Greetings from Glacier
Greetings from Glacier! September 26th, 2014
"Autumn is here!"
What signs of autumn have you noticed recently? In Glacier the signs are abundant. Each day the sun rises a little later and our forests are exploding with color! The ground squirrels have snuggled down in their dens, the mountain goats have regrown their winter coats, and all of the leaves are quickly changing. We can officially say it, autumn has arrived!
Fall is my favorite season in the park for many reasons. The fall colors are always a treat, but in my humble opinion something even more spectacular happens each fall. It's easy to be distracted on the trail by all of the changing aspens and cottonwoods, but next time you're hiking the trails or driving the road take an extra moment or two to stop look overhead;you might notice something else extraordinary happening!
Remember the post a few weeks back about seeing a merlin (Merlins, Lions, and Thunder, Oh My)? September is a great month for even the most casual birder to catch a glimpse of migrating birds of prey, Merlins included.
All across the country these amazing creatures are embarking on their cross country (or cross-continental) journey to warmer weather. Yesterday I joined a fantastic group of volunteers and park staff headed up to Swiftcurrent Pass near Granite Park Chalet to spend a few hours surveying the migrating raptors. The results were amazing!
Everyone was out and about - Golden Eagles, Cooper's Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, Prairie Falcons, raptors galore! A birder's dream. Some flew directly overhead, flying so close you could almost hear their feathers ripping through the high winds. Others took their time, slowly spiraling upwards on thermal air currents until they practically disappeared into the sky.
Our most exciting find was the Peregrine, flying overhead and eating a smaller bird in midair! As it soared above us little tufts of feathers slowly floated down. An amazing sight indeed!
"Where might I be able to see some of these migrating raptors?"
Lucky for us, any high place could potentially be a good spot! Many visitors have been lucky enough to see Golden Eagles soaring overhead on the drive up to Logan Pass. Otherwise, keep your eyes on the sky anytime you're higher on trails or you have expansive view. You might be lucky enough to catch one of them in the act!
I hope this fall affords you some amazing sights too, wherever you are!
Greetings from Glacier! September 19th, 2014
"The Great Migration… of Park Rangers"
What comes to mind when you think of migration? Most folks have the same answer: birds. But, like many park visitors, I'm sure you've found yourself asking a park ranger's most commonly answered question: "What do you do in the winter?"
The answer is different for every ranger. Some are called "permanent" employees that stay at one park year round. These folks have likely moved around and worked at many parks, with Glacier being one extended stop along the way. These rangers are lucky enough to see every season change;they stay put as many of their park's other rangers migrate to new places.
But if you're not a permanent ranger, what are you? A "seasonal" ranger is the descriptive term for us. But don't take seasonal rangers too lightly… Some of us have been around for quite a while! Come have a chat with Apgar's Doug Follet or head out on a hike with Many Glacier's Bob Schuster some day - you'll find that our seasonals are some of our most knowledgeable rangers (Bob's been in Glacier for 48 years now, and Doug over 50 years).
I'm starting to think that there's something about Glacier that actually prolongs the life of our park rangers! If you don't believe me, take a few minutes to read about Ranger Doug and Ranger Lyle, two Glacier rangers with some of the longest running careers in the NPS.
Our seasonal rangers do many things in the winter - some migrate southeast to the Everglades or the Smokies, some southwest to Zion or Death Valley, and some just migrate home to visit family for the holidays before the winter season starts.
This may be the point where you think, "Did you say winter season? The park couldn't possibly be open during the winter!" Believe it or not, it is! While many of our seasonal rangers migrate, a few stay behind to spend the fall, winter, and spring working with local students on a variety of education programs (both with and without snowshoes).
So if you ever come through the park during the "off-season" don't be alarmed if you hear a ruckus. It's probably just some of our non-migratory rangers with 2nd graders in tow, learning to hunt like snowy owls or hide like snowshoe hares.
"How do I know when my favorite campground is closing or when activity in the park is shutting down for the season?"
Luckily the park has compiled most information into several web pages. For information about when campgrounds close, check out the links on the Campground Status page. If you're curious about Visitor Center hours, the Operating Hours & Seasons page will be very useful for you. If you're still planning to take a boat tour or horseback ride, the 2014 Concessioner Schedules will suit your needs.
