Day 2 - Lake McDonald, Glacier NP
Kerry made us breakfast before we took off for the drive up to Glacier. Today we listened to not quite half of Lunch Money by Andrew Clements on the beautiful drive up past Flathead Lake.
My favorite road sign along the way was, "Be Polite Do Not Tailgate".
We stopped in the Apgar Visitor's Center to pick up Junior Ranger packets for the boys and get some activity suggestions for our stay here on the West side. Lunch sounded good about then, so we grabbed some buffalo burgers in the restaurant across the street.
Noah napped for about half an hour while we checked into the Lake McDonald Lodge and drove to the day's hike. His knee was bothering him besides his being tired, so he only did the shorter Trail of Cedars loop then waited at the car, while Jim, Zach and I hiked the rest of the 2 miles on to Avalanche Lake and back. It has been raining (flash flood watch kind of rain) here lately, so the waterfalls are all running full as are the creeks and rivers we have passed. Jim spotted a black bear across the lake briefly come out of the brush, and a very tame deer let us take pictures of him from close range. We saw a beautiful woodpecker too. Zach worked on his rock-skipping skills at the lake, and his mud jumping skills along the trail there and back.
By the time we returned to the car, a huge chunk of the Going-To-The-Sun road had opened up for the first time this year (it was still closed when we started our hike). We drove up as far as it was open, and as the road climbed, we went to the sun! We hit a pocket of sunshine just right, as by the time we were on our way down, the weather had socked in again and started to rain. The scale of the mountains/valleys is truly amazing (rain or shine) and defies description.
We headed straight for dinner - an average meal at the lodge restaurant. Zach practically fell asleep while eating, so they went right to bed afterward. Jim and I retreated to the lodge to read and journal by the big fireplace - it's cold here!
Day 3 - Many Glacier Hotel
Jim must have read my mind this morning, as he brought out the cheerios that he'd brought and some camp bowls/spoons and had the kids buy a half gallon of milk at the camp store across the parking lot from our room. I was pleased when Noah decided to eat his cereal without fuss even though I had "recycled" the camp sugar bowl contents so he had to go without. Zach's comment was, "at least we have milk!"
It was bright and sunny and warm when we awoke! We hiked a "fun" trail (Noah's assessmentJ) along a beautifully clear, swift river through the forest. The bright green moss on the forest floor was soft and quieting, and unlike most Oregon forest hikes, there was a lot of bird chatter. We marveled at the power of a waterfall in the river, then enjoyed continuing on to a bridge, under which was a huge flat rock area and a small pebble beach. The boys had picked up "walking sticks" along the way - more for sword fighting than anything else. The swordfights continued at the beach, where the rock was "base" when someone wanted a rest. The boys were ready to turn back, but Jim urged us on, so we let the boys take their time as we forged ahead on the trail. We were glad we did, as our turning point ended up being an active beaver pond. We didn't get to see the beaver (he was still sleeping), but we saw his lodge and his series of dams of increasing height. The final pond had to be at least waist deep in parts - pretty impressive dam ability. As we were watching, a river otter swam across the pond and ran along some logs, then swam back - a few times - for our entertainment. Jim and I chose to take a horse track back instead of the now-crowded trail we came in on, and I watched the tracks recorded in the mud on the trail. Some kind of medium sized dog (fox? Or more likely someone's illegally walked canine friend - dogs aren't supposed to be on the trails) followed the trail going in circles here and there, deer had been there on parts of the trail, and a medium-sized bear had crossed the trail within the past day but not immediately recent - that got me excited. The bear paw print was bigger than either of the boys' hands.
After lunch at West Glacier restaurant we said goodbye to the West side and headed around the outside of the park and up to the East side. We stopped along the way to see the Glacier Park Lodge (Noah enjoyed playing a little pass with the football on the beautiful front lawn) and take another "fun" hike in the Two Medicine area to Running Eagle Falls where the boys scrambled on rocks and continued the sword fighting tradition.
Our destination is the Many Glacier Hotel, where our room has a stunning view across Swiftcurrent Lake toward the mountains and glaciers. After dinner we went to a ranger program about the wildflowers of the area, where I found out one of my pictures was not a type of miniature columbine, but a meadow rue (similar leaf and hanging flower only tinier).
Jim and I watched the sunset/moonrise while the kids fell asleep almost immediately, then we reposed to the lobby to peruse our pictures in front of the big fireplace.
