Thursday, August 29, 2013

8/29 "Going to the Sun" Highway

This is the main road that goes from the east to the west entrances of Glacier National Park.  Unfortunately, it was built in the 30s and is very narrow and winding.  For that reason, vehicles over 21' are prohibited, but the National Park Service does provide a shuttle service.  Today, was supposed to be sunny and pleasant, so I rode my bike to the nearby St. Mary Visitor Center, parked and locked it, and hopped on one of the shuttles. 

I stayed on to the main transfer point, which is Logan's Pass.

There is a small visitor center there, but not really much in terms of it being an interpretive center.  Originally, I had planned this as a short stop and was going to take the next shuttle all the way to the western entrance.  When I got back, I would take the boardwalk to Hidden Lake.  However, since clouds were building up I decided I had better take my walk right away, while the sun was out and I could get good photos. 

The boardwalk was uphill, and had very large steps.  It was 1.5 miles long, which would have made a 3 mile roundtrip hike.  I decided that was just too much for me, so I stopped about halfway through to take this photo back at the visitor center, which you can hardly see in the distance.  Great views up here, even if I did not get to go all the way to the lake.

Good thing, I did.  It got more and more cloudy over time.  I hopped on a smaller westbound shuttle, and headed for MacDonald Lake, which is the last stop before the final terminus, Apgar.  I will be in Apgar on Monday, so I'll see that then.  These two photos were taken from the bus, so the quality is not the best.  If I had had a car, I could have pulled over in a few spots and taken better pictures, but frankly, it is a difficult drive even in a car, so the shuttle was still best.   West of the pass, they even use smaller shuttles because of the narrow road. 

This is the MacDonald Lake Lodge, a very nice historic hotel and restaurant complex.  I walked around for a while and took these photos.

Love this fireplace!  The inside of the lodge is unique and has that national park feel.

Time was running out because I did not want to miss the last shuttle.  By this point, also, it was really starting to look nasty and the temperatures had dropped.  Regretted not bring the rain jacket I had laid out and then left behind this morning.

Does this not look like the ultimate U-shaped glacier-carved valley?  By this point, you have probably noticed the lack of big glaciers.  It is predicted that in 7-8 years, Glacier National Park will have no Glaciers because of global warming.

The last 20 miles, the shuttle drove through hail, rain, and strong winds.  The rain had let up a bit by the time we got to the St Mary Visitor Center.  I grabbed my very wet bike (which is not supposed to get wet because of the electrical components) and rode the mile back to the campground.  By the time I got it onto the bike rack and covered up, I was completely soaked, so changed into dry clothes.  It was SO nice to get inside and warm!  Luckily the windows I had left open had not let too much rain in and my bed was dry.  Only puddle was in the bathroom where I had left the overhead vent open.

Long day, but very enjoyable.  Tomorrow is a rest and work day.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

8/27 Drive to Glacier National Park

Montana has varied scenery, illustrated by my drive from Three Forks to the east side of Glacier National Park.  Here the highway cuts through a canyon in the mountains.

And then it exits abruptly into more open land. 
And this is definitely plains as far as the eye can see.
With a town in the distance in the trees.

And more mountains in the distance, Glacier in this case.

St Mary's Lake in the distance.  This is one of the eastern entrances to the park and the location of my campground here.

And finally, here we are.

8/26 Museum of the Rockies

Actually, I came here twice because ticket is good for two days, and I got tired first day.  This museum is connected with Montana State University in Bozeman and is the place where the famous dinosaur-hunter Jack Horner is still curator of paleontology.  He is known for finding the first dinosaur eggs, as well as big t-Rex dinosaurs.  The scientist in Jurassic Park was supposedly modeled after him, and he acted as technical advisor to the movie.  You have probably also seen him on TV.

Anyway, this is a very nice museum with even big vehicle parking!  Yea!  There is a planetarium with shows almost every hour, a plains Indian museum, and a Montana history section here.

 This room is just a display of how they bring bones back to the university and clean them for study.

Here is where a bunch of dinosaurs got stuck in the mud!  Literally, only their legs are shown here.  And the legs are mostly from younger animals.  So a herd of animals got stuck, the adults were able to escape, but the juveniles died and the rest of the bodies were eaten and dragged away by predators, leaving all these vertical leg and foot bones.

One interesting thing they do for display, is to show the skeleton on one side and the animal as it would have looked with flesh on it on the other. Sort of a cutaway animal.
One of the nice things about this museum is that they have so many specimens, they can display adult and juveniles together to show how they changed as they grew.  Here is an adult and then a baby.
And here are skulls of the same species from a baby to an adult in the far back.  Notice that the baby has more rounded features.  We would call that "cute."

And an adult and juvenile T-Rex.

They have painted these models of dinosaurs to show how they might have been colored.  There are two smaller predators attacking this big plant-eater.

And some more photos of the museum.

Look at these teeth!

I saw two shows in the planetarium--one on the Northern Lights and the other on the current night sky in Montana.  It is a large and very comfortable room with seats that are tilted back so you could see the ceiling comfortably.  Nice place for a nap, frankly, after walking around the exhibits.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

8/24 Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park

Sometimes I pick campground just because they are near something or halfway on the way to something.  I picked this one for both of these reasons and also because they had electric hookups on a few campsites so I can watch TV!  Anyway, it is often a real gamble, but I lucked out on this one. It is a flat, fairly open area, surrounded by mountains.  I can get satellite TV and a bare minimum amount of cell and internet service, so I am happy here.  Spots are also spread far apart so there is some privacy and you don't have to breathe in other people's campfire smoke or listen to their conversations until late at night!

The state park is about 20 miles southeast of Bozeman, and I want to visit a museum there, but it is also very beautiful here.  The campground is located in a valley with mountains on both sides and slightly out of the main tourist traffic areas. 

I arrived in a terrible wind and rain storm yesterday afternoon, but managed to get set up OK and fill my water tank.  Got soaked, but that is not unusual.  Once I am inside, I am very cozy and comfortable.

Anyway, today I drove up the mountain to see the caverns themselves.  The road is supposed to have a 9% grade but I didn't think it was too bad. 

Good thing I set my parking brake!
Got my tour ticket for the 2:20 p.m. tour and then started hiking up the half-mile uphill path to the cave entrance.  Whew!  I kept getting more and more behind, so I finally just decided to find a place to rest and join the 2:40 p.m. tour!  The altitude and the heat really got to me.  In my defense, I think I may have been the oldest person on the tour.  Very strenuous just to get there, and 600 stairs and a mile walk inside the cave.  Here is my photos of the path halfway up.  The red arrows show the start and end of the hike to the entrance:

And some photos inside the cave.  This cave is very different from some Mammoth Cave or Carlsbad Caverns in that it is more up and down, with much narrower and lower passages.  A lot of very narrow and uneven stairs and even one place called Beaver Slide where you have to sit down and slide about 15' on a slippery rock slide!  Great fun, but a lot of the passages were also real head-bangers.  I must have hit my head a dozen times, once really hard making a big lump.  Then while I was bending over to avoid hitting my head, I whacked my shoulder hard--ouch.  That will make a big bruise, I think.

Nice thing about the half-mile hike back to the visitor center was the view of the mountains and this beautiful little valley in the distance.
In spite of my bruises and lumps, and being exhausted from this cave tour, this is a beautiful place, so I will be back again.