Lifelong Learning

A snow drift before reaching Cracker Lake

Lifelong Learning

The National Center for Education Statistics estimated that the average age of an intern for the years 2022-2023 was 17 years old. At 23, I’m an outlier statistic for sure but I feel like I’m learning just as much as any teenager would. Every day in the office and in the park, I discover something new about the world, storytelling, and skills relevant to my career. Most of my favorite lessons have been unexpected, or I’m still in the process of stretching myself to understand.

MARVELOUS MAMMALS

Image of a hoary marmot
A hoary marmot seen on the way to Cracker Lake.
  • Marmots prefer rocks and grassy environments and are kind of like larger ground squirrels. I found a small family of them on a 13-mile hike to Cracker Lake, who didn’t have a care in the world that there was a group of five hikers trying to pass by them. A quick look into Glacier’s 2024 resource guide told me that Glacier has two types of marmots within its ecosystem:
    • Hoary marmots (the ones I met near Cracker Lake).
    • Yellow-bellied marmots (who I haven’t met yet).

 

  • One of my projects is adding the different mammals of Glacier to our portal within the app. So far, I’ve learned a lot about the beavers, bats, pikas, mountain goats, and more that call this place home. Some of my favorite fun facts are:
    • Beavers are nocturnal, and dam-building is so ingrained in their mind that if they hear an audio recording of running water, they’ll try to start construction.
    • Bighorn sheep are frequently spotted in the parking lot in Logan Pass. Their herbivorous diets lack sodium, which they try to make up for by licking anti-freeze off the pavement. 
    • Bears are omnivores, and 90% of their diets are vegetation. Well-made for digging, they’re great at picking up chunks of soil and then picking out roots to eat. Although they’re fond of snacking on ground squirrels, they’re also huge fans of huckleberries. 

So far, I’ve also spotted moose, foxes, beavers, loons, woodpeckers, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, hummingbirds, and plenty of deer. No bears yet, but I’m sure I’ll spot one at some point this summer!

Surprising snow

  • Despite being well into June, I had to trek through several snow patches still thriving on top of where hiking trails should be. The higher elevation here makes it stick around longer; something my Texas summers could never imagine.

 

  • A winter storm warning this week and a cold snap brought up the term “June-uary.” A hint to me that cold weather coming around in June was the norm here. Snowfall on the east side of the park and a chilly start to the week reminded me that I was up north and the weather was very different.

 

  • Going to the Sun Road” cuts through Glacier National Park, connecting the East and West sides. Open at lower elevations year-round, a large section of the 48.7 mile stretch is covered in snow during Montana’s winter months. The road opened for the season this Saturday, June 22, because it takes months to plow through the mounds of snow that have accumulated. The road’s opening date is different every year because the crew is often set back once spring snow falls again and resets all the hard work they’ve done.
A snow drift before reaching Cracker Lake
Two of my friends crossing a snow drift to reach Cracker Lake. June 8, 2024.

Riveting Rivers

The Middle Fork of the Flathead River from a raft.
Rafting on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
  • My first whitewater rafting trip on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River was gorgeous. The water was incredibly blue, clear, clean, and refreshing. I’ve only seen rivers from a distance or driven alongside them, so sitting in one and seeing everything up close felt so invigorating.

 

  • Being splashed in the face with water from the Flathead River is much less gross than being jolted by a splash of briney brown log-ride water. A jump into the river after rafting took my breath away, literally, as I was reminded of the source of the river’s water: snowmelt.

 

  • Riding the river currents was a privilege and reminded me of how alive nature is. The water truly seems to have a mind of its own and watching it flow together and against itself while we sat on top of it all was so peaceful and captivating.

Wonderful Wildflowers

  • Frequent walks to the post office along a hiking trail that follows the river have introduced plenty of new flowers to me; including a frequent friend: the mountain lady’s slipper orchid. Appearing as a dainty white slipper that could fit a fairy, these flowers are just one of the many orchids that are found here. Which was a pleasant surprise to me, since I thought they’d only be found in tropical regions.
 
  • Saturday I joined in on a Wildflower Workshop, where we followed former Glacier National Park naturalist and U.S. Forest Service interpreter Janet Paul Bones along on a hike in Two Medicine identifying Glacier’s wildflowers. She was SO knowledgeable and kind, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the diverse plant life from her.
    • She pointed out another orchid during our exploration: the striped coralroot orchid. A beautiful pink flower that stands out from the regular forest green because of its lack of chlorophyll; it gets its nutrients from decomposed nutrients in the soil!
 
  • With a range of plants growing here from mountaintops to valley meadows, it’s amazing to see everything start to bloom as the season progresses. Learning the names of all these new plants I’ve never seen before is SO much fun for me, and I’m excited to carry that enthusiasm back to Amarillo when I return.

Something that my family says often is, “You never learn less.” Although I’ve been on hikes, worked on podcasts, and done story planning before, being somewhere with new people, plants, and places to explore is such a fun way to refresh my curiosity of the world. Glacier is a special place to be, and rediscovering ways to look at the world around me and communicating that to others is making this one of my favorite summers so far.

A rainbow over the Flathead River.
A rainbow over the Flathead River.
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