I’m F-A-L-L-L-L-L-L-I-NG

Multnomah Falls

Back in Oregon, we rest for a couple of days in Troutdale and revisit the Columbia Gorge before returning to Port Orford for several weeks and then heading down to Thousand Palms, California.

Today we head to Multnomah Falls, a 611-foot-tall double tiered cascade just off Interstate 84.

Millions of years ago, volcanoes, glaciers, floods, and the uplifting Cascade Mountains formed the Columbia River Gorge. Massive floods from the last Ice Age scoured out the Gorge, creating the Multnomah Falls which were literally left hanging there. (plaque at Falls)

As liquid basalt from volcanoes transformed into rock, the resulting rock formations were dependent upon their environment and cooling rate.  Three types of basalt can be found in the rock layers behind the Falls.

Pillow Basalt results from the encounter of basalt flows with water which causes immediate solidification and creates “bubbles” or “pillows” of various sized rocks. (plaque at Falls)


Entablature Basalt is the result of relatively fast cooling lava that fractures into irregular patterns and joints. (plaque at Falls)

Columnar Basalt forms when lava cools slowly and fractures to create 5-6-sided crystals. It is usually found underneath entabulature basalt. (plaque at Falls) The picture below shows examples of columnar basalt behind Latourell Falls in the Columbia Gorge.


The powerful cascading waters constantly erode the softer layers of rock below and behind the Multnomah Falls, creating a plunge pool and cave. The upper tier recedes faster than the lower falls.

A short walk from the parking area leads to the best view of the Falls.

Another several hundred feet up a paved trail takes you to Benson Bridge which spans the first tier’s misty base. Looking up you can see the full 542-foot height of the top tier. Looking down you overlook the 69-foot drop of the lower tier. (oregon.com)

Benson Bridge is named for Simon Benson, a Portland businessman who owned the Falls in the early 1900s. Upon his death he bequeathed the Falls to the City of Portland which later transferred ownership to the USDA Forest Service. (oregon.com)

A trail continues past the 45-foot-long bridge for another mile to ascend an elevation of another 785 feet to reach yet another incline 100 feet above the Falls. The trail then descends to an observation deck overlooking the edge of the Falls. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

This is as close as I could get to the falling water. There’s no view of the drop, so I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed. Gee, if I had known this before trudging up a mile of 14 switchbacks, I might have reconsidered the hike! Not really…

But our plan was to hike further for another .8 miles to visit 3 more falls before turning back.

This small cascade slightly upstream from the upper tier of the Falls is called Little Multnomah.

From the observation deck you get a bird’s eye view of the Columbia River and across from it, Washington State.

As we ascend the trail from the observation deck, I am fascinated by these tree roots.

Instead of heading back and returning to Benson Bridge and the base of the Falls, we continue along the southeast trail beyond.

We encounter these examples of Entablature Basalt rocks beside us as we walk along the trail. Relatively fast cooling lava fractures into irregular patterns and joints forming entablature basalt.

We cross the scenic Multnomah Creek.

We continue hiking parallel to the Creek.

We encounter Dutchman Falls, the colloquial name for this waterfall that dashes down a wide basalt ledge of Multnomah Creek. (waterfallsnorthwest.com)


This is an interesting stretch on the trail.

After researching the name for Dutchman Falls, I discover that this precarious basalt overhang just upstream from the Falls is called Dutchman Tunnel.

Multnomah Creek washed out a large semicircular cave from underneath a lava flow. In 1915 trail builders constructed a stone-walled trail through this cave.

A plaque honoring Forest Service Ranger Albert Wiesendanger rests on a wall of the overhang.

Next, we arrive at Wiesendanger Falls named after Albert Wiesendanger who lived from 1893-1989. For more than 71 years he worked in professional forestry and fire prevention jobs that spanned a lifetime career.  Albert worked 39 years with the USDA Forest Service in the Portland, Oregon regional office and in the Mt. Hood National Forest. He then “retired” to another 32 years as executive secretary for Keep Oregon Green Association, a privately funded organization with the objective of preventing people-caused fires in this timber state. (worldforestry.org)

The trail ascends onto 4 switchbacks.  But first I turn around and take this picture.

Less than 10 minutes later we pass Ecola Falls.

According to waterfallsnorthwest.com, the most prominent feature of this waterfall is the ambiguity of its name. At first Ecola Falls were grouped with the downstream Wiesendanger Falls and listed as one waterfall, often called Double Falls. Later publications listed Ecola as Hidden Falls because of it’s hard to see position and the fact that the Forest Service had recently placed a plaque marking Wiesendanger Falls by name in the late 1990s. Today the Forest Service officially recognizes these falls as Ecola, the Chinook word for whale.

We continue hiking along the Multnomah Creek.

We reach another switchback and these trail signs, after hiking more than .75 miles from the top of Multnomah Falls. It’s time to turn back.

The views on the way back…

As we return to the base of Multnomah Falls, I am half tempted to tell people that the best views of the Falls are from below.

As we make our final descent back to the viewing area at the base of the Multnomah Falls, I look up and capture the blue sky peeking through this umbrella of leaves branching off its trunk hugged by moss.

One Hike, Three Waterfalls

Glacier National Park

We find a space for our car at the Sunrift Gorge parking area and head across the Going-to-the-Sun Road to start the 5.4 mile out and back hike to Baring, St. Mary, and Virginia Falls. Actually, we find out later, we didn’t have to cross the street. A set of stairs leads down to the trail from the southern side of the road.