Day 4 - Many Glacier Hotel
I had a hard time sleeping last night, so I was up early and got some beautiful sunrise views over a calm mirror lake. There were some bighorn sheep across the lake on the mountainside, and a deer wading in the lake across the way. I think I could sit here all day and just watch.
Noah slept in (allergy/drugs are wiping him out ), and by the time he woke up we had just enough time to grab some microwave breakfast sandwiches in the snack shop and grab our jackets before catching a boat ride across the lakes (two lakes with a short hike over the hill between them) and then hike to Grinnell lake. Noah was still tired, so he declined to do the final hike to the lake and took the boats directly back. Zach, Jim and I hiked to the lake, and enjoyed a scramble over snow for the last bit to the shore. Zach decided to take the boat rides back while Jim and I hiked the trail back to the hotel. On the boat ride over, a guy was showing pictures on his camera taken this morning of a grizzly bear mom that he saw on the trail with her two cubs close to the hotel. We were a little concerned about bears along the way, but didn't even see any evidence all morning. I was pleased that the boys were each able to entertain themselves without any electronic devices (no iPod, no TV) while waiting for us to return.
We got some buffalo burgers in the grill for lunch, then Jim and the boys took a canoe around the lake. I had grand plans of taking a kayak along with them, but ended up crashing on the bed all dressed and ready to go - I took a nap instead. Noah was tired and wanted to take a nap, so Jim and Zach brought him back and he crashed too while they went out a little longer. When they got back I was ready to go again. It was time for a history tour of the lodge which was a perfect activity as the skies opened up and a storm blew in. We may have seen the last of the sunshine.
We played some pinochle while waiting for a "Hootenanny" show (random music by hotel staff), then went to dinner before it was quite over so we could avoid the crowd. The boys liked Jim's steak with gorgonzola that they tasted from last night, so they both ordered that off the "adult" menu. Our days of getting cheap kids meals out of them are numbered - they both polished off the full-sized dinners.
The hotel will be renovating the rooms starting next year with updated wiring and plumbing, so they still don't have grounded plugs in the rooms. I brought my laptop to the lobby to plug in, and had several people walk by and ask if I got an internet connection here. I assured them I was only downloading pictures off my camera and writing a journal. It's rather nice to be "disconnected".
Day 5 - Many Glacier Hotel
It was pouring rain this morning. Zach sang a few stanzas from one of the fun Hootenanny songs as a wakeup for us ("Oh bear, please don't eat me/I'm not tasty, anyway/ Oh bear please don't eat me/I'll cover-myself-in-pepper-spray-and-won't-taste-very-good anyway"). I wasn't too hungry, so I opted for cold cereal while the rest of the family checked out the breakfast buffet (verdict: ok but not great). I remember the Grand Lodges having grand food and service when I was a kid and touring with my parents. The food has been very average for the most part, and most of the wait-staff rather inattentive.
A losing game of pinochle was our entertainment while waiting for the rain to subside; the rain finally thinned out about the time our patience with the game started thinning. We headed down to St Mary's visitor center so they boys could get their Jr Ranger badges, but we forgot to bring the completed books with us.
Jim and I went on a wet 3 mile loop hike that was recommended for its wildflowers while the boys stayed behind "too tired" and "don't want to hike in the rain". The boys ended up filling out two more Jr Ranger books (same thing - just something to do, I guess) and watching the movie once or twice.
Our hike had a lot of diversity: several beautiful wildflower meadows, a burn area, aspen groves, beaver ponds, a very gnarled fir forest, areas of fir forests that weren't burned but were void of needles and undergrowth from the burn heat, and lush green and sometimes boggy areas. We saw a moose across a meadow, and lots of bear evidence around one of the ponds (made us a bit nervous during the hike), but no bears in real life.
After collecting the kids, we all drove up the Going-To-The-Sun highway hoping to find the sun, but instead it only rained on us. We did get to see a juvenile moose munching near the road, but otherwise, didn't see much. On the way back the weather cleared and we got some sun breaks. We had a late lunch/snack of cheese fondue (yummy) and played another game of pinochle when we got back. For dinner we went down the road to Swiftcurrent Lodge for pizza and pasta - again rather average overall. The ranger was on the porch there with spotting scopes trained on some bighorn sheep, so we got a really good look at them on the hill across the way. After dinner we drove up and down the road hoping to see some bears (that's what the guy at the desk said to do), but didn't see anything.