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Wildfires force evacuation of Essex, but most of Glacier Park open for recreation

WILDFIRES — The Flathead County Sheriff ordered a mandatory evacuation of Essex, Montana, and the surrounding area on Thursday because of increased activity on the Sheep Fire in the Thompson Complex fires near Glacier National Park.

Highway 2 is closed today between mileposts 176.8 and 185 around Essex. See updates here.  Firefighters are working to protect Essex.

BNSF trains and Amtrak are running intermittently.

Meamwhile, most of Glacier National Park is open to recreation as the Thompson Fire continues to burn in remote south-central backcountry about 15 miles east of the West Glacier entrance in the Thompson and Nyack drainages west of the Continental Divide.  

Limited backcountry closures are in place. Specific visitor information is available on the park's website.

Glacier Park fire reminds hikers, campers to have a Plan B

WILDFIRES — An expanding fire that recently broke out in Glacier National Park is a prime example of why hikers and campers need to call ahead, browse the Web and stay tuned in to the impact wildfires might have on their plans.

Heck, just getting to the North Cascades on Interstate 90 has been a hassle this week because of wildfire-caused highway closures near George.

The Newby Lake Fire in the Pasayten Wilderness of northcentral Washington has been blocking access to the popular Horseshoe Basin area for weeks. Although that closure could end soon, firefighters have responded to 14 fires after some 150 lightning strikes blanketed the area northeast of Tonasket Sunday night.

Fires are burning in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and other notable areas.  And in this drought year, more are sure to come.

The Blue Creek Fire in the Blue Mountains has prompted trail closures on the Walla Walla Ranger District for public and firefighter safety. Forest Road 6400 (Skyline Road) from the junction of Forest Road 4600 to the junction of Forest Road 6500 is temporarily closed.

But Glacier Park is the most notable hot spot this week.  Here's the latest information, just received:

The Reynolds Creek Wildland Fire on the east side of Glacier National Park is estimated at 2,000 acres.  

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed between the St. Mary entrance on the east side and Big Bend on the west side. 

The St. Mary Campground is being evacuated.  The campground has approximately 148 sites.   

The Rising Sun Motor Inn, operated by Glacier National Park Lodges, and the Rising Sun Campground were evacuated Tuesday evening. 

The St. Mary Visitor Center will close to the public at 12 p.m. today, July 22.  It will be used as a fire staging area.  The duration of the closure is unknown at this time. 

Park rangers and personnel are searching for backcountry hikers in the area to evacuate them and direct them to safety.   The parking areas of the St. Mary Visitor Center and the Apgar Visitor Center have been established as gathering areas for park visitors that may have been separated from their group.  

The park is assisting visitors retrieve their vehicles that were left along the Going-to-the-Sun Road yesterday due to fire activity in the area.  One vehicle was consumed by the fire.    

The fire is moving quickly in heavy timber with extreme spread potential.  The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning in effect from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. today for Glacier National Park.  This warning means that critical fire weather conditions are anticipated, including strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures.  These conditions may create explosive fire growth potential. 

Preplanning is being conducted for possible evacuation in the St. Mary area.   National Park Service personnel are working in cooperation with Glacier County Sheriff’s Office and Blackfeet Emergency Management. 

All interpretive programs in the St. Mary Valley are cancelled until further notice. There is a temporary flight restriction over the fire area. 

A fire information phone line has been established at 406-732-7791. 

Glacier Park’s ‘Sun Road’ ready for motor vehicles

PARKS — Although bicyclists have been pedaling to Logan Pass on freshly plowed blacktop for three weeks, vehicle access from the west side to the top of Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road is set to open Friday, June 12.

The entire route through the Montana park should be open by June 19.

Following are details from a just-posted park media release:

WEST GLACIER, MONT. – Vehicle access to Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road from the west side of Glacier National Park is anticipated to be available tomorrow morning, Thursday, June 11. Park road crews have finished snow removal, debris clean-up, guard rail installation, and facility preparation, as well as assessing snow conditions.  Vehicle access to Logan Pass from the east side of the park is scheduled to be available June 19 due to road rehabilitation work. 

