Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Archive for June, 2007


posted: June 27th, 2007 | by:Bert

nate murphy with leonardo

Nate Murphy and Leonardo

MISSION: SEARCHING FOR PROSE & PHOTOS—With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

©Bert Gildart: “It’s like a smoking gun,” said Nate Murphy of Malta, Montana, “because it may be one of the most perfectly preserved dinosaurs ever found in North America, and because the evidence there could help us solve many mysteries.”

But Murphy’s 23-foot “smoking gun” didn’t die recently; rather it plodded this part of Montana 77-million years ago in what paleontologists call the Cretaceous period. Back there it died—to be buried repeatedly then by tons of sediments contained in a winding ancient river of the time.

And there it remained, waiting for the climate to change, for erosion to occur—and for Nate Murphy and his crew of diggers to expose it and then excavate it throughout the summer and fall of the year 2000.

Fort Peck T. Rex

"Peck Rex," complete T. Rex

Murphy says that “Leonardo”—as he named his find—may provide clues as to whether dinosaurs were warm- or cold-blooded. Because perfectly preserved food has been found in both the stomach and colon, paleontologists can tell not only what it ate immediately prior to death, but what it ate over a long period of time—“and that,” says Murphy, “is just for starters.

“If you dig dinosaurs,” quips Murphy, “Montana’s the place to be. And it doesn’t have to be in my backyard. You can find dinosaur bones in many eastern Montana settings; you just have to know what you’re looking for. And then, you’ve got to dig.”

We were hooked—ready to become paleo-nerds. We wanted to regress a bit. We wanted to don shorts, slide into sandals, saunter around with those cool little brushes all paleontologist carry.

We wanted to leap into our RV and travel Montana’s brand new Dinosaur Trail, in part because it promised to take us to some of the state’s neatest places. Montana’s Dino Trail is almost 1,000 miles long, and not only does it provide access to some of the state’s incredible dinosaur museums, but simply following The Dino Trail will place you in the middle of some of the state’s best fishing, the state’s best campsites, and some of its most compelling historic areas.

If you want, you could make the route your life’s work, but if that’s not feasible, you should give the Dino Trail at least a couple of weeks.

Though you can begin your adventure anywhere on the Dinosaur Trail, one really cool place to begin is the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, home of one of the state’s major universities. Here, you’ll see examples of different dinosaurs excavated from Montana.

makoshika dinosaur museum

Makoshika Dinosaur Museum

With luck, you may also meet museum curator Jack Horner, who is one of the nation’s best-known paleontologists.Horner was a consultant for the movie “Jurassic Park,” and is also the author of a number of scientific papers on dinosaurs and of the popular book, Dinosaurs Under The Big Sky

So there you have it; a teaser as provided in the above. The rest is up to you, and because we incorporated so much into our trip last year, we took almost three weeks. Unfortunately, I’ve just received word from the Montana Department of Tourism, an organization that sponsors my trips when I have an assignment (which I did) that Nat Murphy has just retired. Still the Malta station is still manned; you can see Leonardo, camp at Fort Peck, and visit Makoshika State Park—with all of its dinosaur remains.

Makoshika state park

Makoshika State Park

You can’t go wrong, trust me.

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Night Of The Grizzlies

posted: June 24th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: Nineteen sixty seven was a dramatic time in Glacier National Park. Some of the park’s worst forest fires were raging, but what I remember most were the park’s first fatal grizzly bear maulings. I remember them because I was intimately involved, and this year, I’m remembering them as Backpacker Magazine is recalling them in their current issue. As well PBS is interviewing me—and others—asking us to recall our various involvements. They’re doing so now as this year marks the 40th year since those tragic times. Like most people, I don’t mind a bit of publicity, but am hoping the various publications will also focus on the good that came from these horrible tragedies. To some extent, that is what Jack Olsen did in his classic book, Night of the Grizzlies.

1967 killer bear

1967 Killer Bear, created by backcountry neglect

I was involved essentially because all permanent rangers were out fighting fires. In 1967 I was a road patrol ranger and though I wanted to be out fighting fire—and had asked for such consideration—the powers to be felt road patrol work was critical to visitor safety, and so my request was denied. As a result, I was one of the few rangers available when tragedy befell the two 19-year old girls.

