When I was a kid growing up in Montana, there was much about the grandeur of the landscape that fed my active youthful imagination. The jagged peaks, rolling rivers, trout-filled lakes and endless grassy plains were all alive with history and possibility. Everywhere I looked, adventure waited. And against that backdrop, Glacier National Park sparkled above everything like a precious gem.
It was a magical place.
At least once a year, and sometimes more often, all seven of us loaded up in the old Mercury station wagon and headed for the park. My mother, who first visited the park as an infant, just a few years after it was created, saw to it that we were indoctrinated to its wonders as soon as we were portable. Old family photos show her family loaded into a Model T, with the top down and camping gear strapped to every available spot on the vehicle, with the mountains of Glacier all around. So, I guess it's in the family blood.
Sometimes we simply passed through Glacier on a circuitous route to my grandparents' home over in the wheat country at Dutton. Other times the visit included a camping extravaganza somewhere in the park. Every trip that I can recall included at least one stop for a meal at one of the great old lodges in the park. Stepping into the dark, cavernous lobbies of those places, with the monster Douglas fir pillars and walls adorned with wildlife mounts, was like stepping into a story that I could imagine myself in the middle of.
Most of those trips also included the drive over Going-to-the-Sun Road. The whining, restlessness and bickering of five kids in the back seats of the car would come to a stop as soon as we passed the park entrance. And for the duration of the ride over Logan Pass, we were excitedly glued to the windows, "oohing" and "aahing" at the dramatic landscape. Glimpses of a moose near the road, a mountain goat perched on a cliff, a pika scurrying around, a marmot surveying the scene, and, most exciting of all, a black bear or grizzly lumbering at a safe distance were almost overwhelming.
The thing about Glacier is that no matter how many times you visit, it never gets old. Over the last few days, as I have been reading about the centennial celebration and thinking about that magnificent hunk of the landscape, wonderful memories spanning 60 years have been washing over me.
There were those early family camping trips to Two Medicine, complete with a leaky canvas wall tent and meals cooked over a wood fire. I don't know quite how our parents managed to wrangle us kids on those trips without disaster, but they did.
I was fortunate enough to snag a job one summer that involved poking around and exploring the backcountry in every corner of the park. I wore out a brand-new pair of hiking boots and saw things in the process that made me thirsty for more of the same.
There have been backpacking expeditions with family and friends that have taken us to places most visitors never get to see. There have been wonderful gatherings at Granite Park and Sperry chalets, where we sat late into the evening, looking out over the park and the rest of the world, wondering at the simple good fortune of being in that place at that moment.
There have been gut-busting hikes and wonderful wintertime ski trips. There have been days of hiking in the rain and snow and coming at last into the warmth of one of the lodges to stand in front of the roaring fire and dry out. There was the long bike ride to the top of Logan Pass on the night of a full moon and the chilly and hair-raising ride down in the early dawn.
Glacier never gets old. Whether it is the trail through the Ptarmigan Tunnel, the boardwalk from Logan Pass to the Hidden Lake overlook or a short walk in the woods not far from the road, every visit comes with indescribable sweetness. It's a place that some folks can't get enough of.
It is a place of magic.
Greg Tollefson is a freelance Missoula writer whose column appears each week in Outdoors. He can be reached at email@example.com.