Services at Logan Pass will include restroom facilities and potable water.  The Logan Pass Visitor Center will not be open until June 19.  At that time it will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., including a bookstore managed by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.  

There are two areas along the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road near Rim Rock, just below Oberlin Bend, that visitors will need to drive with caution.  Approximately 200 feet of masonry guard walls were destroyed by avalanches this past winter and temporary barriers have been installed creating a narrow two-lane roadway.

Through June 19, crews will be working near Triple Arches, located approximately two miles below Logan Pass on the west side.  One-lane traffic will be implemented during this time.  Flaggers will direct traffic during the day and traffic control lights will be used nights and weekends.  Crews will be completing some of the detail masonry work on the footing areas. 

Visitors will discover a snow-covered landscape at Logan Pass. Cold temperatures and wind, as well as icy conditions, may be encountered. Be aware of snow walls along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and hazardous snow bridges near the Big Drift. Standing or walking on snow along the road is strongly discouraged.

Trails near Logan Pass will be covered in snow and visitors should exercise caution when hiking. Be aware of unseen holes in the snow and snow bridges that exist. Avoid crossing steep, snow-covered slopes where a fall could be disastrous. Visitors should have the appropriate equipment and skills if hiking on snow.

The Highline Trail from Logan Pass is closed due to snow conditions.

Click here for current status reports on park trails.

Going to the Sun by bike, behind the Glacier Park plows

BICYCLING — Memorial Day weekend 2015 offered the rare opportunity to for cyclists to pedal all the way up Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road in the fourth weekend of May.

This year's low snowpack allowed crews to clear the snow off the road earlier than normal all the way to Logan Pass.

But bicyclists owned the road. Crews had not yet finished snow removal on top and on the east side of the pass, so motorized traffic was still prohibited.  Some cyclists were hauling skis and snowboards to make turns on the corn snow slopes near the pass.

Jim and Sandii Mellen of Sandpoint joined some friends and made the most of the holiday weekend opportunity, riding to the pass TWICE, not to mention day-hiking into Sperry Chalet.

Said Jim:

(Road) is plowed to the pass and beyond about 200 yards. Looks like they might only have about 100 yards to go to meet the east side.  I heard that Going to the Sun Road will not be open to vehicles for another 2 weeks. They still have a lot of guard rails to re-install.

Be sure to click all the way through Jim Mellen's photos (above) to see the wildlife treat at the end. 

Glacier Park rarely disappoints.

What did you do outdoors for your holiday getaway?

Photo: Northern lights frame Glacier Park - whoa!

NIGHT SKIES — Wherever you're headed outdoors this holiday weekend, I hope Nature leaves the Lights on for you.

Glacier Park grizzly shooter case dismissed

WILDLIFE — The case against a Texas man accused of illegally discharging a firearm in Glacier National Park this summer, when he shot a grizzly bear he said was charging him, went no further than his not-guilty plea in a federal court late last month, the Missoulian reports

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has dismissed the charge against 57-year-old Brian D. Murphy.

The charge was dismissed with prejudice, meaning a final determination has been made based on the merits of the case. Murphy cannot be re-charged at a later date, reports Vince Devlin.

Here's the rest of Devlin's report;

Murphy’s attorney, Jason T. Holden of Great Falls, called it a “perfect scenario to have a case dismissed with prejudice.”

“The government did the right thing because Mr. Murphy did the right thing,” Holden said, adding that Murphy “had every right to act in defense of his life.”

Holden described his client as a part-time Montana resident who spends summers in the state, and is “an avid hiker and photographer with great respect for our national parks, their resources and wildlife.”

Murphy, he said, did not fire his .357 revolver until the charging bear – a grizzly, Holden said DNA tests later confirmed – was 7 to 10 feet away, and not until bear spray discharged when the animal was 15 to 25 feet away failed to deter it.

The wounded bear was never located. DNA samples were obtained from blood and fur at the scene.

***

Murphy was hiking the Mount Brown Lookout Trail, one of Glacier’s most challenging, on Saturday, July 26.

Although he was hiking alone, which park officials advise against, Murphy was wearing bear bells and packing bear spray, Holden said, and also “yelping” to warn any bears in the area of his approach, and because he was aware other hikers were behind him on the trail.

