MANY GLACIER ROAD, MONTANA – Is that a grizzly?
My brother, Rick, and I were driving into Glacier National Park from the east, heading to Many Glacier Hotel, where we had a room for the night.
It was June 26, the first day of our whirlwind effort to see as much as we could of three national parks in four days.
Earlier, we had been on the west side of Glacier, drinking beer and eating a late lunch at Freda’s Bar; driving as far as we were allowed on Going-to-the-Sun Road, which was still choked off with snow at its higher elevations; and enjoying the serenity of 10-mile-long Lake McDonald. We had watched a little boy trying out his snorkel gear in the shallows near the lake’s shore as his father stood by.
Now, after a long, bleak haul to the park’s east side, we were rolling into the twilight when we saw the big bear. It was 25 yards off the road, foraging among the tall grass and wildflowers.
I grabbed my brother’s camera. My goals on this trip were to see a grizzly bear and a moose in the wild, and here on the first day was a grizzly. Or was it? There are black bears at Glacier, too. This bear was dark brown, but both species come in various colors.
I was sure I could make out the distinctive hump of the grizzly on this bear, but its snout looked more like that of a black bear.
What the heck. Close enough. I took some pictures. Now for that moose.
In 1850, there were 150 glaciers in Glacier National Park, but they have been melting. There are only 25 now.
Many Glacier Hotel was built in 1914-15 by the Great Northern Railway. It’s on the eastern side of Swiftcurrent Lake. On the morning of June 27, as Rick and I were about to do the 2½-mile hike around the lake, we were told there was a mother moose and her calf grazing just off the trail. I was pumped. It looked as if I were about to check moose off my “to see” list.
The hike was wonderful – easy walking, cool, picturesque lake scenery with glacier-encrusted mountains looming in the background. But no moose.
Later we drove on the eastern portion of Going-to-the-Sun Road, along Saint Mary Lake. A young bear, after looking both ways, crossed the road in front of our slow-moving car. We think it was a grizzly, too, but it’s even more difficult to tell when they are immature.
Suddenly, we realized it was after 3 p.m. and we had to drive 375 miles to get to Yellowstone National Park that night.
Where the buffalo roam
It was 10:45 p.m. when we arrived at Yellowstone in Wyoming. We had to find security to get us the key to our cabin, which is within walking distance of the famous Old Faithful geyser.
We were told that a visitor had been gored by a buffalo earlier that day. Another would be gored later in the week. Yellowstone has lots of buffalo, not to mention 500 active geysers and 10,000 hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles (vents that emit volcanic gases).
Parts of Yellowstone look as if they belong on another planet. Other parts – incredible canyons, thundering waterfalls, roaring rivers – look like the most beautiful places on earth.
Rick and I were just grateful to be here. Only days earlier, Yellowstone had been closed to the public because of flooding that had destroyed roads, bridges and homes. The northern part of the park was still closed, but we explored the southern section on June 28.
We saw Old Faithful erupt three times. We walked the ¾-mile loop through sulfuric mud pots with names such as Black Dragon’s Cauldron. We sought out the best vantage points to look at the Upper and Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
And we marveled at the colorful harlequin ducks perched on or floating behind large rocks in the white water of the hurtling Yellowstone River. Occasionally, one of the ducks would flap upriver, land on the rough water and body surf back to the safety of the rocks.
We saw buffalo, mule deer and elk. But no moose.
Bound for Moose
Grand Teton, the third national park on our agenda, is also in Wyoming, just south of Yellowstone. It took slightly more than an hour to get there on June 29.
This would be our shortest visit. We were driving through the park on the way to Jackson, Wyoming, and the start of our trek back to New Mexico.
We stopped to admire the snow-capped peaks of the spectacular Teton Range. We walked along String Lake and Jenny Lake.
Still no moose sightings, but we were hopeful because we were heading toward Moose, a small town on the Snake River inside the park.
The impressive Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, more museum and interactive education facility than visitor center, is near Moose. We stopped by.
There is a life-sized bronze sculpture of a moose outside the center. Rick took a picture. Close enough.