Friday, July 11, 2014

Going to the Sun

It would be a shame to be so close while I'm here in Missoula and not take advantage of my proximity to go visit Glacier National Park.  It's one of the last remaining major national parks I've not been to and I regret not having visited it when I was up in this area in 2007.  That's the year I rode my motorcycle up through Wyoming, across Bear Tooth Pass, into Yellowstone and Grand Tetons before meeting some fellow riders for a few days' riding in the Lolo MT area.

But it was definitely in the plans this trip!

I arrived into Missoula Wednesday afternoon after driving from Spokane and meeting a friend along the way for a wonderful lunch and visit at Quinn's, north of St. Regis.   I had been feeling a head cold coming on since Monday afternoon and had walked to a Rite Aid drugstore in Spokane to load up on OTC products for all contingencies:  throat lozenges, cough medicine, runny nose medicine, and a box of Puffs.   Just to be on the safe side, of course.  I spent all day Tuesday in that head cold "fog" but by Wednesday morning the symptoms were easing a bit.

So when Thursday morning rolled around, I had to take stock of my condition and decide if I was up to the long day that a drive up to Glacier National Park would entail.   I wasn't feeling too bad - nothing a dose of multi-symptom cold medicine wouldn't take care of - and made the decision to go.  I grabbed a bottle of water, some granola bars, a banana, and my box of Puffs and was on the road, heading for U.S. 93 by 6:30 AM.

The drive up was pleasant with very little traffic.  The towns were well-placed to accomodate my need to stop for a coffee along the way and then to top off the gas tank before arriving at the park entrance.

I stopped at the Apgar Visitor Center to get an overview of the park layout then, with camera within easy reach, I got onto the Going To The Sun Road.

The first few miles weave through lush, dense evergreen forest on level terrain, with steep slopes jutting up into the sky on all sides.  Soon, glimpses of a rushing river began to appear to the left of the road.  I stopped many times to take photos, each stop providing a view better than before.

At first there was little traffic but within a few miles, the number of cars on the road grew until the line was non-stop.  Each time I pulled over for a photo I had to fight my way back onto the road.  In fact, the attitude of the drivers was not unlike it is in rush hour eat dog.  I was quite honestly surprised at this.  Everyone seemed in a hurry and very few folks were taking the time to enjoy the views.  Just to enrage the cars behind me, I made a point of slowing, even stopping, to let cars back onto the road from all of the pullouts.  Hah!

Miles and miles of this pleasant, gently curvy, heavily forested road suddenly became a fairly steep ascent to the first hairpin turn and a major overlook.  The topography and landscape had changed quite abruptly to a dry forest mix of evergreens and deciduous.  The overlook was stunning!

Once around that hairpin the road became narrow, barely two cars wide, with only a low barricade of rocks on the right keeping us on the road.  The lane coming the other way was hard against a vertical rock cliff  The pavement came right up to the foot of that rock cliff, and outcroppings here and there impinged on the travel lane causing oncoming cars to veer a bit into our lane.  But we were all travelling very slowly anyway.

Every curve in the road brought a new vista.

Waterfalls were everywhere, just tumbling down that rock wall aside the road with total abandon for wherever they may land.

One of dozens of waterfalls...this is a modest one

A long stretch of roadway had multiple waterfalls tumbling right into the roadway and the drivers of the cars coming through that lane took great delight in driving directly under them for an impromptu car wash.

Gorgeous waterfall!  It passes under the roadway

One of the major waterfalls apparently flows year round, as the road was constructed in a way to redirect the water through an underpass beneath the roadbed.  The water was falling for hundreds of feet before reaching that point and the rock formations across its path were worn into beautiful steppes or terraces down the entire face of the wall.  Gorgeous!

Enormous waterfall coming off this ledge, which
is beneath a glacial bowl

The wide, flat valleys are today's evidence of the massive glaciers that covered the area eons ago.  This photo tells the whole story...wide and flat at the base, steep, vertical walls ground smooth and flat by the sides of the glacier.

Side wall of large glacier valley.  Walls sheared flat vertically by glacier

The road continued to climb, almost literally to the sun, until it went through Logan Pass and crossed the Continental Divide at 8,000 feet.  At this elevation, we were above the wet evergreen tree line and had moved into a very different ecosystem, drier and with more deciduous and dry climate evergreens.

From just to the east of Logan Pass, all the way to the East exit, the road had been scraped down to the roadbed and was nothing but dust and gravel.  Most of the pullouts were closed, and the lines of cars were a huge deterrent to stopping, anyway.  It was unfortunate, as we were driving along the shore of a gorgeous lake.

I came up on the first of three pilot car construction sections.  This first one was about 3 miles long and we had a very long wait for our turn.  When we finally started moving, a water truck passed by, and I quickly raised my driver side window...good thing!  This piloted section was a muddy, slimy disaster.  There were many motorcycles riding through the park and I felt sorry for every one of them.  While this was the longest of the three active pilot car construction sections, there were two others that were equally as muddy and rough.

As I neared the eastern end of the road, I pulled into the parking lot for a boat launch area to use the bathroom and then get a closeup view of that lake we'd been driving alongside for all those construction miles.

Eastern entrance to the park...very different vegetation

I headed south on US 89 which turned out to be a fanastic road and would have been a dream to ride on the motorcycle.  Lots of hills, curves, whoops, and beautiful scenery along the way.  Near the beginning of this road I noticed a sign indicating this was open range.  And sure enough...

I turned right on to Highway 49, a narrow, crooked, and steep road that cut across to pick up U.S. 2.  Hwy 49 was gorgeous!  It was badly frost-heaved, and several relatively fresh patches in my lane indicated places where the edge of the road had caved in during the winter.  I enjoyed this drive all the way to the town of East Glacier, where I stopped and had lunch at the adorable Luna Cafe.

A wonderful bowl of homemade chili, followed by their homemade huckleberry pie served with a scoop of huckleberry ice cream alongside. It was the perfect "garnish" to the day!

It was 2:00 PM and time to return to Missoula.  Many more cars on the road than there were in the morning, making the return drive a bit longer, but by 6:00 PM I was enjoying a glass of Chardonnay on the hotel patio and browsing through the photos on my camera.  An absolutely wonderful day and I'm so glad I made the decision to make this trip.

Tomorrow:  browse the town a little bit but more importantly, rest and try to make sure I get rid of the remnants of this cold.


  1. Barb, well written and the pics were just so natural and scenic. Girl, you never run down, keep on sharing and doing what you do.

    Wm - Davenport

  2. Such beautiful views through the park. I know why it is so popular.

    Hope you are feeling better. I am playing catch up with my reading so I am sure you're better by now.

    Thanks for sharing the pics.