Saturday, July 7, 2012

Book your trip to Glacier, now


Three-image pano of Lake McDonald, Glacier N.P.

If you want to see the reason it's called Glacier National Park, you'd better hurry. At the current rate, there may be no glaciers by 2030.

That's it for the climate talk. If you do go to Glacier, though, here's a tip -- do not, unless you're stupid like me and book a room at a nice place in St. Mary for the wrong day -- stay at Red Eagle Motel. It's a serious dump.

Here's the deal. I pulled into the place at St. Mary at the eastern entrance to the park where I thought I had booked a room for the night, and it turned out I had booked it for the next night -- the night I had to be in Whitefish, on the other side of the park. Clicked the wrong date on the calendar when I was doing my online reservations, I did.

Idiot.

Apikuni Falls.
Of course, that place was full. I asked the guy if they would be charging me anyway and he said, "Yep. I don't make the rules."

That attitude is how a lot of bad things happen in our world.

Anyway, I dragged my sorry butt down the road a bit and, lo and behold, the Red Eagle Motel had a vacancy. I didn't even look. I paid my 80 bucks and took the key. On my way up, I noticed that there was a whole lot of unpainted plywood serving as walls and such on the second floor balcony. The room was dingy, but, it was a room.

It was still early afternoon, so I hopped back in the car and drove the 45 minutes to the Many Glacier section of Glacier National Park, where I had a glorious time taking pictures and chatting with the nice bartender over a red bean burger. But wait, I'm ahead of myself.

Running Eagle Falls.
That morning, I had driven in from Helena (who the hell laid out the streets in that town?) and went into Glacier through the Two Medicine entrance on the southeast corner and had a great time taking pictures (Running Eagle Falls is very cool -- a double waterfall that goes both over and through the rock) and such. Then, I drove north to St. Mary, where my aforementioned brain cramp was discovered. Then, I drove north to Many Glacier, where I stopped and hiked up to Apikuni Falls, a little two-mile round-trip that, it turns out, is basically straight up and, of course, straight back down. I felt pretty good when I saw a 10-year-old kid whining about the exertion. I mean, I'm a 53-year-old fat guy, and all you heard from me was heavy breathing. And I was carrying a backpack full of camera gear. AND a tripod. Cowboy up, kid.

Then came the red bean burger. Then, all sweaty and dirty like one would be after that kind of exertion, I returned to my dump of a room, where I learned that the shower worked in one volume -- dribble -- and the temperature was not controllable. It varied from lukewarm to whatever is a tad warmer than lukewarm. By moving around a lot, I eventually got my whole body wet and relatively clean.

A sight you might not be able to see 20 years from now.

I willed myself into bed by 9 and was up at 5:30, on the road by 6, after another shower that required constant movement to find the drips of water. So far as I know, I did not get a disease or bedbug bites. (As a sort of karmic payback, my next room in Whitefish, for the selfsame 80 bucks, came complete with a full-sized living room and separate bedroom. On the other hand, I was traveling alone and didn't exactly need a bungalow.)

About the glaciers. They're melting. Pictures from the early 20th century, when compared to recent photos from the same vantage point, show the glaciers are now about 25 percent of what they were less than 100 years ago. So, if you want to see them, I recommend booking your trip now. That wasn't climate talk. It's just what's going on. 

I also recommend clicking the reservation dates with great care and, if you do screw up, sleep in your car. (A happy note: I went back to the place where the guy "didn't make the rules" and the owner happened to be there. To make a long story short, he rented my room the next night and gave me a full refund.)

Oh, here's another funny lodging story. So, I get to Philipsburg, a cute restored mining town "where western Montana begins." I had booked a room at the Kaiser House, on the right night and everything. When I got there, there was an envelope taped to the front door with my name on it, containing a note and two keys. One was for the building (I am not making this up) and one was for my room. The inn and the room were splendid; that's not the funny part.

Bonus shot: Avalanche Creek in Glacier N.P.
Anyway, after dinner, I decided, as I am wont to do, to enjoy a cigar. There is a little balcony on the east side of the Kaiser House with an ash tray and everything. So, I found myself a seat and lit up. Across the street, a couple of dudes were on a second-floor balcony playing guitar and singing, so it was a storybook setting. At some point, I decided that some adult beverage would be the perfect accompaniment, and I happened to have that very thing in my room. I went to the balcony door, which was locked. I tried the building key. No dice. I tried the room key. Nope. There were stairs that led to the ground, but, imagine my dismay when I found a chain link fence securing the back and side of the building, with no access to the front door.

Naturally, I called Kathleen so I had someone with whom to share this good joke. I had a beautiful room in a splendidly restored 1882 hotel, but I would be sleeping on the balcony. Ha, ha! Either that, or I'd have to haul my 53-year-old fat body over an eight-foot-high chain link fence. At least I wasn't carrying a camera bag.

Well, as I eventually discovered, there was a gate on one end that was secured by a long one-inch-diamater metal pipe running across the outside of the gate. I cleverly slipped my hand through a convenient gap in the gate and eventually slid the pipe sideways enough to get the gate open. I waited, of course, until I was sure no one was watching me break out of my own hotel.

Epilogue: I know, I know; an epilogue to a blog post. Bear with me. The morning after my lockout at the Kaiser House, the nice lady who co-owns the place with her husband served us breakfast (a delicious spinach quiche with ham on the side, and a gorgeous pastry). I told her, and the four other guests, my lockout story, and the nice owner lady says: "All you have to do is pull that door without turning the handle." She even walked me out to the balcony and showed me.

I am proven stupid, yet again. However, she did say it had happened to someone else who hadn't figured out an escape route as I had, and had spent 90 minutes on the balcony before being rescued by another guest.

I did recommend to her that perhaps a small note on the door would be prudent.


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