Glacier-Waterton Trip, Part IV: Home via Yellowstone and Beartooth Highway (Jul 18-21)

After quick stop for photos in Waterton townsite, we headed out of Canada, and stopped for lunch at the Park Cafe in Babb. They're famous for the pies, and we had to verify that this was true. :-)

Pat's in Waterton townsite

We drove back into Glacier National Park, planning to take the long way home via Going to the Sun Road and heading for Missoula. We very much re-enjoyed the spectacular drive, but didn't stop until we were closer to Apgar at some of the pullouts along the river. While we played around on the rocks, we found a spot where butterflies were drinking from a tiny puddle on the rocks. 

We joked that we'd seen a lot of "Bs" on this trip -- bison, bears, beaver, badgers, and butterflies!

Along the Flathead River in Glacier National Park

Susan at the butterfly watering hole

Butterflies getting a drink

Us on the glacier-fed Middle Fork of the Flathead River in Glacier National Park

Our plan called for a stop in Missoula, as we wanted to visit the Smokejumper Center there, something we'd wanted to do several years ago when we were passing through. We drove to Missoula via the highway on the east side of Flathead Lake, but the scenery wasn't that scenic as our views were shrouded with smoke. When we arrived in Missoula, we found the wildfire smoke to still be pretty bad. 

Smoke-shrouded sun at the Smokejumpers Center in Missoula

The tour at the Smokejumper the next morning was excellent and well worth our time! 

Smokejumpers are firefighters first, and jumpers second. They have to be incredibly fit, and to our surprise we learned that they also have to be handy with a sewing machine, as almost all smokejumpers sew/manufacture their own clothing and other gear. 

Our tour guide talked about technology used by smokejumpers

Smokejumpers use industrial strength sewing machines to make their own gear and clothing

Parachute hanging room

Parachute packing room

Ready room with lockers and personal gear

Ready room

Sherpa C-23 and Douglas DC-3 aircraft 

We got a really good tour of the Aerial Fire Depot at the Missoula airport, seeing all the facilities used by the smokejumpers, from parachute packing rooms, to ready rooms, to the aircraft they jump from. 

From Missoula, we drove on to Gardiner, Montana and the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, where we planned to do a quick in and out, visiting some spots neither of us had seen before. 

We really enjoyed seeing the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls, and got in some exercise going up and down to visit all the viewpoints. 

Roosevelt Arch at the Gardiner, Montana entrance to Yellowstone National Park

We also visited the other viewpoints of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. 

Rainbow in the mist of upper Yellowstone Falls

Upper Yellowstone Falls

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Susan heading down the 328 steps to view the Lower falls

Us with Lower Yellowstone Falls in background

Lower Yellowstone Falls; can you see the people at the top right of the falls?

View of Lower Yellowstone Falls and Yellowstone River from Artist Point
Another view of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Tower Falls, our last stop of the evening

We spent a short night in Gardiner, and the next morning we stopped by the Mammoth Hot Springs before driving out via the Lamar Valley, a place we hope to return to, possibly in the winter to see wolves.

Mammoth Hot Springs

We did see a lot of the Yellowstone bison herd in the Lamar Valley. 

Wildflowers with the bison herd at Lamar Valley

Bison at Lamar Valley

Scene from Lamar Valley; each dot is a bison, one of over 3,000 in the Park

But our main goal this day was the Beartooth Highway, so we continued out the north east entrance of Yellowstone, towards Cooke City. The Beartooth Highway is a National Scenic Byways All-American Road and Charles Kuralt called it "the most beautiful drive in America." 

View from along Beartooth Highway

Wildflowers along Beartooth Highway

We were not disappointed and drove most of the Beartooth Highway in both directions. 

Above treeline on the Beartooth Highway

We made many stops along the way, but our favorite stop was the short drive up to the Clay Butte Lookout tower, where we found volunteers helping visitors. We learned that they were part of a private group which helped restore and continue to operate the tower for visitors. 

The Clay Butte Lookout tower

After learning that the volunteers live in a small apartment in the tower for two weeks, without electricity and other conveniences, Susan was keen to return there and stay. 

