Monday, June 30, 2014

June 2014: Glacier National Park Trip (Part I)

Big Mike
Disclaimer:  This post is called "Glacier National Park Trip (Part I) but you will see precious little of Glacier National Park in this segment.  We live 7-9 hours away from Glacier National Park so there was a certain amount of travel time to account for.  I'm a traveler who values the journey almost as much as the destination, so part I will document the journey to Glacier while parts II and III will be dedicated to our time within the park.  Just so you know.

Day 1:  Red Cliff Campground
Because of a lot of things, known about and not, we were not able to get a very early start on this trek.  We knew we wanted to at least get some miles behind us so we headed up to the Red Cliff Campground in the Gallatin National Forest.  I really like National Forest campgrounds.  They are usually not crowded and there is quite a bit of space between campsites.

We could have gone the short way which was through Dillon, Montana, but what was the fun of that?  For a week before the trip we started scouring the map between us and Glacier to see what there was to see.  We opted for Bozeman, Montana and the Museum of the Rockies.  More about that later.  Our road to Bozeman took us on Highway 20 north out of Rexburg, Idaho.  I asked the people in the car which they would rather do, spend twenty to thirty minutes stopped in road construction or to take the scenic route through Bear Gulch which is 45 miles an hour.  I told them we'd probably end up at the same place at the same time either way.  We chose the scenic route.

At the bottom of Warm River Canyon we stopped to feed the fish as we had the last time.  No fish.  We thought it was a bust until the daughter of the Hot Chick found a bunch of baby ducks so we fed them instead.

What also floats in water?

A duck.

Because the hour was late and we needed to get to the campsite in time to set up our tent with some light we soldiered on and did not stop again until the Red Cliff Campground.  I passed up a chance to photograph a golden eagle that was sitting on a stump at the side of the road.  Still regret not stopping for that.  The Gallatin Canyon is a beautiful drive and we did not stop to photograph anything there either.  I have resolved to take a more leisurely trip through this section of road again in the near future so I may document it.

The scenic route reconnected with Highway 20 past the road construction at Harriman State Park, which I have blogged about a time or two.  The road continued to West Yellowstone, Montana but instead of turning right we turned left and headed out of town toward Bozeman.  The road to Bozeman passes through the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.  It's only about a twenty mile stretch that doesn't connect with any other roads so it is not a fee area.  It's no less beautiful than any other part of the park.

A few miles past the exit of Yellowstone we came to Red Cliff Campground.  That is where we made our camp.  It was a very nice campground that I would be glad to camp at again.  There were lots of wildflowers there and even a few I had never seen before.

Why they call it "Red Cliff Campground"

Setting up camp

Building a fire

I helped

Don't know what this was about

Comforts of home

Sunset over Red Cliff Campground

The kids played "Killer Bunnies" til almost midnight.  We didn't disturb any other campers because we weren't camping
on top of each other.

Good time had by all

The moth incident


When we camp, I typically get up earlier than everyone else so I use the first light of morning to build a fire and to document the campground.  This trip was no different.

Sticky Geranium.  This flower always reminds me of my third son who learned it for a merit badge at Scout Camp
then taught it to me.

This may be an Alpine Phlox but I'm not sure

Wild Lupine, one of my favorite wildflowers

More Lupine

I am reluctant to name this one.  I have an idea what it is but will wait until I have further proof

Woodland Star

Geum triflorum, Prairie Smoke.  Just the buds, not yet in bloom.  These are
very ethereal when they bloom

More geum triflorum buds

Hairy Clematis


Red Cliff in the morning

Day 2:  Leg 1  Museum of the Rockies.  Bozeman, Montana
I had been to the Museum of the Rockies when I was a young boy.  I remember it was housed in an old building on a college campus and there were a couple of dinosaurs put together on the floor.  Not much. Things have changed though because Montana State University has become the most prestigious paleontology school in the country, if not the planet.  It's all because of this one guy named Jack Horner. Jack is the paleontologist who is responsible for discovering the link between dinosaurs and birds.  I've heard him lecture.  He's brilliant.  The Museum of the Rockies has moved into a new building and has a very extensive collection of dinosaur fossils on display and even more in the back.  They have parts of over thirteen T-Rex's, which is more than any other museum on the globe.  They also have more Triceratops skulls than any other museum in the world.  All of them were excavated out of the badlands of Montana.