But I’m glad we did because we encounter the rushing waters of Baring Creek plunging down the steep and narrow canyon of Sunrift Gorge.

The gorge flattens out into shallow waters that polish the rocks with a brilliant shine.

Meanwhile, above the creek, gray clouds and the scorched remains of once-green trees dominate the landscape, the yellow-greens of the forest floor adding a welcome contrast.

Another sign reminds us that we are encroaching upon grizzly territory. This is no walk in the park.

Baring Creek guides us along the trail.

We arrive at the junction of Sun Point and Baring Falls Trails and veer to the right toward the falls.

Almost 1/3 mile later, we arrive at the footbridge crossing Baring Creek. Can you find it in the picture below?

We cross the narrow bridge over Baring Creek…

…And behold Baring Falls, a 25 foot high waterfall.

Baring Creek flows another 100 yards or so before spilling into St. Mary Lake.

We pass the small boat dock used by Glacier Park Boat Tours, a company that’s been running lake excursions on their wooden boats since 1938.

We continue walking along the southwestern bank of St. Mary Lake.

There has been a fire in Glacier National Park almost every year of its existence. The year with the most fires was 1936 with a total of 64. So far the only year with no fire on record was 1964. The summer of 2003 was the most significant fire season in the history of the park. Approximately 136,000 acres burned. (nps.gov)

It’s cloudy and gray but the colors surrounding us from the mountains, lake, and vegetation along the trail do not disappoint.

At the junction with the St. Mary Falls Shuttle Stop we keep left.

This plant with the spiky serrated leaves and cluster of blue berries looks like Oregon Grape.

Fire has painted this picture on a tree trunk. It reminds me of the surrealist style of Salvador Dali.

As we reach the St. Mary River, we hear the thunderous roar of water crashing down rocks.

The footbridge crosses the river where we stop for a view of St. Mary Falls in all directions.

St. Mary Falls drops a total of 35 feet in 3 separate tiers.

Once past the bridge, the trail continues for another 1.8 miles to Virginia Falls.

We follow Virginia Creek and encounter 2 more series of cascades. After hiking 1.2 miles from St. Mary Falls we reach the first series and discover 4 tiers of falling waters.

Back on the trail…

…We stop again after another .25 miles to enjoy the second series of cascades.

Ten minutes later we come to a side spur leading to a viewpoint for Virginia Falls. We decide to take the spur later, after heading up another 1/10th mile to the footbridge leading to the base of the 50 foot main fall.

Here’s a view looking down at the secondary chute that leads to a short cascade at the bottom…

…And a view of the landscape on top of Virginia Falls…

We cross the footbridge again and descend back down the trail to the side spur we missed before.

It’s time to retrace our steps and head back to our car tucked in the Sunrift Gorge parking area.

The trail in this direction offers more photo opts.

Do you see the tiny white streak in the middle of the picture below? That’s Virginia Falls!

I cannot identify this flower.

Aspen tree berries?…

My photo doesn’t capture the silver color of this tree trunk. I kid you not, these trunks look like they have been spray painted with silver!

An up-close look at charred trees, silver trunks, and scatters of slate rock shards…

A very yellow caterpillar…

Back at the car, we decide to continue east to St. Mary and take a different route back to Coram where our RV awaits us.

We take 89 South and 2 West along the southern boundaries of Glacier National Park.

Gray clouds crown the mountains overlooking the conifer forest as we drive away.

But then the traffic stops for 20 minutes for street rebuilding. After the construction area we travel unpaved roads for miles. Whose bright idea was it to take a different route home?

Johns Lake Loop Trail

Glacier National Park

The Johns Lake Loop is about 2 miles long but it is surrounded by a network of other trails.

We are lucky to find a spot to park as the parking area is quite small and only has room for 7-8 cars.

We learn from the plaque at the trailhead that Johns Lake is actually a pond encircled by a forest of western red cedar and hemlock.

It’s an overcast  day when we set out in a counterclockwise direction through the old growth forest. We are the only people on the trail and the only noise we hear comes from our own haunting footsteps. The trees tower over us like gaunt skeletal creatures warning us to beware of unpleasant surprises ahead.

About 1/3 of a mile in we come to a junction that is marked with a confusing sign. If we go left we will hike toward McDonald Lake. If we choose right we will be on our way to Avalanche Creek. And of course we have no map to guide us, it’s just a short loop  trail.

So, we decide to take the left route as we already know that Lake McDonald is on the opposite end of the trailhead. Off we go, for awhile, until we realize that we are on a horse path that is rutted and not very interesting. As we turn back, we notice another couple behind us, so the 4 of us collectively decide that we need to take the trail leading right. The woman even has a booklet describing all the hikes in the Park, and she was still confused!

Later we find out that the horse path has a name, the McDonald Creek Cutoff. I still manage to find redeeming qualities on our detour though. A very unique tree sculpture…

And a slate rock gathering moss…

About 1/3 of a mile later, we catch a glimpse of shimmering light through the trees. And there is Johns Lake. A side trail leads down to the boggy shore but we prefer to stay on higher ground to enjoy the lake sprinkled with water lilies and wetland grasses.

Stanton Mountain and Mount Vought tower over Johns Lake. I’m not sure which one is in the picture below.

Trees bulldozed by avalanches look like a pile of “pick-up-sticks”, a game I used to play when I was a child.


Soon we are heading out of the forest and across the Going-to-the- Sun Road. Look closely to the left of the slanted slate rock touching the trail on the lower left of the picture below. You can see the trail descending into a grove of trees. The gray light peeking through is the road.

Johns Lake Loop Trail leads down onto a crosswalk that takes us to the other side of the road where we encounter what we think is McDonald Falls.

A footbridge crosses the creek of the same name.

These are the pictures I take, but I think this is really Sacred Dancing Cascade.

After gazing into and enjoying the water sliding down the rocks, we come to another junction on the other side of the creek. The rest of Johns Lake Loop Trail heads left along McDonald Creek, to the right an unmarked trail runs parallel to the creek in the other direction.

We choose to detour away from the Loop Trail in search of another waterfall and footbridge.

Here are the highlights from our out and back detour:

After hiking for 15-20 minutes, we lose the creek and head away from it.

So, we decide to turn back.

And we are now back on the Johns Lake Loop Trail.

Woodpeckers have tagged their graffiti on this tree trunk.

The tunnel across the creek is part of an old horse trail.

This stretch of the forest is exactly how I pictured the one from the Hansel and Gretel fairytale. I imagine I am throwing breadcrumbs along the path.

Old McDonald had a creek e-i-e-i-o… And on that creek there was some whitewater e-i-e-i-o… With a swoosh-swoosh here, and a swoosh-swoosh there, here a swoosh, there a swoosh, everywhere a swoosh-swoosh… Old McDonald had a creek e-i-e-i-o…

Speaking of fairytales, these trees remind me of a game of Pick-Up-Sticks played by the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk…

Maybe these are the McDonald Falls?…

How do you explain this?

We reach a gravel path escorting us out of the forest…

The forest leads to McDonald Road where the ghost beard hang from the trees like tinsel at Christmas.

A footbridge crosses the creek as it empties into Lake McDonald.

The wildflowers along McDonald Road make up for the lack of forest trail.

Scouler’s Woollyweed or Hairy Arnica maybe?…

Wandering Fleabane or Howell’s Fleabane maybe?…

White Campion and Woolly Mullein

White Campion

McDonald Road leads into a side trail that runs parallel to the Going-to-the-Sun Road and we take this back to the trailhead.

Indian Pipe

We return to our car and head to Sacred Dancers Cascades. We think… It looks suspiciously like the Falls we crossed further downstream on McDonald Creek.

Except for the confusion with the trail markers and the names of the waterfalls, this was a lovely hike!

A Haiku Through the Forest

Glacier National Park

We get up early and head to the Park before 8:30 so that we can get a place to park for 2 popular trails that link together.

The Trail of the Cedars is a 1 mile loop on the eastern edge of the Pacific Northwest oceanic climate. This means, if you arrived here blindfolded and looked at your surroundings after you removed the blindfold, you would think you were on the northern Pacific Coast where lush green ferns and velvety mosses grow along the forest floor.

It also marks the extreme  eastern limits for western hemlocks and red cedars. The humidity in the Lake McDonald valley allows the cedars to grow up to 100 feet tall with diameters of 4-7 feet. Some of these trees are estimated to be more than 500 years old.

But another unique feature of the Trail of the Cedars is the poetry written on the plaques describing the boardwalk section of the trail…


Write a short syllabic poem

Count the beats with me                                                                                                                                             

That’s right, this part of the trail is lined in Haiku verse!

Except for this one…

You are among the ancients here. Some of these trees were young when Peter the Great ruled Russia, Mozart dazzled the courts of Europe, Thomas Jefferson crafted the Declaration of Independence, Sacagawea helped guide Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, the United States fought its civil war, and the Wright brothers took to the air above Kitty Hawk.

Throughout time the Kootenai and Salish peoples have revered this as a sacred place with special qualities, qualities that still remain for you to discover, as you walk among these silent titans. What stories these trees could tell. (plaque on Trail of the Cedars)

The Trail of the Cedars crosses Avalanche Creek from the road.

We decide to head out in a counterclockwise direction so we proceed through the edge of the Avalanche Creek Campground.

Suddenly, a snow shoe hare hops by with those long narrow feet. I take his picture when he lands, but unfortunately his feet are hidden.

Tree sculptures adorn this area of open forest.

We take a short spur to the creek bed.

And we arrive at the junction to the Avalanche Lake Trail, an out and back hike of roughly 4 miles.

We interrupt our Trail of the Cedars hike here and take a detour to Avalanche.

Avalanche Lake Trail… Out

We turn right, exit the Trail of the Cedars, and immediately encounter a short, but steep climb into a dense forest on one side and a narrow gorge of rushing glacial waters.

The trail delights us as it runs along Avalanche Creek.

Eventually the trail departs from the Creek but the sound of cascading water lets us know we are still following its course.

Downed trees are the result of recent avalanches.

Right before reaching Avalanche Lake we share the trail with a whitetail deer.

Avalanche Lake Trail… Arriving at the Lake

The lake is surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and borders Bearhat Mountain and Sperry Glacier (not pictured here).

Several cascading waterfalls, meltwater from Sperry Glacier, flow into the lake.

Hikers can continue along the trail as it follows along the western shoreline to the head of the lake.

The next 2 photos are of the eastern cliffs above the lake…

According to hikingglacier.com, this area of Glacier National Park was named by Dr. Lyman Sperry. In June of 1895, while he was exploring the basin, he saw and heard several avalanches thundering down the surrounding mountains. He and his hiking party agreed that Avalanche Basin would be a suitable name for this place. Later that same summer Sperry discovered the glacier that now shares his name.

Avalanche Lake Trail… Back

We ascend up from the beach…

…and back on the trail…

I capture new perspectives in this direction.