“When Mr. Murphy first saw the bear it was running down a hill toward the other hikers,” Holden said. “He yelled, ‘Bear!’ to warn them, and as soon as he yelled, the bear turned and came straight at him.”

Murphy first discharged his bear spray using his left hand, and when that didn’t stop the animal, fired with the .357 in his right hand, according to Holden.

“The bear fell back and was motionless,” Holden said. Murphy “withdrew and double-timed it out of there, taking the two hikers who were behind him with him. He stopped everyone else on the trail, too, told the first ranger he came to what had happened, and fully and voluntarily cooperated with rangers.”

When rangers arrived at the scene the grizzly was gone, but there was evidence it had been wounded. Murphy turned his revolver over to rangers, who reported it contained five unspent rounds and one spent casing.

***

While a 2010 federal law makes it legal to carry firearms in national parks, it remains illegal to discharge one in many of them, including Glacier.

Murphy was not charged by park rangers with the misdemeanor, which carries a $500 fine, until nearly two months later.

Holden appeared on his behalf in West Glacier on Sept. 26 to enter the not-guilty plea in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong.

“I informed the court we would raise the affirmative defense of self-defense, and after we presented our case to the government, they agreed it was an appropriate case to dismiss with prejudice,” Holden said.

Michael S. Lahr, an assistant U.S. attorney in Helena, filed the motion to dismiss the charge with prejudice. Strong granted the motion Thursday.

Lahr did not return a message Tuesday seeking comment.

“In a situation such as Mr. Murphy’s, where his life was in mortal danger, he has a right to defend his life,” Holden said. “That is not against the law, and that’s why the government dismissed this case.”

“I don’t want to give the wrong impression,” he went on. “You can’t willy-nilly fire a gun in a national park – you can’t. You can’t if a bear is 50 feet from you. But this was a full, straight-on charge and attack.”

It’s winter high in Glacier Park; Sun Road closed

NATIONAL PARKS — Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road continues to be closed today after winter-like conditions shrouded the high country earlier this week.

Be ready for anything when heading to the mountains.

Record number of visitors to Glacier park in July

PUBLIC LANDS — National Park Service officials say July 2014 was the busiest that Glacier National Park has ever seen.

The park service’s statistics office says nearly 700,000 people visited the northwestern Montana park last month.

The previous record for July was just shy of 690,000, in 1983.

The statistics office keeps monthly visitation records going back to 1979.

The park’s year-to-date visitor count is 1.2 million, which is nearly 5 percent higher than this time a year ago.

However, the number of people staying overnight declined 5.3 percent, and overnight stays in the backcountry dropped 15 percent.

Backpacker gives grizzly bear right-of-way on Highline Trail

HIKING — This amazing photo of a hiker retreating to a precarious position on a steep, steep, slope to avoid a grizzly bear on Glacier National Park's Highline Trail was published in The Spokesman-Review on Aug. 2, but only in one edition.

I'm re-posting for those of you who may not have seen it.

Montana photographer Philip Granrud captured the image of a North Carolina man's close call with a grizzly bear while hiking along the trail, which has a dropoff on one side and a vertical cliff on the other.

Everything turned out fine for the hiker and the bear.

Here's a TV video interview with the photographer, including some of his other bear photos from years of cruising through Glacier Park

Here's the Missoulian story about the incident that presented the photo op above.

 

Glacier Park warns hikers of hazardous high country travel

HIKING — While I'm writing an upcoming Sunday Outdoors story on a similar topic, Glacier National Park is warning hikes to be prepared for dealing with hazardous snowfields at high elevations even in lake July after a week of very warm weather.

Here's a lot of good information to review, especially if you're headed to one of the most stunning parks on the continent:

Several of Glacier National Park’s high elevation hikes are open to the public, but snow and snow hazards remain in many areas. 

Hikers should be wary of snowfields and steep areas in the higher elevations. Snow bridges may exist, and hard to identify.  A snow bridge may completely cover an opening, such as a creek, and present a danger.  It may create an illusion of unbroken surface while hiding an opening under a layer of snow, creating an unstable surface.  

