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Disappearing Glaciers and Emerging Grizzlies – Glacier National Park, Montana

There are a lot of unique reasons to travel to Glacier National Park, which celebrates its 103rd birthday this year, including international relations, grizzlies and the last of those namesake glaciers.

World’s first International Peace Park

In 1932, Glacier National Park in the US and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada became the world’s first International Peace Park when they joined forces across the international border they share between Montana and British Columbia.

 Mountain reflection Swiftcurrent Lake- Glacier National Park

Soaring glacier-sculpted peaks reflected in Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park.

Clements Mountain Logan Pass- Glacier National Park

Clements Mountain as seen from Logan Pass, the summit of the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Disappearing glaciers

In the mid 19th century there were an estimated 150 active glaciers within the park’s 1,000,000 acre (405,000 hectare) boundaries. Today fewer than 30 active glaciers remain. Some scientists believe they could all be gone by 2020, so don’t just sit there.

Many Glaciers Hotel, a classic wooden lodge inside the park, is a comfortable, atmospheric and enormous place overlooking lovely Swiftcurrent Lake. But why do so many of our national park hotels make us think of The Shining?

Many Glaciers Hotel- Glacier National Park

Many Glaciers Hotel in Glacier National Park where, sadly, there are fewer and fewer glaciers.

Rowboat Swiftcurrent Lake -Glacier National Park

An aptly-named row boat on Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park.

Grinell Mountain Swiftcurrent Lake -Glacier National Park

Grinnell Mountain looming large behind Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park.

Minerals and sediment in the water that melts from the active glaciers that remain in the park still manage to turn the many mountain lakes an eerie milky turquoise color.

Turquoise Grinnell Lake -Glacier National Park

The distinctive milky turquoise color of Grinnell Lake is caused by melt water from Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park.

Grizzlies galore

In 2010, TV animal guy Jack Hanna used pepper spray to fend off a grizzly cub in Glacier National Park while hiking on the Grinnell Glacier trail. Though Hanna says he’s been carrying pepper spray on hikes for nearly two decades, that was the first time he’d ever used it.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2011 17 people were charged by grizzlies in Glacier National Park. We were certainly on the lookout for them when we hiked the popular Grinnel Glacier trail.

 Grinnell Glacier trail -Glacier National Park

Karen heading up Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park, an area also frequented by grizzlies.

As the steep trail curved and ascended up, up, up (it was extreme enough to inspire a bit of muscle-memory of our best treks in Nepal), we kept our eyes and ears open and one hand on our pepper spray.

Melting Grinnell Glacier -Glacier National Park

Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park

You can view a larger version of this panorama of Grinnell Glacier here

Waterfall Grinnell Glacier trail -Glacier National Park

Eric cooling off in cascading glacial melt during our hike up and down the Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park.

It wasn’t until we returned to the Many Glaciers Hotel and flopped down on the big patio that we saw a lone grizzly slowly munching her/his way across a hillside about 300 yards away from us. As happens when the word grizzly gets whispered, a crowd soon gathered.

Grizzly Bear Glacier National Park

A grizzly bear searching for food on a hillside very near Many Glaciers Hotel in Glacier National Park.

Sunset color, Ptarmigan WallGlacier National Park

Sunset over Ptarmigan Wall as seen from Many Glaciers Hotel in Glacier National Park.

It’s not a road, it’s an experience

Glacier National Park is also home to one of the most amazingly-engineered and romantically-named roads. The 50 mile (80 kilometer) Going to the Sun Road hugs the mountains, winds through tunnels and tops out at 6,646 foot 2,000 meter) Logan Pass, as it crosses the Continental Divide. It’s all even more spectacular when you realize that it was built, largely by hand, more than 75 years ago.

Sunset view Going to the Sun road -Glacier National Park

Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park is a thrill ride carved out by hand more than 75 years ago.

Waterfall dropping from Logan Pass -Glacier National Park

A waterfall dropping dramatically from Logan Pass is just one of the gorgeous vistas along the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Over the years the Going to the Sun Road has taken a beating from traffic and the harsh weather conditions. It’s now in the midst of a multi-year upgrade which has created closures, delays and some missing pavement, though the park hopes the full length of this spectacular road will be fully open for the busy summer season by June this year. For current road conditions and closures check out these real time road status updates.

Saint Mary Lake -Glacier National Park

Saint Mary Lake as seen from Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Hidden Lakes trail, Logan Pass -Glacier National Park

Hidden Lakes Trail at Logan Pass, the high point of the spectacular Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Flower meadow, Logan Pass -Glacier National Park

Logan Pass in full bloom in Glacier National Park.

Speaking of upgrades, this year park officials announced that their fleet of 33 iconic red buses with 1930s styling on modern chassis, which were last upgraded by Ford in 2002, would remain on the road for those visitors who don’t want to drive the road themselves.

TRAVEL TIP

The grizzlies are emerging from their winter dens right about now (April/May) so make plenty of noise as you hike. A startled bear is a cranky bear.

