A critical portion of the American mythos is the road trip. The idea of packing belongings in a car and taking off on the wide open road is an idyllic image unique to America. As part of the military, every two years I have the opportunity to set forth on a new road trip. My first was from my hometown in Michigan down through Nashville to humid, Montgomery, Alabama. My second cut through the vast middle of our nation, as I headed to Tacoma Washington. This past summer was perhaps the most enjoyable of the road trips, as I set forth along the northern tier, from Washington through Idaho and Montana to finally arrive at my new post in Minot, North Dakota.
There are a number of fantastic sites along the way. Driving through Snoqualmie and the flowing Cascades is always breathtaking, but it was a vista that I was familiar with. Accompanied by my father, we enjoyed a brief, overnight sojourn in Spokane, and viewed the river and cascades that divide the city, before heading forth for the wide open skies of Montana.
My plan on this PCS was to cram all of the driving into essentially two days, and then to use my additional days to explore Glacier National Park. I’m incredibly glad that I did. Glacier is one of the most breath-taking places that I’ve ever been.
On our first day we decided to do the Avalanche Lake hike. Though we arrived at the tail end of June, much of the snow hadn’t melted, and there were almost a hundred miles of hiking that were unavailable to us. Avalanche was recommended as one of the longer hikers and, after spending half a day in the car, we were eager to stretch our legs.
The trailhead was incredibly crowded, something I was unused to. At the same time that it was slightly annoying having to circle around to find a parking spot, it was also a little exciting. This park, miles and miles from any city, was filled with people who wanted to hike and enjoy the natural splendor. It’s hard to be annoyed by that, even if it does detract from the tranquility.
We saw a number of signs warning us about bears, but shrugged them off. It was a well-trafficked hike, and late afternoon, with plenty of sunlike. We headed off down an initially very well-manicured trail, following behind other hikers as we slowly ascended. We could hear the rush of water from just a little way ahead. My father, a consummate lover of waterfalls, was thrilled to see one so early.
What eventually came into view to our left was more a cascade than a waterfall. The color of it was transcendent – a crystalline, turquoise blue, the icy color of glacial cold water. This was the point when many of the hikers stopped, took their photos, and turned back toward the parking lot. Dad and I walked ahead.
The path was still relatively easy to travel. To our right was a dense forest. To the left, we could just see sheer mountain face through the thinning trees. As we walked, we heard yelling up ahead, and a few minutes later a group of teenagers ran by us yelling about a bear. Dad and I looked at one another, shrugged, and kept walking. A little later, another pair of teenagers were pointing into the woods and whispering about growling. We looked where they were pointing and, seeing nothing, continued on our hike. Eventually we ran into the parents of the teenagers, who apologized and said they’d played a prank.
The Park Ranger had warned us that the hike was ranked as moderate, but after the initial, mossy incline, we found the path to be wide and flat. It was the easiest hiking I had done in a while. Dad, who has been living in the desert of California for the last three years, found it a bit slippery, but stil easy. Eventually the trees ahead of us thinned and we could see the mountains directly in front.
Some places photograph remarkably clear. Maybe it was the gloominess above, but when I look back now that the photographs that I took, none of them do justice to the beautiful lake that we found. It was seemingly surrounded by the mountains, almost all of which had snake-line tendrils of snow winding down toward the lake. Several had waterfalls. THough they were almost too small and far away to notice, my dad, of course, spotted them.
We found a small path that wound its way to the far side of the lake. In search of more “waterfalls,”we followed it, although I pointed out to my father that it was beginning to get late, and we didn’t have flashlights, whistles, or bear spray. By this point we were the only hikers around — the last of them had fallen behind or turned back a mile ago.
I certainly don’t regret walking around the lake. THe clouds slowly shifted overhead, and a bit of sun came out. We took a few photos, Dad lamented the fact that we were still clearly many miles from his beloved waterfall, and then we turned to go back.
As we walked back along our forsaken little trail, I was happily babbling away about something when Dad suddenly grabbed my arm and told me to run. I looked ahead and there, directly in our path, ambling happily along, was a black bear. (Dad insists to this day that it was a Grizzly, but I’m positive it was just a black bear). We turned and ran. I have no idea if that’s proper bear etiquette, but we dashed to the end of the path and back to the lake. Since we had no idea how to get around the bear, we spent a ridiculous amount of time picking our way along the rocks at the very edge of the shore.
We were both a bit nervous, I think, headed back down to the parking lot, but no other bears popped out to scare us. When we saw a Park Ranger near the entrance, we instantly alerted her to the bear we’d seen. She just shrugged. Clearly, it was nothing out of the ordinary to them.
We headed back to the hotel, found a small bar, and ordered pizza and beer. My dad was never a big outdoorsman growing up, but he did impart in all of his children a love of day hiking, followed by comfort food and beer.