Day 42 – Glacier

It is rather rare for me to find myself waiting on sunrise. I don’t usually sleep long hours or sleep in late, but I am also not one of those people who get up at 5:00 in the morning each day and know their newspaper deliveryman by name. I have seen 5 a.m., dozens of times, but usually that had nothing to do with getting up early and everything to do with staying up way, way too late.

When you are camping out in your pickup, and it gets dark by late afternoon, there is not a whole lot of things to do in the evening other than go to sleep. And even without an alarm, eventually your body gets enough sleep and wakes up. Throw in the fact that my watch and body were still on Central time, though I was now one time zone farther west, and I found myself wide awake by 5 a.m. local time.

And the sun doesn’t rise until about 8.

So, I busied myself by reading the Bible some, writing and editing photos on my laptop, reading some more, writing some more, reading, writing, reading, and writing. I don’t generally like being that productive before sunrise, but there just wasn’t anything else to do, other than stare at the surrounding blackness. And, I refuse to let myself be bored. I learned as a kid that if the words “I’m bored” escaped my lips, I would soon find myself no longer bored, but rather quite busy with some chore I really didn’t want to do.

As dusky light started to outline the silhouettes of mountains to the east, I pulled out my camera and drove a couple of miles farther into the park. I wanted to get some shots of the scenery around as soon as it was light, and then take the pass around the southern end of the park to get to the more popular western side of Glacier.

I hoped I might get to see a decent sunrise in the process. I had spent enough time waiting on it, after all.

I was not disappointed.

If every day at Glacier National Park makes its entrance the way it did that morning, it might be worth moving up there just to watch the sun rise. With the mountains running interference and the wind shuffling the clouds around with visible speed, I was treated to a constantly changing display that almost would have been better captured by a video camera. And while the sun peeked over the mountains to the east, a few mountains to the west seemed to have spotlights turned on them, temporarily becoming the stars of the show while their neighbors stayed hidden in the shadows.

There was light, and it was good.

After filling and emptying my camera’s memory card, I headed back out to St. Mary to begin the long detour around the park and to the western entrance.


After crossing the continental divide, U.S. 2—the first of the even-numbered east-west highways—begins a seemingly endless descent, following a young river and an accompanying railroad track on their long trip to the Pacific coast. I never noticed that much of a climb to get to the top of the pass, which made it seem odd that I could then go so far down to reach the western side of the park.

As I reached the western side of the pass, though, it started snowing.

I had hoped that the road, bordering the edge of the park as it did, would provide more views of Glacier. Whether it does or not I still cannot say, since the snow managed to white-out the visibility of anything more than a half-mile away. And when I reached the west gateway to the park, which had many more visitors but just as few rangers manning the entrance, I was disappointed to find that the only thing close enough to see through the snow was Lake McDonald. A very big, and perhaps pretty, lake, but one that normally serves as a frame and mirror for postcard-worthy mountains.

I wiped the snow from a “Mountains in Motion” educational sign, which showed the scene I was supposed to be looking at. The mountains were invisible on this day, hidden behind a grey fog.

Oh well. I was still glad I had visited the park, even if I only got to see one side of it.


As I traveled toward Missoula along the shore of the rather large Flathead Lake, I scanned through the now-present radio stations.

I do this for most every radio market I travel through, for a couple of reasons: one, to find something I want to listen to; and two, to get an idea of what the people in the area are like.

Since radio stations are so plentiful, they each target a relatively small and specific demographic. Oldies stations target baby boomers. Christian rock stations target teenagers, while Christian contemporary stations target women with families. Hip-hop targets African-Americans, modern rock targets mostly-white 20-somethings, and NPR targets the educated and politically-conscious. Sports talk targets men in general, contemporary “mix” stations target women in general, and country stations target, well, country-type people.

So, by listening to the mix of stations, you can get an idea of the type of people who live nearby. In Washington, DC, the dial was full of NPR-type talk stations. In New Orleans, it was almost all hip-hop (with a few fun Cajun stations thrown in). Throughout the Great Plains, there were more country and Christian contemporary stations than most anything else.

At the south end of Flathead Lake, I came across one static-filled station that, behind the interference, almost sounded like Native American Indians singing at a powwow. A few miles down the road, it was coming in more clearly, and I could tell what it really was: Indians singing at some kind of powwow.

I was fascinated. The music consisted entirely of one drum and a bunch of voices carrying the tune. Most of the singing sounded simply like melodic yelling, and I found myself wondering if they were even saying anything in their own language, and wishing I could understand what the songs were about. I presumed that the words to the songs, if I could only understand them, would give me some kind of insight into their culture.

I listened to 3 or 4 of the songs, which were played without commercial break and without any DJ’s introduction or explanation. But then, midway through one of the songs, I realized with a start that I could understand what they were saying. The chorus, at least, was in English. Though it was still a bit hard to hear the words, I was able to pick out these repeated lines:

I like the way they walk
I like the way they talk
These pretty girls

Well, perhaps the cultural differences aren’t all that great. Some things, it seems, are universal.


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© 2006 by Kevin McConaghy. All rights reserved.