Glaciers. Wildlife. Cedars. The oldest and most fragile creations in Glacier National Park are quickly disappearing. Families Jensen and Stewart planned this once-in-a-lifetime trip into our nation’s eighth National Park to show our children these beauties before it is too late. The temperature is warming; the debate is only about the cause. As go the glaciers (melting), mammals (smaller viable ecosystems) and cedar forests (wildfire)… so goes the Earth.
The Park once held 150 glaciers. Now they hold only 25. Furthermore, The Park’s leading ecologist predicts within 20 years The Park’s glaciers will melt or sublimate- causing depletion in freshwater for drinking, irrigation, and hydroelectric power.
But our families believe a solution is at hand: initiation into nature- into wildness- could make younger people care. Wonder breeds reverence. And so as the Howe Ridge Wildfire rages, we reflect on our recent trip, and see first-hand how special, delicate and dynamic our environment is.
Not realizing the vistas would be forever changed only a week later by The Howe Ridge Fire, (currently burning over 11,000 acres of forest) we reflect bittersweetly on the trip. Until the next ice age, no human will see Glacier National Park in the same splendor ever again. As a result, we have YOUR family trip all arranged for summer 2019.
Our friends Toby and Kristen Stewart currently live in Bozeman, MT. Toby is Director of Orchestral Activities and Assistant Professor of Music at Montana State University, Kirsten is The Worship Director at E-Free Church of Bozeman. You can imaging how musically inclined their three kids are!
Toby and Kirsten lived in The Park several summers during college, working at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp as counselors. With regard to our itinerary, we followed their lead. Consider the daily schedule below as a good starting spot for your family and leave plenty of time for the unexpected.
We are big readers and like to know the significance of a place before going. My favorite book about Glacier was The Melting World by Christopher White.
As world temperatures soar, public outcry has focused on the threat to polar ice sheets and sea ice. Yet there is another impact of global warming—one much closer to home—that spells trouble for Americans: the extinction of alpine glaciers in the Rocky Mountains. The epicenter of the crisis is Glacier National Park, Montana, whose peaks once held one-hundred-and-fifty glaciers. Only twenty-five survive. The Park provides a window into the future of climate impacts for mountain ranges around the globe.
-The Melting World, Christopher White
Traveling with a high kid to adult ratio means booking a room with Air BNB or ARBO. With a townhome or house, accommodations are always less expensive, more comfortable and provide more amenities. We stayed at the base of Whitefish Mountain Resort, “steps away from Chair 3”! Toby was deputized “Master Chef”, bringing his favorite tools (an Instant Pot and a Vitamix) and groceries. He prepped, packed and served 3 meals a day so the rest of us didn’t have to.
St. Mary and Virginia Falls
Patches of ebony intermix with pewter stumps like a grizzled beard. On the opposide ridge, are broad bands of gray trees- also limbless- just sticks resembling thousands of fletchless arrows shot into a battlefield from above.
-Christopher White, The Melting World
Be sure to savor lunch at Virginia Falls before turning back for home.
Starting at Logan Pass Visitor Center, hike this narrow path to Hidden Lake. Here the animals seek your attention. Herds of mountain goats huddle on windswept ridges, blending in to the snow. Even in summer, they favor water crystals, preferring to eat snow that to drink water.
Keep your eyes sharp, even from a car. You can view mountain goats, deer, bighorn sheep, moose elk and bears. Fewer than 1200 grizzlies in the continental U.S; twenty-five percent of those are in Glacier. This is the second American Serengeti: only in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone can the diversity and numbers compare. I’m at once envious of my grandfather’s day and guilty over what my children will miss.
– The Melting World, Christopher White
These Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels are everywhere on the trail! Remember to pack snacks but also “pack-out” all you have. Nevertheless, these little mammals know kids distribute a few crumbs along the way!
Shuttle buses offer visitors a low-carbon alternative for exploring the Park (and not worrying about parking! My nemesis!). Nonetheless, more than fifty percent of the visitors stay in their cars and never go on a hike. No need to feel intimidated nor lazy. Hikers of both age extremes climb this trail with minimal effort. The aromatic, majestic cedar trees might be the reason young and old have reason to keep going along the trail!
Of summer’s waterfalls draining into the lake, one of these cataracts contributes Sperry Glacier’s meltwater below. Sperry is predicted to be one of the last remaining glaciers of the park- possibly dying out as soon as 2030.
