Tag Archive | Native Americans

Glacier National Park

Montana

view at Logan Pass

I have an unhealthy fear of bears. The grizzly bear attack in the book/movie “The Revenant” still haunts me to this day. With that being said, why in the world did I choose Glacier National Park as a vacation destination? This is the one park where your chances of running into a grizzly bear or black bear on a trail, on the road, or in a parking lot are well above zero. Bear spray is a necessity at all times. Just great. What had I gotten myself in to?

I planned an itinerary, booked a cabin and rental car, got our park passes, purchased our vehicle registration, reserved our park road permits, booked flights to Kalispell, and my husband and I were off to great adventures. Montana, here we come. A canister of bear spray would become my newest and most valuable accessory.

West Glacier entrance

Why did we choose to visit Glacier National Park in spite of the bear population? Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful of the US national parks and is nicknamed the “Crown of the Continent.” The park encompasses over one-million acres of glacier-carved peaks and valleys, two mountain ranges, pristine turquoise lakes and streams, meadows full of wildflowers, numerous waterfalls and ancient evergreen forests. It was established as a national park in 1910 after the Blackfeet tribe ceded the area to the government. Glacier National Park is the 10th most visited park (3.1 million annual visitors) making it not only one of the most beautiful, but also one of the most popular national parks to visit in the United States.

Grinnell Lake in Many Glacier

More park visitors over the last couple of years caused restrictions to be put in place that prevent overcrowding within the park, hence purchasing vehicle passes/registrations was necessary prior to our trip. We appreciated that the crowds were very manageable throughout our visit and we never had long lines or traffic problems.

tunnel on Going-to-the-Sun Road

There is one main highway that cuts through the center of the park, the Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTTSR). The scenic GTTSR connects the west entrance to the park with the east entrance (50 miles/2 hours drive time). We drove it easily and without any access issues due to the pre-purchased passes that were required for each vehicle driving within the park boundaries.

our cozy little cabin

I found us a great little Vrbo rental in Essex, Montana that bordered the southern edge of the park, perfectly located about halfway between the west and east entrances to the park. The cabin was clean, cozy, comfortable and well-stocked. We cooked breakfast each morning, packed up our picnic lunch, went on our daily adventure, and returned each evening to cook/grill our dinner. A large mule deer welcomed us on our very first morning and a mink and chipmunks scampered around near our firepit each day. We had found a great little “home away from home.”

behind Lake McDonald Lodge
the beautiful lobby at Lake McDonald Lodge

Day #1 – We drove through the West Glacier entrance that morning and headed to Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park. We explored the historic Lake McDonald Lodge (built in 1914) and grounds before taking a boat ride on the beautiful lake. After a picnic lunch, we drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road and stopped at several turn-outs to view McDonald Creek and the amazing scenery along the way. Mid-afternoon, we parked and hiked The Trail of the Cedars. This was one of our favorite hikes! The trail was a raised boardwalk or gravel trail that winds its way through a thick forest of towering cedar trees. The highlight for us was the view of Avalanche Gorge from the trail with its turquoise water tumbling down colorful moss-covered rocks. The damp weather made it feel like we were exploring a rainforest. Even though it was a drizzly afternoon, nothing could take away from the beauty of this trail. We loved it!

Avalanche Gorge as seen from the Trail of the Cedars
hiking the Trail of the Cedars

Walking back to our parked car after our hike, we heard our names being yelled from the parked car at the crosswalk. Really?! The people in the car were actually close friends from our hometown in Texas. One million acres of national park, 1749.5 miles away from home, and we happened to be at the exact same place at the exact same time. It was just plain weird! All you math geniuses can figure out those odds – it hurts my head just to think about it.

