We drove on the Going to the Sun road the day that it opened. There was 1 car ahead of us at the West Glacier entrance. It was practically deserted which made photography nice as well as the drive. We were truly lucky.
When we came back after the wedding we went to Many Glacier and camped and did some hiking in that area as well as to St Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. I hit each sunrise and sunset which caused use to wake up at (usually) 4:30am to be able to get in place. Talk about long days! But it was all worth it.
On the last day we were headed to St Mary from Many Glacier and so needed to travel quick to get out of Many Glacier and then come in through the eastern entrance to our destination. I was almost bummed I hadn't seen a bear. As we drove out of Many glacier, Jeanne had spotted a Grizzly kind of lazily strolled in an open field between the road and river in an area by Windy Creek. It was practically dark out, I was in landscape mode, my camera was set to shooting the sunset which I had done the night before and so I really wasn't ready to shoot. My shots were a little blurred from the motion of the bear, the crappy pre-dawn light and because I didn't want to shoot at ungodly ISO. But actually I think it worked out ok anyway.
Getting to St. Mary, three other photographer's arrived around the same time and were off down the trail before us. I was suiting up, getting the camera gear situated, tripod (as I would be shooting a waterfall or two), breakfast, snacks, water as well as changing out of my Tevas and into my boots.
I also had to clip my Kabar on my pack, holster my bear spray on my belt etc. All this meant we had left about 6-7 minutes after the other photographers.
Near the beginning of the trail, probably 100 yards in or so we heard a snap of a branch just off the trail. Well I knew branches don't break for no reason. I saw, through some dense shrubbery, golden fur. I thought to myself, it's a mountain lion. So I said, "grab my knife" as the rule with cats is to confront them, not turn your back and I figure if the cat would charge me I'd have a great chance of winning because of the Kabar.
I was wrong. The animal came into a less dense spot and looked straight at me. It was a grizzly. Another one! Two in one morning. Only this one was even closer AND I didn't have a car to jump in and drive away. I've read these guys can run up to 45mph and last I checked, I couldn't. I said, "put my knife back, it's not going to do anything here." As Jeanne put it back on my backpack I told her it was a grizzly and I had in that time also grabbed the spray.
Well for that one moment of the bear looking at me and me looking at it, I realized just how magnificent the creature is and how utterly vulnerable I am. It's size was similar to the one I did get photos of, probably somewhere on the order of a 2nd year male. Thank God it didn't have cubs and thank God it had heard us and wasn't startled nor interested in the beef jerky in my backpack.
We slowly moved onward to the falls as I didn't want Jeanne fumbling around with my backpack to grab my camera as I stood there in some sort of foolhardy standoff with the bear. Once we reached the falls I had confirmed that the other photographer's had seen the bear but that they had left their bear spray back at their camp. Mentally, I pictured myself as an anime character who hears something so incredible that their face contorts and their hair goes in all directions. The bears are especially active this year and you never go on an early morning or evening hike without the Spray! Anyway, WE went on to Virginia Falls, they went back and left the area. I guess they didn't want to risk going further into the wilderness without spray.
When we were done with the hike we cautiously made our way back, trying to talk somewhat loudly as we approached turns in the trail and especially when we approached the sighting location. Wow what a thrill, two bears in one morning and not blackies but the real deal grizzlies!
On our way out of the park we went over the pass once again. Oh by the way the weather while we were there camping was between 80-90 degrees and not a drop of rain. I hate camping in the rain and the weather was just PERFECT!! On that front we were lucky again.
Exiting the park we stopped at the Lake McDonald lodge and I photographed some of the interior. As we exited, we saw about 50 cars in two different lines to get into the park and I realized how lucky I was to avoid the tourists! I mean, just a week earlier when we came through the same entrace there was 1 car ahead of us. Our timing was perfect and not only had the scenery been spectacular throughout the whole trip, but seeing the bears was like icing on the cake in terms of having the best experience possible.
Glacier Park truly is the crown of the continent.