Sept. 28, 2015: Beartooth Pass to Glacier via Mammoth Hot Springs. For the first time I slept with the roof down, using my self-made single bed platform, which was plenty comfortable. I thought it was prudent considering the signs around Beartooth Highway campsites that say, “Grizzlies may use this area.” The Yellowstone park map also notes “Hard-sided camping only” for some campgrounds, which I achieve with the roof down. It’s probably not necessary with the heavy-duty vinyl upper sides of the camper, but I’m not familiar with a grizzly’s ability or motivation to climb the aluminum part to get to the vinyl, so I played it safer.
I woke up at 6:00 AM and found frost for the first time this fall. I left the Beartooth camp immediately in favor of having breakfast after catching sunrise shots in Yellowstone:
After transiting the Lamar Valley three times in the last dozen years I’ve learned that the wolves are always so far away that you need a spotting scope or high-power binoculars to see them. My birding binoculars will see them but my new 600mm lens won’t do for decent pictures of them, so I don’t bother parking anymore, I just stopped briefly and shot the spotters:
I arrived in Mammoth Hot Springs at 9:30, in time to get a latte at the hotel before the barista quits at 10 AM. But be advised, there’s no wi-fi and no cell phone service, so after a drive around the hot springs I drove to Gardiner, about 30 minutes north of the park. After lunch and uploading photos and calling home I decided that Glacier National Park was calling me, so I hit the road at about 12:30, the same route I took 12 years earlier from Yellowstone to Glacier. I arrived at Two Medicine Campground at 7:30 PM, in the southernmost valley of the park. Listening to Jackson Galaxy’s “Cat Daddy” audio book shortened the drive.
I found a campsite by the lake, one of 38 “primitive” sites that were still accessible after noon today, as the park service had just shrunk the campground for the season. It was almost full, and the other late-arriving camper I talked to at the registration booth was gushing about the bears and mountain goats and bighorn sheep she saw at Many Glaciers Campground today. I love Yellowstone, but I’d made the right decision to come here today. It’s such a dramatic, wild, majestic landscape, compared to subdued Yellowstone with its vast lakes and valleys and rolling mountains. If Yellowstone is rated “G,” Glacier is at least “PG” if not “R.”
In the adjacent campsite was a Toyota Tacoma pickup loaded with a Four Wheel Camper “Fleet” model, an immediate conversation starter. I chatted with them around their campfire. Tim and Molly just retired from Culver City in Los Angeles and are getting in as many national parks in the West as they can before settling in Port Angeles, WA. They were very friendly and the conversation just rolled off our tongues. They also had spent a few nights at Many Glaciers and told me of seeing a grizzly chase a mountain goat. Molly is developing her photography skills and has the same camera model (Nikon D7000) as I do. (She’s from West Virginia, so I told her of the origin of my Amos Clyde nickname). They have a female border collie-shepherd mix named Belle:
I may call my Tundra (aka Blue Meanie) a “road warrior,” and it does well enough off-road (or back-road, as someone never fails to correct me– you know who you are!), but their Tacoma is truly a back-road demon, with all the custom-made, off-road modifications. And they can fit through more narrow roads than I can. Their camper was also a “shell” model, factory-supplied only with a furnace, but Tim was a wizard with customizing that, too.
We gave each other a tour of our campers, but Tim put me to shame with his own carpentry and upgrades: 250-watt solar power, 20-gal. water tank, water pump, instant-on water heater, integrated outdoor shower, baseboard storage, kitchen drawers under the sink and stove, a fridge in the camper and another in the cab, and lots more. We exchanged email addresses, as I expect to ask Tim’s advice for future upgrades. (He did take an interest in my AeroPlus wind deflector, which would probably fit on their Tacoma as well.) But when the Apocalypse comes, my money is on their Tacoma to pull through and carry them into the Mad Max era.
Sept. 29, 2015: I got the Moon in a Two Medicine sunrise shot, one shot without it, and one with a lakeside reader…
… and chatted more with Tim and Molly. At about noon we left Two Medicine, them heading to Yellowstone and me heading to Many Glaciers. On the way out of Two Medicine I hiked about a half-mile round-trip on the trail to Running Eagle Falls:
Many Glaciers Campground was half-full and I found a site with a lot of sun. Funny, now that I have a solar panel I now seek sun rather than shade. The fall season also calls for it, though.
