Monday, March 3, 2014

Somewhere New: Glacier National Park, Montana

We had been talking about Glacier for months and drooling over pictures of lakes and valleys and ridiculous mountainscapes. The anticipated day of our trip to Glacier came, drizzling and cold. I've long since learned to push past crummy weather when it comes to traveling. Rain happens. Cold is inevitable. The best part about both of those things? It drives less determined tourists away.
Route 93 will take you all the way up to Kalispell, around Flathead Lake with it's mysterious Wild Horse Island. We pulled into Kalispell to find fuel cells and stretch our legs. Blocky brick buildings line Main street with a surprisingly vibrant mix of stores. After getting the goods at Rocky Mountain Outfitters we crossed the street to duck into Sassafras and browse antiques. At the back of the store we stumbled upon A Fresh Start, a vegetarian cafe hugged to the back wall. 
Montana was full of little surprises like this. In a tiny town before Kalispell we stopped to use the bathroom and get coffee at a little hole in the wall. I asked the waitress if she had an non-dairy milk with obvious doubt laced in my tone and she cheerfully responded with:
"Soy, almond or hemp?" to which I laughed and then cried a little inside.
That's not a thing in DC. You can't just go to a coffee shop, let alone a sandwich place like this joint and even expect them to have soy milk. 

Our spirits heightened, we drove to Glacier and stopped at the visitors center to ask for camping advice.
"There's a storm coming in tomorrow. You can only go so far up Going to the Sun Road before you have to turn back. Your options are camp here at Apgar, or leave the park and drive around to the other side and camp over there at Many Glacier," the ranger advised. 
We stared at the map, willing the weather to change.
The day was already getting away from us and our miles were already racking up so we decided to choose Apgar and settle for driving up Going to the Sun Road as far as we could for the day to take in the mountains.
The fog had rolled in thick, suffocating the view from the visitors center so we drove a little ways out and then stopped on a purple stone beach to stare at the cloaked mountains in the distance.  

Tiny Phil
Fog has a gentle way of humbling you. You may come with your camera equipments and your ego and your aspirations to leave with the quintessential Glacier shot, but fog does't care. 
Besides, fog is kinda romantic for your first big trip away with the boyfriend.

The road started winding up and slimming, like stripes on a maypole that wind finer and finer as they stretch into the sky. We watched out the windows, slowing to creep by cracks in the trees and catch glimpses of misty vistas.
We burst out of the trees and found ourselves in the Lorax. Wildly tall trees had been replaced with toothpicks, some white and peeling and some charred and brittle. 
Surprisingly, it wasn't unpleasant, the bareness, the obvious destruction. 
The cooling clouds that hung low on the mountains seemed so serene and calming that it just felt like the mountain was sleeping, not bruised. 

We turned back for the night to get to Apgar and set up our tent. I had seen a sign for a local bird talk given by the ranger at 7 so we figured we could set up camp, grab our dinner and little cook stove and enjoy dinner and story outside. 
6:45 and we were at the pavilion waiting for the ranger. 
"Where do you think the lights to this place are?" I asked. 
We were standing next to the concrete slab that made up the stage in the ever quickening darkness. We heated our soup and stood waiting. 
7 came and went.
"Maybe they canceled it because people didn't sign up? Sometimes that happens," Phil said.
"We would have been listening to the talk in the dark and rain anyhow," I replied. 
Phil had filled my head with stories of bears and I tried to casually peer into the bushes and listen for grumbling without him catching on.
No one showed up and the sun set.
 So we ate our instant lentil soup standing up, in the drizzle, passing a loaf of bread back and forth to grab bites, swaying to keep warm.
Just a couple of head lamp wearing nerds on a rainy picnic.

The next morning came and we crawled out of our tent and threw on sweaters and long underwear and set out for the day.
My knee was still on strike so we opted for a short hike to Avalanche Lake. The hike is four and a half miles round trip but part of it is a flat boardwalk and the rest is a gentle slope at most. 
The hike starts on the Trail of the Cedars where western red cedars, hemlocks and cottonwoods line the walk that leads to the waterfall and then way back into the forest where the lake awaits. 

For all the rain we were getting the lake was actually quite low but still lovely and mysterious. 

Back at Apgar we decided to get in out of the cold for while and head over to the lodge for a drink. 
Heads of every shape and size stared from the walls of the lodge, which is very much a thing in Montana, and Native American inspired lampshades hung from the cathedral ceilings. 
Cut out balconies overlooked the sprawling foyer with the giant fireplace and cozy chairs. We headed up to the second story and grabbed a couch to listen to the violin player entertaining the lodge patrons. The couches were warm and dry. The fire kept the air tight and comforting.
We didn't relish the idea of climbing back into our soggy tent.
"Let's get a room for the night," Phil suggested.

We went down to the desk to inquire about rooms. Well, yes, there were plenty of rooms available. Well, no, we didn't want to pay that much.
Oh a motel? That will do.

Just a short walk away from the sumptuous lodge there was another property up for grabs. Your typical open hallway, double decker motel layout, just, you know, in Glacier National Park.
We moved all of our things to the room and stretched out on the bed, admiring our comforts and cranking the heat as high as we could stand to dry our wet tent and clothing.
"So we singed a waiver saying we wouldn't cook in here, how are we going to make dinner?" I asked.
"It didn't say anything about cooking outside," Phil grabbed the stove and headed for the door. 
 He made it to the top of the stairs and stopped. Fat raindrops had started to fall and another step would take us beyond the protection of the roof. So we sat right there and opened up our pasta and tomato sauce and made dinner, squirming nervously whenever a car would pull up or someone would leave their room, walking by us with suspicious glances at our little dinner operation. 
Just a couple of nerds eating dinner at the top of the stairs. 

Inside we set up the ironing board and I poured some water into our cups and we sat on the bed and ate and then lounged until sleep overtook us. 

The next morning we woke up and the mountains across the water that had been swathed in clouds had awoken with fresh powdered heads and had thrown off their blankets to welcome the sun. 
It was time to leave and we felt like we hadn't even scratched the surface, hadn't even gotten more than half an hour away from the visitors center even!

But as I always say, I never like to see it all in one go. Leaving things undone gives one a reason to return.

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