Relaxing — June 15-16
For the first two days of our 4-day stay in the Saint Mary Campground in the Park, we stayed fairly close to our base. We did some short walks and visited the Visitor Center often for access to wifi that we needed to secure reservations for further into the summer. (We didn’t even have AT&T phone reception at the campground.) When we asked about the free shuttle service provided to transport visitors to the many points of interest, we learned a) that the road was still snow-bound (and blocked) that cuts through the Park from the east side to the west side through Logan Pass and b) the shuttle service on the east side was not yet operating.
Right next to our camper was a den occupied by a number of ground squirrels. I am no expert, but I judge by the coloration that they were Columbian Ground Squirrels. The literature also mentions that their most common activity above ground is standing at attention, and that certainly matched my observations. Wikipedia mentions that they first came to the attention of the scientific community through writings produced by Lewis and Clark.
When we realized that we wanted to extend from two to four days, Barb made a reservation, getting one of the very last available. When it came time to move to the new site, we discovered that it was already occupied with new campers. Turned out a new Park employee had messed up and double-booked our site. Although we had the initial reservation, the other campers had the site, and they had secured their camper and then disappeared. What to do? Finally a senior member of the staff realized that one of the group sites was not going to be used for the two additional days that we desired, and so we were permitted to occupy the roomy spot.
Apikuni Falls — June 17
Our first real hike was relatively short, up only one mile but rising some 700 feet to the Apikuni Falls, and then back down the same way to the car. To get to the trail we had exited the Park and had driven up to the tiny town of Babb before re-entering in the “Many Glacier” section of the Park.
Swiftcurrent Nature Trail — June 17
Not sated, we continued up the road past the Many Glacier Hotel to the Swiftcurrent Trailhead, where we left the car, after having added the bear spray to our kit. 🙂 The Trail is an easy, level trail that follows the shoreline of the Swiftcurrent Lake in a 2.5 mile loop. Early in the loop we encountered a Mule Deer that was entirely indifferent to our presence. I didn’t even unholster the bear spray. 🙂 Later, we caught a glimpse across a bay of the lake of a Moose cow with a calf, but they were too far away for a photo.
Seven-eighths of the way around, we stopped at the luxurious Many Glacier Hotel for cups of hot cocoa.
Three Falls & Lotsa Steps — June 18
On our last day we drove up the Going-to-the-Sun Road to the trailhead for Sun Point, where we joined a small group led by a Park Volunteer for a guided hike to Sun Point and then Baring Falls, where the guided hike stopped but the trail continued. Most of the group retraced their steps with the guide, but we continued onward. The main trail continued on past three falls and then further. Each of three attractions (Sun Point & two of the falls) on the portion of the trail paralleling the Going-to-the-Sun Road had fairly lengthy separate trailheads on the road. We had entered the main trail at the Sun Point Trailhead, and would not use any of the other accessing trails with their own trailheads. The nominal one-way distance from the Sun Point Trailhead to Virginia Falls was listed as 3.5 miles, but by the time we returned to our auto, Barb’s tracking software registered 8.3 miles! No wonder we were tired when we returned!
Sun Point is the former location of the Going-to-the-Sun Point Chalets. The site itself is spectacular, but little remains of what was once among the most desirable alpine lodging destinations in America. The Great Northern Railway, under the direction of James J.Hill, built the Going-to-the-Sun Chalets in 1912 . The builders used local logs and stone. Early visitors would board a vessel at the St. Mary Chalets for a one-hour ride up the lake to the chalets, docking on the lee side of a prominent outcropping. For a brief quarter-century, Going-to-the-Sun Chalets — affectionately known as “Sun Camp” — was immensely popular. Within two years of opening, the complex was hosting about 3,000 guests per season. The dramatic setting and the stunning vistas were straight out of a Swiss storybook. It was expensive, and required a significant amount of time to reach. But the demise of Going-to-the-Sun was not a result of its high cost nor inconvenience. Rather, the Chalets declined precisely because they had become accessible by road. When the Park opened up to automobiles, the new generation might stop for a meal or to buy a knick-knack, but then would continue up the road to far cheaper and more convenient new tourist camps offering “auto cabins”, feeling that was all that was really needed after a day of exploring. The Chalets, with separate lodging, bathhouses, and dining areas, were simply too time consuming and expensive for the modern motorist. The number of overnight guests sank like a stone. Lodging discontinued circa 1942 and the chalets were demolished after World War Two in 1948. An ignoble death: they were bulldozed off the cliff onto the ice below and set afire. You can read more here.
(An interesting aside: our guide told us that the small island on the south shore to the west of Sun Point used to have a cabin occupied by a notorious partier. Although the island is not very close to the chalet sites, on one occasion the party got so loud that a chalet employee was sent out to row over to complain.)
The pictures below show some of the sights along the trail westward from Sun Point, culminating with Baring Falls.
Saint Mary Falls
Sights along the trail from Baring Falls to Saint Mary Falls, culminating in three pics at the falls.
Continuing along the trail past Saint Mary Falls, we encountered Virginia Creek. Often along the 0.7 mi trail from the St. Mary bridge to Virginia Falls, we saw dramatic rapids. Virginia Falls itself was by far the most dramatic of the three falls we had seen along the trail. It was time to turn around and retrace our steps to the auto.
We were told that there are only 25 glaciers left in the park, down from the over 150 in existence when the Park was created in 1910. They are now so rapidly disappearing that there will be none by 2030. So of course we wanted to see some. Alas, they are not easy to get to, and not very visible from the roads. One of the few visible from the road is Jackson Glacier. The overlook is about 4.5 miles east of Logan Pass. We stopped at the overlook with great anticipation. Alas, clouds were obscuring the tops of the mountains, and what we presume was the glacier really only looked like a distant snow bank. Here is my disappointing picture: