A few weeks ago, I embarked on my final grad school journey of the summer to Glacier National Park. Geology has been a weak spot of mine, but this class made me examine geological features in terms of the ancient processes that formed them. In contrast to my home Tetons, the mountains in Glacier are very sedimentary in history. It was amazing seeing the clues of the ancient ocean that used to cover the western US – ripple marks and cross-cutting waves forever preserved in mudstone and limestone.
Beyond the sedimentary strata there was, of course, evidence of MASSIVE glaciers that used to dominate the landscape with thousands of feet of ice. I’ve seen glacial valleys in the Tetons, but nothing to the magnitude and extent of what’s up there. My favorite moment of the trip was getting to adventure across a cirque to stand on the Grinell Glacier. Looking down on the U-shaped valley below us, it was hard to believe that this crumbling, dirty, shadow of a glacier had once created the lakes and scored the walls around us. A visitor center exhibit projected that all the glaciers will disappear by 2020, so that made the experience even more powerful.
We were also fortunate enough to see some of the biota that Glacier had to offer. Because we stuck to pretty popular trails, Golden Mantled Ground-Squirrels and Colombia Ground-Squirrels were constantly begging for food and trying to sneak their way into packs. We also saw Big-Horn Sheep and had a very close encounter with a Mountain Goat. Other animals we saw included a cow Moose – always a favorite of mine – and a group of Ptarmigans. That’s a new bird for my life list!