Another deer… This one doesn’t flinch as we walk by. He or she is too busy munching on a tasty green leaf.

Lots of new views I missed before…

Some kind of red berries among Devil’s Club

Trail of the Cedars… Resumed

We descend the trail and finish the Trail of the Cedars loop.

A footbridge leads over the creek and provides spectacular views of the lower Avalanche Gorge.

We arrive at the boardwalk portion of the trail and cross another stream. The clear glacier waters appear as a shiny coating of shellac covering a mosaic of colorful rocks.

We hike along reading the rest of the haikus that take us back to where we started.

It’s all up to us

Step lightly on precious ground

Save our Mother Earth

…and Back Again

Returning from the Sun

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is well worth experiencing in both directions as the view going east is different from the view going west. And, since it’s later in the day, we are able to stop and get out of the car to take pictures of what we missed before.

We pull in to the turnout for Goose Island and I notice these clusters of pink flowers on long loose stems with narrow leaves.

Fireweed… from the Evening-Primrose Family

Wild Goose Island sits in the middle of St. Mary Lake surrounded by mountain peaks almost 4,000 feet high. (plaque at viewpoint)

A Montana Legend, retold by S.E. Schlosser, tells the story of 2 tribes living on either side of the lake who simply avoided each other.

But all that changed one day when a handsome warrior on the near shore saw a lovely maiden from the other tribe swimming toward the small island in the middle of the lake. He was so taken by her beauty that he leapt into the lake and swam to the island where they met and fell in love. After promising to meet at the island on the morrow, the maiden and warrior returned home to their individual tribes.

Neither tribe was happy about their meeting and all were determined to keep the 2 lovers apart. So in the early hours of the morning the warrior and the maiden swam back out to the little island and made plans to leave together for a new land where they could be together.

As soon as they were discovered missing, however, both tribes set out to bring them back.  But the Great Spirit was watching over the young couple and approved of their love for each other. He transformed them into geese, which mate for life, so they could fly away and be together forever.

When the 2 tribes reached the island they only found 2 geese who stroked their necks together and flew away, never to return again. (americanfolklore.net)

We continue driving west…

The next turnout we stop at provides a view of Jackson Glacier. But first we are greeted by these lovely lavender Asters.

Most of the glaciers in the Park are not visible from the road, but Jackson Glacier is easily seen at this overlook. At 10,052 feet, Mount Jackson is the 4th highest peak in the Park. (plaque at viewpoint)

According to the Glacier National Park Official Summer 2019 Newspaper

In 1966 the Park had 35 named glaciers. By 2015, 9 of those were already inactive. Snow avalanches, ice flow dynamics, and variations in ice thickness cause some glaciers to shrink faster than others, but one thing is consistent — all the glaciers have receded since 1966.

We continue west toward the setting sun…

Absolutely gorgeous!

Logan Pass is the highest elevation reachable by car at 6,646 feet. Clements Mountain, at 8,760 feet, hovers above the Visitor Center where the parking lot is always full. Logan Pass crosses the Continental Divide. (Glacier National Park Official Summer 2019 Newspaper)

I wish I could be more specific about what we see… There’s a hiking trail and the rest of the Going-to-the-Sun Road down below.

The alpine valleys are dramatic…

The Weeping Wall…

Haystack Falls…

This may be a preview of Heavens Peak…

The road narrows and hugs the rocky slopes…

Heavens Peak at 8,987 feet…

What a contrast of landscapes…

The second tunnel, West Tunnel…

Somehow I missed the East Tunnel which, traveling in this direction, is before Logan Pass. This 408-foot tunnel passes through Piegan Mountain. (A week before we visited Glacier National Park, a young girl was killed by falling rocks as her family’s car approached the entrance to the East Tunnel from the west.) Yikes! How awful and devastating!

We head toward Avalanche Creek…

Mc Donald Creek as it approaches its namesake lake…

And we’re back at the Western Entrance to the Park after a very full day of exploring!

Some notes I took…

Two mountain ranges, the Livingston Range and the Lewis Range, run through Glacier National Park from the northwest to southeast. The Continental Divide follows the crest of the Lewis Range.

Elevation varies from a low of 3,150 feet in the Lake McDonald valley to a high of 10,466 feet on Mount Cleveland. There are 6 peaks over 10,000 feet and 32 peaks over 9,100 feet. (nps.gov)

And 2 postscripts…


Beyond the Sun

Many Glacier…

This area of the National Park is north of the Going-to-the-Sun Road on the eastern side of the park. To get there we take Highway 89 North out of St. Mary to Babb and travel 9 miles parallel to the Lower Saint Mary Lake. At Babb we turn East on Highway 464 which leads into the Many Glacier Entrance to the National Park. Twelve miles of intermittent rough road, loose gravel, and potholes pass the largest hotel within the park and dead ends into the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, an Italian style restaurant, and a campstore/gift shop.

As we bump along  Swiftcurrent Creek and Lake Sherburne, I take pictures, of course.

Some kind of pink Thistle, maybe…

The official boundary into Glacier National Park…

Lake Sherburne…

We lose the lake and continue to the parking area at the end of the road where the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, built in 1933, loops back around.

Grinnell Point looms ahead…

Luckily we find a space just big enough to park our tiny car.

We walk back along the road to catch the Swiftcurrent Lake Trail at the Many Glacier picnic area. The trailhead to Grinnell Glacier is also accessed here.

Wildflowers show off their colorful blooms.

Indian Paint Brush and some kind of Aster

Alpine Leafybract Aster


We take a footbridge across Swiftcurrent Creek. Mount Wilbur, at 9321 feet, rises to the west.