They have so many T-Rex's that they shipped a nearly complete one to the Smithsonian to "help them out." That was Jack Horner speaking, who I saw wandering through the museum.  I stopped him and talked to him for a few.  I told him I heard him lecture in Idaho Falls, Idaho when the T-Rex 'Sue' was on display there.  He was very kind and visited with me for a few minutes and thanked me for coming to the museum.  I resisted the urge to take a selfie with him because I am not a groupie, but this guy is a true rock star of the paleo world.  Yeah, I met Jack Horner!  Okay, so I am a bit of a groupie.  I have been to the Smithsonian and the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of the Rockies is better than the one at the Smithsonian.  If you like dinosaurs, this is a must see place.  I'm considering a trip to Dinosaur National Monument sometime soon.

The museum has more than just dinosaurs.  There was a first class temporary exhibit called Geckos.  I believe it is a travelling exhibit.  I was there for the dinosaurs but some of my kids thought the live geckos were even cooler than that.  There were interactive displays about the geckos and examples of geckos from all over the world.  I never knew there were so many varieties of gecko.  It was definitely amazing.

This is "Big Mike" the T-Rex.  This museum is so cool that before the sent the real "Big Mike" to the Smithsonian
they had him cast in bronze.  How cool is that?

Okay, so the sun was really bright outside

Part of "Big Mike"  This part was so cool it was cast twice!

I can't think of anything pithy to say about these so I'll let the photos stand alone for the most part

What the exhibit looked like

This guy is shedding his skin

What's the Hot Chick doing in the cage with a gecko?


The first room of the dinosaur exhibit showed workers curating and preparing fossils for study and ultimately display.  Then we went into a room with raptors and other dinosaurs.  There was an allosaurus full skeleton from the Morrison Formation as well as a diplodocus neck and head.  Several other assorted skulls and dinosaur parts.  There was a sculpture of a raptor, probably a deinonychus attacking a plant eater.  On the other side it showed the bones how the fossil was found.  I remembered seeing a fossil like this dug up in China, I think where a cliff collapsed right at the moment of attack by a raptor on a plant eater and killed them both.  Scientists were able to figure out how the raptors attacked from the evidence there.  I think this may have been a recreation of that fossil.  Pretty cool.

Then we went into the triceratops room.  There were something like twenty triceratops skulls on display. They had babies all the way through adults.  Every stage of development was shown.  Juveniles, young adults, everything laid out in order of age at death.  It was amazing.  I never knew how big triceratops really was.  Bigger than an African elephant.  These were big critters.

Then we came to the T-Rex stuff.  I have to say I thought there would be more.  They had a nearly complete skeleton of a T-Rex called "Big Mike" but the Smithsonian called...  So they did the next best thing and cast him in bronze and placed him outside.

I think they had just sent him because of the things that Jack Horner said to me so maybe they hadn't had time to redo the T-Rex exhibit.  I have been told that the museum has parts of thirteen different T-Rex's though, so it should only be a matter of time before they have another one mounted and displayed.

The rest of the museum was cool but not extraordinary.  There was a childrens' museum upstairs that was interactive, a room with pioneer and early twentieth century stuff and another one with a Native American exhibit.  The Museum of the Yellowstone in West Yellowstone had a better Native American exhibit back in the 1970's.  I haven't seen it since then, however so I don't know what it's like now.  The real rock stars of this museum were the dinosaurs and the movie stars were the geckos.  I think it's a pretty impressive place, personally.

Worker preparing a really big leg bone

Worker doing some fine detailing on a fossil

Worker removing the wrapping of a fossil.  All the prep work is done under controlled circumstances in the lab
rather than in the field.

Big ole vertabrae

Dang big leg bone

Big Al, the Allosaurus.  Okay they didn't name him that, I did

I think this is an allosaurus skull from the Morrison Formation

Neck and head of a diplodocus

Is it dead or is it sleeping?

