GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 5: WHITEFISH, MONTANA

Breakfast this morning was another grab-and-go affair.  Due to the labor shortages throughout the U.S. National Park system (and just about everywhere else), the hotel was unable to staff the restaurant for breakfast.  Instead, tasty hot and cold items were offered to-go at the coffee bar.  Our voucher included both, so we selected a delicious veggie quesadilla to eat hot and took the fruit, yogurt, and granola parfait with us for lunch.

The day started with a hike at Swift Creek Trailhead, just outside of the town of Whitefish.  The Whitefish Trail System consists of 15 trailheads and 47 miles of natural surface trails through forests, wildlife habitats, and lakes.  During our hike we learned about the different trees and plants, as explained here by Scott:

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Scott, our tour director

If you ever come across a plant, flower, or animal you can’t identify, check out an ap called “Seek,” created by iNaturalist, which is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.  One member of our group was using it and explained how it worked.  I am currently finding it very helpful in identifying the flowers and plants I photographed before I learned about the ap.  After opening Seek, I hold my phone’s camera up to my computer monitor and let the ap try to identify the photo on the screen.  It works!

“Pearly Everlasting,” as identified by using the “Seek” ap

Following our hike, we were treated to a taste of Wild Huckleberry liquor.  More about huckleberries on the next hike of the day…

Next, we headed to Whitefish Mountain Resort where we boarded chairlifts that took us to the top of “Big Mountain,” where the 2001 U.S. Alpine Skiing Championships were held.  At an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, the 360-degree views of Whitefish and Whitefish Lake were spectacular.

We had the option of riding in a gondola or chair. Much to my surprise, Bruce agreed to join me in the chair!

Bruce and I ventured off to hike a loop trail to see more of the mountain.  The low clouds were creating such dynamic views and weather—warm when the sun broke through, and cold when the clouds blocked the sun. 

Along the way, we came across huckleberry bushes, so my continuous pauses to snack on the tasty berries along the way allowed for the remainder of our group to catch up with us. 

Huckleberries are a cousin of the blueberry, but smaller and purple in color.  In the gift shops throughout Glacier National Park, Huckleberry everything is available for purchase.  From flavored chocolates to preserves, they have it all.  In addition to the Wild Huckleberry liquor, Scott treated us to huckleberry licorice, which was quite tasty.  Nothing, however, beats a fresh huckleberry picked from the bush!

The high-altitude hike back up to the chairlift was a bit steep, which momentarily took the wind out of Bruce and some of the others, but I surprisingly managed ok.  I was pleased that the previous weeks of post-swim, masked track walks in my community’s gym had built up my lungs for the thin air.

Chamaenerion-angustifolium

While riding the chairlift back down, we were treated to sweet view of a mother and baby deer cuddled up under a tree.  Wildlife!  I tried to get a picture, but the chairlift was moving too quickly, and I missed it.  Oh well, how about these two babies that were hanging out in our backyard (several years back), while their mom foraged for food, instead?

In the summer, Big Mountain is also a popular destination for trail riding, so I caught this guy in action on his bicycle.  Considering we were moving on the chairlift, and he was flying down the mountain, I’m surprised my little Panasonic Lumix was able to capture these shots as good as it did:

Tansies- “Golden Buttons”

The remainder of the day was open for an afternoon and evening at leisure, so we checked out the town of Whitefish and ended our day with an early dinner,  topped off with Sweet Peaks ice cream.  Selecting two new (and different) flavors, Bruce and I had enjoyed five in all during our Montana visit. Yummy!

Mural on the side of Sweet Peaks Ice Cream
Tile and glass mosaic on the side of a craft shop. There was one for each season. This was my favorite, “Summer.”

Before walking back to the hotel, we picked up a copy of Flathead Beacon to read about local life.  The free newspaper includes “Police Blotter,” a listing of calls received by the local police and sheriff departments.  Check out some of these entries: 

Friday 7/29

8:49 a.m.  The actions of a man jumping around and climbing on a wall was described as gorilla-like.

9:05 p.m. A woman called to tell law enforcement she was missing the calendar that usually hung on her wall.

Saturday 7/30

9:05 a.m.  A woman called to complain about the governor.

7:58 p.m.  While playing with his owner, a dog accidentally chewed on a watch and dialed 911.

8:54 p.m.  Two dogs kept chasing the local deer.

Sunday 7/31

11:03 p.m. A bull and 10-12 cows escaped their pasture and headed east.

