Saturday, August 2, 2014

to Glacier National Park

July 25

Today we go to Glacier!  

Glacier NP hugs the border of Canada and is actually the US part of the first ever International Peace Park.  The park literature brags about this as though it was terribly difficult to reconcile the differences between the US and Canada long enough to make a park.  

On the US side, there is only one road that goes through the park; the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  

There are a few things that make Glacier unique from the other parks we have visited.  It is geared more toward hikers and backpackers than drivers.  Compared to only one paved road, there are miles and miles of trails and many of the campsites are only accessible by hiking.  There is also a shuttle system that makes stops along the road, allowing drivers to park at the visitor center on either side of the park and see Glacier without having to drive.  In theory, this is an excellent idea and should help relieve congestion along the road.  In practice, not so much.  One bus leaves every half hour, so if there are more than 25 people wanting to board the bus, they must wait another half hour for the next shuttle.  If there are more than thirty people in front of you, you will be sitting in that station for over an hour just to get to the next stop five miles down the road.  With all of the stops and connecting routes, the official estimated time to reach the visitor center on the other side of the park (50 miles away) and return is seven hours.  

After discovering how ineffective the shuttle system is, we get back in the car and start driving through the park.  

While Yellowstone NP was great for seeing the strangely beautiful, Glacier is the place to go to be awestruck by the views.  The first leg of the Going-to-the-Sun Road (from southwest to northeast) takes visitors right past Lake McDonald, a ten mile long gouge in the earth formed by glacial activity.  The shores are shallow and covered in smooth, multicolored pebbles, while the center of the lake is an astounding 472 feet deep.   

On our first visit to the lake, stiff winds whip the water into white peaks.  We stop in at the Lake McDonald Lodge, a warm and inviting place nestled along the shoreline.  

Even though it is late July, a welcome wood fire burns in the massive fireplace in the lodge.

Is that a Christmas tree I see?  And are those Christmas decorations hanging from the elk heads?  

A piece of paper on one of the lounge tables informs us that today is July 25th, on which travelers were once stranded at a lodge in Yellowstone by a freak snowstorm, and rather than mope about, they celebrated an impromptu Christmas, and the tradition spread to other parks.

Personally, I love Christmas and am thrilled to see a bit of it sneaking into July. 

Walking back to the parking lot, we are stalked by a line of cars just waiting to take our space.  There is very limited parking throughout Glacier and drivers often have to spend exorbitant amounts of time circling around just looking for a spot, eliminating any "environmental good" that the shuttle system is trying to do by reducing auto emissions.

I believe there is a length limit on vehicle/trailer combinations from Lake McDonald to the other side of the park, and for good reason.  I wouldn't want to tow anything larger than a thimble along this stunning road.  As it climbs up and up, a very sharp switchback confirms my bias.  

Turnouts are completely jammed with cars, so it is often hard to stop and look, but traffic moves slowly enough (both from congestion and for safety) to enjoy the views.  

I feel as though my photographs are completely inadequate to convey they depth and luster of the scene.  With my magic box, I can take something magnificent on a grand scale, and transform it into a flat, lifeless rectangle made of pixels.  Oh well.  It's all I've got and it will have to do.  

My advice:  go see it for yourself!

This time of year the Bear Grass is blooming.  

A whole mountainside erupts into puffy white plumes.

I don't mean for this whole post to be one long gripe about transportation in the park, but there are some glaring issues that you should be aware of before you visit.

About three quarters of the way to the St. Mary Visitor Center, there are two sections of construction.  We have to return bear spray to the kind Airstream folks we met back at Devils Tower who work as rangers at the St. Mary's entrance, so we have to go through this construction on the way there and back.  It takes 40 minutes each way to go about 15 miles over the torn-up road as construction workers let one lane through at a time.  

But the lake on this end is the most intriguing color I have ever seen water to be.  It is like a gem, precious and mysterious, mesmerizing to look at.  

Again, my photographs are such a feeble attempt to portray something marvelous.

With the bear spray returned, we drive back through the construction and through the narrow mountain switchback over Logan Pass.  

At a section called the Weeping Wall, a waterfall is interrupted by the road cutting through it, and drenches cars as they drive by.  I wonder about all of the convertibles with their tops back that we see headed that way.  

A mother mountain goat and her two kids rest precariously on a steep cliff.

This picture is taken looking almost straight up.

Our day ends back at camp with happy pugs, wonderful food, and another day's worth of dazzling memories.


  1. You have described it perfectly. And, I felt the same way about my photos....capturing the majesty just isn't quite possible. I am not sure how long you are staying in Glacier, but we so enjoyed going to the Pole Bridge Mercantile. Check it out. It is wonderful....and then a trip to Bowman Lake is great. The road is narrow, and was rough, but definitely worth the drive. Not a place to tow your AS...but away from least there were few when we went last August. Loved your post this morning. Beautiful photos and well described. Enjoy the rest of your time in Glacier.

    1. We didn't get to the Pole Bridge Mercantile, but maybe next time we are back in the area! Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. Your photographs make me want to spend the night at the Lake McDonald Lodge! Beautiful ... and Glacier is very difficult to capture.

    1. The lodge was magical! The cabins where employees stay were so spick and span on the outside, and all of them had overflowing flowerboxes. I would consider working there just to stay in that housing!