We almost did not go to Glacier National Park as it is a good bit north of most of our other plans, but we are glad we did. With the cool temperatures, green mountains (as opposed to the rocks and dust of many of the other mountains we have seen), evergreen trees, lots of water everywhere, beautiful flowers, and the "Going-to-the-Sun Road" across the mountains, it was a good decision. Also, much of the architecture looks Swiss and you almost feel like you are in the final scenes from "The Sound of Music." You know - "the hills are alive......" Here's the story (the very short version).
Around 1885, a fellow by the name of George Grinnel became very interested in the area he called the "Crown Of The Continent." He spent the next 20 years promoting the idea to his buddies in Washington of making it a national park. In 1891, The Great Northern Railway crossed the Continental Divide along the southern boundary of the area and also began promoting the grandeur and splendors of the region. The "Boone and Crockett Club" (Grinnel was a member) was the first social club in the area. All three entities began to petition congress for a national park designation which was finally signed into law by President Taft in 1910. Louis Hill, owner of Great Northern Railway and railroad baron, saw this as the opportunity to attract wealthy American passengers to his railway with the slogan "See America First." Hill knew the tourists needed places to stay and was ready to make a profit there also. The railway built Swiss-style chalets in the area and the tourists came to see "America's Switzerland." In 1916, there were about 12,839 tourists per year while today close to 3 million vist the park. It's true - if you build it, they will come.
Before we begin the tour of the park, this was a clever sign approaching the area.
We entered the park from the west entrance at West Glacier.
The first 10 miles or so of "Going-to-the-Sun Road" are along Lake McDonald. Our picture does not do the water itself justice - it was aqua blue.
Lots of streams and rocky falls along the way.
McDonald Lodge is one of the Swiss style lodges mentioned earlier, located at the north end of Lake McDonald.
Another view of the lake from the back of the lodge. The sun sets each day between the mountains on the right side.
Then you begin the ascent up the mountains.
The original "Going-to-the-Sun Road" designed by an engineer in 1918 had about 15 switchbacks planned, but much of the beautiful scenery would have been missed. According to legend, Park Director Stephen Mather rejected the plan and redrew the road himself on its current alignment along the steep alpine area known as the Garden Wall. The final version had only one switchback and a maximum 6% grade which is about as much as a vehicle could make back in 1921. The road completed in 1932 is so remarkable it was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Snowdrifts on the road are around 80 feet high most winters and it takes about 10 weeks for plow crews to clear the 50 miles of road each spring.
The road get a little tight near the top of the pass. At one curve, we met one of the free shuttle buses which are about as wide as our dually. I looked at the driver and he looked at me, both not sure if we could make it through the curve. We crept along, could have shaken hands as we passed, and ended up with no more than 2 inches between our mirrors - tight!
On our second trip through, Rhonda and I decided this next setting is definitely one of the prettiest we have ever seen. Everyone wanted to know what the flowers are and the answer from everyone was always, "I don't know, but I have never seen anything this beautiful." Back at the RV park, Rhonda was told the flowers are called fireweed.
And it is imperative that you like this next picture - I hiked half way up the mountain to get the shot looking down into the valley below!
Logan Pass is a popular stop, also right on the Continnental Divide. I wanted to be standing right on the line and not block the sign, so......
Lots of ground squirrels here.
The day I rode my bike across I saw 5 mountain goats at Logan Pass and 1 moose down at McDonald Lake - not there for Rhonda to see. But the sign says they are there.
And warnings for bears.
Lunch Creek is an area recommended to have lunch and enjoy the waterfalls. Not a bad idea but we had no lunch with us.
So we substituted... you guessed it - "Going-to-the-Sun" ice cream at the end of the road. It's basically heavy duty chocolate with almonds and marshmallows.
St. Mary Lake is just prior to reaching the ice cream. It was formed by a glacier and there is one little small island that they say cannot be explained. Glaciers do not normally leave small islands standing in their path. This lake was also aqua blue but the clouds and overcast didn't help much with the picture. The island is slightly visible mid-left.
A close-up of Wild Goose Island.
On the way home, our last stop was at Avalanche Creek. In addition to the beautiful creek, this is an area of huge red cedars, western hemlocks, and giant cottonwoods. Some of these trees are over 500 years old. They have a boardwalk through the area of dense ferns and trees.
Root system of a fallen red cedar. These trees reach heights of 230 feet, 13 feet in diameter, and can live to be 1000 years old.
Waterfall at Avalanche Creek.
And we'll close with more flowers from up around Logan Pass. Rhonda loves the flowers.
Next stop - the Grand Tetons. Oh, did I mention the high today at Swan Valley, ID is 72? Lows tonight in the mid forties.