By DAVE REESE
Ah spring, that time of year when thoughts turn to love, regrowth and ... pavement.
For bicyclists, spring heralds a special time in Montana. There are miles of roads to explore in Glacier National Park - with no cars to worry about in the early season. And if you want to see some wildlife, this is definitely the place to go.
Glacier National Park usually begins plowing the Going-to-the-Sun Road in April, but lower-elevation roads near Lake McDonald and Many Glacier offer miles of bike riding before the Sun Road opens.
On the west side of the park, the best riding is on Going-to-the-Sun Road up to Lake McDonald Lodge. The road is open to vehicles to the lodge, but in spring, especially in mid-week, the traffic is sparse and the scenery spectacular.
The Many Glacier area offers about 12 miles of riding before the cars get their chance at the pavement.
SPRING IS one of the best times of year to view grizzly bears in Glacier National Park. The bears are foraging heavily for food, and can be seen scavenging avalanche chutes for winter-killed carrion.
Set against the white backdrop of an avalanche chute, the bears can be seen fairly readily. With a little patience, people are often rewarded with great viewing of grizzly and black bears.
The females with newborn cubs are last to emerge, usually around late April or May. Biking offers a good way to see bears at a distance, but the bears can come down closer to the road - sometimes a bit too close for comfort. One year a biker almost ran over a bear that ran across the road.
Once bears begin to emerge from their winter respite, people should be aware of possible encounters.
Deer and elk are common in the Apgar area, and the Many Glacier valley is a good place to see Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Scout the higher slopes for these critters. The lucky visitor may also get to see one of our feline residents - either a lynx, mountain lion or bobcat.
Wildflowers bloom along the roadways, and with Lake McDonald and McDonald Creek only a stone's throw away, bicycling in spring is incredibly popular and a wonderful way for families or individuals to enjoy the road without vehicle traffic.
Upper McDonald Creek is the inland northwest nesting grounds for harlequin ducks, a rare species of duck that migrates from the Pacific Ocean to inland waterways.
Song birds like warblers and western tanagers also return to the park in spring. Biking is a great way to be able to stop, look at wildflowers and harlequin ducks.
Logan Pass should open fairly early this year, given the low snowpack. That opening will likely be in late May or early June. However, late-spring snowstorms can hamper snowplowing efforts and delay the opening.
In the meantime, cyclists can find their piece of heaven in the form of dry pavement, abundant scenery and wildlife.