With only one day to explore Glacier National Park, weather was going to be a critical factor. Fortunately for us, it definitely made our day. I had my heart set on driving the Going to the Sun road, which seemed a perfect fit for our limited time frame, but was highly dependent on getting clear views.
We set out from West Glacier making our way along Lake McDonald. The mountains in that stretch were modest and tree covered, and it was a more pastoral scene than awe inspiring. The morning was chilly and although it was sunny, it brought low hanging patchy clouds that seemed to catch on the treetops and cling to the hillsides.
Once past the lake, we began to climb. The road hugged the mountainsides, curving with the contours of the rock and demonstrating the amazing feat of engineering it took to build it. Soon the vista changed dramatically. Sharp rocky peaks filled our field of view, and behind them snow-topped mountains appeared. Grandeur surrounded us. But it was still shrouded by clouds. It made for some dramatic views, with the sun radiating from behind. Yet we yearned for the full vista. Driving through Logan Pass, we ourselves reached the clouds. There was no incentive to stop to look or hike, so we ventured on.
As soon as we dropped over the other side, the weather pattern changed. As we've learned, in the Rockies it matters a lot which side of the continental divide you are on. Suddenly, the skies cleared and we could see the tops of the peaks surrounding us. It became a whole different show. One of our first stops was at an overlook to see Jackson Glacier. It is one of only 25 remaining glaciers out of an estimated150 that covered the park back in 1850.
We couldn't resist snapping our own pictures at one of the most photographed spots in the park. In Lake Mary, tiny Wild Goose Island stands out in sharp contrast to the towering mountains in the distance.
Reversing our direction at the far end of Lake Mary, the return trip provided an entirely different set of views. We could see all the mountains that were behind us on our way in. And the weatherman came through – the clouds lifted by the afternoon as promised, clearing even the western side of the route.
I had fond memories of Lake McDonald from my only other trip to Glacier around age 11. So I enjoyed revisiting the old Lake McDonald Lodge, and trying to re-envision the view of the mountains reflecting in the lake that has stayed with me all these years. But I found an even better spot from which to experience the lake further down on a stretch of rocky shore. There I reveled in the peace and quiet enhanced by the supremely clear water lapping gently on the shore. That may very well be one of my new favorite mental images of the park.
It was a most successful day. I think we experienced Glacier in several of her moods. But I will remember it only as being glorious.