Holy shit. The Logan Creek valley of Glacier National Park suddenly opened up as we drove past the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center. The first thing I noticed was that this was all so *big*. The mountains were huge around us. The Garden Wall loomed on the right side of the valley. Miles and miles in the distance, the Livingston Range of Glacier’s western fringe rose in imposing, snow-covered peaks. And the valley just seemed huge, especially compared to the tiny cars chugging their way in our direction up GTSR. It’s hard to describe the feeling I got other than to say that I felt very small, and also like a very exclusive member of a club of people seeing what this park had to offer at the moment. That doesn’t sum it up well, but I’m not sure any words do.
Literally everywhere was something insane and incredible. There were mountains with sheer walls of thousands of feet, ridges, snowbanks cascading long waterfalls, and just about everything else you could imagine. Elizabeth drove a very appropriate 25 mph, thanking the lord the whole way down that she was on the lane closest to the mountain and not up against the tiny rock guardrail. That left me plenty of time to stare in wonder. Part of me felt regret as we steadily lost altitude down the other side of GTSR. The flipside was that, if we couldn’t see as far from lower down as we could at Logan Pass, the mountains once again rose more spectacularly than ever.
Elizabeth was itching ever more to get down the mountain and into the Avalanche Creek lot, now that it was actually daytime (read: 8:30 a.m). But I insisted on pulling off at the idyllically named Paradise Meadow so that I could take some pictures.
What’s that? You’d like to see what those distant waterfalls look like from closer? Well, may I present to you:
It looks small until you see that guy in the foreground standing next to a drift the size of him. Glacier is a landscape that can dwarf you faster than you realize.
Speaking of landscapes that can dwarf you, check out the view down Logan Creek Valley:
Lightroom is down right now, so these two will be unedited for now:
I didn’t want to leave, but reluctantly hopped back in the car for the upcoming adventure. Context: along this stretch of road, there are some beautiful pieces of architecture that allow the road to travel over tumbling waterfalls and small creeks. But in one spot, which you can see in the picture of Elizabeth above, there’s just too much water and too little space. I’d heard of the Weeping Wall, where a bunch of small waterfalls just come tumbling on to the road. Now we drove through it. Elizabeth refused to give the RAV4 a nice bath by driving directly into any of the cascades, but we still took plenty of steadily-thrumming trickles against my side of the car. It was like being in a lazy river and going under the mushroom, only I didn’t get wet.
Outside of the Weeping Wall, though, the stretch of GTSR that is carved into the side of the Garden Wall is a remarkable feat of engineering. Despite the impressive amount of water that flows down the steep mountainsides, nowhere else does it get on the road thanks to a plethora of culverts and drainage ditches. One of them was on display at our final pull-off on GTSR – the Bird Woman Falls overlook. I’d heard of Bird Woman Falls before. It’s a 560-foot waterfall that formed in the last Ice Age when the main Logan Creek Valley glacier rose so high it met the level of alpine glaciers the “flowed” into it. When the glaciers melted, the high alpine glacier alongside Mount Oberlin left behind a “hanging valley” where it met the main glacier. Bird Woman Falls tumbles off of this hanging valley. I had waited for this moment – could it possibly be as beautiful as the pictures/I’d imagined?
I guess the only downside, and this is an incredibly small downside, was that I wasn’t close enough to hear the roaring of the Falls. But even then, Glacier provided like a garden of plenty. Even the visibility was a million times better than it had been at Grand Teton, despite some fitful wildfire smoke drifting in from the southwest. At the bend that the overlook is situated on, a creek comes roaring down the left side of a prominent mesa known as Haystack Butte. Haystack Creek passes under GTSR on the opposite side of the bend in a long tumbling run, and then continues impossibly far down below. I didn’t get a picture of Haystack Creek’s long descent hundreds of feet below us, because the overlook was on a pure cliff to the steep valley far below. But you could watch this stream, a pure white ribbon that seemed to drop as far as the eye could see. Here’s the creek as it passes under the road, with one of those pretty little bridges.
You know that joke where people ask “why don’t we build the whole airplane out of the black box?” Well, Glacier built the whole park out of the very best view. It was almost overwhelming how literally everywhere was stunning.
I could have stopped every half mile and made a half day out of GTSR, but Elizabeth was getting progressively angstier about parking at Avalanche Creek. So she kept driving as the mountains gradually drifted farther and farther apart until we got to The Loop. The Loop is a famous spot where the road bends hard off of the Garden Wall, where the Highline Trail also intersects the road once more from above. From here, we descended ever more rapidly into a widening valley from which a river flowed on our right. That river is known as McDonald Creek, which officially marked us back off of the alpine country and into the western part of the national park. Where everything else had shone, McDonald Creek sparkled – it was simultaneously clear and yet glacial blue, with brilliant red rocks poking up from the roaring whitewater. To the east, the Lewis Range we had just traversed loomed large and imposing. To the west, the Livingston Range rose in a similar mass of crags and ridges, topped by the famous Heaven’s Peak.
Elizabeth had to be getting sick of my exclamations that this was all so amazing. She had reason to; it was like every fourth sentence out of my mouth. But damn if I didn’t hit the nail on the head. It all *was* so amazing. Best day of my life potentially, and it wasn’t even breakfast time yet. GTSR finally flattened out alongside McDonald Creek as it squeezed into the narrow valley between Heaven’s Peak and the complex of mountains we’d just crossed. There were more places to stop, but Elizabeth had finally won her way; we drove continuously at a sedate rate behind some cyclists for another several miles until we got to Avalanche Creek.
One of the major jolts of the morning had been just how empty GTSR was. There were hardly any cars at Logan Pass on opening day! However, the west side of the park had already been open prior to today, and that’s where visitors had crammed themselves. Just as Elizabeth had predicted, there was no parking whatsoever at Avalanche Creek. Finally we had found the masses. We wandered the trailhead parking, then looped through the campground at Avalanche, then drove through the picnic area. Narry a spot to be found. After about 10 minutes, just as Elizabeth was getting ready to snarl at me in earnest for slowing us down, we spotted some people walking to their #vanlife vehicle. She immediately put the car in park, and I rolled down the window asked them if they were pulling out. They assured me they were. A couple of minutes of pointed triumphant silence from me and a huckleberry licorice from the St Mary gas station later, and we had our spot. Trust the process, Elizabeth. Trust the process. I chowed down a Pop-Tart in the passenger seat while we gathered gear for our first hike in Glacier National Park.