Friday, July 13, 2012

Glacier National Park, Day 9 - June 15, 2012




Blue tinged at the edges Avalanche Creek's water tumbles down the mountainside through the forest of huge cedar, larch, and hemlock trees.

This is our last day visiting National Parks. We decided that this last day would feature some gentle hikes and so we settled on a couple shorter treks with very limited elevation change. The weather was going to be quite fine from what we could tell. We had the overpriced, at least you never really feel as if you get your monies worth, buffet breakfast before heading back to really hike the Trail of the Cedars.

Last time we just walked a poriton of this 0.7 or so mile loop to reach the Avalanche Lake trail. Today we intended to really wallk the whole loop and see the forest properly. The red cedars, larch, and hemlock. The cedars are really what take your breath away. While it is true most of the trees in this forest are centuries old the cedars struck me as the most imposing with their massive trunks rising straight into the air. The forest has an open regal feel to it and a sense of quiet wonder is easy to imagine if you pause for a moment. Add to this the roaring Avalanche Creek with its frothing white yet slightly blue tinged water tearing down the mountainside and it is easy to see how people could see this area as sacred.



The glacial silt, sometimes called glacial flour, helps add color to the frothing water of McDonald Creek.

We drove down to Apgar Village to hike around the southern end of McDonald Lake. We toyed with the notion of hiking the western shore trail that runs some 7 miles along the shore of the lake but we were not about to do a 14 mile out-and-back hike (if only you could hike it one way and catch a shuttle back to your car). So we decided to do the 1.9 mile hike that would take us along the Rocky Point Nature Loop trail. What makes this collection of trail particularly interesting is that you find yourself hiking through burned and unburned areas. The Roberts fire of 2003 burned a substantial portion of the park and you can see some of the boundary lines where the fire stopped quite easily. Fish Creek marks one of those lines: on one side tall mature trees stand and on the other scores of denuded trunks remain pointing to the sky (most are lodgepole pine). It is a rather stark boundary. But it is important to remember that the fire helps promote new growth. As we walked the easy path through the now nine year old burn area we saw many wildflowers blooming as well as saplings of mountain maple. I expect new lodgepole pine were growing too. The amoount of low-growing plants in this area surpassed anything we had seen so far.









Looking out on the southern end of Lake McDonald from the western shore along Rocky Point Nature Trail. Here (top) the trees have mostly escaped the 2003 fire though if you turn a little bit (bottom) you can see the results of that fire.

We enjoyed our gentle hike along this nature trail wishing we knew a bit more about what we were seeing. A couple of signs provide some minimal information but that is all. We encountered a few other people enjoying what had turned into a very warm day including a hiking group from West Glacier that seems to focus on getting small children out into the wilderness. Great for them.

After the easy hike was done we had a fine lunch at Eddies in Apgar Village. Good burgers and sandwhiches and a superior huckleberry milkshake served in a classic metal milkshake glass and more than large enough to satisfy the three of us. Perosnally I think this little restaurant was definitely a step up from what we had in the lounge at McDonald Lodge. A damn fine milkshake indeed.


The view from the DeSmet. It really is a very pretty lake.

We tried to find one more hike but ended up bailing just a few tenths of a mile short of the northern terminus of the western shore Lake McDonald trail. The single lane dirt road just seemed to be getting to be a bit much for the car. We rounded out the afternoon with a boat tour on Lake McDonald. The 82 year old boat, the DeSmet, takes people on an hour-long tour that runs up and down the lake. A ranger gives a bit of commentary that really was nothing to special (I think she did better answering questions one-on-one). It was a nice way to see the landscape from the brilliant green waters of the lake. If you are looking for something relaxing to do this is certainly an option. Definitely better than sitting on the grounds outside the lodge wondering if the Columbian Ground Squirrels (whistlepigs) are going to assault you.
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