Magazine article Sunset

Wild Thing

Magazine article Sunset

Wild Thing

Article excerpt

The word echoed across the lobby of the Many Glacier Hotel as the hiker told her story. Her group was trekking to Iceberg Lake when a massive bear ambled onto the trail ahead, turned, then splashed into the lake and wam away. The sighting was, the hiker said, a thrill she would remember all her life. * The encounter was a reminder that Glacier National Park is nature with claws; bears roaming the backcountry; jagged mountains; frozen rivers cutting through rock. * And these things are precisely what make Glacier unforgettable. * In far northern Montana, 1,600-square-mile Glacier is not near much of anything. But, once you're there, it's it remarkably simple park to enjoy. Glacier's annual visitation is about half of Yosemite's. Good campsites are often available at the last minute. The park's trio of historic lodges-Lake McDonald Lodge. Many Glacier Hotel, and Glacier Park Lodge-are surprisingly affordable places to stay. * The classic park strategy is the base yourself at or near one of the lodges. Each presents a different face of the park: Lake McDonald's lower, greener west side, the high peaks around Many Glacier; and the prairie-influenced East Glacier side. * In the music of geology, Glacier is an opera. Aeons ago, rivers of ice carved out the unforgettable landforms-knife-edge ridges, hanging valleys, and towering peaks, every view a visual aria. Spend any time at all here, and you will hear the continent sing.

East Glacier Park

Elegance comes to the Rockies

First impressions count. Eager to impress visitors from the east, the Great Northern Railway made sure Glacier's first major hotel-utterly magnificent Glacier Park Lodge, completed in 1913-was built a short distance from the park's main train depot.

Today you can still step right off Amtrak and roll your suitcase up the flower-lined path to the hotel. Over the years, Glacier Park Lodge has hosted everyone from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan (there to film Cattle Queen of Montana). Such VIPs were likely as awestruck by it as you will be. The Palladio-comes-to-the-West great hall is one of the grandest in America: Two dozen giant Douglas fir trunks, each 48 feet high and covered with bark, line the lobby.

Not far away, Two Medicine Lake makes a perfect afternoon outing. If the water's calm, you can rent a rowboat or canoe to paddle under the looming presence of Sinopah Mountain. Or you can take a narrated cruise on the handsome '30s-era launch that bears the mountain's name.

Head southwest from East Glacier Park along U.S. 2 and you'll pass small ranches and get glimpses of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Don't miss the wildlife pullout called Goat Lick. In the late-afternoon light, scan the far cliffs above the Flathead River. We brought binoculars, and in only moments we spotted at least five mountain goats-and one kid-grazing around the sheer cliffs' natural salt licks. It was a classic Glacier moment: nature in the raw.

Grizzlies and goats

* Glacier has an awesome array of plant and animal life. Enjoying it all-even if from a distance-takes some savvy.

Bears: There are hundreds of black bears and some 250 to 400 grizzlies in the park area. Visitors should keep alert for any signs of bears, make their presence known, and keep a safe distance from all bears that are observed. DO NOT approach bears or other wildlife under any circumstances. Keep food, garbage, grills, and pet food stored indoors or otherwise unavailable to wildlife.

Mountain goats and bighorn sheep: Snowy, bearded mountain goats are daredevil climbers, perching on the most precarious of high-altitude cliff faces and slopes. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep climb on gentler slopes at slightly lower elevations than the goats. You often can spot mountain goats on the rock face at Goat Lick, or right off the roadway atop Logan Pass. Check for bighorns in meadows and grassy slopes above steep rocky cliffs. …

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