Tuesday 8/2

12:22 a.m.  A grizzly bear knocked over a trash can and made off with a bag of garbage.

8:19 a.m.  A man was in the process of divorcing his wife but she kept sending him explicit photos.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if those were the “crime” reports in our local news?  I’ll trade it for shootings any day!

Next up: An Unplanned Surprise Visit to Moraine Lake

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 4: RIDING THE RED JAMMERS ALONG GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD

Gazing out our balcony window towards the mountains, I could see it was probably going to be another gloomy day. After I shot the photo above, clouds enveloped the mountain peaks, and rain threatened to ruin our Red Jammer ride on the iconic 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road.  At least that’s what we thought…

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Our group of 24 divided ourselves into two “jammers,” but when Scott hopped into ours, he noticed there was room for two more.  None of the other 14 in the other jammer wanted to budge, though, so we had a little extra elbow room, which was nice. 

Fortunately, the rain held off so Zack, our driver, could roll back the canvas roof top, allowing us to enjoy better views of the mountain peaks surrounding us.  We were riding in style!

In the early days, visitors experienced Glacier National Park on horses.  When gravel roads were built, bumpy horseback rides were replaced by equally bumpy automobile rides.  In 1914, White Motor Company touring buses began taking passengers through the park. 

Fast-forward to today, and what has become the “Red Jammers” are part of the largest, longest-running fleet of vehicles in the National Park Service.  From 1999 – 2002, Ford Motor Company refurbished the buses, each getting a new V8 bi-fuel engine and a new chassis atop its original wheel base.  They are now a safer, cleaner, environmentally friendly, and more comfortable ride to go with that classically stylish look.

The “Jammer” part of their name comes from the bus drivers who were affectionately known as gear jammers, because they had to jam the buses into gear so frequently.

Zack, our driver, did a great job of sharing what he had learned about the jammers and the sites we saw during our ride.  Whenever we were about to approach a beautiful vista or a roadside waterfall, he slowed down and announced, “Prairie Dog!” giving us permission to stand up and take pictures through the rolled-back roof.  Bruce and I looked at each other simultaneously and said, “Meerkat!” in memory of one of our favorite critters at the San Diego Zoo.

Our adventure took us from St. Mary Village west to Lake MacDonald, with a stop at Logan Pass, the highest elevation of the road at 6,646 ft.  Until we arrived at Logan Pass Visitor Center, it was, indeed, a gloomy ride.  The fog had lifted enough to catch some views, but it was a bit depressing.

As Bruce, Scott, and I hiked the trails behind the visitor center in search of spotting a big horn sheep (as Scott was sure we would see), I lamented to Scott that Bruce’s and my luck of having great weather during our previous travels had run out.  Not more than two minutes later, magic!  The clouds began to lift, we could see the glaciers, and my sullen mood brightened along with the beautiful blue sky.  (We never did see a mountain goat, but we did spot this squirrel—wildlife!):

The windy, hairpin-curved road down from Logan Pass to Lake MacDonald was spectacular, making Going-to-the-Sun Road a must-see highlight of Glacier National Park.  The road was the first to be recognized on the National Historic Registers as a Place, Landmark, and Civil Engineering Landmark.   It crosses the Continental Divide, which marks the border between the eastern and western portions of North America.  Rivers originating east of the divide flow into the Atlantic Ocean, while rivers with headwaters west of the divide flow to the Pacific.  The panoramic views of the mountains and glaciers along the road was breathtaking!

Our ride terminated at the Lake MacDonald Lodge, a beautiful location for our lunch break.  While others dined in the lodge’s restuarant or skipped lunch, we parked ourselves on a bench behind the lodge to enjoy the panoramic views of the lake and enjoy the remainder of our huge grab-and-go breakfast.  The setting was lovely, and it was a perfect end to a morning spent on one of the most beautiful roads I had ever traveled.

David, our bus driver, met us at the lodge and drove us the remainder of the way to the Grouse Mountain Lodge, in Whitefish, Montana; our home for the next two nights.  As soon as I walked into the lobby and saw the massive rock fireplace with the carved wood mantel, I immediately loved the place.  Besides, it had a pool—tiny, but large enough to prepare for some upcoming swim meets by doing a modified workout, and logging some yardage into my U.S. Masters Swimming Go the Distance fitness log.  At just 30 feet long, the biggest challenge was trying to remember my lap count!