On August 13, 1967, shortly after midnight I was piloting a huge truck over Logan Pass. Suddenly I heard a voice from Granite Park Chalet trying to reach headquarters, but failing because of poor transmission. Hearing the voice, from my location high up near Logan Pass, I served as a relay to headquarters, explaining medical attention was needed at Granite Park Chalet—that a young lady had been critically mauled…

That night I returned to my apartment in West Glacier about 3 a.m.

Several hours later, about 6:30 a.m., Norm Hagen, another seasonal ranger, woke me and said that I was needed immediately, that a young lady had been mauled at Trout Lake, and that I was to hike the four miles into Trout Lake and the Camas Creek drainage and see what I could find. Not surprisingly, I was confused, for I could not believe that yet another mauling had occurred. Sadly, Norm told me the young lady at Granite Park had died hours earlier.

Driving around lake McDonald to the trailhead I then rushed into Trout Lake and met Leonard Landa, who had left an hour or so prior to my departure. He was the seasonal ranger at Lake McDonald, and was waiting for some support before beginning a search. With my arrival and that of a helicopter flown in by John Westover who brought in the park’s engineer, Max Edgar, we formed an adequate search party. We all fanned out and began a search–hoping for the best.

Moments later, Leonard called out softly and announced that he had found the girl. We wrapped her in a body bag and Westover flew her out. The engineer left his rifle with me, and Leonard and I searched the valley for other campers and then provided an armed escort to the one remaining couple that we had located miles up the drainage.

Several days later, Leonard and I were dispatched to find the bear. We hiked back into the valley, then hiked up the Camas Creek drainage and spent the night in the park’s Arrow Lake Patrol Cabin. Early next morning (to make a long story short), I went outside to use the bathroom, and there, about 30 yards away, was a grizzly bear. I called for Leonard to bring out the rifles, and when the bear started moving toward us, we both fired. Both shots were fatal, one fired from a .300 H&H magnum, the other from a .30-06. A later evaluation of the bear confirmed we had shot the right bear (we’d been told to shoot any bear we saw, believing that any bear that didn’t run was a suspect bear). Later evaluation also revealed the bear had glass embedded in its molars and that this was, in fact, a small emaciated 17-year-old sow, weighing less than 300 pounds.

Much the same thing was happening at Granite Park Chalet, though more bears were shot there as more bears had become “conditioned” to the presence of people.

About a week after the incidents, Ruben Hart, the park’s chief ranger and I flew by helicopter back to Trout Lake, and found so much garbage that the huge Huey Helicopter didn’t have adequate space for just a single trip. In fact, many trips were subsequently required to clean up this backcountry campsite.

In fact, virtually all backcountry campsites had become dump grounds. Because of the conditions, these were tragedies just waiting to happen. In fact, the dual maulings created a national outcry demanding an evaluation of backcountry conditions, and the implementation of a Bear Management Plan, previously lacking.

At Granite Park Chalet, managers there had been intentionally luring bears to the chalet to entertain guests. At the time, National Park managers said they were unaware of the situation, but that was not the case, as David Shea, another seasonal ranger, and I had hiked to the chalet a week prior to the mauling, watched the feeding and reported on our findings to park headquarters. Others had done similarly.

With time the problems were corrected, and a bear management plan was implemented. Still, about ten years later, another mauling occurred, this time along Divide Creek near St. Mary. Once again, garbage was the culprit, and I focused on that for a major story I wrote for Smithsonian Magazine. The story also examined bear biology.

Today, the park has a well thought out management plan. In the broadest sense, the plan seeks to separate people and bears, and has mandates to help achieve that goal. For starters, regulations prohibit dogs from accompanying their owners into the backcountry. As well, they suggest people not hike alone, or if they do, make plenty of noise. The plan recommends women not hike during their menses. In 1967 all these factors now considered taboo were present. But at the time, no one had researched the delicate coexistence of man and bear.

The plan further specifies that bears that habitually frequent areas of human habitation are tranquilized and then relocated. If they return, they are euthanized. The plan requires that you suspend food in a tree some distance from your tent. Of course, I’ve only touched the surface, as you’ll discover if you visit any park service facility.

Is the Bear Management Plan working?

I think it is and when you consider that over 2-million people now pass through Glacier National Park annually, it’s to the park’s credit that most fatalities that do occur in the park are generally not from bear maulings. Stupid things do, however, still occur, and I’ve inadvertently been in situations where people have done unimaginable things, but by and large, the park is much safer today than it was 40 years ago—that awful Night of the Grizzlies.

