Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks

Trip Start Mar 26, 2006
Trip End Oct 20, 2006

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Flag of United States  , Montana
Tuesday, July 25, 2006

From the Grand Tetons, we drive north through enormous Yellowstone National Park. The west route takes us past bubbling hot spring pools, famous geysers that shoot hundreds of feet into the air, and steaming rivers of boiling hot water. It catches me by surprise that the Earth is still a work in progress, that its core is molten hot, and that the ground beneath my feet isn't always as trusty as I assume. Signs everywhere warn visitors to stay on the trail or risk death by unexpectedly breaking through the crust into a boiling hot pool, and often they mention how many visitors have met their end here. We opt for staying on the trails.

Both of us have spent time at this park before, so we stop at just a few locations that catch our eye, snap a few pictures, and continue on our way north, content to just maintain tourist status here since we have bigger adventures ahead.

A short drive from Yellowstone takes us to Glacier National Park, where we head up aptly named Going-to-the-Sun Road, and Todd and I oooh and aaah at the spectacular 3,000-foot vertical mountain valley walls all around us. Covered in lush green conifers, leafy ferns, and wildflowers in full bloom, the valleys spread out in every direction, carved by ice age glaciers, massive fields of snow and ice that once covered this entire terrain. The remaining visible glaciers, perched high up on ledges above, are puny in comparison to their gargantuan ancestors. Each glacier feeds long white waterfalls that dance heir way down to creeks, rivers, and sparkling ice blue glacial lakes below.

On our way to Many Glacier Campground, where we're spending the night, we pull off the road to see what a crowd of visitors is pointing their binoculars at. High up on the hillside above, a black bear is munching on berries. Flush with arrogance from our recent close encounter of the ursa kind at Grand Teton, we're off to the campground to ready our packs for the four day backpacking trip that lies ahead. We've had plenty of bear sighting to last us for awhile.

Over the next four days we trek 31 miles through some of the most beautiful backcountry we've ever seen. A 6.5 mile hike along the Belly River Trail on Day 1 takes us to our campground for the night. On Day 2, we pack 7.5 miles further back to Helen Lake, a crystal clear glacial-fed lake surrounded by 3,500-foot-high sheer mountain walls. Waterfalls in every direction above us add the sound of rushing water to the chorus of birds singing and a gentle breeze blowing lightly through conifers. Just minutes after we finish setting up camp I'm skinny dipping in the ice cold water - bathing au natural! Before Todd even has a chance to get in, I look up to see him pointing at a bull moose that has waded into the lake just 50 yards behind me. Moose are not the friendliest of creatures - in Alaska people call in late to the office if there's a moose in the driveway - and they're big and fast. We cautiously watch this guy for awhile, but he's only interested in cooling off, getting a cold drink, and keeping the bugs at bay. We get a kick out of it when, every few minutes, he dips his big long moose snout into the water, looks like he's blowing bubbles, then shakes his head around to keep the bugs away. Suddenly he starts moving in our direction. I jump out of the water, grab my clothes, and get ready to make a dash for it when Mr. Moose goes running off down a trail through the woods. We can hardly believe our luck at having this magical place to ourselves.

Later, Ranger Todd goes off to take sunset pictures and discovers a meadow where our friend the moose has plopped himself down on the ground for the evening. When I meet up with Todd again later, I spot a little patch of wild chives growing next to a waterfall, so we sit and munch on wild chives, watching the sunset, the moose, the cascading water, and the slowly encroaching shadow on the mountainside, content to just be here together in such a beautiful place at such a beautiful time.

The next day we backpack 8 miles to Elizabeth Lake, enjoy more swimming, watch the fish jump out of the lake, skip rocks across the glassy water, and watch another sunset.

Overall, it's been a perfect backpacking trip and Glacier's wild backcountry is a memorable highlight of our travels over the past several months. We hope to be back here again!

P.S. Hi Ga and Papa! Thanks so much for letting us crash your new pad and for putting up with us before we left Denver!
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