Friday, June 29, 2007

Rocky Mountain High

I have been reminiscing about life 25 years ago, when I drove cross-country for the first (and only) time and how I remember that the Rocky Mountains were a particularly magnificent sight. I can remember somewhere about 100 miles east of Denver you could get the first glimpse to the tops of the mountains on the horizon. And then it seemed to take hours to get to the base of the mountains.

I also recalled that when we drove back across southern Montana there were miles and miles of the “true Big Sky” country with these fantastic mountains interspersed between flat valley floors that would extend 70 – 100 miles. As you descended through a mountain pass you could look ahead to the east and see the location of the next pass. Between you and that pass lay 70 miles of flat, dead-straight roadbed. It was not a matter of miles but rather a matter of how long it took to get from one pass to another.

Well, northern Montana is nothing like this.

I was in the dining car having a wonderful conversation with Mary and Dan, two teachers from a private prep school in St. Paul, MN who are chaperoning a group of fifteen year olds on a trip to Glacier National Park. The couple has been doing this same trip for years and knew some of the dining car wait-staff personally. This was their second trip this summer; they had been out here just two or three weeks ago.

Dan had worked as a ranger here and his description of the park increased my curiosity and desire for more. This might be worth a return trip at some point.

By this evening we had been looking at flat and increasingly dryer terrain for 15 hours and it was getting pretty boring. There was a clear sense among my fellow travelers that we better get there soon – or else.

I finished dinner around 6:30 as the train started moving due west from Cut Bank. Dan explained that this was one of the largest Indian reservations in the state and that the scenery didn’t really offer much until we got further down the road. He was right.

Somewhere out east of Browning we got the first peek at the peaks and the passenger compartments began to buzz with excitement and anticipation. Unlike my experience 25 years ago we got to the mountains a lot quicker than I had expected; perhaps a combination of our 80 mph speed and the fact that the terrain is simply different here led to this phenomena. Then again time seems to move more quickly the older you get.

The landscape changed most abruptly as we climbed the foothills. There were actually very few foothills per se; we were almost instantly “in the mountains.”

I snapped as many photos as I could – hoping that the movement of the train would not blur all of them.

We stopped at the east side of the park first at a location called East Glacier and I could see the stately old lodge off in the distance surrounded by a legion of 1930’s vintage tour busses painted a bright red. Someone was polishing the hood of one apparently getting ready to drive over to the station to meet our train.

I watched with some jealously as Dan and Mary and their brood of teenagers exit the train and head toward the station. Nice life; nice spot.

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