4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.

$18.95 + Autographed Copy

Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

What makes Glacier, Glacier?

Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent

Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

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Top Ten National Parks for RVers

posted: June 20th, 2007 | by:Bert

going to the sun road

Going to the Sun Highway, Glacier Park

©Bert Gildart: Have a favorite national park?

As a mast-head “Contributor” to MotorHome Magazine that’s what editors asked Janie and me to come up with, but not just one, rather ten.

Our tally is in the July issue of MotorHome and it is now on the news stands.

Coming up with a list of top ten was difficult, but it was made somewhat easier as it had to accommodate RVers. What’s more, we also thought the parks needed to be family friendly, so that helped.

Here, then, is our list, and a little further down, an example of one of the write-ups we provided to substantiate our opinions.

Acadia National Park: Dawn’s First Light

Big Bend: Infinite Variety

Death Valley National Park: Land of Mystery

Glacier National Park: Home to America’s Most Beautiful Highway (according to Charles Kuralt)

Joshua Tree National Park: Plenty of Elbow Room

Mesa Verde National Park: World’s Most Extensive Archaeological Site

Redwood National and State Parks: World’s Tallest Trees

Shenandoah National Park: Hiker’s Delight

Yellowstone National Park: Amazing Wildlife

Zion: Geology Fit For The Big Screen

Zion park

Zion: Geology for the big screen

Here’s an example of one of the write-ups which suggests the rationale we used in making our selection. If you have other preferences, let us know. In the meantime, if you are an RVer, buy the magazine, for there is lots of good information in every issue! What’s more, you can then read our other nine write-ups.

Sub-Title: Mesa Verde National Park: World’s Most Extensive Archaeological Sites

RVers may appreciate Mesa Verde more than any other group of travelers. With us we have our homes and accoutrements that include microwaves, air conditioners, solar panels, and Wi-Fi Cards.

Now contrast that with what the ancient puebloans had and you can see how far our race has advanced. But keep in mind the wisdom these ancient people exhibited in selecting their sites to optimize warmth, grow various types of produce, protect themselves again enemies—and communicate.

If suddenly thrust back to years spanning AD 500 to AD 1300, I’m not sure I would have survived so well.

Theodore Roosevelt created Mesa Verde and did so in 1906, to “preserve the works of man,” About the same time, Congress passed the Antiquities Act, essentially to protect yet further the 4,000 some ruins that help attract the curious to what has since become a World Heritage Center (See explanation under Redwoods).

mesa verde spruce tree house

Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House

Because of its accessibility by auto and foot, RVers should never bypass this park. In fact, the best way of acquiring a feeling for the park is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road, which traces 700 years of pueblo history at 12 overlooks or actual sites.

But for an intimate look at the kivas, and actual living accommodations you can’t beat the half-mile hike from the Visitor Center to Spruce Tree House. While in the area, consider, too, the 2.8-mile long Petroglyph Trail, which departs from same trail descending to Spruce Tree House.

Make these short hikes and follow the Auto Loop Road and your appreciation for the resourcefulness of these people will exceed casual curiosity, mandating you lengthen your stay from several days to several weeks (You’ll never want for things to do).

Children, in fact, become so fascinated that their visit often establishes a career path in archaeology.

Mesa Verde offers wonderful camping just 4 miles inside the park at Morefield Camppground. Because there are 435 sites, there’s always plenty of space. But if you want one of the 15 full-hookup RV sites, you’ll have to make reservations.

Now that you’ve seen our list, what’s yours? Again, we’d sure like to know.

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Three Baby Skunks Venture into the Big World

posted: June 15th, 2007 | by:Bert

Baby Skunk Stomping Feet

Baby skunk stomping feet

©Bert Gildart: The young of all creatures are generally adorable, and that is certainly true of three baby skunks I saw this evening while riding my bike near home, about 30 miles south of Glacier National Park. Off in the bushes near a small creek known as Rose Creek, three tiny striped skunks emerged from the bushes.

Their first reaction was one of curiosity, and though I was nervous as they moved my way, I too was curious. Closer and closer they moved until one was almost standing on my feet. Suddenly it sensed something might not be quite right, so it backed off, puffed itself up and stomped its feet, a normal response when afraid. Believing this might be a good photo opportunity, I quickly peddled back home, got Janie, got camera equipment, and together we returned in our old work truck—not the good one that pulls our Airstream, and that we certainly would not want sprayed.