I hiked the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail to Redrock Falls, about a 3-mile hike round-trip:
I heard later that a 65-year-old man was walking off-trail in Many Glaciers today, found himself between a grizzly and her cub, and was attacked. His bear spray finally stopped the bear’s chomping on him. He drove himself to the ranger station for medical treatment. It made the news.
Sept. 30, 2015: I took an early morning walk to Fishercap Lake near the campground:
… and the retired driver and his wife out on the bridge, carrying cameras with long lenses. They pointed out a moose cow and calf, and then a bull moose bolted across the river:
The retired couple had saved a long time to buy their all-terrain camper, which runs all appliances on diesel fuel, eliminating propane. They have a 60-gallon fuel tank. He asked about my camper, we talked about animal locations, and we had instant rapport. More friendly, boondocking shutterbugs with whom to compare notes.
Two hours later, in the Logan Pass parking lot, another retired couple approached me about my camper, so I showed them the inside. They seemed pretty excited about it so I gave them my website address. He just retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency as an intelligence officer and now writes folk songs, plays live gigs and has recorded four CDs.
One nice thing about National Parks is that everyone you run into is thrilled to be here and it’s easy to strike up a conversation and make new friends and exchange contact information. There is such positive energy and good will all around. Everyone here has at least one thing in common: We love to explore beautiful places, and the means and targets of exploration and photography are always ice-breakers. And we usually volunteer the latest and best scene or the location of an animal appearance. It’s an instant social extravaganza.
From the Logan Pass Visitors Center I hiked about 3 miles round-trip on the trail to Hidden Lake Overlook. I stayed until sunset, about five hours later, with the following photos to show for it:
Oct. 1, 2015: At sunset last night I noticed clouds were coming in from the west, and I figured today’s sunrise would be iffy for shooting. I was right. I got up at 6:55 AM, hit the road at 7:10, and arrived at the St. Mary Lake overlook at 7:25, about five minutes before the first rays of the sun hit the peaks:
It lasted for only five minutes before the color disappeared as the sun rose above the cloud-cover. I saw a bald eagle fly across my field of view about 100 yards away, for about 10 seconds before it disappeared, too quickly to capture it on camera. I was back at my campsite by 8:15, made breakfast to Diane Rehm, wrote my blog and planned my day, glad that there’s no government shutdown and rangers were not shooing everyone away, as the Fuso guy had told me they did with the last shutdown.
At 1 PM I hiked for three hours on the Highline Trail from Logan Pass, hoping to see some sheep. Everyone I encountered on the trail told me they saw no mammals. I finally stopped after 1.75 hours and scanned the opposite slope with my binoculars. No sheep, but I saw three mountain goats grazing, too far away for a photo. I showed them to a grateful couple arriving from behind me, and turned back.
Driving back through Many Glaciers, hoping to see bear or sheep, I spotted this smaller mammal:
I had my first restaurant dinner in a week, starving after my hike. The Cattle Baron Supper Club was the only restaurant within 10 miles that was still open for the season. Almost $30, but it was worth it. Full and tired, I drove back to St. Mary Campground and crawled into bed at 9:30.
Oct. 2, 2015: At 8:00 AM I drove back to Many Glaciers and shot my first bald eagle along the way:
I thought I had seen it flying a couple of days earlier and resolved to keep my eyes peeled for it. Sure enough, as I drove by Lower St. Mary Lake I saw white on both ends of a bird sitting on a tree. Once I confirmed it with binoculars I quickly got out my tripod and long lens and set up in the pull-off. I was able to get about three shots before it flew off less than 2 minutes later. It made up for the one flying yesterday morning at sunrise that I missed shooting.
I hiked a two-mile round-trip trail to Apikuni Falls in Many Glacier that morning (and shot my first pika):
A drive further into Many Glaciers that morning turned up a big bear feeding on the mountain, very far away from the road. This is the best I could get with my 600mm lens, and I couldn’t tell if it’s a black bear or grizzly:
By the way, I haven’t slept in the single bed with the roof down since that first time. I will do so only when required by park policy. I love my queen bed with the comforter and 4-inch-thick memory foam mattress. Grizzlies? Bring ’em on.