Mick & Lisa Tune, our friends from Rockwall, Texas
McDonald Creek along the GTTSR

Day #2 – We got an early start and drove east to the park’s St. Mary’s entrance. We had a morning boat ride scheduled on beautiful St. Mary’s Lake that included a hike to a waterfall. It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed our morning adventures. David and I found a little restaurant nearby in the park and had a great lunch (huckleberry pulled pork stuffed baked potatoes!) and continued our drive on The Going-to-the Sun Road with a few scenic stops along the way. We found ourselves at Logan Pass that afternoon, the highest point of the Going-to-the-Sun Road (6646 feet) and located along the Continental Divide. The road in this area had only opened 4 days prior to our visit due to the difficulty of snowplowing such late, heavy snows. The scenery at this high elevation was amazing! We parked and hiked the Hidden Lake Trail as far as we could but it was quite difficult with the packed, icy snow underfoot. Seeing all the snow, the jagged mountains, fields of wildflowers, waterfalls, marmots, ground squirrels, and big horn sheep made for a very memorable afternoon and gave us some great photo ops!

ready for our St. Mary’s Lake boat ride
selfie at Logan Pass
Bighorn sheep at Logan Pass

Day #3 – David and I ventured to Two Medicine, a less-popular part of the park that we entered not far from East Glacier that feels off-the-beaten-path. This day actually turned out to be one of our favorites. The drive in had beautiful views and the crowds were sparse. We hiked to Running Eagle Falls, a sacred Native American burial site that celebrates an infamous female warrior and tribal leader. It was easy to feel the spirituality of this place. The double falls were very unusual and we spent quite a bit of time here. We hiked for a bit on a nature trail and soon decided it was lunch time. We drove a short distance to Two Medicine Lake and found a table at the General Store overlooking the picturesque lake with Sinopah Mountain towering in the background. Good food, great views.

Running Eagle Falls in Two Medicine
Two Medicine Lake and Mount Sinopah

After our picnic lunch and a cold huckleberry soda, we were ready for our next hike. We parked at a trailhead and headed up to Apikuni Falls. This was a tough hike for me due to the incline and it was very hot and humid. There were very few people on this trail and we were on a constant lookout for bears. Luckily, we made it to the falls and back without getting eaten. By late afternoon, we headed back out of Two Medicine admiring the scenery and the colorful wildflowers that lined the road and meadows in this scenic valley that is adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation.

hiking at Two Medicine

We stopped for huckleberry bear claws near East Glacier when we saw our first bear! It appeared to be a younger bear and we spotted it running through a pasture near some horses. The horses seemed a little nervous at first but soon went back to grazing. The bear found a pizza box in the pasture that fully captured his/her attention for quite a while. This is exactly how I wanted to see a bear – from a distance and from the safety of my car!

bear near East Glacier

Day #4 – This was the day we ventured to Many Glacier, located on the farthest side of Glacier National Park from our cabin. Many Glacier is on the northeast side of the park and was the most difficult to get to. With that being said, I felt it was the most scenic part of the park. We arrived at Many Glacier early in the morning to secure a parking place, which worked in our favor. We spent the morning exploring the historic hotel and grounds and enjoyed a coffee while waiting for our scheduled boat tour.

Many Glacier Hotel from Swiftcurrent Lake

The Many Glacier boat tour was a “two-parter.” The tour began on the shores of beautiful Swiftcurrent Lake. We cruised across the lake, docked, disembarked and then walked 0.2 mile (over a steep hill) to the shores of Lake Josephine. We then boarded another small boat and cruised to the head of Lake Josephine. We disembarked there to do a self-guided hike to Grinnell Lake. This was a beautiful trail that led us through wooded areas, over streams, along narrow hillsides and over a swinging bridge before we arrived on the shoreline. Grinnell Lake had beautiful turquoise waters and was surrounded on three sides by towering mountains and snowy glaciers. It was breathtaking! David and I sat and ate a picnic lunch on a fallen log and took in all the beauty around us. We were even lucky enough to spot a grizzly bear loping through snowfields on the opposite side of the lake before it disappeared into a valley on the far side of the lake. Bear sighting number two….check! We also saw a huge bull moose standing waist-deep in Lake Josephine on our return boat trip. Wildlife abounds!