It is important to know the terrain you are about to hike or climb, and carry the appropriate equipment.  When hiking may include snowfield travel, visitors should know how to travel in such challenging conditions, including knowing how to use crampons and an ice axe.  It is recommended to have layers of clothing available, appropriate footwear, including boots with lug soles, a map, first-aid kit, water and food.  Always communicate to someone your planned route of travel and your expected time of return. 

  • There are over 700 miles of trails in Glacier National Park providing a variety of hiking opportunities.  During July and August many of the more popular trails can be crowded.  Visitors are encouraged to consider a lesser used trail or more remote trail during this time.  See more information about hiking options and trail status.

Caution should be used near rivers and streams, as water may be extremely cold, and running swift and high. Avoid wading or fording in swift moving water, as well as walking, playing and climbing on slippery rocks and logs. 

The Highline Trail is open, but snow remains past Haystack Butte. Strong hiking skills and snow travel skills, as well as the appropriate equipment, are recommended.  

The Ptarmigan Tunnel is open.  Stock access to Iceberg/Ptarmigan Trail is prohibited due to a temporary bridge that allows foot traffic, but it is not suitable for stock. 

The park’s shuttle system is serving hikers on the east side of the park.  It is free, and the shuttle has stops along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Due to road rehabilitation activities on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, parking to access the St. Mary, Virginia and Barring Falls areas is very challenging and the shuttle system may be a convenient alternative.   

Black bears and grizzly bears are common in Glacier Park.  Hikers are encouraged to hike in groups, carry bear spray that is easily accessible, and make noise at regular intervals along the trail.  Bears spend a lot of time eating, so hikers should be extra alert while in or near feeding areas such as berry patches, cow parsnip thickets, or fields of glacier lilies.  Hiking early in the morning, late in the day, or after dark is not encouraged.  Trail running is not recommended as it has led to surprise bear encounters. 

See more information about recreating in bear country.   

Finally, Glacier Park’s “Sun” road set to open

NATIONAL PARKS – Postponed by a late storm and flooding, the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is expected to be open to vehicle travel by this weekend, allowing access to Logan Pass.

While most snow removal efforts are being completed and snow above the road is being monitored and removed, road crews continue to sweep debris from the Going-to-the-Sun Road, install removable guard rails and road signage, and prepare the Logan Pass Visitor Center and area for opening. 

The park’s free, optional shuttle system that provides shuttle services along the Going-to-the-Sun Road will continue limited operations to The Loop on the west side, until the entire length of the road opens.

The west-side vehicle closure remains at Avalanche and the east-side closure remains at Jackson Glacier Overlook. Closures will continue at their respective locations until the entire length of the road is open to vehicle travel.

Hiker-biker access on the west side of the park is currently available from Avalanche to Bird Woman Overlook. There is no hiker-biker access on the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road due to road rehabilitation work.   

  • Get information on the shuttle system,visit . 
  • Click here for current information on park roads, weather conditions, and visitor services.

Lightning: flashy way to die outdoors

OUTDOOR SAFETY — Name the safest place to seek refuge if you are outdoors and a lighting storm moves in?

  • Answer: An automobile — totally safe, unless a tree blows down on top of you.

This is Lightning Awareness Week, so be aware.  Sure, you can't bail out of the wilderness every time a thunder storm rolls in, but you can minimize risk by checking weather reports and getting very early starts on ventures into the high ridges so you can return to safer areas or your car by the time thunder activity begins, usually in the afternoon.

Check the attached document for some solid background on lighting safety.


Documents:

Lingering snow delays Glacier Park opportunities

PUBLIC LANDS — Be patient if you're making plans to visit Glacier National Park, especially if you want to venture into the high country.

Snow conditions, cool weather, and debris from snow slides are challenging some spring opening operations for trails, facilities and roads in Glacier National Park.  Snow accumulations in the park are above average this year and spring snowmelt has varied at different locations. 

A weather system is predicted to impact the area beginning tonight through the next couple of days, including cooler temperatures and heavy precipitation.  At this time, a winter storm warning has been issued in and around Glacier National Park for elevations above 6,500 feet with predictions of snow accumulations of one to two feet.   The elevation at Logan Pass is 6,646 feet. 