Wynn Mountain looms overhead to the east.

Tree sculptures adorn the forest trail lined with aspens and pines.

Swiftcurrent Lake…

Another footbridge crosses a channel between Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine before looping back toward the Many Glacier Hotel in one direction or continuing beyond to Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier.

Today, however, we are reminded that we are indeed in Grizzly country. The trails heading to the lake and glacier are closed due to increased grizzly bear sightings by park rangers. Later we learn that the bears are displaying signs of agitated behaviors. I guess they don’t like the crowds either.

We walk past a cabin for park personnel that tapers onto the shore of the lake just beyond the trail. The colorful scenery is a perfect photo op.

The tallest mountain rising on the left of this photo is Mt. Gould.


Can you find Mt. Gould?

We walk past the boat landing and hotel.

Northern Sweetvetch?…

We cross a stream connecting Lake Sherburne with Swiftcurrent Lake.

Here are 2 views of the Many Glacier Hotel seen from across the lake.

The Great Northern Railway completed construction of the Many Glacier Hotel in just 1 year. Considered the “Gem of the West”, the Swiss chalet-themed hotel opened in 1915  to promote this area as the “American Alps” and a posh tourist destination for the rich and famous. Rustic backcountry chalets were within an easy horse ride or day hike from the hotel to encourage visitors to experience nature. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

As we loop back around again to the Many Glacier picnic area where we began, I spy this brightly blooming beauty.

Pineywoods Geranium?…

I wish we could stay longer and hike more of the many trails radiating out in all directions.  Massive mountains, active glaciers, sparkling waters, a paradise of hiking trails, and abundant wildlife make this area of the Park a destination to explore by car, foot, boat, or horseback. (nps.gov)


Glacier National Park

Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50 mile scenic drive that bisects Glacier National Park east and west.

It is significant as a unique engineering accomplishment of the early 20th century, and as the first product of a 1925 cooperative agreement between the National Park Service and the Bureau of Public Roads. (Library of Congress, loc.gov)

This paved 2-lane highway was completed in 1932. Spanning the width of the park, the road passes through a glacial lake and cedar forests in the lower valleys, crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, and descends the alpine meadows of summer wildflowers into water-carved gorges, forested valleys, another glacial lake, and a native grassland community. (visitmt.com and Glacier National Park Official Summer 2019 Newspaper)

Picturesque viewpoints, overlooks, turnouts, trailheads, 2 tunnels, shuttle stops, and restrooms line the highway to the sun.


We get an early start. All of these pictures are taken from the car while we drive from west to east. Not expecting great pictures, I am pleasantly surprised at how well I have managed to capture the flavor of the iconic Going-to-the-Sun drive. So, buckle up and enjoy…

After driving past Lake McDonald and Avalanche Creek, we pass through the West Tunnel. In 1926, technology, manpower, and time bored through 192 feet of mountain. (Glacier National Park Official Summer 2019 Newspaper)

The only switchback on this road affords this view of a hanging valley. (Unlike rivers, glaciers erode into steep-sided, wide-bottomed, U-shaped valleys.) Hanging valleys remain where a small mountain glacier once joined a larger valley glacier. (National Park brochure)

Let’s stop and talk about how earth history formed Waterton-Glacier National Park. The Park is the result of 1.6 billion years of 3 geological forces happening in the following sequence:

  1. Sedimentation of rock
  2. Uplift of mountains
  3. Glaciation that carved out mountain valleys.

It all started some 150 million years ago when tectonic plates of the earth’s crust collided on the western edge of North America. This collision began a process of mountain building that continued for another 90 million years. Then, about 75 million years ago, the Lewis Overthrust Fault cracked and lifted over 60 miles of rock. The Overthrust Fault explains the sudden mountain-to-plains transition and the narrow width of the Rocky Mountains here at barely 35 miles. (I had no idea that over 1800 square miles of the Rockies lie within the boundaries of Waterton-Glacier National Park.) (nps.gov)

Meanwhile, as the newly formed mountains trapped clouds, draining rain and snowmelt became streams that fed into 3 river systems. Over time, the mountains collected so much moisture that snowfields became glaciers that grew and spread and carved out the landscape of the Park today. About 12,000 years ago the last of the great glaciers melted back, leaving today’s younger glacier ice surviving in only the highest, coldest places. (National Park brochure)

To this day, some of the oldest rocks in North America, still retaining their sedimentary characteristics, are found in Waterton-Glacier National Park.

Below, the Triple Arches Bridge, is a 3-span, 65 foot long half-bridge designed in 1927 as a less expensive and less imposing solid masonry retaining wall. Known locally as the Garden Wall, it is constructed of reinforced concrete and was built to span the deep rifts in the mountainside where the road traverses the Continental Divide. (Parkitecture in Western National Parks, nps.gov)

Did I mention, it’s crowded all day here? And the turnouts are usually full? That’s why I have to snap my pictures fast when we’re on the go.

Glaciers that lie against mountains erode ever-steeper cliffs by repeatedly freezing and thawing and prying rocks loose. Where glaciers surround the peak, they may eventually erode it into a tooth-like horn. (National Park brochure)

Bighorn sheep resting in an alpine meadow…

Weeping walls…

A water-carved gorge…

St. Mary Lake, like Lake McDonald, is a vivid blue glacial lake that fills the bottom of a large glacial valley.

I discover a UFO hovering over the mountain peaks…

Clouds are cool!

We arrive at St. Mary and exit the park.