Grouse Mountain Grill was where we savored our included group dinner to put an exclamation point on the day.  The veggie option on our limited menu was grilled cauliflower, bok choy, (and more), in a coconut-ginger curry sauce.  Salmon or chicken was an optional addition, so we extended our salmon streak and thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

We got a kick out of the dinner served to a couple in our group.  It was Flinstone-sized full rack of ribs for each of them!  They happily enjoyed the remainder of that rack throughout the following day.

The dessert, however, was what those of us who ordered chocolate torte raved about throughout the remainder of our tour.  It was simply amazing.  What a fabulous end to a wonderful day!

Next up:  A Bird’s Eye View of Whitefish, Montana

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 3:  ST. MARY LAKE & MANY GLACIER

Except for this day during our cruise of St. Mary Lake, it was amazing how the sun came out during the best possible time during our sightseeing throughout our travels.  Mother Nature worked her magic the previous day when we were enjoying the views of Waterton Lake from the Prince of Wales Hotel.  As the afternoon progressed, the clouds enveloped the area when it no longer mattered.  The same thing happened as our tour through the Canadian Rockies progressed, and we were amazed at the timing of the weather changes—all in our favor!

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Located on the eastern side of Glacier National Park, St. Mary Lake is about ten miles long. Taking a narrated cruise was a wonderful way to see it and learn about the area.  It was breathtaking to be surrounded by the steep mountains that began forming 170 million years ago, and to be on one of the park’s more than 130 named lakes.  In all, the park encompasses more than 1 million acres!

I never saw Stanley Kubricks film, The Shining, but the opening scene was filmed at the lake.  Scott showed us the beginning of the movie, so we could see the lake from a different perspective.  Of course, the weather was perfect when they filmed the movie, but the low-hanging clouds did add drama to the gloom we experienced.

Halfway through the cruise, we docked for a short hike to see a beautiful waterfall:

White Twisted Stalk- The flower that blooms from this plant is white and hangs from kinked twisted stalks. Towards the end of the season, it produces a berry that starts out green, changes to orange, then bright red.

During the afternoon, we headed out to Many Glacier Hotel, located in the northeastern area of Glacier National Park.  Built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914-15, the hotel is situated overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake.  The area is known as “Switzerland of North America,” and it was beautiful!  A hiking path circles the lake with great views of Many Glacier, the lake, and the hotel.  If you are lucky enough, you will also see a lot of wildlife.  Along with Linda, one of the other group members, we hiked ahead at a faster pace and just caught a glimpse of a female moose with her baby as they ran across our path and headed into the woods.  I tried to capture a photo, but all I got was a blurry shot of Mom and the butt of her baby.  It all happened so quick!  As it turned out, that was our only moose sighting of the trip; and, other than elk, we never saw any other large animals, such as bears or mountain goats.  It became a joke with our group as Scott’s confidence in seeing wildlife resulted in spotting nothing but small rodents.  That was where our luck ended…

A gloomy view during our walk near the Many Glacier Hotel
Scott capturing a reflection photo
Many Glacier Hotel

I thoroughly enjoyed all of our walks and hikes, though, and savored the fresh air and gorgeous (“gowajus”) sites.  (That was another joke with the group.  Linda, her friend, Wanda, and their husbands were from New Jersey; so, Scott playfully poked fun at their accent with his Kiwi/Australian/Canadian/British accent—a melting pot of some of the places he had lived since leaving New Zealand at the age of 19.)  We laughed a lot on this trip!

The evening was spent back at St. Mary Village where Bruce and I thoroughly enjoyed using our dinner vouchers for a repeat of the night before, except for a change in Sweet Peaks ice cream flavors.  We even had the same nice waitress!

Next up:  Riding the Red Jammers along Going-to-the-Sun Road

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAYS 1 & 2:  FROM CALGARY TO MONTANA

Bruce and I headed back up north again, this time on a small group land tour of Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies.  We had never done a 100% land-based tour, and it was our first time traveling with Odysseys Unlimited, a company that specializes in small group tours of 12-24 people.  Like everything else in travel this year, the tour was sold out, and 24 is the largest group size we would travel with in the future.  Fortunately, we had a good group, though. Everybody was punctual; and, amazingly, nobody even caught so much as a cold.  We returned home from our 11-day trip on September 1, and we are happily Covid-free.