Skulls of random meatasaurus's

The raptor and her prey


Very big foot

I think this was a hadrosaur skull or some other duckbilled dinosaur

And another

This was probably a fish with a really bad attitude

Full size triceratops sculpture.  Massive.  They weighed 7 tons.  An elephant weighs only 4

Row of triceratops skulls.  Old to young.  You know me and skulls

Row of triceratops skulls from young to old

My sons in front of the triceratops skulls

These are the headbanging dinosaurs

Ankylosaurus skull

Here's the demon T-Rex and son

Pretty big foot

Scary, sharp, vicious teeth!  Look at the bones!

Partial triceratops and son.  The white parts are missing bones reconstructed in plaster based on what we know about them.
Day 2:  Leg 2  Butte
We headed north from Bozeman and headed up to Butte.  Our oldest son who just returned from a mission in Arizona wanted to see a mission buddy who happened to live in Butte and who happened to be our distant cousin.

We got to Butte at about 3 pm and saw the cousins and while my son and his buddy took off for an hour, we did some shopping and visited the Berkeley Pit which is the site of one of the richest copper strikes on the planet.  I have visited the Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah and both claim to be the richest hill on earth and both claim to be the biggest copper mine on the planet.  I haven't actually surveyed either site, but I can tell you they are both pretty huge.  Billions of dollars of natural resources have been taken from those holes in the ground.  They left pretty huge scars as well.

In the eighties, the story goes that a man's wife was very ill.  He was a Catholic or a lapsed Catholic and knelt down to pray for his wife.  He promised God that if she recovered he would do something really big. She recovered and he built a 90 foot statue of The Blessed Virgin Mary on one of the mountains around Butte.  The only thing I can think of that it reminds me of is the colossal statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  It was pretty cool to see.  Apparently it had to go all the way to Ronald Reagan's desk to get done. I think there was an executive order or something to make it happen.  I doubt it could get done today, sadly.


More cousins

Entrance to the Berkeley Pit.  Cost two bucks to get in.  Worth it I thought.

The fam

A really long tunnel to get to the viewing area

The Berkeley Pit hasn't been mined since the 70's and in the 80's they let it fill with water.  There is an adjacent pit, however that they are actively mining now.

Just a reminder now

Vast amounts of wealth were taken from this hole in the ground


The scar reaches way up the mountain

I believe the terraces functioned as roads once.  I know some of them did at the Utah mine

More reflections

And more

Exit the pit

Ore hoist

Colossal statue of Mary

Day 2:  Leg 3  Flathead Lake to Glacier
After Butte, it was a lot of hard driving.  We wanted to get to our campsite in enough time to set up the tent before dark.  We stopped only a few times on the way.  A rest stop or two, a view of Flathead Lake and then to get gas.  The road passes through the Flathead Indian Reservation.  I found it gratifying that all the official signs on the reservation were bilingual with English and the native tongue.  I believe heritage is important.  We also saw things on the reservation I had never seen before.  Game highways.  There were bridges built over the freeway that were a hundred or so feet wide.  The cars passed through the tunnel and wild game passed above.  The game highway was 'paved' with natural prairie grasses and trees.  There were also game tunnels everywhere along the freeway.  The people identified areas where wild game was being hit by traffic the most and made an accommodation for them.  In the grand scheme of things, over time I think things like this pay for themselves.  I wasn't able to stop for a picture of the game highways because of time and convenience.  Someday I may be able to.

Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River in the contiguous United States.  It is also one of the cleanest bodies of water on the planet.  I was amazed that at this high latitude there were cherry orchards everywhere along the southeast shore of the lake.  Cherries?  Montana?  Surreal.  It's a beautiful drive and we took it in late afternoon when the sun was setting across the lake.  It may be one of the prettiest lakes I've ever seen.

By about nine pm we arrived at Fish Creek Campground in Glacier National Park, found a campsite and set up camp.  It was a long day but a good day.

First view of Glacier National Park from the rest area of the Flathead Indian Reservation

Sunset over Flathead Lake

Then it got cooler

We got gas before the last thirty minutes to the park and this was the sunset in Montana there.

I'm a sucker for sunsets

Lilacs in bloom in June in Montana.  That's Glacier National Park in the background.  There are almost no foothills here.
Stay tuned for more Glacier National Park in Part II