 

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100 Years of the Calgary Stampede – Calgary, Canada

They call the Calgary Stampede the richest rodeo in the world because it awards a million dollars in prize money. 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the annual event which is held every July. This got us reminiscing about our visit to the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” when we traveled to the Calgary Stampede early in our Trans-Americas Journey.

Calgary Stampede - Carnival Ride 100th anniversary

The Calgary Stampede isn’t just the world’s richest rodeo. It’s also a full-on fair with the rides and food to prove it.

Inside the Calgary Stampede

In addition to the rodeo events, the Calgary Stampede also features a whole concourse of carnival rides and all manner of fair food including the usual suspects (hello, corn dogs!) plus a local cult favorite called Mini Donuts—basically tiny, tiny donuts that everyone buys and eats the straight from the bag right before they get on a big, fast, spinning carnival ride. What could go wrong?

There’s also a beer garden, big-name concerts, ag displays and more.

Cowboys - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Cowboys commute to work at the Calgary Stampede.

Classic rodeo at the Calgary Stampede

The main attractions, for us, were the classic rodeo events during which we watched dozens of the best cowboys in the world compete for some of that famous Calgary Stampede prize money. We were amazed by the athletes both human and non human. Here are some photographic highlights from each event.

 

Bareback bronc riding

Bareback Riding - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

This amazing athlete leapt about four feet straight up into the air the moment the gate was opened. The cowboy was no slouch either.

Bareback Riding - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Good form…

Bareback Riding fall - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

…and bad form.

 

Bull riding

Bullriding - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

The bulls, mostly bred on the official Calgary Stampede farm, were huge and smart. In other words, very, very dangerous.

Bullriding Fall - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

We have no idea how this cowboy ended up in this position. We can tell you he got up and walked away.

Bullriding chase- Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Some of the bulls were just plain mean, too.

 

Saddle bronc riding

Saddle Bronc - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Bet you didn’t think horses could fly.

Saddle Bronc - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

That’s one way to dismount…

Saddle Bronc - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Everyone in the stands held their breath, wondering if this horse was going to fall over backward after this dramatic exit from the gates. It did not fall over and it’s moves just got more athletic and unbelievable as the ride continued.

Tie-down calf roping

Tie down calf roping - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

In this event you need a racehorse with anti-lock brakes.

The goal is to catch, rope and tie down a calf as quickly (under 10 seconds) and precisely as possible. These experts make it look easy as you can see in our animated gif, below.

Tie down calf roping motion gif - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Barrel racing

Barrel Racing - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Barrel racing is the only event at the Calgary Stampede in which women compete. Champion June Holeman, above, was 63 when we watched her win the event with this ride.

Barrel Racing competition - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

This barrel racer was narrowly beaten by veteran champion June Holeman during the Calgary Stampede.

 

Steer wrestling

Steer Wrestling competition - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

First, leap off a galloping horse then, literally, grab a steer by the horns.

Steer Wrestling - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Cowboys dig their heels into the ground and use them like brakes in order to stop and flip the steer.

 

Chuckwagon races

The biggest adrenaline rush of the entire Calgary Stampede came from a competition which isn’t, technically, a rodeo event. We’d never even heard of chuckwagon races but we were soon hooked.

Meant to recreate the important duties of traditional chuckwagons—the mobile kitchens which fed the pioneers heading west by covered wagon train—each modern-day chuckwagon racing team includes a smaller, lighter replica of a chuckwagon, a chuckwagon driver, a team of four thoroughbreds to pull the chuckwagon, a team of four outriders on four additional thoroughbreds, and a bunch of bits and pieces that represent the gear used in these mobile kitchens.

Chuckwagon Racing - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

We’d never even heard of chuckwagon races before we attended the Calgary Stampede. Now we’re huge fans of the history and controlled chaos of this event.

At the beginning of each race all four outriders from each chuckwagon team must dismount. One of them throws a barrel into the back of his team’s chuckwagon and another tosses in poles, a tarp and other gear. Then the chuckwagon speeds off as the four outriders re-mount on the gallop so the whole team of five men and 32 horses can fly through a figure eight course before thundering (the ground literally shakes) around an oval racetrack in a frantic bid to beat three other teams doing exactly the same things at exactly the same time.

Chuckwagon racing is (barely) controlled chaos as 15 men and 96 horses race around the track at the same time. Get a taste of what it looks like in our animated gif, below.

Chuckwagon Racing action - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

If you ask us, chuckwagon racing is the new extreme sport. But you can judge for yourself since we have plenty more action-packed Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon Race Photos.

Chuckwagon Racing Rangeland Derby - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

The ground shakes as teams push to the finish line in the chuckwagon racing event at the Calgary Stampede.

We were so inspired by the whole Calgary Stampede experience that Karen finally gave in to her decades-old desire for a pair of true cowboy boots. Since this is no faddish whim, we headed straight for the Alberta Boot Company. Listen, if they’re good enough to supply boots to the Canadian Mounties, they’re good enough for us. Karen is still wearing her Alberta Boot Company boots, by the way, and she gets compliments on them all the time.

Cowboy Boots - Calgary Stampede Rodeo 100th anniversary

Good luck picking a favorite from the hundreds of handmade styles at the Alberta Boot Company in Calgary.

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