Tuesday, September 08, 2015

15 years and 2,858 miles: Glacier National Park

Three years ago I began planning our 15th anniversary trip.  Since Mason was born 10 years ago, we had taken only one trip by ourselves, and that was to San Antonio for our 10th wedding anniversary.  So it seemed like 15 years would be the next one.  I wanted to go to Charleston, South Carolina.  I envisioned romantic and relaxing.  So the plan was for us to spend four days in Charleston.  I didn't want to be gone on a weekend, and I didn't want to leave the children too long either.

The day before I was going to purchase our plane tickets, I got a text from Seth.  How about Colorado instead of Charleston?  He was out of town at the time.  It took me awhile to respond, but when I did, I told him we would just need to talk about that one. And we did.  He'd just found out he was going to be in Denver the week before our Charleston trip and asked if I would instead come up at the end of that week and join him there.  My initial reaction was NO.  I wanted relaxing.  But I knew that if we planned that trip, it would be the complete opposite of relaxing, and I wasn't sure I was up for that.  Besides, how could I plan a trip to Colorado in less than a month?!

It took him about a week, but he finally convinced me.  So now, instead of Charleston, we were headed to the Rockies.  Instead of four days, we were going to be gone 10 days and a weekend.  Although I've never been to Charleston, I was born and bred in the south and have been all over it.  But I'd never been any farther west than San Antonio and any farther north than Missouri (not including New York).  Seth has begged for several years to take me to Colorado, but it just never seemed doable.  I've always told him that the children need to be a little older before we attempt a road trip like that.  But this time it would be just the two of us.  I really don't know how he felt about Charleston.  But he was GIDDY about Colorado.  I don't think I've ever used Seth and giddy in the same sentence before (except for when LSU won the National Championship maybe)!  So, of course, I had to go!

I bought my plane ticket and began to map out our trip.  I asked if we could go to Yellowstone since we would be "in the area."  I decided I might as well get the most I could out of this trip because I knew it would be awhile before we would go back.  Seth told me we would go wherever I wanted to.  And then I found out about Glacier National Park in the northwestern corner of Montana.  I knew it would be a lot of miles, a lot of driving, but I wanted to go for it.  Seth agreed to all of it so we mapped out our route and began making hotel reservations.  Not including the round trip flight from New Orleans to Denver, we traveled 2,858 miles across four states (Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho).

I knew there would be a lot of scenery involved in this trip.  One thing I didn't necessarily want to do was go and take a lot of pictures of mountains.  I knew that I would be disappointed with my pictures, that they wouldn't look like what I was REALLY seeing.  And, of course, I was right.  I restrained myself when it came to the picture taking, but I did come home with a lot of pictures.  And NONE of them even come close to capturing what we really saw and experienced.  It was absolutely breath-taking.

When I began uploading pictures to chronicle our road trip, I realized that there was no way I wanted to cover 10 days and 2,858 miles in one post.  So this will be the first of three posts about our trip.  And if you don't like pictures of mountains, you might want to come back in a few days.

I was scheduled to fly out on our anniversary to meet Seth in Denver.  He'd already been there for three days.  I scheduled an early evening flight to give him time to finish working and then get to the airport to pick me up.  That evening several thunderstorms rolled into the New Orleans area.  It hadn't rained in two weeks!  But it did that night and delayed my flight nearly five hours.  I finally made it to Denver at 2:00AM.  Seth picked me up, and by the time we got my luggage and drove to the hotel, it was almost 3:30AM.  Seth had to work that day so I had planned to simply read a book.  All. day. long.  I was exhausted from the long day before so I slept late and then read my book until Seth got back.  We basically went out to eat, did a little shopping and then went back to the hotel.

The next day was Friday.  Seth had to work that morning.  That afternoon we left Denver and headed to Casper, Wyoming.  Seth has spent a lot of time in Casper so it was neat seeing the places he always talks about, the places he frequents when he's there.  Wyoming is the least populated state in the United States.  Nearly half of the land is government owned.  Wyoming tops many of the "best of" lists when it comes to retirement, quality of life, tax rate and crime rate.  Seth has been there in the winter time.  I have not.  I'm sure that might make a difference.  But, having been there, I get it now.

Casper is the second-largest city in Wyoming.  The population is a mere 56,000.  Seth drove me up Casper Mountain.  We ended the day with a walk along the North Platte River than runs through the city.  

The next morning we woke up very early (much earlier than I ever want to wake up when I'm on vacation) and made the drive north into Montana.  When I saw this sign, y'all, I was GIDDY!
Once in Montana, we headed west across the length of the state and then northwest to Kalispell.  Our ultimate destination was Glacier National Park.  By this time, fires had been burning for about three weeks on the east side of the park.  We had already planned to lodge on the west side of the park so that didn't affect our itinerary.  The only thing was that we would not be able to travel the entire length of the Going-to-the-Sun Road because the portion east of Logan Pass was closed due to the fire.