Numerous trails in Glacier National Park are still snow-covered. Park staff report damage to trails and backcountry campsites due to snow slides and large amounts of avalanche debris.

  • The Ptarmigan Falls Bridge and Twin Falls Bridge have been removed due to winter damage and hazardous conditions. Temporary bridges are expected to be installed by early July.
  • The Iceberg Lake Trail is closed to stock use until permanent repairs to the Ptarmigan Falls B ridge are complete.  Permanent repair work on both bridges is anticipated to begin this fall.
  • Trout Lake Trail has been impacted by extensive avalanche debris.  Hikers are not encouraged to use this trail, or it is recommended that hikers have route-finding skills to traverse the debris. 

Trails may traverse steep and sometimes icy snowfields and park rangers are advising hikers to have the appropriate equipment and skills to navigate such areas, or perhaps visit those areas once conditions improve. 

The park posts current trail status reports.

Even some lowland facilities have been affected by the late season. Frozen and damaged sewer and water lines caused some delays in seasonal opening activities for utilities park-wide.

  • Rising Sun and the Swiftcurrent cabin areas experienced damaged water lines.
  • The Apgar and Lake McDonald areas experienced issues with frozen sewer lines, and some broken water lines.
  • The Cutbank, Many Glacier and Two Medicine Campgrounds experienced delayed openings due to abundant snow accumulation and slow snow melt.   

The Going to the Sun Road is still being cleared by snow removal crews. A snow slide in the Alps area of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, about five miles west of Logan Pass, wiped out about 20-30 feet of rock wall along the road.  Several new slide paths across the road have been encountered this spring, including the need for extensive snow and debris cleanup.    

Snow removal operations on the Going-to-the-Sun Road continue with road crews working near the Big Drift and Lunch Creek areas east of Logan Pass. Above average snow accumulation and cool June temperatures have provided challenges for snow removal operations. The snow depth at the Big Drift is estimated to be about 80 feet, larger than recent years.  Once the snow is removed, a thick layer of ice on the road is anticipated. 

Park road crew employees have begun working overtime in an effort to accomplish snow removal goals.

Snow removal and plowing progress, including images, are posted online.

  • Currently, visitors can drive about 16 miles from the West Entrance to Avalanche on the west side of the park, and one mile from the St. Mary Entrance to the foot of St. Mary Lake on the east side. It is anticipated that there will be vehicle access to the Jackson Glacier Overlook area on the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road by this weekend, but it is dependent on weather conditions.  Vehicle access to Logan Pass, and beyond Avalanche on the west side of park, is unknown at this time. 

Hiker-biker access is currently available from Avalanche to the Loop on the west side, and from St. Mary to Rising Sun on the east side. See current hiker-biker access and park road status reports.  

Grizzly bear dies in fall in Glacier National Park

WILDLIFE WATCHING  — The death of a grizzly bear in Glacier National Park is a reminder to hikers and climbers that spring and summer trekking across steep snowfields can be hazardous.

 A member of the Glacier Park road crew found a male grizzly bear dead on Going-to-the-Sun Road on Thursday morning.

An initial investigation by the National Park Service indicated the bear, one of about 300 grizzlies in the park, probably fell onto the road from a steep snowbank.

A necropsy revealed the 190-pound bear suffered head injuries, broken ribs and other internal injuries consistent with a fall. Park officials say the terrain above where the bear fell includes a steep snowbank, some steep cliffs and a drop of approximately 12 feet.

Glacier’s ‘Sun Road’ open to hikers, bikers

NATIONAL PARKS — Bikers and hikers heading to Glacier National Park are lucky dogs this holiday weekend: The Going to the Sun Road as far as it is plowed toward Logan Pass is all yours; no motor vehicles allowed.

Check the park's website for more information.

Check the park's Flickr website for updated photos of the plowing work on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  

 

 

Avalanches delay Glacier Park plowing progress

PUBLIC LANDS — Although hikers and walkers can advance farther beyond gates, snow-plowing crews have been able to open only 12.5 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. The process of opening the famous road over Logan Pass is being slowed by numerous avalanches.