Let’s get the trip review out of the way first, so I can move on to what I like sharing the most.  Would I travel with Odysseys Unlimited again?  Absolutely!  The tour was excellent, and our tour director, Scott Robertson, did a fabulous job.  Buyer beware, though:  The Covid-19 policy in place when you book (and pay for) the trip may not be the same by the time the trip actually occurs.  We booked with Odyssey expecting mandatory masking on the bus (as stated in their policy); however, Canada dropped that policy right before we arrived, so it was dropped for our tour. The majority of our group still masked; however, some did not.  As a result, us maskers tended to gravitate towards each other during group dinners whenever possible.

Having said that, I’m sure glad we booked a group tour and paid for it before the prices went up!  The prices of everything up there has skyrocketed, so we would have probably paid more for the trip had we done the exact same things on our own.  In addition, when car parking lots were full at the highlight spots, our bus/ “motor coach” was able to drive right on in to the separate bus parking area without a problem.

Otherwise, my only other recommendation would be to avoid flying with Air Canada if at all possible.  Ranked as one of the worst airlines in the world, they lived up (or down) to that reputation.  Our flight to Calgary was canceled, and we ended up arriving seven hours later than we were originally scheduled, missing our only day in Calgary.  The silver lining was being re-booked on Delta Airlines and through Minneapolis rather than Toronto.  Our experience flying home on Air Canada reminded me of uncomfortable past flights on old United Airlines planes with cramped seats, and that’s not saying much.

Now that I have the negativity out of the way, it’s all positive from here on out.

Since Bruce and I arrived at the Hyatt in Calgary too late to join the group for the welcome dinner, we didn’t meet everybody until the following day when we set off for Glacier National Park.  As it turned out, at 60, I was the youngest of the group by ten years; however, most of the group were active enough to handle the walks and hikes.

Before our lunch stop at Waterton Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which adjoins Montana’s Glacier National Park, we took in the views from the Prince of Wales Hotel.  The wood structure was built in 1927 and perched high above the lake.  Thankfully, it survived a fire in 2017, because it is a beautiful hotel with spectacular panorama views!

(For all pictures in my blogs, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Prince of Wales Hotel
Hotel lobby

Our group lunch was in town, followed by enough free time on our own to walk to Cameron Falls, see the town, and walk along the lakefront.  This was the first of many beautiful waterfalls and lakes we enjoyed during the trip, and my first opportunity to test out my hip after having a second surgery on it last spring (the first was in 2014).  SUCCESS!  Eleven days of hiking and a lot of walking with zero pain.  Thanks, Dr. Andrachuk!

Cameron Falls

After crossing the 49th parallel into Montana, we arrived at St. Mary Village, our base for two nights.  This is where we had the gloomiest weather; however, it rained while we were enjoying our dinner, and then stopped before we left the hotel’s restaurant and were greeted with this:

We saw both ends of the rainbow, but just missed seeing the middle, due to the cloud cover.  Scott happened to capture the rainbow in its entirety on his phone and was nice enough to share it with the group:

Beautiful flower baskets hung from every hotel and in every town we visited.

What an amazing first night in the Rockies!  That beautiful sight followed what proved to be a big surprise for dinner.  Our voucher covered a three-course limited-menu dinner at the hotel’s Snowgoose Grill, which was fabulous, even though it is rated only 3.5 of 5 on Trip Advisor.  I should have photographed the massive and delicious marinated strawberry, goat cheese, and candied pecan salad that was served on a bed of mixed greens.  It was as large as a main course salad I would order in a restaurant for lunch.  Bruce’s soup was tasty!  We both ordered salmon, which we ended up choosing for our main course every night, when dinner was included during the tour.  Fabulous!  When dessert arrived, I had to break out the camera for this giant-sized brownie and Bruce’s apple crumble with huckleberry sauce, both served with delicious Sweet Peaks Montana ice cream.  How we made room for it, I’ll never know…

Dinner also included any glass of wine or beer from the list, or a non-alcoholic drink.  Bruce’s local huckleberry lemonade was awesome!

We didn’t expect this, that’s for sure.  As (mostly) non-meat eaters in beef and buffalo country, we were prepared for 11 protein-craving days of “you’ll-have-nothing-and-like-it.”  Oh boy, were we wrong about that!

Our upstairs room at the lodge had rustic mountain décor too cute not to make me laugh.  The highlight, however, was the balcony looking out over the river flowing by.  We kept our sliding glass door open until we got cold, so we could enjoy the mesmerizing and thoroughly relaxing sound of the water.  Ahhh!

Shower tile
View from our room
True Magpie

Next up:  Glacier National Park: St. Mary Lake & Many Glacier