Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Glacier National Park

It has been somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 years since I set foot in Glacier Park.

When I was around 9 or 10, my parents and I took our first extended vacation, driving from Michigan to Glacier National Park in a silver Chevy station wagon equipped with all we would need to camp our way across America: 2 inflatable, canvas air mattresses that would fit in the back of the station wagon, 2 sleeping bags that zipped together to form a super-bag big enough for 2 adults and a chubby child (me), detachable curtains for the windows of the station wagon to keep our sleep private, and a hibachi grill.

Lake McDonald

We did actually use the hibachi grill, just once in a Minnesota rest area to heat up a couple cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. In those days, Minnesota rest areas consisted of trees, a picnic table, and a pit toilet. This one had something extra, though -- hoards and hoards of mosquitoes. They landed on any patch of exposed skin. They buzzed in our ears, and attacked our ankles. They even landed in our eyes. We tried to eat our stew like good picnickers --at the table, on plastic plates that "came with" our Green Stamp picnic basket -- but were driven into the car by the tiny bloodsuckers who even tried to gain access to the inside of our mouths by riding the "stew train" as we ate.

We never did "car camp" as we had intended - every night there was always a reason for getting a motel room. Who could refuse a toilet seat sanitized just for us? And we were sure that the little paper ribbon slipped on the toilet seat couldn't legally say that if it weren't true. Each room smelled coyly from the same fragrant, floral soap that was seemingly ubiquitous to the motel industry in the early 60s. I don't know what the brand was -- Cashmere Bouquet, maybe -- but even today I sometimes get a whiff of it, and I'm instantly transported back in time to those motel rooms -- and my father's insistence that all motels be "AAA Approved" and that all our gas be purchased at a Cities Service station (forerunner to Citgo).


We did make it to Glacier that year. We had a cabin in Rising Sun on the east side of the park. We were next to a splashing mountain creek with brightly-colored polished rocks and freezing cold water. We were awestruck by the size of the mountains. We drove the Going to the Sun Highway on July 4th, and were amazed that there was still snow anywhere on that date. Even in Michigan it was all gone by then!

Now, 50 or so years later, we stopped at Glacier National Park on our way north. I hoped to revisit some of my childhood memories, but that will not happen this trip. We are on the west side of the park, and will not be driving the Going to the Sun Highway eastward because it is still snow-packed and closed, and may not reopen for weeks. We will also not be doing much tourism because we are caught in the middle of days and days of cold rain and gloomy skies.

Before the weather socked in, we did manage a short driving trip around the western edge of the park. Water is high right now, with a lot of rivers in flood. We drove around Lake McDonald, saw several small but energetic waterfalls feeding the lake, and got our first glimpse of a bear feeding along the side of the road.

It doesn't really matter that we won't get to the east side of the park. The best part of my memories from that trip so long ago are not so much memories of scenery, but the memories of my discovery of the joy of traveling: seeing new and amazing places that look exotic and exciting, finding roadside treasures and natural wonders, and learning that the world is much bigger and more fascinating than an acre of land in Bridgeport, Michigan.

Obviously given my lifestyle as a full-time RVer, I still enjoy and marvel at new places and new sights. But the initial discovery of that joy only happens once. And finding that at age 10 in Glacier National Park is an experience that just can't be replicated.


The Good Luck Duck said...



Sharon Del Rosario said...

Great photo of the bear! And I'm amazed at your memory, with such details of the trip with your parents. Sorry the weather's not cooperating for your current visit, though. We loved visiting Glacier and Waterton last summer.