Monday, August 19, 2013

Phosphorous Mountain

I wake up in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Butte, Montana. I fell asleep listening to the teenagers driving through talking about what to buy for the Saturday night parties that they were headed to. I’m grateful for being undisturbed by the staff all night and don’t wish to wear out my welcome by marching into the store, toothbrush in hand. So I decide to drive until I find an empty country road to park on and brush my teeth and rinse out my hair.

I see an exit for a town called Phosphate which by name and appearance seems like it should be abandoned and I take the exit. At the bottom of the ramp I see a few vans parks along the side of the road, doors open, boxes full of food and clothes stacked beside them. Further down there is a boy on the side of the road. He’s squatting, completely naked, next to the stop sign at the end of the ramp. As I pull up to the stop sign he glares at me with a look that’s an equal mixture of intense rage and intense concentration and I stare back trying to decide if I should just drive straight through and get back on the highway before this gets worse. I don’t get to make that decision as I see his mother walking over with a plastic bag over her hand; it’s worse.

I turn right and drive up the Phosphate Mountain road figuring if anyone is going to get shot by the farmer it’s these guys and not some poor guy brushing his teeth up on the mountain. It actually ends up being a pleasant drive on the gravel road up the mountain and I park next to a grassy field and do some work on my travel journal. 
The rest of the drive to Glacier National Park is pleasantly uneventful. North of Missoula I drive along Flathead Lake. The road is so close to the lake that the lakefront houses are dug into the bank below the road to get some bit of a feeling of solitude and quiet with the traffic rushing by. Marinas are built in side lakes connected by streams under the highway. The main lake is long and straight with few little fingers branching off; it would be a good place for sailing.
Glacier National Park is a range of mountains honed to knife edged peaks by the grinding of glaciers. The mountains are limestone, meaning that the stone was formed by deposition at the bottom of an ocean. This makes the stratification in the rocks very apparent and gives a feeling of movement as you see the peaks jutting up from different angles.
The main road in the park is the famous Going-to-the-Sun road and at sunset driving west you really are driving directly into the sun leaving you to hope you don’t go careening off a cliff after misreading a curve on the winding road. I stop up at Logan Pass at the highest point on the road to hike out to Hidden Lake as the sun sets. It’s an extremely popular trail and it has been built up with boardwalks and stairs up the incline and over the little streams that drain Clements Mountain. What I’ve found on this trip though is that as cheesy as the boardwalks are, popular trails have been built this way to make them more accessible because they lead to something extraordinary. So rather than avoiding the crowded trails I’ll hike them and enjoy the scenery along with everyone else; there’s plenty of time for a long quiet hike later.
As I get over the ridge to come into view of the lake I realize that people aren’t the only creatures that find it easier to travel on the boardwalk as I see a family of goats climbing the stairs up from the viewpoint. They seem to have become habituated to the presence of humans as they graze close to the trail as hikers walk by and photograph them. 

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