If you've already made your trip out for the season I hope you enjoyed it! If not, I hope to see you soon!
Greetings from Glacier! September 12, 2014
"I'm Glad I Brought Gloves"
I have arrived. There is a white fog everywhere, sweeping slowly down the face of Sperry Glacier, carrying with it moisture as rain, ice,snow, and then as a wind with ice, with rain, and snow pelting our faces. I shiver in the expected but unexpected cold of being in the presence of ice. I am glad I brought gloves.
Only a few miles ago, and several thousand feet below, we had been hiking in the early morning sun, sweating on a steep trail heading up to Comeau Pass. At the time the weight in our daypacks felt silly, and we stopped often to complain. However, now, after we all had switched to our jackets, gloves,and beanies, we were grateful for the warning from the Sperry Chalet staff to be prepared. Even so, I duck down behind a boulder to get relief from the persistent wind and warm up. It's brief though, as I can barely contain my excitement, and am eager to explore now that I have arrived.
I had been waiting all summer to see the rumored Sperry Glacier, one of the larger glaciers in the park. Accessed by a short but steep day hike from the Sperry Chalet, where we had rested the night before, the glacier is a popular yet remote hike. I had heard rumors of fantastic rock and lichenscapes, stromatolites as big as your fist, and a glacier which hung precariously over the edge of the precipice. Not to mention the view.
This was not my first experience at the face of a glacier. For several years I rangered at Glacier Bay National Park and was familiar with the sight of the tidewater glaciers there--the unfathomable architects of deep time calving huge chunks of ice thunderously into the sea. As a photographer, they were art in motion, geology as poetry, a source of inspiration. As a ranger, they were opportunities to talk about the shift in climate, the sculpting of the landscape from previous eras, and the life returning once the glaciers had gone. My heart and my mind ached to see them again.
Braving the elements, I began to wander across the moraine, scrambling over the slick, twisted boulder piles and ice fields to get a closer view of the glacier, on the way hunting for stromatolites, ancient colonies of bacteria, or for the scratch marks left behind as the glacier shrank, and hearing poetry in the tiny streams coursing beneath the ice, while watching time being captured in the colors of the rock faces.
Eventually I reach the edge of the glacier, close enough to touch. I am conflicted. It is beautiful, white blending in, so effortlessly into gray stripes, haunting the landscape with a timeless presence. But, I feel as though I am not seeing it in all its glory. My mind fills in the gaps and creates a large glacier, stretching from one side of the basin to the other as it once was, trying to imagine what it would have been like to be here only forty or fifty years ago, or when the idea of the park first came about, a hundred. I can tell this persistant ice is shrinking as are all of the glaciers in the park. This one like the others is expected to be gone within the decade. Having read the research being conducted by the park and its partner organizations, I know the glaciers have come and gone before, but I also know this recent warming trend is due in part to how we have lived on this planet. During the driest months of the year, meltwater from the Sperry Glacier provides nourishment for the park's wildlife, as well as filling uprivers and streams outside of the park. The thought of something so grand and so influential, lost so quickly, humbles me. Should I feel guilty? Am I to blame? Could I do more? I don't know, is my honest answer. I do what I can, when I can, while also realizing the park is researching the shift in climate, looking for those answers. When they come, and they will, it is my job, and my passion to share those answers.
Today, though, I remind myself I am standing at the face of a glacier. This amazes me, thrills me,and inspires me. This is in my backyard, our backyard, this wonder of a previous age, preserved for all of us intrepid hikers to see. I want to linger, to explore more, but my hiking partner is motioning for me to come back. The rain, ice, snow, is only getting worse, and we still have miles and miles to go before we reach the Lake McDonald Lodge. My partner did not put his gloves on, a true die-hard Montanan. I shake my head. I'd rather have warm hands.
"Where Can I See A Glacier?"
There are several accessible easy places to see glaciers in the park. The Jackson and the Blackfoot Glaciers can be seen on the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road at the Jackson Glacier Overlook pullout. The Gem, Salamander, and Grinnell Glaciers can be seen from viewpoints along the Many Glacier road, as well as from the viewing deck of the Many Glacier Hotel. Several day hikes or overnights can take you closer to views of the other glaciers. Check online, or use one of our visitor guides to plan your hike. Check with rangers for current trail conditions.