The view from the Lookout tower

We found that the Beartooth Highway reminded us a lot of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. A lot of the road was above treeline, weaving through the alpine tundra. 

We decided to continue on the scenic backroads, going down Chief Joseph Scenic Byway in Wyoming and heading for Cody, Wyoming and then one last night on the road, in Casper. As we drove on Chief Joseph highway, we saw the very beginning of a wildfire in the mountains along the road. 

View from the Pass on the Chief Joseph Highway; note smoke from wildfire

We arrived later in Cody, ate dinner at the Irma Hotel, and then continued on to Casper. 

The next morning we drove on to Estes Park with a detour to long term parking at Denver International Airport, where our home-exchangers had left "Tina." Soon we had ourselves and both cars at home. 

Another really great trip to new and old places was concluded. In this 14 day trip, we'd driven almost 3,000 miles, hiked over 32 miles, seen countless lakes and waterfalls, and visited three spectacular National Parks in two countries. 

Glacier-Waterton Trip, Part III: Waterton Lakes National Park (Jul 15-18)

[continued from Part II]

We checked out of the Many Glacier Hotel and headed east out of Glacier National Park to drive north to the Chief Mountain Border crossing into Canada. This is such a small crossing that it's closed overnight.

On the border...

We came through the border at just before 11am and took the obligatory park entrance photo. 

Mike after crossing into Canada (sneaking Petey Pika in without his passport :-)

Panorama looking to the west where we would spend the next few days

Waterton Lakes National Park is somewhat smaller and easier to get around in than Glacier National Park. As we drove in, we elected to first go to the Bison Paddock, just outside and to the north of the park entrance gate. We were very pleased to see so many wildflowers on this short auto loop but surprisingly saw only one bison. But not before Susan spotted a Golden Eagle on the ground.

Golden Eagle

Wildflowers at the bison paddock (note lone bison in the distance)

This big guy was the only one we saw this day

Susan loved seeing these bushy hollyhocks growing everywhere

We drove on in, stopping at the entrance gate to pay for a 4 day pass (our US Parks Pass didn't work here), and decided we were hungry enough to have a light lunch at the Prince of Wales Hotel, overlooking Upper Waterton Lake. This historic alpine-themed hotel, built in 1927, was beautifully situated, high above the lake with incredible views. Like several other grand hotels and lodges in this area, it was built by the American Great Northern Railway.

The Prince of Wales Hotel

View from the tea room off the great room and lobby

We stopped by to check in at Northland Lodge in Waterton townsite and then left to drive more of the roads inside the Park. We were curious about Red Rock Canyon and a waterfall there, so we headed there. 

The little stream in the red rock canyon made for a great place to cool off

We decided to do the short hike to Blakiston Falls and it was well worth our time and effort. 

Along the trail to Blakiston Falls

Blakiston Falls, named for an early explorer

On the way out of the Red Rock Canyon we saw a bear just off the road. This road was noted for its wildlife and we would be back. 

A black bear plays peek-a-boo while chomping down on some berries

We also drove out to Cameron Lake, passing several trailheads for hikes we were considering here. 

The boat dock at Cameron Lake

On the drive back we stopped at a small pullout to enjoy the views. Susan was looking down at a small waterfall, far below, and was lucky enough to observe a Common Merganser go over the edge of the little falls. She was thrilled to discover she had actually snapped the picture just in time!

The small waterfall

The merganser going over the edge

The merganser after the falls

We talked to a Canadian mom and her sons, taking each others' pictures and we were reminded of how friendly Canadians can be!

A little farther down the road we found another pullout full of people and cars, so we pulled over and kept getting glimpses of a bear in the trees. It was pretty humorous to watch the entire group (including us) move together to try to keep the bear in sight.

We headed back into town to get dinner and enjoy the late day light, although we were beginning to see some smoke coming in from large fires around Banff and Washington state. 

Upper Waterton Lake

While walking around Waterton we noticed a crowd of people, some of whom had binoculars and big cameras, so we stopped and learned that there was a family of Great Horned Owls with three owlets which had just fledged. We got to seem them fly at one point. Pretty cool!

