Coming to Glacier at this time of the year provides for an interesting study in contrasts. At lower elevations it’s summer and the hillsides are carpeted with wildflowers. At higher elevations it’s still winter with 20 foot snowdrifts.
In fact, the Going to the Sun Road is still closed do to snow and avalanche danger. Who knows if it will open at all this year. We decided to hike the road from gunsight trail head where it was barricaded to the tunnel about three miles up the road (with emphasis on the UP part). We gained approximately a 1000ft in elevation. With each step the climate slowly morphed from sunny summer to overcast winter.
When we started, we assumed (mistake) the tunnel was just around the corner and went out for a short leisurely stroll. After a few corners and no tunnel, we began to ask other hikers about the time and distance to the tunnel. It became obvious very quickly that most people have no sense for time or distance since we heard everything from “30 minutes” to “2 hours” and from “just around the corner” to “really far”. At that point, it became a quest to get to the stupid tunnel wherever it was. The short leisurely stroll turned into a 7.5 mile, 3.5 hr. hike. We DID see the tunnel but, from a distance since an avalanche was covering the road beyond the tunnel and the snowpack on our side of the tunnel didn’t look too friendly. But, It actually turned out to be fun walking the road because it gave one time to take in all the views in a leisurely way that one can’t get while riding in a vehicle; like, spotting a lone mountain goat in the middle of a 1000ft cliff.
Driving back to the campsite, I noticed color from wildflowers appearing on the hillsides where earlier in the week there was very little. It’s amazing what a difference one week makes in the mountains.
I had been very excited to learn about wildflowers but was disappointed when we were too early to see them and missed the Ranger talk about them. But now, with color bursting everywhere, my enthusiasm was renewed. I wasn’t quite ready to shell out the $35.00 for a comprehensive guide so I bought a laminated wildflower pamphlet with 265 flowers pictured on it. I thought for sure the pamphlet would be enough to get me started. The first several flowers I tried to identify weren’t in my pamphlet. Turns out there are approximately 1000 different varieties in the park. I guess I have a lot to learn about wildflowers.
Our impromptu hike gave us the opportunity to experience summer and winter in the same afternoon and it was fasinating to see how the plants and animals have adapted to this dichotomy.
“Long stormy spring-time, wet contentious April, winter chilling the lap of very May; but at length the season of summer does come.” Thomas Carlyle