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Montana:  Roses, Thorns and Buds

At my celebratory retirement dinner, my son Mark explained that as a camp counselor he used a technique to prompt a discussion about the day without triggering homesickness.  Each child was asked to reflect on their day and to comment on the “rose” (the best parts), the “thorns” (not so great parts) and the “buds” (what they looked forward to).  I find myself processing our trip using this simple formula.  While Wyoming was a delight, our experience was diluted by the hordes of people who had flocked to Jackson, the smoky haze from the summer 2021 California and Oregon wildfires and the drought conditions which drained Colter Bay.  Montana absolutely won our hearts with its crisp, autumn-like weather (an absolute delight in late August) and endless blue sky.  Big Sky Montana, Crown of the Continent, the Last Best Place, the Treasure State, etc. are all well-earned monikers for a state defined by its open space and unparalleled natural beauty.  Our photos could not fully capture our experience and my words are inadequate.    Simply stated, our time there was exhilarating and we must find a way back.

 

Roses

  • Sharing the experiences and lots of balcony time with our friends Betsy & Jim from Alabama

  • Finding accommodations just outside of Whitefish in a condo ski resort community, hosted by knowledgeable folk who were glad to share their insight on what to see/do in the area

  • Riding the chairlift to Whitefish Mountain summit, forest trail riding, hiking (three waterfalls) in Glacier NP with a guide, boating at Many Glacier, sampling whiskey at Glacier Distilling, and enjoying multiple lazy afternoons at Bonsai Brewing

  • Driving Going to the Sun Road twice (and surviving!)  Note:  Completed in 1933, this road is a 50 mile engineering marvel and a breathtaking “white knuckled” drive across the length of Glacier NP (6646 feet elevation at its highest point)

  • Exceptional dining at the Wich Haus, Loula’s, Abruzzo’s and the Last Chair Restaurants.  The Mackenzie River Pizza Company’s “take and bake” pizzas also deserve note as they provided a tasty treat with minimal fuss.  P.S.  You cannot visit Whitefish without tasting huckleberries in multiple forms! 

  • Learning about geology, glaciers, avalanches and wildfires  (The Going to the Sun Road download from Gypsy Guide was so very helpful!)

  • Seeing wildlife including two grizzly bears

  • Savoring fall weather, low humidity, limited bug population and the absence of both poison ivy and venomous snakes

 

Thorns

  • Mapreading goofs:  Many Glacier does not connect to Going to the Sun Road and there is a distinct 20-minute difference between Kalispell City Airport and Glacier International Airport (learned the hard way)

  • Navigating ticketed entry (frustration with the ranger’s refusal to allow entry after the scheduled boat tour at Many Glacier)

  • Barking dogs next door (minor nuisance)

 

Buds (Return Trip Goals)

  • Scheduling for optimum night sky aurora borealis viewing

  • Dining at Izak Walton Inn, the Whitefish Lakeview Restaurant and the Tupelo Gill

  • More hiking/canoeing (Avalanche and Whitefish Lakes) and better fitness preparation (start early)

  • Dividing stay between Many Glacier Hotel and McDonald Lake Lodge to enjoy both areas of the national park

  • Visiting the Museum of the Plains Indian near the east park entrance

  • Road tripping to Polebridge (must try a huckleberry bear claw)

  • Cooking class at the Trovare cooking store in Whitefish (advanced registration required)

Fun Facts

Huckleberries have not been successfully domesticated and are found primarily on the northwest side of Glacier National Park.  If you are lucky enough to find them at a fruit stand, be prepared to pay $20/lb.  July through early September are the “peak” months of the huckleberry season.  The expression “I’m your huckleberry” means that you are game, up for anything, the person for the job, etc.  Doc Holiday spoke this line to Johnny Ringo in the Tombstone movie.  As to its origin, one theory is that the expression originated from Arthurian lore.  A knight returning from performing some service for a damsel would lower his lance to receive a huckleberry garland from the lady.

Avalanches (like wildfires) are an important part of the ecosystem within Glacier National Park.  They are nature’s way of clearing sections of the mountain, opening the landscape for brush growth which is an important food source for many animal species.  The power of the avalanche will kill animals in its path  but this produces a rich spring food source for bears who are omnivores (e.g. “goat-cicles”).  Avalanches are not tracked during the winter months, but in the spring and fall there are active avalanche forecasters.   The ski season extends through the end of May (sometimes into June) and spring avalanches are a concern.

Glacier National Park is home to a large grizzly bear population.  Bear spray is a necessity for hiking but in all likelihood you will not need to use it.  There has not been a bear attack within Glacier National Park since 1967 (search “Night of the Grizzlies” on YouTube to find an interesting NPR special on the subject).  Bear 399 who lives in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is famous for her quadruplets born in 2020.  Black bears also live in the national parks but are not as large as grizzlies.  Sometimes black bears are actually brown so don’t be fooled by the color of their coat.  The key difference between the two is that grizzlies have a hump at their shoulders as they often burrow for their food.  Black bears are more expert climbers and have greater strength in their hind legs.  Bottom line:  be bear aware.   

Moose must consume 10,000 calories per day.  As herbivores, this means that they are eating 10,000 calories of salad essentially.  Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to spot them in marshy areas.

The opening scene of The Shining movie was filmed in Glacier National Park.  There is a view of Wild Goose Island in St. Mary’s Lake and a section of the Going to the Sun Road.  The bulk of the movie, including the hotel, was filmed in Oregon.

One visit to Montana is not enough!