above: St. Mary Lake
Summer is slow coming to glacier this year. This means that the Going To The Sun Road, the main East/West road across the middle of the park, is still closed due to snow. It also means the wildflowers are not blooming yet, lots of campsites are available and the wildlife is staying at lower elevations i.e. sharing the trails with you.
Now, all of these things can be positives or negatives depending on your point of view. We were disappointed that the Going To The Sun Road was closed because it is an amazing drive (I drove it back in the mid 80’s) but our alternate route around the south end of the park proved to be a beautiful drive as well. When we got to St. Mary at the East side of the park we had no problems finding a campsite, yeah!
left: the southern route around the park
The drive from the campsite along St. Mary Lake to the trailhead at Sunrift Gorge was spectacular. The snow capped peaks line the edge of the large lake and the road is often a chiseled notch out of the edge of a cliff.
left: Sunrift Gorge
Even though the weather was still a little gray and cool, we decided to do a hike to St. Mary Falls. This hike was not nearly as muddy as the day before and provided us with our first bear encounter (the first for me, ever). About 30 ft in front of us on the trail was a young black bear. My first reaction was to get the heck out of there. I had no desire to tangle with a bear and this one looked young so we weren’t sure if there was a Momma bear around. So, we turned around and started back. But, soon after that we met some people who just came through the same area without any bear sitings. So, we decided to brave it and try to make it to the Falls.
right: St. Mary Falls
We spoke with several more people on the trail about bear sitings and all of them were very nonchalant about the whole thing. Like, sharing trails with bears is no big deal. This was a hard concept for me to adopt so I spent the rest of the day looking over my shoulder. We saw a few mule deer and ground squirrels but no more bears on the trail, phew!
With all of the snowmelt, St. Mary Falls was like all of the other falls around Glacier – very full and flowing. If waterfalls are your thing, now is the time to be at Glacier. We hiked back to the car in a light rain and shortly after getting into the car saw a full grown black bear by the side of the road. He seemed to be oblivious to our presence but, we took pictures from the safety of the car anyway.
We were very excited about our wildlife encounters. Little did we know that this would just be the beginning and that we would also, for the first time in our lives, experience what it is like to be in a place where there is a seemingly peaceful co-existance between man and beast.
“The continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is important to the quality of life of humans.” Jim Fowler
* See Photo Gallery for more Pictures