Wednesday, July 27, 2011

She walks in beauty

I took 900 pictures in Glacier National Park this week, but that is not really a meaningful number because I take like five pictures of every subject to ensure that I will capture something worthwhile through my little old point-and-shoot camera. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. But, anyway, I didn't really take 900 pictures, I took something like 150 different pictures, six times each.

I think this is the only food picture I took, though. And by the only food picture, I mean, this is the best out of 30 that I took while dinner got cold for Jeff and me. As much as I like camp cooking, there's only so much you can do in the context of a nine-day trip where most of your food is sitting in a hot car all day in the middle of summer. How much can you do? Well, you can do couscous. And you can do lentils. You can do couscous with lentils. Lentil soup with couscous. Couscous soup with nothing else. Lentils, alone in a tortilla. And the piece de resistance: this quesadilla filled with both lentils and couscous. Hey, if refried beans and potatoes work, why not a different legume and a different starch?

The other 903 pictures were all of Glacier National Park's natural beauty, which makes Yosemite look like a ditch dug in someone's yard. Using a trowel, not even a real shovel. Seriously. Fields erupting in wildflowers, ageless gray glaciers hewn into rock walls almost too large for human conception, red stacks of stone weeping waterfalls to soak passing hikers, crunchy snow on a 90-degree afternoon in the middle of July. It was magical. The scale of its grandeur is impossible to capture in any photograph, impossible to tell in any number of words.

Luckily, this is not true for the grandeur of the Polebridge Mercantile, which is the size of a normal building and does nothing special other than produce perhaps the best baked goods that I've ever tasted in my life. Now, true, we were especially hungry that morning. But I'm not sure we would have ordered a spinach-cheese scone, a pecan roll, and three cookies had the smell of baked goods not enchanted us so thoroughly as we entered the Mercantile. And had those three choices not been so uniformly excellent--the scone exemplary, the pecan roll warm and actually dissolving on the tongue, the cookies filled with fresh tart huckleberries--I don't think we would have gone back in to order three more cookies and a warm bear claw that was simply bursting with fresh, creamy rainier cherries. All this from a building that didn't have electricity in the year 2009, situated in a town with one outhouse and maybe a baker's dozen people hanging around on a good day. Who would have thought? Outstanding.

Maybe this picture explains why we went for the scone, the bear claw, the six cookies, and the pecan roll. The day before we headed to Polebridge we hiked over the Siyeh Pass, which--given the early summer timing of our trip and the record-breaking snows that buffeted Glacier up until just a few weeks before our arrival--was not an easy proposition, not even with the ice axes that we'd rented earlier in the week. It was our last full day in Glacier, the weather was fantastic, we were in good spirits, thunderstorms had thwarted a few earlier hike attempts... so, of course, it seemed like a good idea to wake up at 5:30, strike the tent while brewing a fresh pot of Philz, chow down on a few spoonfuls of cold couscous salad from the night before, and go for broke. As some route-finding and some high-angle snow crossings were required (both, see above), I felt like this was a hike that pushed us just to the limits of our physical abilities. Which is why maybe we should have thought twice about proceeding on another strenuous, albeit less technical, 8-mile hike later in the day. Well, at least we got to see the chalet.

And at least we got pictures like this, even if we did have to sleep in the car because all the campsites filled up while we were eating a well-earned Montana Meatloaf (bison, bacon-wrapped) at the bar of the Belton Chalet. Given the choice between lentils and a tent or that meatloaf and a night in the Amtrak parking lot--well, I think I'd choose meatloaf every time. If you made it a burger at GrĂ¼ner, that would totally seal the deal (it really was all that).

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