Day 11: Lake McDonald Lodge, Glacier National Park, Montana
A cold rain is falling today, so after breakfast in the lodge we warm our feet by the grand fireplace while we write postcards to family and friends. Nearby sit some dejected motorcyclists who had planned to cross over the Divide today, but a lodge staffer has just informed them that, with the days growing colder, “if it’s raining down here, it’s snowing up on Logan Pass.” We drive to the Apgar visitor center to again check on road conditions, then to the West Glacier grocery store to buy gifts for friends and family. Besides, we’re almost out of Trout Slayer Ale.
Determined not to again have our little home on wheels burglarized by marauding backwoods mice, I peruse the latest in home pest control. Despite all the talk from corporate cheerleaders about the proverbial “better mouse trap,” it seems things haven’t really changed all that much since the time of Lewis and Clark.
Aside from the classic spring-mechanism snap trap, and the traditional and ever-tasty poisonous sweetened drain cleaner and glass shards, I find only a value-pack of “Mouse Glue Traps”. Made of cardboard and shaped like a tiny pup-tent, the trap’s interior surface is evidently covered with a tenacious gluey substance to which the rodent in question inadvertently adheres itself. According to the chirpy directions, you then simply “Discard mouse and glue trap.”
I dunno. Were I to choose the method of my own death, and given a choice between fluoride-induced respiratory paralysis, or terminal exhaustion and heart failure caused by a vain struggle to extricate myself from a big sticky pup-tent, I think I’d opt instead for the snap trap. There’s just something stoic and noble about having my skull instantly crushed by a large steel bar.
I select the version with the attractive yellow trigger that resembles a tiny slice of Swiss cheese, and place it alongside my beer on the checkout counter.
When we pull into a nearby fuel station, we see a cherry ’79 Westy parked at the cafe, and as I’m tanking-up our Vanagon, the Microbus putters over and I see that it is driven by a bearded and jovial Jerry Garcia. He’s looking pretty good, considering the circumstances, and offers sage advice: “You know, you really oughta get rid of that thing. They don’t last.” And with a mischievous wink, he motors away. I wonder if he is road-tripping with Elvis.
We point the freshly-provisioned Westy north and soon pass through numerous burned areas in various states of recovery. Just over a year ago, in July of 2003, a small fire broke out somewhere near the foot of Lake McDonald and burned nearly sixty thousand acres. That fall was a hot and dry one, and eight scattered fires burned a total of over one hundred forty-five thousand of Glacier’s million acres of forest. Now some areas are so deeply scorched that it will be years before regrowth can begin, while other places exhibit Nature’s green resiliency.
When we strike the north fork of the Flathead River, the road turns to gravel for the next thirteen miles, and pretty rough gravel at that. After a few miles of slow, bone-jarring chatterbump driving, we learn that, counterintuitively, such a road is actually best driven at about forty mph, and our wheels soon skim smoothly along the high spots.
We stop briefly at the Polebridge Mercantile, last vestige of civilization in these parts. A tiny enclave of small cabins and log homes, Polebridge is inhabited only by a few hippies and some shady characters that desperately want to be left alone. The place has no piped-in electricity or water, so everything is powered by gasoline, kerosene, or propane, even the Mercantile ovens which produce positively heavenly bakery items. I don’t know what these flower children put in their croissants and sweet rolls that makes them so addictive, but we aren’t asking any questions, and instead just order seconds before continuing north.
Just past “the Merc” we pass through the slowly recovering vestiges of the 1988 Red Bench Fire, stop at the Polebridge ranger station, and continue east to Bowman Lake in time for a late lunch in camp. This far into the remote northwest corner of Glacier, and this late in the season, there are only a small handful of other hardy campers here, and when we finally disembark from the van, it is the most vacuous and boundless silence I have ever heard.
This is by far the least-visited corner of Glacier, and is the only place in the continental United States where gray wolves have reintroduced themselves, from Canada. Indeed, from the trailhead in our campsite, we are only fourteen miles from the Canadian border.
We walk around the lakeshore trail for a while, as high clouds adorn Square Peak with a new mantle of snow. While making dinner, several white-tailed deer browse in our site, and a swift and silent red fox glides through the campground.
When darkness falls, we stroll down to the lake again and are regaled by a grand view of the Milky Way splashed across the clear black sky, reflected again in the glass-smooth surface of Bowman Lake.