I Suppose They Don’t Call it Glacier Because of the Sunshine

I meet up with Mom and Dad at a campground just outside of Glacier National Park. As Dad gets everything settled with the rig (leveling, hookups, etc), Mom puts together dinner. Because it’s my folks, there are drinks and appetizers to start us off, and fresh baked cookies for dessert. It’s good to be properly camping again.

Man in ShadowDad and I take a look at the weather for tomorrow and start making plans. It’s not looking pretty. The forecast calls for clouds and snow and rain. We certainly won’t be going on any hikes.

I’ve been wanting to see Glacier National Park for a long time. Despite how many times I’ve been to Montana, I’ve never been this far north. I’ve seen photos though. I use them as my desktop backgrounds at work. The photos of Glacier are astounding, and they look like they’re from some other distant place, like the Swiss Alps or maybe the Himalayas. The whole reason I opted to go south first rather than east was that everyone told me the roads in Glacier would still be closed from winter if I went in the spring or early summer. Glacier was something of a grand finale for my trip – the place I’d always wanted to see.

Turning Leaves

We get a late start in the morning, hoping that the sun will come out and burn away some of the clouds. When we arrive at the park, and large sign tells us that Logan’s Pass is closed due to a snow slide the night before. There is one major road that runs through Glacier called the Going to the Sun Road, and Logan’s Pass is almost exactly halfway down the road. The ranger says they’re already working on clearing the debris, but there’s no way to know if it will happen today, tomorrow, or not at all.

We decide we might as well see what we can see, and take off on the Going to the Sun Road. The weather’s still foggy, and all the mountains disappear into the clouds. It’s beautiful in its own right, watching the mountainsides turn to mist, but it’s not like all those gorgeous photos.

Snowy MountainMom is in the backseat and nervous the whole time. She’s afraid of heights and the road is narrow, winding, and constantly skimming the cliff’s edge. Occasionally we hear a quiet “Oh jeeze” from the back of the car, and every time Dad starts to look over the side to check out the view she says, “Look where you’re driving, Chuck.”

We drive up as far as we can go, and there’s a light dusting of snow coming down just before the road block. We join the other tourists in a large turnabout nearby to take pictures. It really is beautiful, both in spite of the clouds and because of them. It’s also freezing so we don’t stay long.

On the way back we pull over to feast on the sandwiches Mom had made for us that morning. There are chips and homemade cookies to pair with them, and I can’t help but think of all the times during my trip where I decided that graham crackers counted as a meal.

We stop to warm up in the lodge at the base of the park, and Dad and I try to figure out what else we can do with our day. On the map we see an interesting-looking road near the park entrance. We decide we should check out how bad it is when they say a road is unpaved.

Our mystery ride is bumpy and goes through fire-devastated areas, so there isn’t much to see. I mention that it’s nice to be with them, because I’d be too nervous to go on a bumpy road like this by myself.

“But now your mom can be nervous for the both of you,” Dad jokes.

River“Yep got that covered,” says a worried voice from the back seat.

We don’t see much else in the park, though after dinner Mom finishes a sudoku puzzle she’s been working on for three months. Small victories.

I can tell Glacier has the power to be exceptional, because it’s still great even when you can’t see most of it. Along with the city of Chicago and the entire state of Utah, Glacier National Park will have to go on my list of “just another reason to get back out on the road.” Perhaps that’s the best sort of finale a trip could have.

Must See List

In my planning, I try to keep an open mind about where to go, what’s worth seeing, and what really qualifies as a detour. After all, nothing is really out of the way when you’re not going anywhere. My trip is a circle, and the phrase “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” is overly applicable. Things can only be out of the way if they make it impossible for me to see something else. So I’m going to have to prioritize. I thought it best to put together a “Must See List” to give myself more direction. So, as of right now, here are the eight things I feel like I Must See on this trip:

  1. Grand Canyon
  2. Niagara Falls
  3. San Francisco, CA
  4. The Deep South
  5. Roswell, NM
  6. Memphis, TN
  7. Glacier National Park
  8. The Oregon Vortex

One thing to remember about this list, is that it is personal to my experience. This is not a Must See for the United States. For example, if I had never seen any of the U.S. before, places like Mount Rushmore and New York City would be obvious choices. They’re not on the list because I have already seen them, so if I miss them on this trip it’s not a big deal.

There are a few other places that I originally thought were must see destinations, but in the spirit of setting priorities, I had to make some tough choices. When thinking of a destination, I asked myself if I might visit this place again one day. Certain cities, such and Chicago, IL and Austin, TX, are places I intend to see someday regardless. If not this trip, then the next one. More importantly, they are destinations by themselves. A year from now I could see myself flying to Chicago for a week. I can’t say the same about Niagara Falls.