What I learned in Glacier National Park truly wowed me.
I learned that the incredible teal blue color of the water there is due to blooms of mineral “glacier flour” ground out of the mountains by the park’s namesake glaciers. I learned how to distinguish a raven from a crow (its beak), and that the white heads of bear grass are more commonly eaten by moose and elk than bears.
I even discovered how to dye porcupine quills with everything from onion skin or cherries to Kool-Aid, and that the Blackfeet tribes that once ranged expansively across these lands called horses “elk dogs” and cattle “slow elk.”
During my summertime travels through Glacier National Park, a guide told our tour group that the average tourist’s visit lasts only three hours – equal to the amount of the time it took to drive across the park via Going-To-The-Sun Road. As we traveled that famous route, we took our time, driving slowly and stopping whenever we could to catch another view of the jagged “garden wall” of the Continental Divide as it raced skyward ahead and above.
We also took a long pit stop as a family of mountain goats, their heavy white coats ragged and sloughing off for a summer, meandered across our path. At Logan Pass, where the West gives way to the East, we saw more goats, and big horn sheep sleeping in the August snow.
But the road is only one of the ways to see Glacier, as I learned, and it’s one of the more crowded. Our best moments happened when we got away from the crowds—in the morning at a breathtaking mountain lodge or as the sky went soft after dinner—and let the park wash over us in all its serene glory.
One morning, as bashful pink sunlight crept onto the tops of a line of snow-capped peaks, a young grizzly bear gave me a sidelong glance as he trotted up a hillside near our van. After a massive steak dinner in a no-stoplight town called Babb on the outskirts of the park, we watched a young black bear amble through a hillside meadow full of purple and yellow alpine daisies and crimson Indian paintbrush. Another morning we paused on the roadside, hushed, as a male moose waded chest deep in a rushing stream.
On our last morning, we stood on a bridge over streaming McDonald Creek. Our guide, Melissa Scott, cheered us for having had the luck to see the Glacier’s “Big Five”: grizzly, elk, moose, mountain goat and big horn sheep. Add to that bison, black bear, osprey, countless wildflowers and trees and one soaring eagle out on the plains, and it was clear how blessed we’d been. We took one last look together and turned for home.