Posted by: Nathan | May 23, 2006

Glacier

We got up late on the second day of our honeymoon, packed up the car, and drove east. It was about 40 miles to Glacier National Park, our destination for the next week, and we were in no hurry. The rental car glided through a few small towns and navigated the windy highway; all the while, the rock faces kept moving: coming closer, then falling away. The highway descended into a rock-walled valley and we passed the final hamlet, took a left following the sign, and finally pulled up to the brown entrance gates where we purchased a week-long pass for $20.

My wife and I expected instant landscape fireworks–we were ready to be amazed, but Glacier played coy. We drove the two-lane Going-to-the-Sun Road beside evergreen forests and splattering brooks, the mountains ascending immediately to our right, while the scenery to port kept shifting. We passed the giant, sparkling mass of Lake McDonald and noticed the burned forest beyond its far shore. Then the car began to climb.

The road took us higher and the views opened all around us: the titanic forest valleys, the peaks still hoarding white caps, and the swirling grey sky above. The car took the Sun Road’s only switchback, and our already gaping mouths found a way to gape more. We stopped the car and looked out across a vast and unspeakably gorgious nature scene. It was surreal.

That was only the first few hours of our time in Glacier NP, the place where words failed me. Later that day, we followed the boardwalk trail uphill beside drooping, yellow Glacier Lillies just emerging for the summer to the Hidden Lake overlook where the land dropped away into scattered pines and a huge turquoise lake hemmed in by jagged mountain walls. Everywhere I cast my eyes the landscape strectched thousands of feet above me or cascaded away into miles-wide valleys.

The next day, we hiked to Grinnell Glacier. The trail was carved out of the northern side of the spectacular, glaciated valley, and to our left the entire way the view was too enormous to believe; it was like walking in a living picture. The actual glacier was silver covered with leftover snow and was slowly trickling into Upper Grinnell Lake–the only grey lake I’ve ever seen. The icebergs floating in the middle of the lake had broken off two years before. Both lake and glacier were surrounded by a 4000 foot vertical wall of rock, creating an immense quiet at the trailhead. It was too much to process.

During that hike, the park ranger asked us to describe the unspeakable beauty before us. “Majestic,” someone said. “Huge,” said another, and others chimed in, but all adjectives rang false in the face of the indomitable scenery. I could only describe how I felt: small.

There is power in places. Glacier humbled and awed me just because I was there; nothing needed to be said, hyped or exaggerated–it was overpowering just as it was. Perhaps one of the reasons why nature is so healing is because it has a supernatural presence, a heightened reality. In Glacier, I was in disbelief so staggering that it turned itself into deeper belief. Places like Glacier breathe the breath of God on anyone who comes; you can’t help but feel it. Even the most adament atheist must feel a twinge of doubt in the presence of Virginia Falls, Mount Gould, Many Glacier, St. Mary Lake, Heaven’s Peak, Blackfoot Glacier, or the Garden Wall–names I drop with a touch of reverence.

If you go to Glacier, I recommend that you get off Going-to-the-Sun Road, spectacular though it is, and hike a little. You can see a lot of the park from said road, but you won’t feel it and you won’t know it like you will if you hike even a small portion of it. There is no shortage of spectacular trails; take one or two or six. And when you do, you’ll understand what I meant in this meandering post because you’ll feel the breath, hear the voice, and see the vast display of pristine beauty. As Watermark sings, “My words can only paint so many pictures,” and Glacier’s scenes are works of an inmeasurably better Painter. When you go, you’ll see.

Pictures: Top: South end of Hidden Lake. Right: Mt. Gould with Grinnell Lake below.

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Responses

  1. Looks like the Northern Minnesota without the plaid.

    I kid, I kid.

    It’s actually on my list of places I need to visit before I die (just started after reading your post, any other suggestions?).


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