Day 8: Many Glacier Campground, Glacier National Park, Montana
Motoring out of the Many Glacier valley at sunrise, we swing south to St. Mary, then re-enter the park and drive up the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Our spirits are high, the entire park seeming to unfold before our eyes as we wend our way upward toward the interior of the park. It’s another grey and wet day, and as we climb we literally drive up into the low-hanging clouds. By the time we negotiate the tight Siyeh Bend and crest the Continental Divide at Logan Pass—6646′ above sea level—we are completely socked-in.
Descending past the Weeping Wall, the clouds lift to afford a misty view of the McDonald Creek valley far below, and we can just make out Bird Woman Falls plummeting nearly five hundred feet down the mountainside. Between the low clouds hanging in the mountains’ contours and drifting across the roadway, we are teased with rare and spectacular views of the soaring peaks and glacier-carved valleys for which Glacier is renowned. As the road joins with McDonald Creek, a black pine marten dashes across the road in front of us, perhaps in pursuit of a plump and inattentive squirrel.
We continue to Avalanche campground where we select a quiet spot among the hemlocks. Having skipped breakfast for our early start, we make an early lunch and loaf around in camp for a while, watching the clouds slowly swirl and drift like smoke, as though the mountainsides are afire.
We motor into nearby West Glacier for a few additional supplies and groceries, then back along the shore of Lake McDonald toward our camp. As we come around a bend, we find several cars stopped along the narrow road and an enthusiastic pedestrian informs us, “There’s bears down there!” Against our better judgment—and repeated cautions from the rangers—we leap from the van with our cameras and join the small crowd gawking on the roadside. Sure enough, down near the water’s edge is a female black bear with two yearling cubs in tow, browsing on berry bushes while three dozen excited tourists snap photos, including us.
While the cubs snuffle around and imitate their mother, learning to reach up and bow down the branches in order to get the higher berries, Mom surveys the growing crowd with increasing irritation. Looking at the situation from her perspective, I see that she is confined to a narrow strip of land about twenty yards wide, wedged between the lake and the road. And wherever she leads her cubs along that strip, the clicking crowd follows, blocking her escape at every turn. It occurs to me that when she finally decides to leave, her only way out is directly through the thick forest of knee-socks. Without even realizing it, we are literally backing her into a corner.
So before she does something drastic and motherly, like latching onto the ankle of some Japanese tourist, and the rangers have to come out and shoot her and place her orphaned cubs in some kind of eductional game farm for schoolkids to come and throw rocks at, we turn to go. The crowd has nearly doubled now, snarling traffic for a good quarter-mile, and families in passing minivans roll down their windows to ask what the commotion is all about.
“I think somebody ran over a squirrel,” I shrug, and after a brief, blank stare, they blast away to find other enchanting scenic wonders.
We make our way back to camp, where we enjoy dinner around the campfire, then turn in. Sometime during the night, my slumber is gently disturbed by sounds of faint rustlings and quiet chewings emanating from the front of the Westy’s interior, near the below-dash vents. I lie awake in bed, my eyes gazing upward at the flocked ceiling of the Westfalia popup roof, my ears alert like those of a coyote. A sleepy coyote, alas, for just as I drift off again I detect another stealthy scampering sound, closer this time, and I realize that someone, something, is inside the Westy.
The long remainder of the night is punctuated by the covert burrowing sounds and furtive scurryings of Peromyscus maniculatus, or the common deer mouse. Every clink of a kettle lid inside the galley cabinet or crinkle of a cellophane package betrays the clandestine ransacking of our food stores, and in the red light of my headlamp I finally glimpse one of the beady-eyed, twitch-nosed little intruders cavorting by the gear-shift lever like he owns the place.
After repeated, futile shouts and bangs on the kitchen cabinets, I resignedly insert the ear plugs I usually reserve for occasions when loud neighbors are camped nearby, and finally fall asleep.