selfie at Lake Josephine
Lake Josephine with Salamander Glacier and Grinnell Glacier in background

We returned to the Many Glacier Hotel later that afternoon after an amazing day. We located the bar and treated ourselves to a Huckleberry Margarita, a snack, and a short rest before the long ride back to our cabin. Another unforgettable day was in the books.

hiking to Grinnell Lake from Josephine Lake

Day #5 – We woke to another cloudy, drizzly day but decided not to let it stop our exploring. We headed back to West Glacier and spent the day at Apgar Village on the shores of Lake McDonald. We walked the shoreline, snapped a few iconic “colored rock” photos, hiked a wooded trail, shopped in the gift stores, and enjoyed coffee/lunch/huckleberry ice cream during the hours we spent there. It was a very relaxing day. On the way back to our cabin, we stopped at the Goat Lick overlook to see a herd of mountain goats that hang out on some rocky cliffs. We saw several of them!

the iconic “rock photo” at Lake McDonald
baby mountain goat

We then returned to the cabin, cleaned up, and drove back to West Glacier where we had dinner reservations. David and I wanted a nice meal on our final night and we enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Belton Chalet Restaurant. It was delicious and made for a great ending to a great trip. We returned our unused bear spray, packed up, and left for home the following morning.

We made memories that will last a lifetime. GNP, thanks for an unforgettable trip!

See you on the trails!

cloudy morning on Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald selfie
near the entrance to St. Mary’s
on the Trail of the Cedars
McDonald Creek from the GTTSR

West Glacier entry

Palo Duro Canyon

Canyon, Texas

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I have found the perfect trip to take during these days of Covid-19!

Why not check out Palo Duro Canyon State Park and visit our nation’s second largest canyon? Consider it a mini Grand Canyon and one of Texas’s best kept secrets. This park covers 30,000 acres and is located a few miles outside of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. Palo Duro Canyon offers spectacular views, fun outdoor activities, lots of fresh air and few social interactions with others. Why not get a change of scenery, have a great time and enjoy nature  – all while social distancing? Win, win!

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My husband and I recently drove to Palo Duro Canyon (6 hours from DFW) and stayed in a wonderful cabin (Skyhouse @ Dove’s Rest Cabins) five minutes away from the park entrance and spent two days in the park. If you go, be sure to purchase your State Park day passes on-line a few weeks in advance due to limited availability. Tickets are only $8 per vehicle per day and the park is currently open 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.

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The morning we arrived, there were only a couple of cars ahead of us checking into the park. After entering through the main gate, there were 16 miles of paved roads ahead of us that descended 800 feet to the canyon floor. We stopped along the park road several times and enjoyed fantastic scenic views, historical sites and markers, picnic tables, miles of hiking trails and the visitor center (with limited hours). There were also public restrooms, biking trails, horseback riding trails, a souvenir shop with grill, camping areas suitable for day trips, and overnight tent camping. Several areas were closed due to the pandemic, including the outdoor amphitheater and park cabins, but there was still plenty to see and do.

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We were there on a Sunday and Monday and may have seen two dozen people – tops! The parking lots, trails and roads were nearly empty. We passed a couple of people on each trail we were on. The most people we saw in one place happened to be at a snow cone stand at one of the major trail heads. It was great!

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Our first morning hike in the park was on the Pioneer Nature Trail that looped down to the river and back. It is a popular place to spot Texas horned lizards/toads/frogs (my daughter graduated from TCU so I will hereafter refer to them as horned frogs!). We found three snake skins (yikes! lots of rattlesnakes in the canyon), small lizards, tons of red ants (horned frog food), and a half-eaten coyote pup skeleton.  Near the end of our hike on this trail, lo and behold, we came across a Texas horned frog. He froze, we took pics, and went on our merry way. I was a happy camper!

