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I grew up in the shadow of Glacier National Park. Every year my family would make their annual pilgrimage on Going-to-the-Sun Highway and every year I never fully appreciated the beauty and majesty of the park until I moved to Texas. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Texas as there is no state like the Lone Star State but the mountains were a part of my soul and I missed them. I missed the winter days when the air was crisp and biting, the sky was a robin egg blue and snow on the mountains sparkled like a Tiffany diamond. During the summer you always knew you could escape to the cool of the forest or dip your toes in a glacier-fed lake. Autumn was my favorite season as the air took on a softness and the ghosts of the First Peoples would dance in the warm fall breeze and their colorful beading would rub off and turn the leaves shades of crimson, gold and pumpkin. This was my Montana and it would always call me home.

 

Glacier National Park
“Crown of the Continent,” “Backbone of the World” and “Shining Mountains” are some of the names used to describe this national park that encompasses more than a million acres. For hundreds of years aboriginal tribes crossed through Glacier Park to reach the bison on the east side and the Kootenai tribe called Lake McDonald “The Place Where They Dance.” This park has held a cultural and spiritual significance for the many tribes and is a place of unimaginable beauty and ruggedness. The terrain was carved by mother nature’s hand during the force of the Ice Age and today more than 25 active glaciers remain in the park, as well as breath taking 400-foot waterfalls, stunning rock cliffs and sweeping vistas that are every photographer’s dream. Black bears as well as brown bears (called grizzlies) call this place home, and while they do not congregate in one particular area they can still be found on hikes and trails much to the consternation of the Park Service. Grizzlies are of a special concern and I would call them grumpy. Never did a summer go by that someone didn’t have a run in with one of them that was occasionlly tragic for the tourist. Unlike the coast of Alaska, where the food source for bears is abundant with salmon and berries, the grizzlies of Montana have it rougher and a hungry bear is a stressed bear. Go to Glacier Park for the beauty of seeing mountains and glaciers in all their ordained glory and if you happen to see a bear in the wild, then that would be the icing on a memorable vacation.

 

Yellowstone National Park
It is appropriate that Yellowstone was the world’s first National Park as she has held a special place in the hearts of people. There aren’t too many places where you can view a volcano’s hidden power rising up in awe-inspiring geysers, psychedelic hot springs or geologic wonders. Watch the drama as Mother Nature puts on a show and the supporting actors are bears, wolves, elk, bison and bighorn sheep. There are countless trails to explore in the 34,375 square miles of one of the largest nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on earth. Visit Yellowstone National Park and be safe by adhering to the Park Service’s signs that say stay on the trail. They are there for your safety as this is an active thermal site and what looks like a solid crust you can walk on actually disguises a dangerous hot spring that will kill you if you fall in. Also beware of young animals such as bison or bears. Often the mother is nearby foraging for food and you do the animal a great disservice by thinking it is abandoned and hauling it to a ranger station. Appreciate the animals from a distance, look with your eyes not with your hands and keep Yellowstone pristine for many generations.

 

Suzanne Graber Alvarez
 

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