 Visitors can drive 11.5 miles from the West Entrance to Lake McDonald Lodge, and 1.0 miles from the St. Mary Entrance to Foot of St. Mary Lake.

From McDonald Lodge, hikers and bikers can access another 10 miles of road, depending on where the plow crews are working. On weekends there are no restrictions for hikers and bikers. Plow crews are currently working 10-hour shifts Tuesday through Friday. There is currently no vehicle or hiker and biker access on the east side.  

See daily updates and photos at the Glacier Park Website.

Plow crews on Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road are slowly clawing their way to Logan Pass in their annual effort to open Northwest Montana’s most notable summer attraction. As of Monday, the west side plow crew had advanced to Russ’ Slide, just past The Loop, about six miles short of Logan Pass. Meanwhile, on the east side, plow crews were wrapping up their work in the Two Medicine Valley and expected to start plowing the Sun Road east from St. Mary this week.

Park spokesperson Denise Germann said while snow depths have been below the record setting amounts in 2011, plow crews are contending with another danger: avalanches. There are more than 70 avalanche chutes along the Sun Road.

“They’re seeing a lot of snow and a lot of slides this year,” Germann said. “But we’ve seen a lot of avalanche activity all across western Montana this year.”
                                                

Glacier among 401 national parks reopened today

PUBLIC LANDS — Glacier National Park in Montana is open and welcoming visitors today after a 16-day federal government shutdown that closed all national parks across the country. 

All 401 national parks that have been closed since Oct. 1 are being reopened today, including the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.

At Glacier, approximately 250 park employees were furloughed during the shutdown while 20-30 employees continued to work during the shutdown to manage the park closure and provide for protection of federal lands, waterways, buildings, equipment and other property owned within park.     

The park’s website and social media sites were reactivated today and barricades at park entrances and throughout the park were removed.   

Park road crews began monitoring roads, including conducting a sweep of the Going-to-the-Sun Road to clean debris/rocks from the road.   When the road is clear of debris, public access will be available to Big Bend through Sunday, Oct. 20. 

Apgar, Bowman Lake, Kintla Lake, Quartz Creek and St. Mary Campgrounds are open to primitive camping.

The Apgar Visitor Center is open every weekend, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Info: 406-888-7800.  

Snow closes Glacier Park’s Logan Pass temporarily

PARKS — The first serious bout of winter-like weather has temporarily closed Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road today at The Loop on the west side of the park.  

Weather conditions along the higher elevations of the Going-to-the-Sun Road today have included very windy conditions — 30-40 mph at Big Bend — slush and icy conditions on the road, cloudy and limited visibility, and snow accumulations of more than 8 inches at Logan Pass.

Camping conditions suck.

93YO Glacier Ranger May Retire

At 93 years old, Glacier National Park Ranger Lyle Ruterbories is contemplating retirement from his seasonal position at Kintla Lake Campground, but isn’t ready to make it official just yet. Ruterbories has worked as the  Kintla Lake Campground seasonal park ranger for the past 20 years. Prior to that he’d been volunteer campground host with his late wife Marge Ruterbories since the late 1980s. Kintla Lake Campground is the most remote frontcountry campground in Glacier National Park. Located in the northwest section of the park known as the North Fork, only a few miles from the U.S.-Canada border, visitors often come to Kintla Lake seeking solitude and recreational opportunities such as fishing or canoeing/SR, AP. More here. (AP photo)

Question: Have you ever camped at Glacier National Park?

Friends Warned Glacier Park Victim

A groomsman in Cody Lee Johnson’s wedding warned him not to marry Jordan Linn Graham, who authorities now say pushed her husband of one week off a cliff in Glacier National Park. “Their interaction with each other, it didn’t seem like a happy, loving relationship that you would normally see. It was just very awkward, I guess,” said Cameron Fredrickson, who knew Johnson since 2006. “She was just very distant and reserved,” said Fredrickson, who worked with Johnson at Nomad Global Communication Solutions in Kalispell. On Monday, federal authorities took 22-year-old Graham into custody under a criminal complaint that contends she killed Johnson just days after their wedding, during an argument on a trail near Glacier’s iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road/Alice Miller, Missoulian. More here. (Daily Inter Lake file photo: Dillon Tabish)

Question: Have you ever watched as a friend married someone s/he shouldn't?