Glacier National Park

Let’s Talk…

I have to be honest. I was expecting to be mesmerized with spectacular views of glaciers. Instead we found crowds, congestion, and parking areas already full by 9:00 AM. Even the shuttle service is too crowded to be useful and efficient. Six people wait and when the shuttle finally pulls up, there are only 2 seats available. But I am getting ahead of myself…

Maybe we are just tired out. After all, this is the 3rd national park we are visiting this month. Perhaps if we had started out with Glacier, my reaction would be totally different.

We are spending 7 nights at the North American RV Park &Yurt Village in Coram, 5 miles from the West Entrance to Glacier National Park. So… I have more than enough time to explore, experience, and change my first impression .


Glacier National Park shares a border with Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. In 1932 the governments of Canada and the United States linked these 2 parks and created the world’s first International Peace Park. Waterton-Glacier is a place for all peoples to set aside their differences to work collectively in the interest of all life for all time.

In the late 1970s Glacier and Waterton Lakes were named Biosphere Reserves. And in 1995 the International Peace Park was designated as a World Heritage Site. (national park brochure)

A Sneak Peek

Since we arrive in Coram in the early afternoon, we get settled and head to the Apgar Visitor Center just inside the West Entrance. Unfortunately the parking lot is full and cars are parked along the road. After circling through the lot a couple of times, we head east on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and follow Lake McDonald before turning around and heading back to the RV.

We park in a couple of pull-outs and walk down to the lakeshore. Lake McDonald is a crystal clear glacial lake. And I have to be honest… It IS beautiful!

Have a look…

Woolly Mullein…

And this ends our short preview of Glacier National Park. We go back home and do our homework and plan our visits for the rest of the week.

Away from the Maddening Crowd


Seven miles from the Nisqually Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park is the Longmire Historic District, the park’s oldest developed area.  Today we check it out and stroll along the .7 mile Trail of the Shadows encircling the meadow.

In 1883 James Longmire, dubbed a pioneer from the east, an explorer of the west, and a local mountain guide, successfully climbed Mt. Rainier at the age of 63.

plaque on trail

On this same journey he discovered geothermal mineral springs in the meadow near its base. Excitedly he announced to his family that he had found his fortune. (plaque on trail)

This is how James Longmire’s grandson, Len, explains this discovery:

plaque on trail

Longmire and his sons cleared a rough trail through the forest from their home in Yelms, over 50 miles away from the meadow where he found the mineral springs. At the end of this trail he opened the Longmire Medical Springs Resort in 1890.

Yikes! That’s very ambitious! And you guessed it, visitors arrived via this trail.

Below is an advertisement from a Tacoma newspaper in 1890 promoting the Resort and claims of the mineral water’s healthful benefits:

plaque on trail 

According to the same plaque, the alleged healing powers of these mineral springs attracted many people to soak in the warm water and drink the cold tonic from the earth. These are soda springs, rich in sodium bicarbonate, known as baking soda, and often prescribed as an antacid.

So, before Mount Rainier was established as a National Park in 1899 and before the road to Paradise was built in 1910, people came by horseback to stay at Longmire Medical Springs Resort. Guests paid $8 per week for board and treatment. They stayed in a 2-story hotel, 20 feet by 30 feet, with 5 sleeping rooms upstairs. Soaking in the springs and taking a sulphur plunge bath were recommended. Rubs and massages were specialties of the house. (plaque on trail)

Here’s the remains of one of the original soaking tubs:

And this is an enclosed spring known as “Iron Mike” because of its rusty reddish pigment referred to as “mineral paint”:

Water flowing down the nearby stream…

…and water rising up through this mineral spring both originate high above the meadow from snowmelt and rainfall. From the upper slopes, water percolates through the earth’s crust into the mountain. Geothermal heat, supplied by magma deep within the mountain, warms the water. The hot water travels underground through cracks. It eventually mixes with shallow, cold groundwater before it reappears above ground at the spring.

Hot water dissolves iron as it circulates past underground rocks. Iron oxidizes or rusts when it is exposed to the air, and the resulting iron oxy-hydroxides deposit a reddish pigment along the spring channel. (plaque on trail)

James Longmire’s eldest son, Eclaine, and his wife Martha were the proprietors of the Resort during its heyday in the early 1900s:

plaque on trail

Yes, that’s the same Martha who exclaimed, “Oh, what a paradise!” upon first seeing the lush meadows and carpets of wildflowers in what is now Paradise Valley.

Today there are no geothermal mineral springs to soak in, but there presence is still evident.

Bubbles of carbon dioxide gas can be seen and heard. (When the underground water table is low in drier seasons, fewer bubbles are seen or heard on the surface.)

Sometimes the “rotten egg” odor of sulfur is present when hydrogen sulfide gas escapes into the air. (plaque on trail)

I didn’t smell this here but back in California on the Oasis Preserve, the water under the boardwalk smells strongly of this gas.

Here’s a little spring that is actually bubbling. The reddish brown color in the water occurs when iron in the water mixes with oxygen molecules from the air. (plaque on trail)

As you can tell, this self-guiding loop trail recounts this area’s history. But it is also a lush nature trail, uncrowded and off the well beaten paths of the more popular and challenging trails.

Signs along the way identify exquisite plants living in the wild:

Deer Fern…

Dull Oregon-Grape…

Skunk Cabbage…

Uprooted trees create complicated sculptures.

And offer great photographic opportunities. Can you tell where I captured this close-up below from the picture above?

Common Horsetail…


More tree and root sculptures…

And, don’t forget to look up!

