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Glacier National Park

August, 2009


By mid summer, I was having "road trip withdrawal" so I asked Karen if she wanted to give Logan Pass another try over the August long weekend. Finally, in the heat of the summer we were able to see it.



Glacier National Park, August, 2009

We hit the road on the Saturday morning heading for Glacier National Park and Logan Pass on the Going-To-The-Sun Highway. After several years of trying, it finally happened - in the middle of the summer. We had missed our usual June road trip so it felt really good to be on the trail.

Glacier National Park borders Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. The two parks are known as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, and were designated as the world's first International Peace Park in 1932. Both parks were designated by the United Nations as Biosphere Reserves in 1976, and in 1995 as World Heritage sites.

It was our intention to cross into the States at the Waterton Park Chief Mountain crossing but shortly before the border we were turned around due to a tragic accident ahead of us. We back tracked and headed for the border crossing at Carway, along with everyone else heading south. The lineup was like none we have ever seen and it took us over two hours just to get to the gate house.

Border Abuse

We did not get through customs without a complete interrogation and car search, including the dog sniffer. This, in itself, was time consuming and frustrating but we would not find out about the worst of it until we were actually many miles away in Glacier Park. We pulled over to fill our coffee and grab a bite to eat. It was then we discovered that not only had the border patrol inspected our cooler, they took the liberty of dumping a full litre of cream in it. Everything was ruined in our cooler not to mention I now had no cream for my coffee.

The cream was in a zip lock bag so there is absolutely no doubt that whoever did it knew full well what they were doing. This action was an intentional disrespect of personal property by the border inspectors and totally uncalled for. We do not have criminal records. Our passports were in order. We did not have anything illegal with us and neither of us have ever been refused entry into the States for any reason. Two ladies travelling to see Glacier National Park over a long weekend did not deserve to be mistreated. But complain? If we did formally complain, we would forever be labeled. Border patrol has too much power. It simply isn't acceptable what they did, but as much as we would have liked to file a formal complaint, we could not put ourselves in a position of forever being "black listed". Travelling is too important to us.

TeePee Motel, St. Mary, Montana

Just before the park road, we found a very unique teepee motel. We wandered around inspecting it and it was tempting to scrap our plans and just stay there. The teepees were well appointed and extremely inviting. Food for thought for another year.

Triple Divide Peak

From it's three-sided pyramid, rain and snowmelt travel to three major river systems and enter the Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay, and Gulf of Mexico.

The scenery leading up to the park entrance was absolutely beautiful, probably the prettiest mountain area we have travelled. It was hard to believe, but it would just get better and better as we cruised along. We stopped so many times along the road to view and take pictures, it took us a while to get to the park. The best, however, was yet to come.

Going-To-The-Sun Highway

The road officially received its name, “The Going-to-the-Sun Road,” during the 1933 dedication at Logan Pass. The road borrowed its name from nearby Going-to-the-Sun Mountain. Local legend, and a 1933 press release issued by the Department of the Interior, told the story of the deity, Sour Spirit, who came down from the sun to teach Blackfeet braves the rudiments of the hunt. On his way back to the sun, Sour Spirit had his image reproduced on the top of the mountain for inspiration to the Blackfeet. An alternate story suggests a white explorer in the 1880s concocted the name and the legend. No matter which version is accurate, the road named Going-to-the-Sun still inspires all who travel it.


Construction of the Road - 1932

Logan Pass

Logan Pass is the highest point on the Going-to-the Sun Road at 6,646 feet. Just east of the pass, an area known as Big Drift often records over 100 feet of snowfall, much of which has been pushed over the continental divide by the prevailing westerly winds during the winter. The pass is closed during the winter due to avalanche hazards and the virtual impossibility of keeping the Going-to-the-Sun Road open.

The road is one of the most difficult roads in North America to snowplow in the spring. Up to 80 feet of snow can lie on top of Logan Pass, and more just east of the pass where the deepest snowfield has long been referred to as Big Drift. The road takes about ten weeks to plow, even with equipment that can move 4000 tons of snow in an hour. The snowplow crew can clear as little as 500 feet of the road per day. On the east side of the continental divide, there are few guardrails due to heavy snows and the resultant late winter avalanches that have repeatedly destroyed every protective barrier ever constructed.

The road is generally open from early June to mid October. Note though that we have been here in late June and early July and have not found it open.

Full Size View

The Road is Open!

It was with great delight that we passed "through" the gate that would be used to close the park. It was finally open and we were finally going to see it. No "road closed" sign for us this time! We gave a "whoop" and drove on through.

St. Mary Lake

Saint Mary Lake is the second largest lake in Glacier National Park. Located on the east side of the park, the Going-to-the-Sun Road parallels the lake along its north shore. The lake is 9.9 miles long and 300 feet deep. The waters of the lake rarely rise above 50 °F. During the winter, the lake often freezes completely over with ice up to 4 feet thick.

Sunrift Gorge

Sunrift Gorge was formed when a small stream cut through a natural break in the rock. It is a straight steep canyon cut through the bedrock just 200 feet off the main road. Also at this location one of the most beautiful bridges along the entire Going to the Sun Road is found.

Going, Going, Gone

From a distance, snowfields are often mistaken for glaciers until the annual snowfall melts away. As the global climate warms, however, the glaciers are melting as well.

Today we see only 25% of the ice that existed in 1850 and projections are that the park's glaciers will be gone by 2030. Of the estimated 150 glaciers present in 1850, approximately 26 remain.

Get it Right Woman

It was at this point some dude on a bicycle who didn't speak a lick of english wanted me to take his picture getting the glacier in the background. I couldn't see a thing through his camera and the pictures I took of the white glacier against a white sky simply weren't "to his satisfaction".

How I ended up holding this dude's bicycle so he could look through his camera is still a mystery to me!! Despite the language barrier, his message was clear - Dumb Broad! I think my expression sets out my impression very well.

The Visitor's Centre

We were greeted by a marmot at the visitors centre. He was sitting unafraid on the rock perch beside the steps to the centre putting on quite a show with his squawking repertoire. Although the marmot seemed quite tame, Karen was unable to get closer to him. I relaxed in the sunshine as Karen wandered around taking pictures of the flowers and gardens around the centre and trying to get a close up shot the marmot. She eventually did manage to catch him peeking out of the shrub.

Lake McDonald Area

Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park. It is approximately 10 miles long, over a mile wide and 472 feet deep, filling a valley formed by a combination of erosion and glacial activity. Lake McDonald lies on the west side of the Continental Divide and The Going-To-The-Sun Road parallels the lake along its southern shoreline. The rest area overlooks the aftermath of a huge fire.

The summer of 2003 was the most significant fire season in the history of Glacier National Park. 136,000 acres burned in the park after a five year drought and a summer season of almost no precipitation. This was the most area transformed by fire since the creation of the park in 1910.

The Flowers of Glacier

The flowers in the park and surrounding area were in full bloom. We stopped several time to take pictures.

Glacier National Park is home to at least 1,132 species of vascular plants. There are 20 different tree species, 93 woody shrubs or vines, 88 annual or biennial plant species, and 804 types of perennial herbs. The park also has at least 855 species of mosses and lichens. There are likely more than 200 species of fungi. Sixty-seven vascular and 42 non-vascular plant species found in Glacier Park are listed as "sensitive" by the State of Montana.


 

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