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Link to just the pictures:
Glacier National Park - July 2011

Our Subaru is all packed up and we're out the door around 7:30am. A quick stop in Denver to drop off Denali at Stinger's house then we continue north with a lunch stop in Cheyenne. A quick break in Casper (hhhmm, what's that burning oil smell?), then dinner in Sheridan (uh oh, that smell is coming from our car). A peek under the car reveals oil leaking. I was hoping it was a loose oil filter or oil plug.... no such luck. A local garage says its a leaking seal between the engine and transmission. Won't have much luck getting that fixed at 4:45pm Friday of a holiday w/end. We continue to Billings and along the way find out where the Subaru dealership is, their hours, a hotel nearby, and a rental car company nearby. After ~10hrs in the car, with stops, we stay at a Holiday Inn with a pool for Miles to splash around in. Miles was a great traveler along the way. Bad news: the car is leaking oil, Miles DVD player doesn't work, Flyers sign Jagr. Good news: we're on vacation, live broadcast of Phish SuperBall IX, Android phone to search for info/location/hours.

I'm at the Subaru dealership service entrance right at 8am when they open with a few different plans. I figured it would be hard for them to get to the repairs today, let alone how long it would take to fix. They were extremely helpful and I ended up leaving the car there telling them I'll be back in a week. Instead of shelling out another $400 for a rental, they give me a loaner vehicle for the week. Fortunately, its a 2011 Outback, a car we've been considering purchasing... super cool of them, and what better way to see if we like a car then to test drive it for the week and put a ton of miles on it?! We're on the road again after transferring all of our stuff. Road construction, delays, one-load roads, and going slightly out of our way through Helena instead of taking the highway to Missoula. We stopped for a picnic lunch and we're amazed at how flooded the Missouri River is, also pass right along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Dinner in Missoula, gawking at the giant Flathead Lake, and then we finally get to the West Glacier Motel right at 8pm where Miles declares "We're at VACATION!!!!" with his arms in the air. It far enough north that the sun is out till almost 10pm, so we walk around the woods and drink a couple Moose Drool beers happy to have arrived despite some setbacks. Miles has me carry him so the "bears in da woods don't get him". The West Glacier Motel is pretty basic with two beds and a shower the size of a coffin, no TV/phone/internet. The motel is just two miles from the entrance of the Glacier National Park and on a curve of North Fork of the Flathead River.

Breakfast at the West Glacier Restaurant then we head into the park. We stop at the busy visitor center in Apgar and check out the boat dock on Lake McDonald. Its the largest lake in the park and up to 472 feet deep, carved by glaciers with giant moraines (Howe and Snyder Ridges) on both sides. Evidence of the fast moving 2003 Roberts Fire surround the lake. 10 x 1.5 miles in size and big peaks all around. Wow, beautiful! We drive up Going to the Sun Road and stop at Lake McDonald Lodge to get our tickets for an afternoon boat ride, they said to just come back shortly before the launch. So we continue up to Avalanche, which is currently as far as you can drive from the west due to a record snow year and continued plowing. Its pretty crowded up here and a free-for-all to park in one of the campground loops. We start along the Trail of the Cedars and take the cutoff trail to the popular Avalanche Lake. A pretty mellow hike at 4 miles and ~500ft, perfect for Miles to walk part of the way and ride in the Kelty Kids part of the way. Trail of the Cedars is through a very moist and lush area, like a rain forest, with displays of how trees fall and become "nurse logs" for other plants and trees. The Avalanche Lake trail continues up along Avalanche Creek, which was really roaring, and carved out canyons. Large mossy boulders left from glaciers dot the trail and evidence of previous avalanches from all the high peaks around. Still a considerable amount of snow up high and the reward at the end of the trail is a stunning alpine lake in a cirque with steep cliffs, high peaks, and waterfalls all around. WOW! We hang out for awhile trying to prevent Miles from jumping in every ounce of water around and check the surrounds slopes for grizzly's with binoculars. Miles falls asleep on the hike out and we have a picnic lunch in the campground. Since there's a chill to the breeze we go back to our motel and get jackets, stop for coffee in Apgar, then speed up to Lake McDonald lodge to catch the 3pm boat tour. We get there with seconds to spare and hopped aboard the 1930 wooden DeSmet for an hour tour of the lake learning all about the history, flora, fauna, and geology of the area. Miles was pretty psyched to be on a boat and the views were amazing.... Stanton Mtn, Mt Vaught, Mt Brown, etc. He quickly fell asleep on the short ride back to the motel while Jean spotted a bear in the woods then we saw him crossing the road while we turned around to find him. Awesome! Miles was down for the count, yet we woke him up for some dinner and ice cream. That night I convinced him that the fan in the bathroom was a bear growling every time the light was turned on.