Devil’s Club… and yes, that’s horsetail…

More giant devil’s club bordering a trickling stream…

Some interesting facts about common horsetail, skunk cabbage, and devil’s club…

According to a plaque on the trail, entitled Rooted in Time, common horsetail has adapted and survived for millions of years, here and around the world. It is often referred to as a “living fossil”. Tree-sized horsetail-type fossils reveal that through millennia, the species has not significantly changed in shape, only in height.

Common horsetail shares this wet streambank with 2 other giant-leafed prehistoric-looking plants: skunk cabbage and devil’s club. Their historic significance has endured for centuries as valuable medicinal sources for Native Americans. These plants were used as tools and occasional food sources.

For example…

 Common horsetail is known for its hair-cleansing properties and as a cure for diarrhea. Skunk cabbage roots were boiled and the liquid drunk to clear the bladder and purify the blood. A mash of skunk cabbage leaves had a soothing effect on headaches, cuts, fevers, and chest pain. Devil’s club is a significant plant to Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. Roots, bark, and spines were steeped or infused as a treatment for many ailments from colds to arthritis, ulcers, and especially diabetes.

In 1899 Mt. Rainier was established as a National Park, however, since James Longmire’s health resort was built on land he patented as a mining claim, his family continued to add buildings on the property. His son, Eclaine, built more guest cabins, bath houses, and expanded the original rustic 2-story hotel calling it the Longmire Springs Hotel.


The newly formed park management had little say in how the hotel looked or how the enterprise was run. Over the years there were arguments over appearances and operations so the park offered to buy the land and buildings in 1902. The Longmires refused.

To introduce competition, the park leased the land across the road from the health resort to the Tacoma & Eastern Railroad Company which proceeded to build its own more elegant hotel. The National Park Inn opened in 1906. (nps.org)


After the death of Eclaine Longmire, the family began leasing their land to the Longmire Springs Hotel Company. (Evidently this entity had previously purchased the buildings on the property.) The Longmire Springs Hotel Company constructed some new buildings, including a 2-story Inn Annex.

In 1916 the Rainier National Park Company (RNPC) was formed and started buying buildings on the Longmire property. The RNPC purchased the Longmire Springs Hotel and the Inn Annex. The company also purchased the National Park Inn and moved the Annex across the road next to the National Park Inn where the two buildings were operated as one hotel. (nps.org)


In 1926 the original National Park Inn burned down and was not rebuilt. The Inn Annex became today’s National Park Inn.


Meanwhile, lab tests confirmed that the mineral springs were not medicinal and the RNPC stopped advertising the Longmire hotel as a health resort.

In 1939 the National Park Service bought out the Longmires. Today all that remains of the health resort is the stonework around a few springs and the reconstructed cabin of Elcaine Longmire.

Kautz Creek

We turn around and head back 3 miles toward the Nisqually Entrance and stop for another short hike before returning to the RV. According to Your Guide to the National Parks, a 2012 publication by Michael Joseph Oswald, there is a 2 mile round trip (out and back) self-guiding trail along Kautz Creek. Actually, the trail continues another 4.5 miles where it intersects with the Wonderland Trail, making it an 11 mile round trip adventure.

A short spur trail leads to a view of the creek and several plaques explaining the changing landscape of this area.

Kautz Creek and its namesake glacier were named for Army Lieutenant August V. Kautz who made the first attempt to summit Mt. Rainier in 1857. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful but this creek that bears his name is famous for the spectacular mudflow of October 1947. (visitrainier.com)

Six inches of rain fell upon the mountain in a few hours and wreaked havoc to this area. One mile of ice collapsed from the Kautz glacier discharging a flood of meltwater, rock, and debris which rushed down the stream bed. Forty-eight million cubic yards of earth and rock were moved during several flows burying the park road to the Longmire area beneath 20-50 feet of mud. (shannontech.com)

Trees are less dense here as the scoured forest slowly started regrowing in the buried areas. And, in 2006, a record amount of rainfall caused more damaging debris flows, one of which rerouted Kautz Creek. Coming to a stop at a high and narrow point in the creek bed, the debris flow dammed the creek, diverted the water, and carved a new course through the forest.

Since 2001, park scientists have recorded an increasing number of smaller debris flows linked to climate change. (plaque on spur trail)

So, we look for the 2-mile round trip self-guiding trail. But all we find is a vaguely marked trail parallel to the creek. We decide to hike out for 15-25 minutes and turn around, not sure what to expect. Well actually that’s not true. Doesn’t self-guiding imply markers or plaques along the way? Not here.

But it’s not disappointing…

We discover Dull Oregon-Grape

And this unusual flowering stalk with low growing variegated leaves…

An inchworm climbing up an invisible thread…

This amazing uprooted tree…

Fuzzy wuzzy trees…

Tree sculptures…

Shroom fungi…

Apparently we turned around too soon, but who knew?

According to visitrainier.com, we were on the first mile of trail alongside the graveled former creek bed. After about 1.1 mile we would have come to a log-bridged crossing of Kautz Creek, the turnaround for hikers out for a short and easy excursion.

