, large and small. Mountain Goat Near Logan Pass  We found this fellow at a rest stop close to the top of Going-to-the-Sun Road at Logan Pass. Obviously losing his winter coat, he was not shy at all, though we kept the respectful distance from him that is owed any wild animal -- especially one with horns! There was still quite a lot of late season snow and ice on the ground.
Mountain Goat Cameo  A closer view of the same mountain goat that appears in the preceding capture. I must say that I was very grateful that he decided to pose for me! He's standing on the edge of a rock wall that borders the parking area where we stopped. Saint Mary Valley  Once you go "over the hump" of Going-to-the-Sun Road, you descend rapidly into the valley where the river, lake and town of Saint Mary are all located. This is a classical glacially-carved, "U-shaped" valley, filled with evergreen trees. Golden Hour Near Rising Sun  Our overnight stay in Glacier National Park was spent at the Rising Sun Motor Inn near the eastern edge of Glacier National Park, just north of the middle of Saint Mary Lake. It was a beautiful evening, and I captured this "golden hour" light on the mountains just south of the lake, as seen from near the motel. (The bird is blurry from the slow exposure but I decided I kind of like it that way...) New Growth and Fading Light at Rose Creek  Very late evening light illuminates the mountains near where Rose Creek spills into Saint Mary Lake. The rocks are beautifully colored, just as they were at Lake McDonald earlier in the day; the bridge you see is the Going-to-the-Sun Road passing over Rose Creek. Afterglow Over Wild Goose Island, Saint Mary Lake  Wild Goose Island in Saint Mary Lake is an icon of Glacier National Park, and probably its single most photographed subject. I "camped out" in this location watching as dusk fell and the storm clouds of the day swirled around, hoping I'd be lucky enough to get a nice sunset or "light show" in the clouds.  I never got the brilliant, fiery red clouds I was hoping for, but I couldn't complain. The storm made a very interesting formation over the lake, and the clouds then turned a subtle, pretty shade of orange-pink as the sun went down. Overall, it was a lovely night. Golden Sunrise at Saint Mary Lakeshore  The next morning, while my family slept, I did what crazy photographers everywhere do -- I got up at the crack of dawn to try to capture the sunrise. This was my first "keeper" of the day, as the sun crept past the horizon over Saint Mary Lake. The hazy clouds lit up the sky and everything else in beautiful, golden hues.
Good Morning at Wild Goose Island  Here we are back at Wild Goose Island, which as you can see, is in a very different mood than it was the night before. The clouds cleared out to allow the early morning rays to illuminate the peaks around the lake, as well as the island itself, while faint high clouds arched overhead. Saint Mary Lake Tranquility  Another early morning view of Saint Mary Lake, this time a panorama taken looking east back over the lake. The water was still and calm, and the quiet was wonderfully enjoyable. While it may be tough pulling oneself out of bed at 5 am while on vacation, the rewards can be, well, rewarding!  By the way, if you look very closely, you'll see a small bird perched on a rock about a quarter of the way into the image from the left, enjoying the lovely view; its tiny profile is set against the reflected light on the water. Going to the Sun Panorama  After enjoying the early morning light in and around Saint Mary Lake, I decided to head back up Going-to-the-Sun Road towards Logan Pass to check that area out a bit more. Along the way, I took this five-shot panorama from the edge of the road, facing roughly south. You can see that most of the valley is still deep in shade despite it being a couple of hours after sunrise at this point of the day. Twisted Evergreens and Reynolds Mountain  Trees that flourish in the valleys cling precariously to life in the higher elevations, continually challenged by temperature extremes, heavy precipitation and howling winds. These stunted, gnarled specimens are rather typical of the region around Logan Pass. In the distance rises Reynolds Mountain, one of the better-known landmarks of Glacier National Park. Runoff Waterfall Near Logan Pass  This was easily the prettiest waterfall I saw in my visit to the park, especially framed against the snow-covered, flat mountaintop above it, just being tinged with early light. More stunted evergreens around the steep cascade mark its location as being in the higher elevations. How Rose Creek Gets Its Name  Well, the honest truth is that I don't really know what the origin is of the name of Rose Creek. It did seem fitting, however, that I found these wild roses blooming along its banks.
Columbia Ground Squirrel Portrait  The Columbia Ground Squirrel (or Columbian Ground Squirrel) is one of the most famous of the rodentia who make their homes in the Rocky Mountains; it can be easily recognized by the reddish fur of its face and underside, and the distinctive spotted pattern on its back. This one was kind enough to pause briefly from dashing around in and among these rocks to pose for my camera. Camouflage in Action  This is the same Columbia Ground Squirrel as in the preceding photograph; this time he is poking his head out from his burrow. I have to admit that I never really understood the rust color of this squirrel species' face and belly until I encountered this scene -- the match to the color of the rocks is quite incredible. Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel  Here we have what might be considered a smaller cousin of the Columbia Ground Squirrel -- the Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel, so named for the tan or beige color of its face, neck and shoulders. This particular specimen is actually quite pale compared to others that are a stronger, almost brown shade in front, and it looks like something took a bite out of the poor fella's right ear!  Many folks, especially tourists, mistake these squirrels for chipmunks; one easy way to tell the two apart is that true chipmunks have lines on their faces, not just their bodies. Pretty Morning on the Sun Point Nature Trail  Once my family arose from their slumbers and we had a chance to pack up, we continued on our way, but had to stop for a quick hike on the Sun Point Nature Trail. This hillside was awash in colorful rocks and pretty wildflowers. Tiger Swallowtail Breakfast  This tiger swallowtail was definitely ready for a liquid meal as the day rapidly warmed. We have tigers back in the Northeast and so I was surprised to see them here as well. East Flattop Mountain at the Saint Mary Entrance  The very aptly-named Eastern Flattop Mountain is the dominant landscape feature near the town of Saint Mary on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park. Here it is framed by fair-weather clouds above, and layers of evergreens, deciduous trees, grasses and wildflowers below.
Rocky Mountain Penstemon Guards the Shore of Lake Sherburne  Lake Sherburne is an artificial lake created in 1919 by damming Swiftcurrent Creek, which runs along the access road to the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park. Here I framed the lake -- at a very low water level, as you can see -- with some blue/purple Rocky Mountain Penstemon flowers in the foreground; the northern Rockies are an ever-present backdrop. Clouds Soar Over Mount Wilbur at Many Glacier  The distinctive shape of Mount Wilbur is mimicked by both billowing clouds and the shape of a windswept tree in this midday scene from the Many Glacier region of Glacier National Park. Mount Grinnell and Swiftcurrent Lake, Many Glacier  A warm mid-day scene from the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, taken just below the famous Many Glacier Hotel. The pyramid-shaped mountain on the left is Mount Grinnell, a name it shares with a lake and a glacier not visible from this angle. Mount Wilbur can be seen further off on the right.   Incidentally, the water is much colder than it looks! Swiftcurrent River Panorama  A simple, panoramic view of the Swiftcurrent River valley, taken from the Many Glacier access road. Wildflowers at Lake Sherburne  The Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park is effectively a "dead end" destination some 12 miles from the edge of the park, so visiting it means driving there and then driving back out again. Thus, after spending some time at Many Glacier we once again found ourselves on the shores of Lake Sherburne.  You can see that by this time, the day had turned quite hot and hazy. I found the huge wildflower field in this location irresistible, so I had to annoy my family by stopping for another couple of shots. Oh by the way, there's a pretty yellow butterfly in there, somewhere, but even I couldn't find it in the photo!