Breakfast at West Glacier Restaurant right at 7am again, and today was Miles day to eat alot. All the staff was smitten by him and thought it was hysterical that he shouted "DINNER!" when they brought out his pancakes. Since Going to the Sun Road is closed, we took highway 2 around the south end of the park over Marias Pass and to East Glacier, with a stop at "Goat Lick" to see the mtn goats licking the rocks to get some minerals. Our destination was the Two Medicine section of the park and we got there in just over an hour with views that just kept getting better. More WOW!!!! Rising Wolf Mtn and Sinopah Mtn are a beautiful backdrop to Two Medicine lake. After gawking for a bit we start the hike to Aster Park, ~3.8 miles and 670ft. We let Miles hike for awhile then got him in the Kelty Kids since its a known bear area around the south end of the lake. Wild flowers line the trail and its hard to keep our eyes down. Cool meadows, beaver ponds, mosquitoes, Jean talking/singing loudly with bear spray in hand, etc. A few switchbacks later we stop near the top, while I'm taking a leak I hear a rustle in the bushes and see several sets of eyes coming my way. "Bear" was my first thought, but I was happy to see it was a group of big horn sheep passing through within 20ft from us. We all checked each other out and went along our merry ways. Fantastic views down to the lake and the snow-covered peaks all around. On our way down we just missed a bear that was eating flowers in a meadow, darn! We had lunch in front of the former chalet (now a snack shop and gift shop) where a group of young Japanese girls kept ooohhh'ing and aaaahhhh'ing at Miles while he giggled and made faces at them, then we tried to find a shady spot so Miles could take a nap in the back seat. We parked at the trail head for Running Eagle Falls and had Miles fall asleep on the back seat while Jean and I snoozed up front. The heat woke me up so I walked the 1/4mile trail to the falls. It was really coming down fast from all the snow melt! Very cool. After naps we got tickets for the 3pm boat ride and hike back to Twin Falls. This was on the 1927 45ft Sinopah that has been cruising the lake since it was built. More stories and info along the ride including how the peaks got their names, and Miles was thrilled to be sitting in front watching how the captain drove the boat. After it docked on the west end of the lake we hiked the 1 mile back to Twin Falls as a group. Several bridges, some mud and snow, and lots more flowers and views galore to take in. Miles walked and ran most of the way while I carried him over the puddles and mud. Interesting that some trees have rings of barbed wire around them so they can get DNA from the bears after the rub against them while other groups of trees suffered from "winter kill" as the warm chinook winds blast down in the winter causing the cells to literally explode. Twin Falls was a double flume of cascades that was really flowing as well, and Miles insisted on having his shoes off to "dip his piggy toes into the water", this ended up being a theme for him. Since he wouldn't let us put his shoes back on him, I got to carry him the mile back to the dock where he proceeded to put his feet in the water until they were too cold, then take them out, the back in, over and over. We stopped for dinner at Luna's cafe and had some awesome huckleberry pie before the drive back to West Glacier. There are Swiss chalets all over the park that were built by the Great Northern Railway back in the 1920's to encourage visitors. The are each "one day's horseback ride apart" and it cost a whopping $40 to tour the park back then after you arrived via railway and boat. On to Part 2....

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