Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park (NP) is renowned for its rugged mountain beauty, clear glacial waters, and…duh…glaciers.  There is only one road bisecting the one million-acre park and it is a splendid way to see the park.  The Going-to-the-Sun Road takes you through cool mountain passes, along waterfalls, past aqua blue lakes, and into the lush pine forests.  The 50-mile scenic by-way was completed in 1932 and opened the early park to visitors who were discovering the ease of touring with the growing popularity of the automobile. 

Before the road was constructed, only a small number of people could enjoy this spectacular scenery of Glacier NP which was established in 1910.  The National Park Service Director, Steven Mather, challenged park officials to create a road that would cross mountains and literally carve out a road that would illuminate the parks’ natural beauty and magnificence.   

The story of building the section of the road through the extreme terrain and conditions west of Logan Pass illustrates why construction took so long.  The road crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (which reaches a height of 6,646 feet) and is a hub of activity with a visitor center, gift shop, and hiking trails.

As hard as the road was to build, maintaining it is another challenge.  It is one of the most difficult roads in North America to snowplow in the spring with up to 80 feet accumulating at the top of Logan Pass. It takes about 10 weeks to finish the job.

Logan Pass receives 10,000 visitors a day, so we recommend going early.
Behind the visitor center is the trailhead to the Hidden Lake Overlook which is a short 3-mile hike.  During this time of year, there is still plenty of snow on the ground and the trek is not an easy walk.  Just to give you a scale, those dots on the left side of the picture are people walking across the snow field.  
The view of Hidden Lake is sooooo worth it!
My self portrait on the snow. 
Work on the road was simultaneous so workers did not have a completed road below them to transport their supplies.  Construction trails and a crude road were used to haul supplies.  Multiple tunnels needed to be built and rock blasted through an exceptionally challenging 12-mile section.  Power shovels, pneumatic drills and almost 500,000 pounds of explosives were the tools-of-the-trade used to blast through rock.  Rock debris, stumps, roots and other materials were moved by power shovels and placed on trucks or “dinky” railroads to be hauled away. Not an easy task.  No wonder it took over 10 years to finish construction.

Bird Woman Falls (a 560-foot) waterfall was no match for road engineers.
Engineers designed the road to go right through the falls.
Before the road was built, it took visitors 3-4 days to see the park.  But once the road was finished, eager outdoor enthusiasts flocked to the park to get a glimpse of it's beauty.  One of the most iconic symbols of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are the open air red tour buses called "jammers."  They hit the road in the mid-1930’s and were an enjoyable way to see the park.  Many were rebuilt in 2001 to run off propane or gas and are still a popular way for tourists to see the park.

Building the road was not just about moving rocks and earth, there were also animal-issues as they ventured into rugged wilderness.  Bears were drawn to work camps by the smell of food and many unguarded lunches were stolen from work sites.  But as some animals were seen as a nuisance during construction, it is also one of the reasons that so many people drive the road.  We were treated to sightings of mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, bears, and foxes.  Well worth the drive...especially since my lunch was safely tucked away in the car and guarded by Spirit.  

Bighorn sheep
Red fox
So where did the name "Going-to-the-Sun Road" come from?  The name was borrowed from the nearby Going-to-the-Sun Mountain and it just so happened that the park superintendent, J. R. Eakin, liked the name because "it gives the impression that in driving this road autoists will ascend to extreme heights and view sublime panoramas."  There is no doubt that is true.

The yellow glacier lilies are abundant and provide a great splash of color after the snow melts.
Lunch creek is viewable from the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
St. Mary Lake located on the east side of the park.
Wildflowers in bloom where we hiked along the Beaver Creek trail.
As our time in Glacier NP comes to an end we are trying to squeeze in as much as we can.  There are still more hikes, a boat tour, and more historic buildings to visit.  From here, we will head north into Canada to explore Waterton Lakes NP in Canada.  Waterton Lakes NP is the other half of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site and looks just as stunning as the U.S. portion of the park.  We look forward to sharing more posts about the Canadian Rockies so bear with us as they might be slow coming for the next month depending on internet connections in the mountains.

1 comment:

  1. This is number one on our bucket list. I'd love to get a summer job driving one of those red tour buses. One can only hope! ;c)


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