Saturday, August 31, 2013

What We Saw on Our Summer Vacation

Black Bear
When you meet someone at Glacier National Park, the first question they ask is "Have you seen any bears?" We hadn't until today, just as we finished our last hike and prepared to drive back to the condo. A group of people with binoculars are always looking at something good, like mountain goats or sheep, but the big prize is a bear, so now we can say we saw a bear at Glacier National Park.  The best thing is seeing it way up the mountain, and not on the path in front of you. Every ranger gives you the safety rules in bear country before going out on a hike. They love to sell you bear spray (mace) but the bells don't do any good at all. One story says the bear kept following the man down the trail as he backed away, stopping when he did. Finally the man figured the bear just wanted him to move out of the way. He did, and the bear went past him, like any other hiker in a hurry! I was glad this bear was way, way, way up the mountain. The 50x zoom on my camera was able to capture him pretty well.

American Dipper
As birders, Dick and I arrived with a list of target birds to look for. One was the American Dipper, or Water Ouzel, which walks on the bottom of rushing mountain streams, looking for tasty morsels under the rocks. We finally found two of them today after looking all week! Yeah! There are many other target birds we did not find, this trip at least. Guess we'll have to come back sometime and try again.

Cedar Waxwing
One of my favorite birds from home, this Cedar Waxwing sat in a tree for a long time posing for the camera, unlike most of the other birds we've seen this week. But where were the rest of his buddies? You normally find them in groups, not one at a time.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
We had to explain what a "Life Bird" is this week. I'm so used to talking with birders, it never occurred to me that someone didn't know what I meant by that phrase. Now, you birders tell me. If I saw a bird in the years before actually becoming a birder, and starting to keep a life list, am I allowed to count it as a life bird now? That Dipper for example - we saw them in the Tetons years ago. Is it a life bird now that I keep a list or not? Many of our target birds eluded us, but we did add 6 new birds to our list: Barrow's Goldeneye duck, White-tailed Ptarmigan, California Gull (at the grocery store), Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch and Pine Grosbeak.

I've seen more rodents here at the park, than any other park I've been in. The chipmunks are absolutely fearless, as are the various kinds of ground squirrels. The red squirrels have black tails, and the hoary marmot is huge. The ground squirrels chip frequently, sounding much like birds.

Almost any trail can lead you to a waterfall. This is Running Eagle waterfall, named for an actual Blackfoot woman who became a warrior and the chief of her tribe. Now, while water levels are low, the water comes out of the rocks. In spring, it will flow over the top. When the glaciers melt away completely, many streams will also disappear when the winter snows melt in the spring.

Marias Pass is where US 2 goes over the Continental Divide when traveling from west to east. I was really surprised the first time I sped past the sign, since it didn't feel like we were nearly high enough to be crossing the Continental Divide. At only 5,213 feet in elevation, the mountains tower over the pass, but remember, a pass is supposed to be a low place to cross higher mountain ranges. The pass proved ideal for a railroad, because its approach was broad and open, within a valley ranging from one to six miles wide, and at a gentle grade that would not require extensive excavation or rockwork. Construction of the railroad through the pass began on August 1, 1890, starting from Fort Assinniboine toward Marias Pass.

There are many quaint hotels and inns built early in the Park's history, and often related to the railroads. The Izaak Walton Inn, in Essex, however, takes the cake. Originally, it provided housing for railroad employees, and now it uses old railroad cars as hotel rooms for park visitors. What fun!

Amtrak still stops directly in front of the Glacier Park Lodge, which was built almost a century ago by the Great Northern Railway. One of the most striking features of Glacier Park Lodge is undoubtedly the massive logs used in the construction. The immense timbers that support the Lodge were probably 500 to 800 years old when they were cut and all of them retain their bark to this day. There are 60 of them, 36 to 42 inches in diameter and 40 feet long. The timbers in the lobby are Douglas fir and the verandahs are supported by Cedars from Washington. Each lodge or hotel in the park is fascinating, even to visit.

Now we are trying to find everything we brought, before getting on the plane tomorrow. The kids say our air conditioning at home isn't working. Sigh. I like being on vacation.


Kathie Brown said...

Kathy, what a fun trip! I would love to see a dipper again.

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