Shooting Journal: Glacier National Park and Ninepipes Wildlife Preserve

Sitting on the lodge porch, watching the changing evening scenery over Lake McDonald. What a way to spend an early fall evening.

Glacier National Park, named not for its glaciers but because it was formed by glaciers, is in the northernmost part of Montana, bordering on the Canadian border. To the north is Waterton Park, both part of the International Peace Park, each with separate staff and budgets but with cooperation in some areas such as conservation and wildlife preservation. As we sat on that balcony, pink and gold clouds reflected in the lake, I heard another visitor say, " Denali, eat your heart out!" Everyone else, myself included, was going for their cameras to catch the moment as the sun was setting.

On the trails and around the Lodges, you see people with all sorts of cameras, more than I've seen in one place outside a camera club. We walked along the Avalanche Lake trail and enjoyed watching young men with huge lenses (apparently size does matter? ) defying death to get that perfect shot. This particular trail is considered an easy one but here, easy is a relative term. I carried my Nikon on my Sniper Strap and used a hiking stick, noticing that many hikers were using at least one. It truly was helpful as I am lately mobility challenged, hopefully temporarily. Despite this, the trail was manageable and full of shooting opportunities. The Avalanche Creek runs prettily beside it for part of the 2 plus miles each way. In some places, the creek gushes through narrows, landing in an aqua pool. My son was on a search for interesting fungi and was rewarded with a lot of them, some really photogenic. Since it was early September, there were few wild flowers but a lot of great old trees with interesting growth.

The rise was 500' over that distance, not overly taxing, and the reward at the end is Avalanche Lake itself, sitting at the base of looming mountains with narrow waterfalls dropping from the heights. There are places to sit along the lake's edge to rest up for the return and to take time to explore the surroundings. On a clear day, the mountains are apparently reflected in the water. Sadly, we didn't see the sun until we were almost at trail's end and I was using the cloudy setting for white balance. ISO was often at 400 due to hopes of seeing wildlife, but we were disappointed in that this trip. The trail head is off the Trail of the Cedars a 3 mile loop which is level and easily walkable, lovely in its own way. Huge old cedars that have uprooted themselves and were being used as backgrounds for shots of people measured against their size. These are nice shots for scale, especially. The trail picks up Avalanche Creek at the end of the aqua pool and there are memorable photos possibilities here.

Johns Lake Trail, three miles long, was also on the the easy list with the drawback of being poorly marked. Daniel Boone reportedly once said, when asked if he ever got lost," I've never been lost but I was bewildered once for three days." We were bewildered at times on this hike. We walked through a forest for some time before coming upon the lake which was hard to access due to really muddy conditions. However, there are areas in the lake full of plants that appear to be water lilies and the mountains make a beautiful background. In dry weather, it would be easier to see more of the lake but then the risk of wildfires is high and trails are sometimes closed because of them. Much too soon, we were back at the Going to the Sun Road, the only one through the park, wondering where the trail had gone. The thing to do, should you be similarly puzzled here, is to cross the bridge to the far side of McDonald Creek and turn left. This takes you, eventually, to a side road where you turn left again and walk down the road to reach the parking lot which you were sure you would never see again. That said, however, the walk along the creek is lovely with rapids and waterfalls, visually interesting geological features and colorful stones on the creek bottom. You can sit to enjoy the peace, since this trail is much less travelled that the Avalanche Lake Trail. During this hike, my ISO was still usually at 400 and the white balance at Auto due to the quickly changing light conditions.

We were fortunate to stay this visit in the Apgar Inn, located at the south end of Lake McDonald. There are only two floors, rooms are basic with few amenities aside from a flyswatter hanging on the door. But the view cannot be equalled. The second floor balcony runs along the length of the building and there are tables and chairs to sit and watch the lake with the mountains in the background. It seemed that every time we looked, the view had changed and it was always incredible, even on the day it rained. That day, we took a Red Bus tour throughout the whole park to the Many Glacier Lodge. While opportunities to use the camera were few, it was pretty interesting to get out for a rest room break at Logan Pass and find it windy and snowing at 30 degrees. The week after we left, we were told that Going to the Sun was already closed due to snow in the elevations.

On Rt. 93, heading south about 90 minutes and below Flathead Lake, the Ninepipes Wildlife Reserve has an access road that is worth taking. This Reserve was established in 1912 and the reservoir was used to irrigate the lands of the Kootenai and Salish tribes. Migrating birds often stop here but they were few during our visit. It's a worthwhile stop because of the peace. The scenery is only fields and water but they are lovely with clouds reflecting in the water and herons and Canada geese flying through. A mule deer ran far from the parking lot. We hardly spoke during our stop, just absorbing the calm, the quiet and the beautiful space. The day was typical good autumn weather for Montana with the cloudscape changing every few minutes from fluffy cumulus with sun to lowering darknes, wonderful images. Auto white balance again and 400 to 600 ISO to catch some of the birds in motion. I keep my camera on continuous shoot mode since I find it helps improve the chances of getting a good shot of the wildlife we encounter.

We're hoping to be able to return to this wonderful area again in a couple of years. There are so many things to see and do. Along Rt. 93, south of Ninepipes, is the National Bison Preserve. ww didn't go there this time but wildlife viewing is often really good there. Missoula, further south, is a great place to fly into and use as a base to explore the area. After numerous trips there, we feel we have only scratched the surface.

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

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McDonald Creek, Glacier National Park

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Ninepipes Wildlife Preserve 4

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Ninepipes Wildlife Preserve, Montana

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