We drove 12 hours that day before getting to our hotel.  We had to take a slight detour to swap out our rental car because the oil had not been changed in the original one we were given, and all of the bells and whistles started going off.  We also stopped a lot to enjoy the beautiful scenery.  Miles and miles and miles and miles of the most beautiful pasture lands and fields and glistening green-blue rivers and rugged mountains and buttes.  I'd never seen anything like it before!

The thing that surprised me the most about Montana was that it was 100 degrees when we pulled into the hotel parking lot at 5:00 in the afternoon!  I wasn't expecting it to be that hot.  But, it really wasn't "hot."  I could breathe and actually be outside and enjoy it.  I didn't even sweat!  

The next day we spent at Glacier National Park.

That morning we hiked the Trail of the Cedars and the Avalanche Lake Trail.  I wasn't sure about hiking and didn't necessarily plan on hiking.  I don't know what I was thinking!  That's what I enjoyed the most about the whole trip.  

We really enjoyed our first hike in Glacier.

We finally reached our destination, Avalanche Lake.  I didn't use a filter on any of my pictures.  Some of them were taken with my phone and others were taken with my camera.  So what you see is what you get.  Avalanche Lake . . . was gorgeous!  But smoke from the fire on the east side had begun to settle here so these pictures do not AT ALL capture the beauty we saw, even through the haze.  It was like this little lake was nestled in the bottom of a valley and surrounded by mountains with waterfalls spilling down the sides.    

Growing up in Georgia, all of our rivers and lakes are muddy brown thanks to the red clay dirt.  And the muddy Mississip didn't get it's nickname for nothing.  But the water here . . . was crystal clear everywhere.

After our hike, we spent the afternoon on a raft trip.  I didn't take my phone or camera with me so I don't have any pictures from that.  

The next day we went back to Glacier.  We took a red bus tour on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  The road is about 50 miles and is the only road that spans the length of the park.  It's open only 12 weeks out of the year due to snowfall and then the amount of time it takes the snow ploughs to clear the road.  Again, we had originally planned to travel the entire road, but we couldn't because of the fire.  When we were there, you could go 30 miles to Logan Pass so that's what we did.  I loved this tour because we learned A LOT about the park that we probably wouldn't have learned otherwise.  Our driver stopped several times so we could take pictures.  And we also figured out what places we wanted to come back to explore and how best to get there.

Our tour took the entire morning.  When we were done, we decided to drive all the way back to Logan Pass and hike the Hidden Lake Trail.  So that's what we did.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is, hands down, the most scenic drive I've ever taken!  It's just amazing how the road was constructed along the sides of the mountains.  If you look closely at the middle of this picture, you can see the road.  It crosses over Bird Woman Falls at this point.  You can see where they made that little tunnel in the road for the waterfall.  Again, just amazing.
Even though the smoke is rising, it's still beautiful.  There are many waterfalls and rivers throughout the park.

And even during the first week in August, there is still snow on the mountains!

There is no filter on this picture.  The creek is just that jade green!  It has something to do with the glacial sediment.  You can google that.

We made it back up to Logan Pass, which is the highest point of elevation along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  This marks the Continental Divide.  All of the waters on the east of the divide flow into the Atlantic or Gulf.  All of the waters on the west of the divide flow into the Pacific.  We crossed over the Continental Divide many times during our trip.

We hiked from Logan Pass to Hidden Lake.  It was a beautiful hike surrounded by snow dusted mountains and wildflowers.

This picture does absolutely nothing to capture the beauty of Hidden Lake!

We hiked back down to Logan Pass and took Going-to-the-Sun Road back out of the park. I took this picture through the windshield as we were driving.  This road was super narrow, and there was absolutely no room for error.  You are either against a rock wall or on the edge of a cliff.

As we made our way out of the park, we found another fabulous place to stop and just enjoy God's creation.  There really are no words to express what it felt like standing there.  I mean, I love the ocean.  It's my happy place.  I've always said that part of God's creation just speaks to me and reveals the Creator to me in a way that speaks peace and mercy and grace and love.  But the parts of God's creation that I saw in Montana spoke just as powerfully, only different.  It was God's majesty and glory and righteousness and even judgment that I stood in awe of!

I've always said I could never live outside the south.  But I don't know.  I think this trip changed my mind.  I told Seth that if we lived up there, I'd have me an annual pass to Glacier National Park, and I'd spend every weekend hiking those trails, floating those waters and swimming those lakes!  One of the many things I enjoyed about this area is that it wasn't so heavily populated.  It was easy to navigate and travel.  And the locals . . . let me tell you, they were passionate about their state!  By the time we left Montana, I was convinced I could live there!

But we did have to leave.  The next day we traveled eight hours south to the corner of Idaho and then east into northwestern Wyoming to visit the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.

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