My trip up 93 the next morning was in pouring rain so I decided to take a diversion through the National Bison Range. Wasn’t much to photograph but I did catch a Whitetail Buck in some rather dim light and through the rain. I expect to see Mule Deer in this part of the country so a white tail was surprising; but not nearly as surprising as Grizzlies gettin’ at it along the Hungry Horse. Again, special photographs will often surprise you and they may not be by design. You have your cameras ready and hope to be lucky.
Montana is Grizzly Country. From the Gallatin Mountains at Yellowstone up through the heart of the Rockies to Glacier, Montana is rich with wildlife. Viewing large mammals from roadways is not just possible it’s probable. At this point in a travel photo-essay, it becomes imperative to discuss driving at night. Large mammals are active and encounters at night are numerous. Using your brights and slowing your speeds is necessary for self preservation. Moose and Elk are so large; a vehicle will take out their legs, sending a huge, massive body crushing thru your windshield. You will always be the loser.
Glacier greeted me with more rain and the temperatures were not much to the liking of this desert rat. The “Goin to the Sun Road” had already been closed due to heavy snows so I did some hiking in the rain at Avalanche Creek and bedded down in West Glacier hoping the road would be opened the following day.
The road was opened in the early afternoon but rain was heavy at Logan Pass. I started up the trail to Hidden Lake but my hiking was abbreviated as I was driven back by cold heavy rain. With the roadway also under construction, traffic was light so I decided to work the western slopes in search of drama between the jagged mountain tops and storm clouds. At dusk I found myself back at Logan Pass deciding which side of the mountain to descend. This was not an enviable position as the rain was beginning to turn to sleet and the parking lot was freezing beneath my feet as I trekked back to my Van. So now what to do? Driving down these grades on black ice with flurries (now thick snow) was not looking like much fun. Aside from that, visibility was now down to about 10 or 20 feet. I decided a night in the parking lot was not such a bad idea and even if I got chewed on this was much safer than driving down the mountain. I can’t remember the last time I was so cold. I now question the zero-degree rating of my sleeping bag. Of course as I’ve mentioned before, my desert living makes me wimp out a bit in the cold.
By morning my sleeping bag was covered with jeans, tee shirts, underwear, jackets and dirty laundry. I piled anything on top to help stay warm. I followed a snow plow down the mountain to a parking area where he turned around. A bit further I stopped at a restroom and decided to determine what the day would be ahead. After a miserably cold night an icy cold toilet seat was all I could bear. I am reminded by each such encounter why I like living in the desert. So off to Kalispell I went. They have a Costco there and I figured a comforter over my sleeping bag was in order as the temps were certainly changing and Yellowstone may not be any better. Besides, I needed to clean out the inside of my Van, restock some food-stuff and change my oil.
I first headed to a car wash after my oil change but didn’t really need to address the outside after so much rain. You see, I had been on the road over three weeks and now was in the middle of bear country. Not just bears, but big bears. The kind that make me worry a little at night when staying in campsites. My OCDs took over and I was scrubbing out the inside of my Van like crazy. I trashed any opened food packages that had even the slightest bit of odor. I wiped down my storage boxes, got totally re-organized and then scrubbed down the inside of the Van like a crazy man to eliminate any and all possible odors. Clorox stock may have went up fifty cents due to the number of disinfectant wipes I used in Kalispell. All fresh and clean I headed back to Glacier with my eye on exploring the eastern slopes of the Park. Mini Glacier is great for spectacular views, bears, moose and bighorns, while Two Medicine has equally spectacular views and wildlife, some interesting hikes and beautiful light. With that in mind I crossed over Logan Pass and was greeted by my first moose along Lake St Mary and a herd of elk right across the road. The moose was a bull, the first I had ever seen at Glacier and certainly not where I would have expected to find one. For future reference, one of the photographers was telling us stories about a huge bull he had seen under the bridge at Moose Junction in the Tetons. I was getting excited at the prospect of seeing him if he hung around for awhile. But that was several days off, so I didn’t really have high expectations, and was distracted by an Osprey working the lake.
I had dinner at the lodge at the East Park Entrance and headed to St Mary Campground excited with the days quarry. Now I think what creeps me out the most about Grizzly Country is seeing all the warnings in campgrounds, and then walking back from the pay stations in the dark. At this time of year however, I just park in the closest space to them. This was a long day, and I was well fed, so getting the bears off my mind and getting to sleep should not be much of a problem. So here I am, down for night……. What the hell is that smell? Where’s it coming from? How could I not have noticed it before? What is it? Why….. It smells like lemon! Oh no, I didn’t. Sure enough, in my haste to get my Van all clean and disinfected, I didn’t pay attention that the wipes had a lemon scent. Of course it’s obscured when first using them because the Clorox scent is so strong. So here I am, in the middle of bear country, smelling like a big freaking lemon. Come and get me. How stupid is that? Keep the bear spray handy, and just hope them bears notice the Van is light green. Then maybe they’ll think the lemon isn’t ripe and pass me by.