|Lake MacDonald Morning, watercolor 5" x 8".|
This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to fulfill a long-time dream to visit Glacier National Park in MT. I had applied to be artist-in-residence at Glacier this year for the second time, and had been turned down again. Being in my late sixties, one wonders if this could be the last year when one might still be able to trudge up and down those rugged mountain trails. I didn't want to take no for an answer. Could there be another way...?
I thought of going on my own, and started looking for accommodations in the park, but of course April was too late--every hotel in the park was already booked. I saw a link to Sperry Chalet, a historic back-country chalet built in 1913 and clicked on it. On the website was another link: Art at Sperry Chalet. I read through it and found that Sperry Chalet offered an artist in residence for two weeks in the summer. The deadline was rapidly approaching, so I hurried and managed to get in my application just before the May 1st deadline.
Two weeks later I had a message from Kevin, the manager of Sperry Chalet. I called him back during my lunch hour and he interviewed me. I had many questions: how would my gear get there, how did the chalet feed its guests if there was no electricity, were bears a problem, where was the nearest airport? Kevin answered my questions and asked a few in return, which I did my best to answer. At the end of the interview, he told me I could come! He suggested I should come a few days before the start of my two-week residency if possible, so I could see a bit more of the park.
I started looking into airfares and hotel accommodations--booking a flight into Kalispell was no problem, but all the hotels close to the park were already booked. I found one room available at the Glacier Travel Inn in Columbia Falls, some 15 miles from the west entrance to the park and booked that right away. Perhaps there would be some daily bus or shuttle service that could take me into the park.
Outfitting was next: I needed to replace the water bladder in my old day pack, and I bought some hiking poles (I'd never used these before, but considering the terrain, I thought this prudent). I had adequate clothing and art supplies but I needed new orthotics for my nearly-new hiking boots, and I needed to pack light (it's the bad habit of an exile, I tend to pack too many things I don't need, as if I were never going to return).
The preparations consumed the weeks before my July 12 departure. Despite all this, when I landed in Kalipell that evening I felt so--not ready! Kevin met me at the airport and drove me to my hotel. He agreed to pick me up the next morning to take me into the park, and pick me up that evening, but since he had to work, I would on my own during the day.
|Apgar Village near West Glacier.|
Wednesday morning after Kevin dropped me off I toured the Visitor Center at the west entrance and then walked on through Apgar Village to the visible edge of Lake McDonald. The mountains around the lake were veiled in clouds, giving the place a moody atmosphere--perfect for a sketch. I found a bench and parked myself there for several hours to observe and work. As the light and shadow played over the mountains I painted, and chatted with a charming lady from St. Louis whose son and daughter were wind-sailing on the lake. She took a photo of me with my paints.
|Lake McDonald on a cloudy morning.|
|Painting at Lake MacDonald.|
After lunch in Apgar Village I went into a quaint store--the Old Schoolhouse (formerly exactly that) and on a whim, I bought a Polartec vest that happened to match the color of my old favorite Polartec jacket that I had brought with me. I had a hunch this vest would come in handy, and as it turned out, my hunch was correct.
After that I boarded one of the shuttles and went to Lake McDonald Lodge towards the other end of the lake. The clouds had cleared and the day had become sunny and pleasant. Like Sperry Chalet, this hotel dates from 1913 and has a classic Swiss chalet-style of architecture. The interior conserved the western-lodge decor of the era, with hunting trophies mounted on the walls.
|Lobby of the Lake McDonald Lodge.|
After taking the lodge in, I walked out to the back and looking to fill the time, reserved a seat on the next boat tour. I chatted with the young man at the boat concession and after I told him I was going to be Sperry Chalet's artist-in-residence, Devan insisted on returning my ticket fee--he wanted me to take the tour for free, with his promise to point out Sperry Chalet from the water during the tour.
|The boathouse at Lake McDonald.|
The ranger leading the boat tour was a gentleman in his 70's and had worked at the park for many years. He pointed out a small cabin on the shore of Sprague Creek that was the artist in residence's quarters and a few other private homes behind the lodge that predated the creation of the national park. His description of the 2003 fire which he had witnessed was unforgettable--seeing the wall of fire jump over the mountain range to the west of the lake, the fire roaring louder than jet engines.
|Sperry Chalet and Sperry Trail seen from Lake McDonald.|
When we reached a spot about two miles from the boat dock, Devan handed me his binoculars and told me to look for Sperry Chalet on the second mountain range behind the first one. The Chalet was barely a dot in the distance, and I was going to hike up there next Sunday? From this perspective it seemed an improbable feat. So this is what I'd signed up for... oh boy, I'd better do a few practice hikes in the next couple of days to get ready for this!