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We then hiked a short distance off-trail around the site of the historic Battle of Palo Duro Canyon where the high red walls and percolation caves (caused by wind and water) reminded us of the rock formations in Sedona. This whole area has that eerie “battlefield” feeling I have felt other places – it just makes me feel sad and uneasy remembering the history and loss of life here. The vibe is unsettling and disturbing. You can read more about what happened here at the end of this article.

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Back on the main road, we chose the Sunflower Trail for our next hike and it was my favorite of the trip. This trail led us alongside a creek on one side and a large red, Permian wall on the other. This 300 million-year-old wall had beautiful horizontal veins of shiny white gypsum running through it. Most of the trail was shaded by tall cottonwoods and the clay-like ground underfoot was filled with animal tracks. We recognized raccoon, deer, rabbit, bobcat, coyote, and mountain lion tracks. I don’t think I would want to be on this trail at night! We also had to avoid stepping in piles of wildlife scat along the way that was teeming with iridescent dung beetles. The circle of life is alive and well in the canyon!

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The following day began at the visitor center where we enjoyed the scenic view from the overlook at the canyon rim. We drove halfway down into the canyon and hiked off-trail again to climb a large prominent rock that overlooked the canyon floor. The views from there were amazing. This trail was full of cacti and the climb was not easy but I made it! We had to be very careful where we were stepping and constantly be on the lookout for snakes, scorpions and centipedes. Many things were ready and willing to stick, bite or sting!

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We hiked back to our car, drove a little further into the canyon and parked near the Kiowa trail head. We walked along the Kiowa Trail and followed a dry creek bed through mesquite groves for great views of another prehistoric Permian wall formation that gives the river its red color. We didn’t spot any wildlife here but saw many animal trails and tons of grasshoppers that would suddenly fly up and scare the bejesus out of you!

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Later that afternoon we found ourselves at the Lighthouse trail head. This is the most popular trail and leads to the iconic Lighthouse Rock “hoodoo,” the symbol of the park. This is a six-mile hike round trip and where most of the park’s heat-related injuries and deaths for people and pets occur. We were warned to not start this hike if the temp was above 80 degrees (it was) and not unless you have at least one gallon of water per person (we didn’t). We decided to hike down the trail far enough to see the Lighthouse, take a pic, and head back – which is what we did. We then made a beeline to the snow cone stand in the parking lot! 

Note: the canyon floor is always 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the temperature on the canyon rim. It was hot! hot! hot!!

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Afterward our much-enjoyed snow cone, we made a couple of brief stops at pull-outs and had a picnic lunch. We saw more beautiful rock formations, a big green lizard, and a turkey.  After two full days of exploring the park and canyon, our trip was coming to a close. We enjoyed it immensely and I would love to visit again in the spring or fall when temps are a little cooler. One major highlight of our trip (besides the gorgeous scenery) was that the lack of crowds could not be beat!

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More information on the park itself:

People have been a part of this scenic canyon for 12,000 years where they hunted large herds of mammoth and giant bison. More recently, the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa Native American tribes called this canyon home. They left behind rock art, arrowheads, and pottery shards that clue us into their way of life here. Early Spanish adventurers exploring the canyon, named it Palo Duro, Spanish for hard wood. The visitor center has a video and some of these artifacts, fossils and relics if you are interested.

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For you history buffs – a large part of this canyon’s history centers around the Red River War and the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon (mentioned above) which was an ongoing battle between the U.S. Army and the Plains Indians. In 1874, the U.S. Calvary attacked a large camp of Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyennes at dawn. Many in the camp fled throughout the canyon while the army attacked the surprised natives, captured 1,500  horses (and killed 1,100 after taking their picks), burned all the teepees, food, clothing, tools, and provisions. With no horses or winter supplies, the remaining Native Americans had no choice but to surrender themselves to the reservations. A marker now stands in the far end of the canyon and details this battle. As you stand in this spot, it is easy to visualize the haunting event that took place on these grounds and to imagine the sounds of the guns and the screams of the frightened people and horses. It is a bitter pill for me to swallow.