Hikers in 3 national parks felled by lightning

HIKING — Thunder storms throughout the West this week took a heavy toll, setting fires and raising havoc in several ways.  

The strangest detail:   Hikers in three national parks were injured or killed within a 30-hour period.

See the stories about this week's lightning strike victims in:

Read this story about the serious threat lightning poses and precautions hikers and campers can take.

Slip on snow kills Washington hiker in Glacier Park

HIKING — A Washington man hiking early season in Glacier National Park slipped on a snowfield and fell about 100 feet to his death on Wednesday.

Charles Fred Huseman of Packwood died from trauma suffered in the fall from the Highline Trail, which was still closed because of the snow patches leading to steep dropoffs.

Witnesses told park rangers that Huseman was hiking the trail when he slid on a snow field and fell, landing along the Going-to-the-Sun Road about a mile west of Logan Pass. Huseman died at the scene. 

Comment:  An ice ax is essential equipment for hiking high slopes and passes early in the season.

Going to the Sun Road opens in Glacier Park

NATIONAL PARKS — The entire 50 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is open as of 8:30 a.m. this morning.

See map for highlights of the scenic route over Logan Pass.

Additional information on park roads, weather conditions, and visitor services can be found on Glacier National Park’s website, or by calling park headquarters at 406-888-7800. 

Finally! Plows make Logan Pass accessible in Glacier Park

NATIONAL PARKS – Access to Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park will be available to vehicle traffic from the east-side of the park the morning of Saturday, June 15, weather dependent.

Vehicles on the west-side of the park can travel as far as Avalanche Creek. All 50 miles of the road is anticipated to be open to vehicle travel by Friday, June 21 at the earliest.

Read on for details.

Going to the Sun Road plowing opens route for bikes

NATIONAL PARKS — Now through the next couple of weeks or so will be prime time for bicyclists to explore portions of Glacier Park's Going to the Sun Highway.

While plowing is underway from both sides toward Logan Pass, motorized traffic is prohibited but bicycles are allowed.

Currently 29.0 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are open for travel.
Visitors can drive 15.5 miles from the West Entrance to Avalanche, and 13.5 miles from the St. Mary Entrance to Jackson Glacier Overlook.

Get updates here.

See photos of the brave equipment operators plowing the steep avalanche slopes toward Logan Pass.

San Juans Islands, Glacier Park on Lonely Planet’s list

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — Two premier outdoor recreation areas within a day’s access from Spokane are listed among the Lonely Planet's Top 10 U.S. Destinations for 2013.

The San Juan Islands are No. 3 on the list and dubbed “The Gourmet Archipelago.” The writer notes the three main islands – San Juan, Orcas and Lopez – support two vineyards, a lavender farm, an alpaca ranch and weekend farmers’ markets that ply everything from artichokes to marionberries.”

From the outdoor recreation angle, the islands are standouts for bicycling, sailing and sea kayaking. “Hop on a bike, explore the beaches and enjoy the scenery, but be sure to eat!” the author says, noting several fine restaurants.

Glacier National Park is ranked No. 10 — perhaps a little low from a outdoor enthusiast's point of view, but that’s just as well, considering the Lonely Planet’s top 10 list is viewed by 12 million people a year.

“A relatively new shuttle system offers an eco-friendly alternative. But go soon,” the author warns. “The park’s 25 glaciers are melting – and could be gone altogether by 2030 if current climate changes continue!”

Here's full list of Lonely Planet's Top 10 U.S. Destinations for 2013:

  1. Louisville, KY
  2. Fairbanks, AK
  3. San Juan Islands, WA
  4. Philadelphia, PA
  5. American Samoa
  6. Eastern Sierras, CA
  7. Northern Maine, ME
  8. Twin Cities, MN (Minneapolis and St. Paul)
  9. Verde Valley, AZ
  10. Glacier National Park, MT

Tonk the grizzly hazing horse a celeb at Western Montana Fair

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — Trail ride wrangler Erin Bolster and her famous steed, Tonk, were greeting fans at the Western Montana Fair in Missoula last week to celebrate the 1st anniversary of their heroic encounter with a grizzly bear.