We should have done our homework first…

Rivers, Waterfalls, and Ice

Mount Rainier’s Dynamic Trio…

Yesterday was a strenuous day… sorry, that’s my new favorite adjective. Today is a kinder, gentler day in the National Park. We drive along the scenic forested road toward Paradise, but not quite, and stop at some of the pullouts we missed to read plaques, take pictures, and hardly hike at all. (I’m just being honest…)

First Stop… a glacial river

The picture below is a streambed of the Nisqually River. It is constantly being reworked by water flowing from the Nisqually Glacier. Heavy winter snow and rain, along with spring run-off, rearrange these channels annually. Glacial rivers deposit sediment on the floor of the streambed, creating high spots that divert water and cause the river to wind and braid across its bed. (National Park plaque)

In winter the glacier moves very little and the river runs clear. But in the spring the glacier melts and speeds up, loading the river with fine rock sediment ground from the glacier’s bed. These scoured particles are called glacial flour and give the waters a cloudy milky-white color in spring and summer.  (National Park plaque)

Christine Falls

This 69 foot waterfall is right off the road. A bridge spans the lower drop.

We park and take a short trail down to the 37-foot lower tier.

We return to our car and carefully walk along the road to the other side of the bridge for a view of the upper 32-foot drop.

The falls were named for Christine Van Trump, the daughter of Philemon Beecher Van Trump, a pioneering mountaineer. He is best known for making the first ascent of Mount Rainier in 1870 with General Hazard Stevens.

In 1889, nine-year-old Christine accompanied her father on an ascent of Mt. Rainier as far as her strength would allow. She made it to the 10,000-foot level. (en.m.wikipedia.org and OhRanger.com)

Nisqually River

The Nisqually Glacier is the source of this river with the same name. Emptying into the Puget Sound, the river is approximately 81 miles long. It drains part of the Cascade Range  southeast of Tacoma, WA, including the southern slope of Mt. Rainer. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

The Nisqually Glacier is one of the larger glaciers on Mt. Rainier. It is also the most accessible and studied glaciers. Since 1918, Nisqually’s terminal point has been measured annually. (OhRanger.com and en.m.wikipedia.org)


The glaciers on Mt. Rainier reached their greatest extent down the valley in the 1850s.

nps.gov courtesy of United States Geologic Survey, 2012

The 1850s are considered a part of the Little Ice Age (LIA). This term was introduced into scientific literature by Francois E. Matthes in 1939.

Matthes (1874-1948) was a geologist and an expert in topographic mapping, glaciers, and climate change. His maps coincided with the development of our American West National Parks.

The Little Ice Age has been conventionally defined as the period from the 16th to 19th Centuries. However, an alternative timespan, from 1300-1850, is preferred by other experts.

The NASA Earth Observatory, the principal source of satellite imagery and information pertaining to climate and environment,  notes 3 particularly cold intervals: one beginning about 1650, another about 1770, and the last in 1850, all separated by intervals of slight warming.

At the end of the Little Ice Age, the glaciers on Mt. Rainer began a slow retreat. After 1920 the rate of shrinkage sped up. In the 100 years between 1850 and 1950, Mt. Rainier has lost about a quarter of its glaciers. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

Ricksetter Point Road… a one-Way Side Spur

Several pull-offs provide spectacular views of some of Mt. Rainier’s 25 glaciers.

According to the roadside plaque, Mt. Rainier, is a dynamic mountain, shaped by fire and ice. During the past 500,000 years lava from thousands of volcanic eruptions flowed and cooled. The gray and reddish rock are what’s left of those lava flows.

Large glaciers enveloped Mt.Rainier during these eruptions to develop the terrain. While still hot, lava pooled against the edges of converging glaciers. Cooled molten material built up between glaciers to create the present-day ridges.

From left to right, the following glaciers are visible from the vantage point of these 2 pictures: Pyramid, Success, Kautz, Van Trump, Wilson, and Nisqually.

Eruptions of lava and ash built the cone while glaciers, rivers, landslides, and mudflows acted to destroy it. Similar activity is certain to occur in the future. (National Park plaque)

Narada Falls

This is another popular waterfall right off the highway. A large picnic/parking area makes it easily accessible.

According to en.m.wikipedia.org, Frederick Gordon Plummer named the falls in 1893 after the branch name of the Narada Theosophical Society of Tacoma. Narada is a Sanskrit name of the son of Lord Brahma, a devotee of Lord Vishnu. (National Park plaque)

The Theosophical Society in America:

  • has a vision of wholeness that inspires a fellowship united in study, meditation, and service
  • has a mission of encouraging open-minded inquiry into world religions, philosophy, science, and the arts in order to understand the wisdom of ages, respect the unity of all life, and help people explore spiritual self-transformation
  • has an ethic holding that our every action, feeling, and thought affect all other beings and that each of us is capable of and responsible for contributing to the benefit of the whole (theosophical.org)

The Society was founded in 1875 in New York City by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the first Russian woman to be naturalized as an American citizen. She traveled all over the world searching for the reason for human existence. Her writings brought the spiritual wisdom of the East and the ancient Western mysteries to the modern world.

Colonel Henry S. Olcott, lawyer, journalist, and veteran of the Civil War, became the first president of the Society. He related the wisdom of the Eastern and Western cultures, applied it to everyday life and built the Society into an international organization. (theosophical.org)


Here’s a picture from the parking lot. The stone highway bridge is overhead.

As we walk cross over the bridge, I take a pic of the Paradise River rippling through the rocks…

…before falling off the edge.

The waterfall drops in 2 tiers.

A short but very steep trail leads down to the base where the entire 168 foot waterfall is visible.

Snowfields and inactive glaciers melt into water in the Paradise Valley, forming the Paradise River. The river runs clear because it originates from snowfields, not debris-laden active glaciers that turn the water milky. (National Park plaque)

Now, it’s just a step, stumble, and shuffle (with a huff and a puff) back up again!