Because I am so fascinated with wildlife, years ago I convinced the Glacier Natural History Association they needed a mammal book, and they concurred. Here are a few paragraphs from it.

Of the four species of skunks in North America, only the striped skunk is seen locally. As skunks are nocturnal, they are not commonly seen in Glacier or Waterton. They can, however, make their presence known, for when they are disturbed or provoked, they discharge a strong smelling fluid from scent glands located beneath their tails. Occasionally local populations increase significantly, and they have to be live-trapped from buildings and then relocated. Over 40 were removed from one of Waterton’s campgrounds, and in 1974 more than 50 were removed from Apgar Campground in Glacier Park.

Before discharging the scent, as a warning, one of these “polecats” may stamp its front feet, but should its tail snap up, intruder beware! Some skunks can be accurate to 20 feet and they can spray from just about any angle.

Despite their defensive mechanism, skunks are sometimes preyed upon by coyotes or bobcats, especially during hard times. Owls—in particular, the great-horned owl—seem to be immune to these offensive odors and often prey upon skunks.Normally skunks sleep in dens during the day and do most of their hunting for insects, rodents, frogs, and snakes at night. They are not true hibernators, but during a cold spell may take long naps…

Two curious baby skunks

Curious baby skunks

Janie and I spent an hour photographing the three baby skunks, and again they approached us, this time almost stepping on Janie’s feet. Rather than babies, however, they reminded us of teenagers, testing their way into adulthood with bluff and bluster. Again, they stomped their feet, but they never raised their tail in a way that concerned us.

Eventually, they crawled back into a log, and there they remained, for we didn’t see them again. Not everyone appreciates skunks—so we hope they remain well out of sight. We left, wishing them a good life—and a long one.

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No Table Manners Among Turkey Vulture

posted: June 11th, 2007 | by:Bert

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

©Bert Gildart: Ain’t he a handsome dude with his bald head, see-through nostrils, and hook-like point on the end of its beak?

If you haven’t already met this character, take time now to acquaint yourself with the turkey vulture, a fascinating bird you’re likely to see right now no matter where you might live in North America. And, really, despite looks, he’s not evil as he might appear. Just keep in mind, however, that this bird has never been accused of having good table manners.

That’s something you may learn if you live in the Northwest, for young have probably hatched by now, though will remain in their nest for a few more weeks. If you find one, watch out, particularly if it’s protecting young, else you might depart smelling like you’ve been rolling in meat that has putrefied.

Turkey vultures, in fact, may be the king of bad table manners, but then imagine for a moment how poor etiquette could help them out. If a predator approaches, rather than leave his table, and the dead creature upon which the vulture is feeding, this baldheaded bird simply regurgitates its food, often onto the creature that wants to make a meal out of it! And the contents can be vile. In fact, the semi-digested material can almost blister the eyes of a predator.

The technique is also used to protect its young, and works particularly well for nests located high off the ground, for unable to project its vomit, the vulture simply coughs up its semi-digested materials, and lets it fall. If you’re beneath it, watch out!

Sometimes turkey vultures use the technique of coughing up food to rid its crop of heavy, undigested foods. If it were unable to do so, the bird would weight too much to lift off, and that could be disastrous for the vulture. At this point, predators often give up their pursuit of the vulture in exchange for a quick meal of semi-digested material.

Turkey Vulture vomit reflex

Vomiting Reflex is Defensive

OK, enough of the gross (but fascinating) aspects of the vulture. Let’s take a look at their see-through nostrils, the means by which they so efficiently locate their food.

Noses, you can see, are large, and the appropriate portion of the brain is correspondingly large. In fact, the part of their brain responsible for smell is larger than that of most other birds.

Turkey vultures look for food by soaring on long outstretched wings, and you’ll differentiate the bird from other species by the “V” shaped configuration of their wings. Biologists call this pattern a “dihedral” configuration.

Often when you see a vulture, it’ll be gliding fairly low to the ground, but its sense of smell is so strong it can actually pick up the odor of a dead animal in a forest of trees.

If you live in North America, keep your eyes open for this bird is a summer resident throughout the entire country. That means you could see one now, but remember, if it’s in a tree and nesting, don’t stay around long or you might find yourself covered with all sorts of semi-digested materials.

For him, it’s actually not bad manners, just his way of saying, “Well, excuse me, now, but aren’t you getting a little bit too close?”