The ice water falls so fast and so far it actually warms up on descent. Mountain snowpack has been called an alipine “water tower,” storing moisture high in the watershed and then slowly releasing it when water is needed the most. Avalanche Lake, home of one of the most imperiled aquatic species in Montana. In summer it is a watering oasis- for wildlife, for people.
-The Melting World, Christopher White
Lake MacDonald Lodge
This century-old lodge is a classic hotel with suites, hostel rooms, stone fireplaces and free-standing cabins. The Lodge was evacuated last weekend due to the Howe Ridge Wildfire and will not re-open this season. It’s the second straight year the Lake McDonald Lodge is closing early. So far, heroic efforts have kept the hotel from destruction, however, several other historic homes and landmarks have been destroyed this summer due to fires.
It is a luxury to have a pristine beach and untouched mountains all to ourselves. During our second afternoon in the mountains, our family laid out beach towels and swam in the cool, clear water of Lake MacDonald until the sun went down. Lake McDonald is a nine-mile-long trough cut by the now-extinct McDonald Glacier.
Bonnie Kenny was my Grandma Nina’s classmate in high school. Now Bonnie and her daughter are our Montana “family” and they also are neighbors to my parents in Arizona in the winter.
We were fascinated with Bonnie! She is the 93-year-old resident of this spectacular Whitefish Lake home. She has her pilot’s license. She plays Pickleball and golf regularly. She even swims halfway across the lake to rendezvous with neighbors! We had a special day and afternoon with her and her daughter- inspired by her longevity and hospitality.
Whitefish Alpine Resort is busy in the summer with their extensive hiking/biking trail system and alpine slide. We bought a package allowing us all at least one trip down the Whitefish Alpine Slide and back up the chairlift. If you’ve never done this before, here is the NAIL-BITING video of my first time!
White water rafting
Great Northern Rafting Co treated us to a white water rafting experience that all of us loved. Toby and Kirsten already rafted many times, but this was a first for the rest of us.
Matt took me to the movie River Wild on our first date, back in 1994. Our guide surprised us, saying some of the rafting scenes were on this stretch of river! We celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary on this trip and I took the plunge all over again- literally. Check out some of the photos above. One of them only shows my two legs sticking up out of the water! The smiling group photo is of us seeing the professional photos for the first time. We continued to have more fun and laughs as each day passed!
Lake MacDonald… Again
There are really only two ways to travel: First-class… or with kids. As this trip’s travel plans were arranged and rearranged, we were glad to have a few mornings without a firm agenda. Sometimes the kids needed to sleep in. Twice, the guys took a mountain bike ride up and down Whitehead Mountain while us ladies enjoyed a quiet time. With an open morning, we returned to “our” isolated beach on Lake MacDonald. The Wilderness Jensen/Stewart Games including skipping rocks, assembling team flags and playing chicken.
I’m especially grateful for the return trip. The most dramatic Howe Ridge Wildfire photos are taken from this beach. Only days after being there, this entire stretch of Glacier National Park was evacuated.
We loved eating at the Tamarack Brewing Company in Lakeside, MT. Matt made a toast in honor of our anniversary and we let the kids burn off energy in a neighboring stream. Next stop was the much-anticipated Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, where Kirsten and Toby met as counselors and fell in love. We met the campers and staff, joined them for ‘Campfire” Praise and Worship Time (no flames due to fire restrictions), and finally watched The Passion Play. God’s presence was felt all around us during this week- especially here.
We carpooled our families back to Bozeman, home of the Stewarts, in time for the annual Sweet Pea Festival Parade. The kids’ parents work at Vance Thompson Vision of Bozeman, whose business had a campfire float. The kids had plenty of practice to play the part! Meanwhile, Kirsten and I did a little back-to-school shopping before our family returned to South Dakota to start the school year.
One short day after returning home, lightning sparked the Towe Ridge Wildland Fire, closing sections of Going-to-the-Sun road, Lake MacDonald, and all the trails we hiked. Currently, the fire has consumed 11,000 acres of land with smoke obscuring the vistas of every area we visited.
It’s basic human nature to only respond to a crisis. if the Columbia River or the Colorado gradually loses its water b/c of lowered snowpack, few people complian. but if, suddenly, Phoenix has to be evacuated b/c there’s no air-conditioning, electricity, or water at all, then people will take climate change seriously.
-The Melting World, Christopher White
The glacier water we swam in, the wildlife we saw and the aromatic cedars we enjoyed are not likely to exist in 20-30 years. The swift destruction of a wildfire shook both our families in tangible ways. Our responsibility to care for God’s creation is permanetly imprinted.
Please consider reading to your kids about our National Parks, visiting them and committing to the preservation of our environment.