Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hiking in Glacier National Park

Part of the trail to Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park.

The question for today: Can you fire students with an interest in the world around them? And if you do, will that show up on a standardized test?

When I was teaching American history, I used a number of slides taken on vacations to illustrate important points. One that never failed:

Sequioa National Park in California.
Click to enlarge.

I always put this slide up first for the day. Then I asked students: “How many of you think that’s a big tree?” 

Almost every member of the class agreed it was.

I explained: “That’s a sequoia tree limb.” I said a ranger told my first wife that the limb was 150 feet long when it snapped and fell to the ground, shattering into giant sections.

This simple trick captured student attention and got us started on an excellent lesson about John Muir and early efforts to protect the environment.

I used a variety of slides over the years: scenes from Custer's Last Stand, pictures of lousy Indian reservations and buffalo in Yellowstone. Pictures from Bodie, California, a ghost town high in the Sierras, helped students do a writing assignment centered on the gold rush era.

Bodie once had a population of almost 10,000. By 1932, the town had been abandoned.

Often, I liked to tell seventh and eighth graders that if they never listened to another word I said (not that I was ever boring), they should drive across the United States once in their lives, to see what a beautiful country we have. 

I remember when Laura B. stopped to see me one day after school. She was probably twenty at the time but I had already left for home before she arrived. So Laura left a note, saying she had followed my advice and visited Yellowstone and other great parks out West. When I read that note, I knew I had done my job as a teacher.

Suppose I was teaching today. 

Lets say: I was teaching health. I’d build a lesson around a trip I took to Glacier National Park. I’d focus on the idea that all of us can get in better shape and focus on the benefits of walking more, or in this case hiking. Maybe I’d throw in a few pictures from my two bicycle rides across the United States. I believe, after all, that you can plant important seeds in the minds of the young. I’d like to plant seeds that might lead kids to develop an interest in getting into shape and staying that way.

After all, I met a 78-year-old women on one of the harder trails in Glacier and she was going strong.

Of course, nothing like this is ever going to be on any standardized test. I’m retired now; but as a former teacher, that makes me profoundly sad. 

Dedicated teachers want to fire the young with passion for learning—and an abiding interest in the world around them.

I’d tell my students today, “If you don’t listen to anything else I say this year, go hiking in Glacier National Park someday.”

If one young person eventually did, I’d have earned my pay.

Buffalo road block in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.
Click to enlarge.

Hiking the trail down from Piegan Pass, Glacier National Park.
My wife is 62; and I'm even older than that!

My two youngest daughters at the top of Piegan Pass.

Mountain goat near the trail to Hidden Lake.

That line you see is Going to the Sun Highway, a spectacular engineering feat.

Grinnell Glacier: by 2030 all glaciers may be gone.
That tells us something about climate change.

Hidden Valley Lake.

The Highline Trail is supposed to be the most spectacular in Glacier.
I didn't have time to do this one myself.

Moose dead ahead on the trail.

Also: bighorn ram on the trail.

If I was still teaching I'd show students this picture of Monticello.
Jefferson's home.
If you want students to know what the people on wagon trains faced
this picture works. Not far from South Pass in Wyoming.

I'd try to convince students they could do more, physically than they think.
I used to try to convince them they could do more mentally, too.
Tioga Pass in California.
Lake at the top of Tioga Pass.

More photos from Glacier National Park follow:

My wife Anne took a spill on the Loop Trail.

Action shot of goat (second from right) defecating!

Trail to Grinnell Glacier.

Grinnell Lake.

Start of the Highline Trail.

Lake scene near Many Glaciers Lodge.

Mountain meadow near Logan Pass.

Hikers on the trail coming back from Grinnell Glacier.

Swimming in Avalanche Lake: approximate water temperature: 45 degrees.

Above the clouds at Logan Pass.

Bear grass near the summit of the Loop Trail.

Overlook on the Going to the Sun Highway.


  1. Amazing country we live in...so many beautiful parks to see! I've been to several of our national parks, Grand Canyon being the most recent and I have been dreaming about going to Glacier....this story, along with the pictures, have just confirmed the fact that I need to see this beautiful park. Thanks John, your "lesson"worked.

    1. If one person takes me up on this idea, I didn't waste my time publishing this.