Bolster and Tonk rode into the national spotlight after repeatedly charging a grizzly that had burst into a trail ride Bolster was leading near Glacier National Park. As the bear chased a horse carrying a terrified 8-year-old boy through the timber, Bolster was able to get Tonk to overcome fleeing instincts and charge the grizzly into submission. 

My story about the encounter last summer swept across the nation and landed Bolster — Tonk, too! — in New York for Late Night with David Letterman.

Bolster said she's met a lot of people and had many career opportunities because of the favorable response to the fame she and Tonk have garnered.

This summer, however, she's been living mostly in a tent near the Flathead National Forest, leading trail rides for the flood of people young and old who've booked trips in anticipation of touching the horse flesh of a hero. 

Plows still working on Glacier’s Going to the Sun Road

NATIONAL PARKS — Logan Pass at the top of Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road likely will be open for vehicle traffic sometime next week, officials say.

A storm last weekend dumped another 10 inches of snow on the park high country prompting additional snow slides on the road and slowing the weeks-long operation. 

Since Memorial Day Weekend, at least 35 inches of snow has fallen on the road at higher elevations.

Crews are working on the Big Drift, a 25-30 feet drift about a fourth of a mile east of the Logan Pass Visitor Center.

In addition to all the snow removal, crews have to install hundreds of guard rails along the road.

Currently, 29 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are open to vehicle travel. Visitors can drive 15.5 miles from the West Entrance to Avalanche on the west side, and 13.5 miles from the St. Mary Entrance to Jackson Glacier Overlook on the east side.

Although park officials had hoped to open just before Father's Day weekend, opening the week after would still be much better than last year's late, late July 13 opening.

Hikers and bicyclists have access to more of the road than motor vehicles as plowing continues.

Click here for Current road status and where you can hike and bike on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Click here for detailed map of locations along the road mentioned in the daily plowing updates.

Click here for 2012 plowing photos on our Flickr site.
  

Hikers, bikers have free access to Glacier Park roads

PUBLIC LANDS — Glacier Nationa Park has a special incentive for walkers and cyclists for the next month or so, but especially next week when ntrance fees to Glacier National Park and the nearly 400 National Park Sites across the country will be waived during National Park Week, April 21-29.  

At the same time, plows have begun clearing the roads toward Logan Pass. While motor vehicles are still prohibited, bicyclers and walkers can go progressively farther behind the locked gates as plowing advances.

Currently, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is open to motorized traffic from the West Entrance to Lake McDonald Lodge and from the St. Mary Entrance to Rising Sun.  Hiker/biker access is available for 5.5 miles from the Lake McDonald Gate to Avalanche while the road plow is working.  

This weekend, April 21-22, no restrictions are anticipated for hiker/biker access on the west side or east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  The Camas Road is open and the Two Medicine Road on the east side is currently open to Running Eagle Falls.  

Weather conditions in the park can vary greatly from local valley locations, and road status can change depending on weather conditions and snow plowing activities.

Click here to check park conditions and the progess of the plows, or call  (406) 888-7800.

Additional entrance fee-free dates during the year will be June 9 (Get Outdoors Day), September 29 (National Public Lands Day), and November 10 to 12 (Veterans Day weekend).

Cool spring put chill on Glacier Park visitation

NATIONAL PARKS — Glacier National Park's attendance declined 15.7 percent last year after a record number of visitors were logged during the park’s centennial celebration in 2010.

The National Park Service says 1.85 million people entered the park in 2011, compared to 2.2 million the year before.

The park’s peak summer season got off to a slow start because of cold weather from early April through June that delayed snowmelt and the opening of Going-to-the-Sun Road. The road’s July 13 opening at Logan Pass was the latest on record.

The park service says concession lodging in the park was down 22 percent, tent camping was down nearly 6 percent and backcountry overnight stays were down 16 percent. Total overnight stays were down 10.8 percent compared with 2010.