Monday, August 07, 2006

Trip to Glacier - Day 7

Today I ride the Red Bus. The guide is very knowledgable. Talks the entire time. And I take notes. Yes, I am a nerd. Here's what I learn:

  • The trees that lie like pickup sticks amid those still standing in the forest were probably knocked down by wind. And probably fell 30-40 years ago! The cold temperatures keep the wood from degrading, and dead trees seem to hang around forever.
  • The forest around Lake McDonald is a cedar hemlock forrest.
  • Going to the Sun Road was originally going to zig zag up to Logan Pass, but the route they finally chose, making one sharp turn then scaling the garden wall, was much cheaper (not to mention less nausea-inducing). It still cost $80,000 per mile to build.
  • Bird Woman Falls does not flow from Hidden Lake.
  • According to our guide, bicyclists are known to the bears as "Meals on Wheels." Lest we get too complacent, he adds that the Red Buses are known as the "Easy Open Variety Pack."
  • Many of the fire-scorched trees we see were killed in the 1967 fire, which was started by lightning. Many of them are still standing.
  • Ox-eye Daisies (which are very pretty) are actually weeds in this part of the country, and were carried in by settlers traveling along the wagon trails.
  • The purple bell-shaped flowers are hairbells.
  • The fire of 2003 came up to the Garden Wall, and you can still see the blue plastic of some Port-o-Potties that were melted into the asphalt in the parking lot by the Loop turn.
  • The rock in the mountains here is very old. They have found fossils dating back to the supercontinent Pangaea, and they've found Stromatolyte fossils that are very similar to ones found in Austraila and New Zealand.
  • The cascade of Bird Woman Falls drops 492 feet in one fell swoop as the stream travels down the mountain.
  • The odd little stream that seems to spring out of the middle of Piegan Mountain is probably from the meltwater off of Piegan Glacier, which lies on the other side of the peak from the road where we can't see it.
  • Going to the Sun Road gets its name from Going to the Sun Mountain, which in turn is called after a legend reported by J. W. Schultze. Sour Spirit came down among Blackfoot tribes, and when he returned to his home in the sun, ascended Going to the Sun Mountain.
  • Wild Goose Island looks very small, but is actually the size of a house, and the trees that stand on it are about 80 feet tall.
  • Parts of the movie What Dreams May Come were filmed in Glacier. Specifically, the water that Robin Williams walks on was St. Mary Lake. It was very cold during the filming, and the actors had to pretend they were very hot.
  • Opening shots from The Shining were filmed at Dead Horse Point.
  • The rubble that the back-hoe is playing with at the Sun Point trail head is from the construction up at Logan Pass.
  • When a glacier stops moving under it's own weight, it is no longer a glacier. It becomes a snow field. The snow field that we shuffled through on the way to the Hidden Lake overlook used to be the Clemens glacier, which stopped moving in 1913.
Even taking all these notes, I still take time to enjoy the ride and the views. It's amazing to ride in the Red Bus, because it has no top, and instead of gazing up to the heights of the mountains and losing them in the ceiling of automotive interior, you can look straight up at their peaks against the blue sky.

We stop at the Logan Pass visitor center, to browse the little book store and use the facilities. I hop out of the Red Bus and walk across the parking lot, and I see a gold minivan that looks hauntingly familiar. And well it should. It's the one Joanna has been driving, down to the license plate! She and Mark got up very early in the morning, to judge by the excellent parking spot in a completely packed parking lot. They must still be hiking the Highline Trail along the Garden Wall. They will catch the shuttle that picks up hikers at the Loop, but they aren't back yet, so I can't resist leaving them a note on their windshield. Ships that pass in the night.

We stop for lunch at a restraunt looking out over St. Mary Lake. I have the best bacon cheese burger of my life. Or maybe the one I am the most hungry for! A card on the table tells me that I can leave with my bill a donation to keep the Red Buses in service, so I leave $5 extra as a gift to the fun little bus that is carrying me back to the places I'm so glad to visit again.

The wind on the eastern side of Logan Pass is incredible. We scramble up to Sun Point, which had been such a peaceful overlook a few days before, and I'm afraid to go too close to the edge, in case a big gust comes along. I might get blown right off into the lake below! The wind is exhilerating in my face, but tiring to push against for too long, so I turn my shoulders to it and shut my eyes as it whips my hair stinging into my face.

Eyes shut at the top of the world, with the sun warm on my neck and the wing roaring in my ears and drowning out the voice around me, I feel like I am completely alone in a world that is rushing past at a breakneck pace, and flying on down a tumbling stream, leaving me behind. Like the water I watched in the streams and water falls felt cleansing to my spirit as it rippled in my eyes, the wind races through me, and in a much more tangible way, seems to sweep away the dust and fragments of things I want to let go, and toss into it through open fingers in my mind. They leave me and I feel lightened, and I open my eyes and make sure I'm not being left behind by my tour group!

Back at Lake McDonald Lodge, I have a few hours to kill before the rest of my group returns from their rafting expedition and someone comes to pick me up. As the Red Bus drops me off, I feel in my own little independent element as if I'm cutting loose even from them, the people I only know for the day. But my own little independent self gets set down right in the midst of a wedding party taking pictures in front of the lodge, so I scuttle off out of the way, through the lobby to the back. I wander down to the lakeside, and see that the next boat excursion on the lake leaves in twenty minutes. Perfect timing!

I ask how long the runs take, to make sure I'll be back before my ride shows up. They only take an hour, which leaves plenty of time. I ask if there are any seats left, and there are, so I pay my fair, and hover near the dock, waiting for the chain across the entry to unfasten and let me onto the boat.

The guides that speak on the boat aren't really worth listening to, but for an hour we float against the waves down the length of the lake, and I kneel at the window, with my seat to myself, lean my elbows on the sill, my chin on my arms, and let the jade and emerald waters fill my vision. I can lift my eyes to the encircling mountains with their matchstick fire-ravished flanks, but instead I sink them down into the depths, following the sun beams that travel like silver floss through the upper feet of that clear, cold, glowing water.

Evening at the cabin and we're all together again. We exchange stories of our day, and lay our plans for tomorrow. Horseback riding, it appears, is out. But it's hard *not* to enjoy the day, whatever we do.

Until then.

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