Friday, August 11, 2017

A Trip West- Glacier National Park (1 of 4)

Last week was spent out west, in Montana with two friends where we explored Glacier National Park. It was an awesome college reunion for us all, and we had an unforgettable experience exploring an amazing landscape by car, foot, horse, and boat. Obviously, so many photos were taken- so here is day 1 and 2-- photos can do the talking.

On our first day we walked from where we parked at Fish Creek down and along Lake McDonald. This is on the West side of the park. Close to where we stayed, in Columbia Falls where we rented a small cabin.
This trail was an easy introduction to the park, relatively flat with some beautiful chances to view the aqua colored Lake McDonald.
Fairly sure this is a female or juvenile Western Tanager. I was looking for as many birds as I could and I realized I just don't know my western birds!
Lake McDonald is HUGE, surrounded by mountains and pine forests. Lake McDonald is on the West side of the park, which during the time that we visited is the busiest part of the park and it gets quite crowded.




That water is unreal. This is something you see in many of the lakes and other waterways in the park.

This part of the trail along Lake McDonald is a prescribed burn area where fires are set and controlled to burn. This helps wildlife and plants in a variety of ways - it allows for new growth (see those little baby trees?), elimination of invasive harmful insects, and even helping endangered species recover.
So I mostly used my 55-300mm lens, I didn't want to carry a hanker of a lens around and so, many shots I got were taken with the intent of helping e ID what I found in the field. This bird gave me a hard time until I could get to a field guide, this is a juvenile chipping sparrow.


Some birds were a bit easier to ID, like this bald eagle who flew right over our heads!

After our hike, we drove some of Going To The Sun Road. The road was built in 1932, connecting the east and west sides of the park and measuring about 50 miles from end to end.
Even if you can't get out on a trail, this road provides spectacular views!

Most of the white is snow pack, not glacier. The glaciers in the park are shrinking at an alarming rate and are predicted to be gone by 2030. That is less than 15 years which makes me very sad because I know we are to blame for the alarming rate that our climate is changing. 
If you want to reduce your carbon footprint in the park, and avoid the headache of the competition for parking spaces, utilize the shuttles. we did this on one of our days. The shuttles are small to navigate the tricky Going to the Sun Road, so during the busiest season and the busiest hours, the lines can be long- especially when only 10-13 people can get onto a shuttle at a time.


When you observe this amazing road, you can't not think about how dangerous this endeavor was plus the amount of engineering effort that went in to making this pathway across the park a reality.
And even as an adult, you have to roll down the window and yell "ECHO!" out the window when driving through this amazing tunnel through a mountainside.
Did I mention how there is a lot of jaw-dropping scenery???



In driving the road you gain elevation fast, as everything gets small fast, especially as you depart the stream you were drivig alongside for a while.



The streams were filled with caddisfly larvae. These little guys build a little shelter of pebbles and organic materials. They can hide inside it like a cocoon, but carry it around as they search for food and whatever else caddisflies search for.

Folks have even used caddisflies to create art by providing them with materials, like gold and other precious stones, etc to form that cocoon. And of course they go to work with what people give them.

Beautiful stones from who knows when- every rock here feels ancient and has a story to tell. The striations in the mountains and cliffs go back, wayyyy back, each color and layer representing different occurrences in our geologic past.

On our second day, we started our adventures with a boat ride on St. Mary Lake at Rising Sun.

On the way there, we saw some glaciers, Jackson and Blackfoot Glacier.

Glaciers are classified by size. When they are large enough, unlike a snowpack, their weight turns the bottom layer into ice and under all that weight the ice moves over the mountains in a downhill motion. Minimum size for a glacier in the park is 25 acres, because below this size the ice does not move.
On our boat ride, we learned that the movement of the glaciers creates what is called glacial flour, essentially dust from the rocks on the mountainside. This is what causes the amazing aqua color of the lakes. Sadly, once the glaciers disappear, the glacial flour will no longer be produced, resulting in the loss of the color in the lakes and waterfalls here. 



