Only the first step or two were tentative.
We stared at the steps before us, Melanie and I did, a bit unsure of our next move. Shot Canyon is steep-walled Cedar Mesa sandstone; there is no other entry. Basque herdsmen in the 1890s constructed a way for their sheep to access water in the canyon bottom, and these (*cough*) stairs are still in use.
Above Shot Canyon on a perfect September day
120 years ago some guy stacked a base layer of rocks on slanty sandstone, and then layered step after step upward. Hikers gingerly (not knowing the lifespan of a sheep stairway) descend the narrow steps, cross the bare area, land on the slab rocks atop the log, and descend further to the second, less-sketchy, stairway below. All this while five hours’ difficult drive from the nearest human being, should anything go wrong.
Ranger Kathryn in her beloved Maze District of Canyonlands Nat’l Park
Can you see the happy park ranger* smiling to be out in the wilderness? She is happy because at 0124 that morning, under a nearly-full moon, a rare Spotted Owl hooted her awake. And she is happy because she’s ready to go down some clever steps and explore a place she’s never seen before. It doesn’t get much better than this!
Where was the last dangerous staircase you used? How did you feel? Leave a comment, please!
*Disguised as a volunteer this season, as you can see by my hat.
Bearhat Mountain is a giant in the landscape at Logan Pass
Mountain goats frequent the Logan Pass trails
Low clouds drape themselves over the mountains surrounding Swiftcurrent Lake
One way to tell a grizzly from a black bear is its claws, 2-4 inches long. (Half that for a black bear.) Honestly, I hope never to see one that close.
Red Rock Falls, Many Glacier area, Glacier National Park
The dashboard clock read 0423 as we rolled up to the entrance of the Many Glacier campground and its 109 sites. In the inky pre-dawn of mid-August, we waited sleepily for rangers to show up several hours later to assign the available first-come-first-served sites, of which there are typically 15-20 daily. We were not the first car there.
It has come to this because demand far exceeds supply. Reservable campgrounds exist, but spontaneous souls who long to snag a last-minute campsite in the heart of Glacier must forfeit part of a night’s sleep to occupy a place in line. (I might add that this arrangement is far superior to the more typical “Campground Combat” method of circling for hours, pouncing on folks as they emerge from their tent, and hovering nearby the site until it’s free.)
We heard some vociferous complainers in line, demanding to know why they couldn’t ‘just get a site’ as they did in other places, forgetting that our national parks were created in an era of far fewer visitors. The answer is not as simple as building more campgrounds; you then need even more parking, toilets, grocery stores, gas stations, ice, showers, laundry, employees, etc. No easy solutions exist but I’d love to hear your thoughtful suggestions in the Comments section.
Truth be told — with a grizzly encounter, iceberg-strewn lake, thimbleberries galore, with smell of boreal forest, with bright starlit nights over alpine lakes… it was worth losing a few hours of sleep. Many Glacier will always be a brilliant gem in “The Crown of the Continent.”