The Triple Crown of National Parks – Part 3: Take me back to Montana

[When a good friend decides to drive cross-country just to pick your butt up to see a few national parks, it deserves more than one post. This is a mini-series of posts detailing Ginna Fox and I’s trip to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.

Part 3 of 3 heads up to the northwestern corner of Montana: Glacier National Park. This trip included many firsts, from a Wal-Mart stop to riding a horse and seeing a mountain goat.]

Of all the sights to see in Montana, Wal-Mart was the first on our list.

Okay, we needed to stop for bread and food and a stove, but it was the first one I’ve been in the entire summer. And since literally nothing is boring in Montana, it was worth mentioning.

Now, to the more interesting parts of the beautiful treasure state.

We ended up driving through a recently burned wildfire area, and the sky looked like the atmosphere of Tatooine.

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After camping the night in some random park and running into a bunch of Canadians (which was not the first time, seeing how Glacier is, like, right there on the northern border of Montana), we entered the third national park in a three-day span.

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One of the first living things we saw (besides quaking aspen, of course) was the prettiest bird that I’ve been dying to see: a cedar waxwing. They each look hand-painted by the Lord Himself, and they’re breathtaking to see in real life.

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The chill of glacial streams is also breathtaking because they are definitely not warm. Insert “It was cool…like literally” joke here.

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I will rock the crocs until the day I die. 

But they’re also beautiful, of course. I’m not too big into geology – not that I don’t like it, but I just don’t study it. But those red rocks were stunning.

And while I love those birds, the mammals are just something else out here.

Upon arriving and finding a parking spot after 15 minutes of circling the parking lot at Logan Pass, we started up Hidden Lake Trail which ranger after ranger warned us about the snow on the trail.

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It’s the middle of July and there’s snow? Count me in! The snow from camp didn’t stick around but the sunburn and heat did, so I enjoyed the HECK out of that cool mountain air.

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Legitimately, I was not cold. 

But the one thing I wanted to see more than snow were the big mammals, just like most visitors in the park. So I said to Ginna, “It’d make my life if I could see a mountain goat here. Like, it’d be the coolest thing ever.”
Literally 2 minutes into the hike, we pull up on Billy.

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He’s collared, but not tame. They track animals up there within the park, and this guy just happened to be one of the marked ones.

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Nice necklace, Billy. It complements the rocky mountain iris beautifully.

And I’m not trying to tone down the American Bison, either, because I absolutely love them, too, but this time was special for Billy and me. It was my first time seeing his kind in real life, and all I could do was sit, watch, and appreciate this incredible creature.

I’ve been learning to observe my whole life, especially as a journalist set to describe the scene, but through my studies of science, I’m learning to see and make inferences based on prior knowledge, something I never thought I was capable of.

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I also never thought I could be the kind of woman that picks up and just goes, just does, just travels all along and just enjoys. But there I was, cruising along in Ginna’s Toyota Corolla along Going-to-the-Sun Road, randomly jumping out to just drink in glacial lakes and vistas. Like who am I?

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For starters, I’m now one that loves trees. Last fall, I couldn’t stand memorizing all of the scientific names of trees and was tempted to cut down every forest in the world, which I did not do. However, Montana is good and transformative to the soul, and The Trail of the Cedars moved me to appreciative tears just about every time I looked up – or around.

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And I kept looking up, in both the literal and metaphorical senses. It’s so cool how incredible the world is. A tree can look the same but be totally different based on elevation, and it can only grow out West and not in the East. Luckily, people aren’t the same.

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It’s fun not stepping in the same stream twice, too. I mean, the water level on Earth hasn’t changed since Day 1 so technically it’s the same body of water. However, I enjoyed discovering and falling in love with chasing waterfalls, even though that’s ill-advised.

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St. Mary’s Falls
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Virginia Falls – well, just some water falling off one of the rocks.
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Virginia Falls in full

Besides this being the first time in Montana for me, it was also the first time I legitimately rode a horse that wasn’t attached to a metal pole in a Merry-Go-Round. His name was Kirby, and he was the sweetest little thing.

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Even though I was fairly afraid of getting on and riding, I recalled every other time I tried something for the first time ever. I was very nervous, but right after I said yes and started, I had a blast. Yes, the worst can always happen, like falling off of Kirby and dying. But the likelihood? Slim to none.

No, this was something fun and was meant to be enjoyed.

Just like camping in Montana under its nighttime sky.

This exact night, which photos could do no justice, is why this post took me about a month to write.

The grandness of a Montana night sky is incomprehensible. Shooting stars rip through the sky, and the Milky Way sparkles on forever.

It pains me to remember, and not just from the kink in my neck for the next day or because it was a toasty 40 degrees that night. No, it’s painful because I long to be back under that sky. I hurt for it. As I write, I’m tearing up thinking of its unexplainable beauty and way it made me feel so small but so alive and so in love with God the Creator.

It was the perfect way to end an amazing week with an incredible friend. I miss that week for sure, but the night in Montana was still a reality filled with God’s graces and grandness. Just because I’m not at 7,000 ft. in elevation anymore doesn’t mean there’s not more to come.

Here’s to living the mundane, scheduled-to-a-T, school life in an extraordinary way (and seeing Ginna a lot more in the one and only Mountain State).

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Looking for a way to get lost in those mountains once again.

Don’t worry, Montana. We’re coming for you again – soon.

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