Equipment details:
Nikon D200
AF Nikkor 24-85
Speedlight SB-800
SandiskUltra 2GB
Maxtor External Hard Drive

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Kayaking Can Extend RV Adventures

posted: June 8th, 2007 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: The month’s issue of Airstream Life features my story about extending the stage over which your RV will place you—by including kayaks in your adventures.

kayaking sunset

Sea Kayak Sunset Experience

Kayaks and Airstreams are, in fact, a perfect combination, for both slice through the air while traveling. Streaming to our destination with our trailer, our sleek kayaks continue the work, drilling through waves and undertows—gliding past sunken ships or through wildlife sanctuaries; through lakes so calm you must critically study resulting images to insure proper orientation.

Kayaks extend Airstream adventures

Kayaks and Campers: great together

We began our adventures with kayaks three years ago but did so with some practical preparations. First, we wanted information about the types of kayaks most suitable to our interest, and so we attended several kayak shows, eventually settling on two streamlined 17’ 10” sea kayaks made by Current Design.

Then, we took courses on how to self rescue, something everyone must do! But we also took courses on how not to dump, using techniques such as the high- and low-brace.

Then, I went one step further, taking a course in the Eskimo Roll—for it was my belief that if I mastered advanced skills I’d also develop the peripheral capabilities necessary to handle most any situation. To facilitate the learning I purchased several videos which provided instructional images on all the above techniques.

Because Glacier National Park is in our back yard, we began putting our newly acquired skills to use on a remote lake in the park. Loading our kayaks onto the top of our pickup, we pulled our Airstream into a campground located on Lake McDonald, and then struck out early one morning for a daytrip to Kintla Lake.

Kintla Lake kayak

Kintla Lake, Glacier National Park

We arrived at 6 a.m. and at the time not a breeze stirred the water’s surface, and we kayaked the lake’s five-mile length. On our return the winds and waves rose and we put to use a number of strokes we had learned to insure stability. With increased confidence several weeks later we struck out for Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, located along Lake Superior’s southern shore.

Kayaking the Apostles is one of the great attractions of this national lakeshore, and for kayakers, this is a must-see must-do destination, essentially because of the sea caves.

Though you’ll find sea caves along the mainland of the Apostles, certainly one of the most interesting areas is Sand Island, located about four miles from the mainland.

Sea caves rise from the water at various places and as they do they assume a variety of forms such as arches, fluted columns and deeply recessed caves.

Time, combined with wind and water, carved these caves and the action still continues, as evidenced by the whoomping sound created by wave water suctioning away a veneer of particles from interior walls. Some of the caves had low ceilings, while others had high ones.

Sea Caves Apostle Islands Lake Superior

Apostle Island Sea Caves, L. Superior

Some we could actually enter and then place our hands on the overhanging rock and actually “walk” from one end to the other.

Yet another area described in my story was Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore located along Michigan’s Lake Michigan. Because of a wreck that projects high above the water’s surface the park was particularly intriguing.

Though it is not easy to reach the remains of the Francisco Morazan, it is certainly worth the effort. From the mainland a ferry speeds you across Lake Michigan to South Manitou Island, and two hours later, we found ourselves erecting our tent at Bay Campground, a campground designated as “an entrance to the wilderness.” Three hours later, we were shoving off for the three-mile paddle along the shore of South Manitou. Four hours later, the wreck of the “Francisco Morazan” was in sight.

When you first see the old freighter, the huge ship seems an apparition; it simply doesn’t seem real. Sure you’re acquainted with tragedy of some form or other; most of us are. But because we’re so insulated from massive catastrophes, the sight of one, even a relatively old one, seems unreal. But there it was, the huge wrecked ship, and even from a distance, you know by the exaggerated list that something is wrong.

The Morazan met her fate on November 23, 1960, when the captain, blinded by heavy snow squalls, the captain turned to the port and ran his 246-foot freighter aground on the southern shores of South Manitou, where it has remained for the past 47 years.

Francisco Morazan Sea Kayaker

Francisco Morazan, Sea Kayak

The more you use your kayaks the more confident you become, and we have used them now in such diverse areas as Florida, Maine, Washington, and in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

As we travel our boats mount easily atop our Dodge pickup, which is a 4x 4 and sits high. So arranged our kayaks rise to just a few inches beneath the top of our trailer, which is 9 feet, six inches.