Greetings from Glacier! September 5th, 2014
"Merlins, Lions, and Thunder, Oh My!"
Good morning from a soggy Glacier Park! Visitors who hung around last weekend for the holiday (and even a few days after) experienced the true nature of Rocky Mountain weather - unpredictable!
But despite the "iffy" weather, there is still a lot going on around here. Just this morning I caught a rare glimpse of a Merlin hunting along Lower McDonald Creek These feisty little falcons are known for hunting both shorebirds and songbirds alike.
At daybreak my Merlin seemed to be intently watching a small group of Common Mergansers, but decided to go hunt elsewhere. It looked a little young - maybe it had stage fright?
I might have been the only one lucky enough to see the Merlin this morning… But many visitors to Glacier Park's Apgar Village have also been lucky enough to glimpse a very active mountain lion. The luckiest visitors got to see her four cubs, too!
During this time of high wildlife activity remember that hiking noisily on trails, even the small ones in developed areas, gives notice to all of Glacier's four legged inhabitants - not just the bears.
Mountain lions rarely prey on humans, but any animal with young deserves as much space as it can get. Be loud and keep a close eye on your little ones if they're out with you on the trail!
"Are there still ranger guided activities in September?"
Thankfully, there are! Things definitely start to slow down in September, but we are still offering a variety of great programs all across the park. Ranger Led Activity Schedule are available at various locations throughout the park. You can also browse the full program offerings on Glacier's brochure page.
Happy September! Enjoy seeing new signs of autumn. I know I sure will!
Greetings from Glacier! August 29, 2014
"It's the little things"
Hello again from Apgar Village! As Labor Day weekend approaches, we are starting to see drop offs both in temperatures and visitation. Fall is coming quickly - yikes! Wasn't it just winter a few months ago?
Signs of the upcoming seasonal change seem to be all around us in Glacier. I've starting noticing that fireweed, one of our latest bloomers, is starting to go to seed. Many of the birds I've listened to all summer have stopped singing, and some have disappeared altogether! Our bald and golden eaglets have fledged and can occasionally be seen flying around. And last, gloves are once again necessary for my early morning bicycle trips to work. What little changes have you seen lately where you live?
Merriam-Webster defines a naturalist as "a person who studies plants and animals as they live in nature". That means most of us are, even if by accident, naturalists! If you spend just a few minutes looking outside each morning, coffee mug in hand, you've probably noticed small changes in your neighborhood.. Did you know we keep track of those little things on the west side of the park?
In the Apgar Visitor Center park naturalists keep up a small Natural History binder which details our valley's seasonal changes in plant and animal life. If you're not familiar with the term yet, it's called phenology! Recording the park's phenology is important because it helps us track larger trends over time, and answer questions like: "Is the growing season getting longer or shorter?", "Are certain birds arriving earlier or later?" or even, "When did this new species arrive, or when did an old species disappear?"
Those discoveries, although small individually, help us see how Glacier and its inhabitants are changing over time. It's happening in your backyard too! Backyard birders and naturalists have been tracking phenology for decades - and it has led to some very important discoveries.
So next time you're observing, whether in Glacier or at home, take an extra minute and think about what you are observing. How is this season, that tree, this bird nest, compared to last year? The results may surprise you.
"Can I contribute to collecting natural history data for the park?"
Yes, yes, absolutely yes! We love when visitors let us know about important things they've seen in the park. One of the smallest but most important contributions many visitors make is letting us know about bear, mountain lion, wolverine, and other unique wildlife sightings.
If you're in Glacier for an extended period of time and would like to contribute, we also have an excellent Citizen Science program. Citizen scientists are trained to help us collect data on mountain goats, pika, invasive plants, common loons and more! Like many parks, our citizen science program welcomes volunteers of all experience levels and they're absolutely invaluable to Glacier.
Thanks for reading and enjoy summer while it lasts!
Greetings from Glacier! August 22, 2014
"So… do you just hike the trails all day or what?"