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 With the Native Americans out of the way, the canyon and surrounding area quickly moved into the “ranch era.” The resident buffalo were hunted almost to extinction for their hides and their carcasses were left to rot and be eaten by scavengers. The few small buffalo herds that remained were run out by the ranchers to make way for longhorns. The State of Texas bought this land for the park in 1933 after it had been used as a cattle ranch since the late 1800s.

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Currently Palo Duro Canyon State Park is ranked the “number one” State Park in Texas and ranks in the “top twenty” of U.S. State Parks according to several travel guides. No surprise there!

My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our days spent in the park. It was a great little trip and a nice change of scenery. If you are a fan of the outdoors and enjoy hiking, rock formations and wildlife and don’t mind red dirt, cacti, and being up close and personal with nature – plan your trip today. I hope to go back soon so maybe I will cross paths with you there.

See you on the trails!

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Mission San Jose’

San Antonio, TX

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I had a lovely girl’s trip recently to San Antonio and one of our highlights was visiting a couple of the old Spanish missions along the Mission Trail. I am quite the art history buff and had always wanted to see a couple of the missions besides The Alamo, which I always enjoy visiting. 

The Mission San Jose’ y San Miguel de Aguayo (proper name) is known as the “Queen of the Missions.” It was built in 1720, just two years after The Alamo was founded and only five miles downriver. Upon completion, it had the reputation of being the most beautiful church along the entire frontier of New Spain. It is the largest colonial mission still standing today.

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The five remaining missions are located near the San Antonio River and not far from downtown San Antonio. There is actually an official Mission Trail where one can walk, bike, or drive to each of the missions or just choose to visit a couple – which is what we did on this day. Mission San Jose’ was quite easy to find and parking was plentiful. We actually approached from the rear wall which gave us very impressive views of a garden, statues, the church, dome and bell tower.

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The church itself is quite stunning. It was constructed out of locally quarried Texas limestone by Spanish and Native American craftsmen. The flying buttresses, carvings, statues, bell towers, an ornate rose window, and quatrefoil patterns are very indicative of the European influence. The building surfaces are now worn and weathered but at one time were covered with brightly painted stucco. I imagine that 300 years ago the church facade was quite a sight to see with vivid blues, golds, and reds painted in large geometric patterns. I am certain the locals and natives had never seen anything quite like it!

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After walking around the outside of this main building, we passed through the large decorative doors into the sanctuary of the church. It was simple, ornate, and quite beautiful (regular services are still held here). We walked the expansive grounds of the mission and explored the walled fortification that provided workshops, storage spaces, a granary, visitor lodging, and homes for the priests and Native Americans. There were also wells and stone ovens scattered throughout the property that gave me a hint of what life was really like inside these walls in the 1700s.

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After exploring the property, we headed to the Visitor Center (located outside the walls) and enjoyed the displays and artifacts. We also watched a 23 minute film in the park theater that told the history of this mission, the land, and the people. It was most interesting and I highly suggest taking the time to learn more about Mission San Jose’ to fully appreciate its history and purpose. I now understand more about the pageantry, art, food, celebrations, and architecture of San Antonio after seeing how the blending of Spanish and Indian cultures began here and created the “Tejano” culture that we know today.

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Mission San Jose’ is an expansive, well-maintained property that includes the historic mission and grounds, a book store, a visitor’s center, free parking, and restrooms. It is well worth a visit when in the San Antonio area. Very interesting!

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The five San Antonio Missions are actually part of the National Park Service and are also  UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  These missions represent the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America.  U.S. Park Rangers offer guided tours at Mission San Jose’  (check times at the visitor center).