That’s the way we traveled over 2,000 miles from Montana to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, specifically to Fundy Bay, home to the world’s greatest tides as well as some of North America’s greatest camping and kayaking.

Of course, you don’t have to travel so far to enjoy kayaking, but the point is that an RV loaded with kayaks make the perfect marriage, literally enabling you to travel further and stay longer. Not a bad combination in this time when gas prices are hitting the stratosphere.

Equipment details:
Nikon D200
AF Nikkor 24-85
SandiskUltra 2GB
Maxtor External Hard Drive

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Cycling Glacier National Park’s Going To The Sun Road

posted: June 5th, 2007 | by:Bert

Famous road belongs to spring cyclist

Famous road belongs to spring cyclist

©Bert Gildart: Each spring the opening of Glacier National Park seems to be a gradual thing. The snow is cleared, but then a late season storm blows in undoing some of the work road crews have performed in attempting to open the 52-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road.

This year is no different, but there are some advantages to the gradual opening, particularly if you are a cyclist. Though the road is not quite suitable for vehicular traffic it is perfect for foot and bicycle traffic.

Often the portion of the road that is closed is the 15 mile section from Avalanche Creek Campground to Logan Pass, and so if you are a cyclist or a hiker you can be among the first to see this spectacular portion of Glacier.

Yesterday, I set out on my mountain bike for the 15 mile uphill ride to Logan Pass, knowing that the last few miles were still closed because of road construction. The rewards were immediate. Within the first half hour, a bear crossed the road. Five minutes later two deer poked their head out from the brush flanking McDonald Creek. Several other bikers had pulled over and were searching the rushing waters for Harlequin ducks. What’s more, the day was perfect with sun shinning on snow still lingering along peaks with names like Haystack Butte, Mount Oberlain, and Iceberg Peak.

No cars, more wildlife

No cars, more wildlife

Continuing my ride I began ascending in earnest the portion of the road where switchbacks become frequent. The grind was challenging, but I had been riding my bike almost every day for the past month, and the conditioning was paying off. Soon I passed Packer’s Roost, a camp used by horse packers taking food and equipment to one of the park’s chalets still in operation. Then a few minutes later, I came to the west-side tunnel which so perfectly frames Heaven’s Peak. The setting brought a flood of memories from all the years I worked in the park.

Shortly after graduating from high school I moved to Glacier National Park and one of the first things I was called upon to do as a seasonal trail crew employee was to fight fires along the slopes of Heaven’s Peak.

Curious deer along McDonald Creek

Curious deer along McDonald Creek

Next year, several other fellows and I climbed to the mountain’s summit. David Wilson was one of the young men and the following week he ascended Sun Mountain—then disappeared. We know he made the mountain’s summit as he signed the register on top of the peak, but after that he vanished and speculation continues to this day. Perhaps he fell; perhaps a bear got him.

Or maybe as Bob Frauson, district ranger at the time and our search leader speculated, he staged his disappearance and may one day turn up in South America. All that can be said with any certainty is that we searched for David Wilson for over a week, and never found a trace.

Continuing past the West Side Tunnel, the road continues on to what is known as the West Side Loop, and from here, you can command one of the most spectacular views of the fire of 1967—as well as several more recent fires as well. In Glacier, that was the year for both fires and bears, and was the night two girls were killed in two separate incidents by two different bears. I played an integral role in both incidents and some of those experiences are recounted in our new book. (The link will take you to Falcon Guides, then follow the thread to Books, and then to books categorized “Exploring.”)

Heaven’s Peak, less formidable than would appear

Heaven’s Peak, less formidable than would appear

When I finally reached the furthest point to which I could cycle I stopped for lunch and was soon joined by several other cyclists. One couple (Nancy and Scott) were the first I’d met in a very long time who had actually lived in the valley for any length of time and who knew some of the same people I had known. In the past 15 years, the population of the valley has more than doubled, meaning that I don’t recognize many people any more.

Though the trip up required about 2 ½ hours, the trip down was accomplished in about 45 minutes—minus photographic stops. Because winter damage to the road this year was worse than normal, park officials say it will be late June or early July before the road passing over Logan Pass will be completely open. The drive is, of course, spectacular, one that Charles Kuralt called one of the nation’s most spectacular.

It’s a drive I, too, enjoy, but since the road is not open, that means for a few more weeks, cyclist pretty much have this most inspiring portion of Glacier all to themselves, and that’s something I don’t mind at all.

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