Two of three owlets at left with a parent at far right

The local "Mountie" office with an owlet on the left chimney

We got back to our cozy basement room at Northland Lodge, and enjoyed the cooler temps and good internet access.

The next morning we went upstairs for coffee, juice and yummy donut muffins and bran muffins. Susan had noticed our sheets and pillowcases were ironed and as we finished breakfast, she saw how it was done. Susan had seen the mangle used as a child and this was the first time she'd seen one as an adult. Stacey, the innkeeper told us she had five more of these antiques stored so she could keep one running.

Sheets being ironed by "the Mangle", the Simplex Ironer

We had planned a light day so we decided to do the short but very steep hike up to Bear's Hump, which provides a fantastic overlook of Waterton townsite and lakes. It was less than a mile up, but had a gain of almost 750 feet. 

Panorama from the Bear's Hump; Prince of Wales Hotel at far left; Waterton townsite center foreground

After this hike we drove out to look for wildlife, first revisiting the Bison Paddock. It was a very productive afternoon! Unlike our visit the day before, we saw almost all of the small bison herd, including 3 calves. And they were very close to the car and easy to photograph.

American Bison

Easy to understand why you're required to stay in your car :-)

And on the way out of the paddock, we saw a badger cross the road and then later a beaver.

American Badger

And I guess we didn't get our fill of Red Rock Canyon, so we drove back down there so Mike could shoot some pictures of the red rock walls with the little creek running through.  

Red Rock Creek

Red Rock Creek

Mike "at work" in Red Rock Canyon

We ended up having another late dinner, and went back to our room to pack up for our hike to Crypt Lake. This may have been the most carefully considered hike we've ever done. 

Satellite view of the Crypt Lake hike; the southern edge of the lake is practically in the U.S.

First you have to take a 15 minute boat ride across Upper Waterton Lake to the trailhead. Then there's the 5.5 miles, each way, to the lake. Plus the 2,300 feet of gain. But the real challenge is that just before the lake, you have to walk a narrow, rocky and exposed trail to a metal ladder, climb up, then go through a 60-foot rock tunnel and then when you exit the tunnel, cling to a metal cable to avoid falling off a steep ledge.

If you can do all that, you can claim that you did the hike many consider to be the best hike in Canada. Oh, and you have to get back down to the trailhead before the last boat to Waterton at 5:30pm or spend the night there with the mosquitos. We did the hike. Safely. And we made the boat, too. :-)

The Miss Waterton had just dropped us off at the Crypt Lake Trailhead

Hikers at the trailhead

Mike poses with some Indian Paintbrush along the trail (note bear spray on belt)

Pano looking back from the trail at Upper Waterton Lake

Susan was happy to find these Mountain Lady's Slippers along the trail

Mountain Lady's Slipper

Susan approaching the ladder and tunnel

Another hiker ascends the ladder to the 60 foot rock tunnel

Coming out of the tunnel to the cable portion of the trail

Here's a short video showing what it looks like coming out of the tunnel. It's challenging inside the tunnel, as it isn't high enough to stand upright, so I had to remove my pack and hunch down until I came out the other side. 

Susan near the top of the cable section of the trail

Pano of Crypt Lake

We had also been wanting to take a boat trip to Goat Haunt, south of Waterton, and back across the border in the US. But there was still so much smoke in the air we decided not to. Maybe next time?

Smoky air quality looking towards the Prince of Wales Hotel

After a very long day hiking to Crypt Lake, we had another late dinner on our last night in Waterton. And then we realized on the way back to our room that we hadn't yet stopped to photograph Cameron Falls, a beautiful and energetic waterfall just a few hundred feet down the street from Northland Lodge. So we did. :-)

Cameron Falls in Waterton townsite

The next morning we slept in as best we could, tanked up on muffins, and headed for the border, planning to take the long way home, back through Glacier and Going-to-the-Sun Road, and then Yellowstone. 

But that's for Part IV. :-)