Glaciers also caused all of these mountains to look the way they do, carving out the valleys, bowl-like lakes and natural amphitheaters. Even long lakes, like Lake McDonald is dug out and formed by glaciers. Sadly, the only part of Glacier National Park that will be Glacial in 20130, is the landscape, carved by glaciers- soon glaciers in the park will be only a memory with the way things are going right now.
This morning, St. Mary Lake was like glass- absolutely stunning.



At St. Mary Lake, I found some Audubon's Warblers, the yellow-rumped warbler of the west.

Our boat ride took us to a dock where we then embarked on a 1.5 mile ranger led hike to St. Mary Falls. Along the way we saw bull (and later joining him, a cow) moose in the water, possibly grazing as moose love consuming aquatic plants. Or they were cooling off, temperatures soared into the 90's on some days.

And this is where we wanted to end up-- at St. Mary Falls. This shady cool spot with its rushing water was a welcome break from the heat and a perfect lunch spot. We watched a junco forage along the rock face for insects and watched the blue waters bubble up and flow out to the lake. This kind of scenery makes a PB & J sandwich taste even better (I only eat PB&J in very dire situations-- like when needing to pack a cheap-non refrigerated lunch - this is only the 2nd time ever in my life I ate PB & J sandwiches for a week straight).



Much of the trails we walked to St. Mary Falls were once the site of a fire in 2015.

After our boat ride and hike, we Drove back to Columbia Falls by taking some roads that took us to an overlook of Two Medicine Lake.

The overlook was an insect paradise-- lots of grasshopper who make a snapping noise when they take flight, revealing neon green wings- a stark contrast to those cryptic colors.

A Clouded Sulphur Butterfly overlooking Two Medicine Lake.

A Painted Lady Butterfly also in the mix at the overlook.



A new butterfly species for me, a checkered white.

The painted lady is just as beautiful on its underwing as it is from above!

Along our Drive to find Goat Lick-- an exposed face of minerals that attracts mountain goats... we found a monument giving a shout out to TR. I love TR and of course grabbed a snapshot. A President who believed in conserving the bounty of beauty in this country-- if only he knew what was happening right now... He's probably crying "BULLY!" from his grave in Oyster Bay.

Upon finally finding Goat Lick (if you are coming from the East-- there is zero signage, but if you go over an overpass and end up in Essex, you've gone past it. Thankfully on the back-track ride, there is a sign.
It was hot, so no one was in the sun on the exposed mineral wall, exposed by the river. In switching their diet in the spring time, goats seek minerals they may have lost and not had access to. Some goats travel for miles to get to the lick and often goats fight over the best spots on the cliffs. More about Goat Lick can be found here.
This male goat was bedded down- the most active times to feed are early and late in the day. Afternoons are spent processing that food. As ruminants, these goat do a lot of R & R, rest and regurgitate- they chew cud (their food at the earlier end of the digestion process) to efficiently digest plant matter. Plant matter is notoriously hard to digest due to those cell walls, many of our regular stomach enzymes have a hard time breaking those down (remember the last time you ate corn? Yeah, exactly). So many hooved animals like ruminants (cows, giraffes, gazelles, deer, goats, sheep, etc.) regurgitate their food early in the digestive process to further masticate and break down that wall.

We also found a secret stash of goats under the overpass we drive over to head west on Route 2. This goat is still shedding that winter fur, giving him a pretty ragged look. This goat was also a younger goat.

The youngster was with this older male, a handsome one at that!

Also.... Mountain goats are not truly goats, they are actually considered goat-antelopes- putting them closer in relation to antelope and cattle! 


I really enjoyed seeing these animals, a very unique to North America type of animal- you don't find mountain goats anywhere else in the world. Across the pond you're talking mostly ibex-- an actual type of goat.

I wish I could just give him a good brushing!
This is only 2 days-- Looks like I have some work to do!