Glacier National Park
I visited Glacier National Park in early August 2017
My favorite place in the park was definitely the high country along Going-to-the-Sun Road. The wildflowers were all in bloom, and the animals were abundant and visible. Mountains surround us, jagged and sheer against the blue sky. One moment, the sun is shining and the next clouds darken the horizon, and shreds of rain fall like forks on the cliffs and meadows. Glacier is moody and changeable, in a country of valley and mountains eternal.
Glacier as we know it formed during the last ice age. A sheet of ice miles thick slid over the high plateau, carving it. Deep, wide valleys were formed, and ice ground down the sides off mountains, turning the gentle hills to sharp peaks. Aretés, moraines, hanging valleys, horns, cirques: these terms for glacial activity are well represented here.
Eventually the ice sheet retreated, leaving behind a different land. The glaciers here today are small, a fraction of their former size, and getting smaller.
The creatures in Glacier are varied and wild. From the smallest butterfly to the mighty grizzly bear, every animal is resourceful and adaptable.
Different animals live in different habitats. The nimble mountain goat loves the steep rocky cliffs and lush alpine meadows. The whitetail deer would rather be in the pine forests. Cutthroat trout and beavers love the river banks and bottoms, and ospreys and golden eagles soar in the sky above them. Wolves and wolverines are rare, only seen in the deep wilderness. By contrast, bears are commonly seen throughout the park.(I saw no bears, however)
The flora of Glacier is hardy yet fragile. Tread lightly.
In the valley bottoms, deciduous trees speckle the dominant pine forest. The higher you travel in the mountains, the trees become smaller and more sparse. At the treeline, twisted pines known as krummholz give way to thick bushes, and finally to short alpine grasses. In late spring and summer, the tundra is coated with color: wildflowers appear everywhere. From the creamy-colored beargrass(actually a lily) to the red arctic willows, Glacier’s flowers are many.
Fires have made a huge impact on Glacier’s forest, creating a patchwork of different heights. In the most recent burn areas, the trees are blackened and bare and the undergrowth is dead grass. In burn areas from fires 15 years ago, it is different. The dead trees are there, but there are few of them, and beneath is a thick growth of young pines. So thick, in fact, it is nearly impossible to navigate. And finally, the mature forest is full of tall, needled pines and bushes in the undergrowth.
Glacier is a beautiful and wild place. A special place. And for it to stay that way, it needs to be protected. The glaciers are melting from global warming, and they say they will be gone by 2030. You can help by taking steps to reduce your carbon footprint, and if enough people who love the wild landscape of Glacier help out, we can make a difference.