It is a given that at least once in his or her lifetime every American aspires to visit Yellowstone National Park — the oldest of all National Parks signed into to law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. The draw to come here are all the animals that move through and live in this large area as well as the interesting landscape and features formed by geothermal activity. The holy relic is of course Old Faithful, the geyser of all geysers. There are in fact many geysers in Yellowstone as well as various sorts of holes in the ground bubbling steam, hot water and noxious fumes. It’s kind of a marvelous mystery land, in particular for a certain breed of microbiologist who study thermophiles or organisms that love hot environments. I know this because while waiting for the “Vixen” geyser to erupt two German travelers sat down, one being a microbiologist who had been at a recent thermophile convention nearby (nerd!). Susi taught me some basic stuff about these fascinating organisms, and we hope she will be able to characterize some hypothetical samples that may or may not have been collected after an eruption.
The park was quite cold while I was there with temperatures dropping down to 28ºF (-2ºC). Campfires kept us warm, but sleeping definitely required proper gear. Every morning the water in my glass would be frozen as well as my olive oil….brrr
In the northern part of Montana hugging the Canadian border lies Glacier National Park. The park actually has a Canadian counterpart, and together they form Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park — a Northern Rockies gem. I have wanted to hike here for years under encouragement of my friend Hayley whose parents live in nearby Kalispell. Hayley’s engagement party was the perfect excuse to start an extended stay in the area.
I visited various parts of the park, some more touristy than others, and while everyone should (and will) visit the Going to the Sun Road, I was directed to the East side of the park by Hayley’s mom (and Glacier Park expert) Velinda for the prize hikes in the park. The longest and most beautiful hike I did was a double header totaling a breathtaking 16 miles. The trail I took — Iceberg lake and Ptarmigan Tunnel — takes the hiker along Glacial valleys, lakes, alpine meadows, and wildlife habitat home to Grizzly bears, Moose, Bald Eagles, Black Bear, Rocky Mountain Goats, Bighorn sheep, you name it. I did the hike in brand new shoes, resulting in my feet being out of commission for two weeks due to heavy blistering on my heels, making me wish I ‘had’ worn my Vibram five Fingers instead…
One of my more precious memories was paddling with the SUP board on Lake St. Mary following two Bald Eagles around, and later watching a large Black bear feed on some shrubs. Surrounded by this majestic landscape and wildlife it is hard not feel humbled and fortunate. There’s a gorgeous French film from the eighties with fantastic cinematography that was filmed in this area: L’Ours, or “The Bear”. Check it out. “The Crown of The Continent” moniker comes from the fact that Glacier feeds three major North American watersheds: The Columbia, The Missouri/Mississippi, and the Saskatchewan thereby contributing water to The Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Hudson Bay.