If I had a quarter for every time I heard that question, I'd be a millionaire! I am an interpretive ranger, but there are many different kinds of rangers in the National Park Service. Here in Glacier we have wildlife protection rangers, law enforcement rangers, radio technicians, and many more… It takes a village!
I often get the question, "What do you have to do to become a ranger?" The answer is: it's different for everyone. Biologists are trained in their specific field (whether its biology, botany, ornithology, etc.), while law enforcement rangers are often trained in criminal justice and attend at least 400 hours of the Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program. Members of my division (Interpretation and Education) have a variety of backgrounds… Some of us are experienced geologists, chemists or even middle school science teachers!
But that still doesn't answer the question, "What do you do every day?" Unfortunately we don't get paid just to hike around, although that does sound nice! As interpretive rangers we divide our time between many locations - evening programs in the campground, guided hikes on the trails, working the visitor center, and even helping with occasional scraped knees or search and rescue operations.
We also spend quite a bit of time answering questions (even out of uniform… somehow you can still find us!), relocating "lost" banana peels and other treasures, and keeping track of the various natural happenings around the park. Next time you see one of us in uniform, offer us a high five! We work here because we love this place and we're happy to share it with all of you.
"Are there any opportunities for high school or college students to work in Glacier?"
Yes! Thanks to our non-profit fundraising partner, the Glacier Conservancy, we have an amazing internship program. They provide funding for several college interns each year on both the East and West sides of the park, allowing students to gain valuable experience as rangers-in-training. The Conservancy also supports the Glacier Youth Corps, a wonderful program for high school students.
Additionally, students can find opportunities with Glacier's Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center, and occasionally students associated with the Student Conservation Association or the Geological Society of America's GeoCorps program are placed in Glacier.
Thanks for reading. See you next time!
Greetings from Glacier!: Hello and Happy August.
This is the first installment of the park's newest blog, Greetings from Glacier. This blog is managed by the Division of Interpretation and Partnerships and we will be updating it bi-monthly. We know that Glacier has some devoted fans that love to stay virtually connected, and we hope that you enjoy reading our posts as much as we enjoy writing them!
Things are chugging along here in Glacier as normal. The last fledgling birds are starting to leave their nests, Lake McDonald is now warm enough for swimming, and the mosquitos have finally moved to the high country. It's hard to believe winter is lurking just around the corner!
Here in Apgar on the west side, our staff has settled nicely into our new visitor center (complete with air conditioning), and thanks to our official non-profit fundraising partner, the Glacier Conservancy, our sky viewing programs are in full swing! On our side of the park solar viewing is still being held during the day in Apgar village and night sky viewing is being held most evenings in the parking lot of the new Apgar Visitor Center. What a busy summer! For more details on the sky viewing programs, in addition to all of our other programs across the park, check out the August 2014 Ranger Led Activity Schedule.
Although our sunsets seem to be arriving earlier each evening, the warm temperatures these days let us know that summer is still holding on fiercely. Follow this link for the ten day forecast for Glacier National Park
With those warm temperatures in mind, here are five tips to help you stay safe and healthy during the height of Glacier's summer season:
One bottle of water is not enough. It's recommended that hikers drink at least one gallon of water per day during hot weather.
Two is always better than one. Hike in a group. Arriving alone? Chat with other visitors at the trailhead and find a hiking partner.
Three rhymes with hike noisily. The "bequiet in nature" mentality doesn't apply in bear country. It's normal to let out a hoot and a holler every few minutes or so.
Four hours is the minimum time spent driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, round trip.
Five is the bare minimum number of essential things I always have with me when I'm hiking- food water, layers, first aid, and a map.
"Where's all of this smoke coming from?"
Glacier is famous for its clear air but occasionally we do receive smoke from forest fires in Montana and across the West. Here's a shot from the Lake McDonald webcam earlier this morning:
As you can see the Livingston range is looking a bit hazy this morning (although the canoers still seem to be enjoying themselves!) The smoke we're seeing is mainly due to fires located West of the park in a few states - namely Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Wonderful maps with current information on fires can be found on the U.S. Forest Service's Active Fire Map page or the U.S. at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fire Detect website.
Stay safe and we hope to see you in Glacier soon.
Did You Know?
Did you know that some alpine plants can live to be more than a hundred years old, despite living in harsh weather conditions?