Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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A long exposure with tripod at McDonald Falls When I awoke, the weather did not seem much improved from the previous evening - it was still overcast and raining. However, there was little use in staying at the campground, so I started the car and drove east, hoping that the weather would improve as the day progressed. At McDonald Falls, this wasn't the case yet; so I figured I'd wrap the camera in a plastic bag and do some long exposures of the water - at least this way I wouldn't have to worry about blown highlights in the sky. This got boring real fast, however, and so a quarter of an hour later I was on the road again, gaining elevation on Going-to-the-Sun highway. The weather was slightly more interesting here, in that there were mixtures of full fog, and separate low clouds below the higher layer of clouds that made the sky overcast. I got some decent shots of mountain peaks and trees appearing and disappearing between the white.

I made slow progress on my drive, stopping at every viewpoint and pull-out along the way. Gradually, I was also able to see that there was fresh snow on the mountain peaks. After about an hour, I arrived near the highest point of the road, near Logan Pass. Here, there was still a bit of fresh snow falling, and visibility was pretty low. I stopped at the Logan Pass Visitor center for a few minutes, and then headed toward the Rising Sun campground further east - I had read that it had fee showers, and a shower seemed like an excellent idea. By the time I was out of the shower, it had started to clear up a little.

The sky was still mostly covered in clouds, but they were not as low to the ground anymore. I took some shots at Saint Mary Lake, and then decided to head back up towards Logan Pass again. By the time I reached Baring Falls, the first rays of sun were getting through the clouds. Since the weather still wasn't all that great (and neither was the light, at the height of the day), I decided to test my knees and do a short hike. St Mary Falls seemed like a reasonably close destination, and I prepared by putting on my knee braces and getting out the hiking poles. I decided to still take the two cameras, but compromised by putting a lighter lens on one of them. St Mary Falls turned out to be an okay destination, although I constantly hiked through the forest and was slightly concerned that I might stumble upon some unexpected wildlife (read: come face-to-face with a bear, something I wasn't particularly keen on doing). I didn't see anything or anyone on the hike, though; and was back at the car maybe an hour after I left it.

Clouds delivering some more rain before being blown out of sight The weather still wasn't great, but after driving a few miles and gaining some elevation, I could literally see the last bad-weather clouds - it looked like it was raining quite heavily, too - being chased out of the park. Some fluffy white clouds still remained, but I saw more and more blue. The advantage of the morning's bad weather was that I was now able to fully appreciate the snow-covered peaks of the surrounding mountains - the white snow sprinkled on top contrasted nicely with the blue of the sky, the various shades of grey and brown of the mountains, and the dark green of the valley floor.

Somewhere near Weeping Wall, there was a larger-than-usual assembly of parked cars, and as I got out I quickly became aware why: there was a bighorn sheep on the right cliff wall. I tried to get some good shots with my large zoom (500mm) but it was moving fast, and eventually disappeared. To the left side of the road, there were some more bighorn, but they were further away and difficult to spot - the colour of their fur wasn't too different from the colour of the rocks, especially as not all of them were moving. They were close to a cliff face, and it was impressive seeing the ease they had in climbing around it.

A bighorn just after crossing the street Eventually, most of the cars left, and just as I was ready to leave too I noticed that some more bighorn were about to cross the road a bit down-hill. I was in the car at this point, and drove a little towards them; but once again I didn't get the perfect shot because they were moving too fast. I turned around again, and headed up to Logan Pass instead. Once there, I walked around for a while, but owing to my knees I decided not to do too much hiking. Instead, I photographed a ground squirrel, and then headed East. Saint Mary looked different now that the sun was shining, and I realized that I still had enough daylight left to get to the Many Glacier area.

I was hoping to still get a camp site at that campground, but would soon find out that it was full already. I did see my first bear, however; once again thanks to cars who were parked on the shoulder and looking at the brush on the opposite slope across a small river valley. Unfortunately, the bear disappeared before I could get a perfect shot, but it was too far away to get a full-frame shot anyway.

A bear hunting and foraging in the hills in fading sunlight A little while later, still near Many Glacier, I saw the second bear of the trip. This one was still further away, up in the slope of a mountain. A number of people were already watching it through scopes and camera lenses, and it was at times difficult to even notice it was there - it was evidently looking for food in some high grass and low brushes, and at times would disappear, only to reappear chasing what must have been small animals - at least, nothing was visible through my big lens. By this time, the sun had already disappeared behind the mountains, but I still stayed to just watch and take the occasional shot, fully aware that I wouldn't get any perfect shots anymore... but just being there, looking at the bear go through what looked like an undisturbed hunting and gathering ritual, was nice, even if (or maybe just because) it was at a large distance.

By the time I decided to call it a day, the sun was still lighting the mountains on the other side of the valley across Swiftcurrent Lake quite nicely, even though there were many long shadows already. I didn't make the best use of that light, because I was more concerned about finding a camping spot for the night. I shouldn't have been, since I easily got one at St. Mary campground, the first one I stopped at.


Miles driven: 110mi (177km)

Campground Accommodation: St. Mary campground (Glacier National Park): $15

Written 5th September 2007 in Bivange.