Glacier National Park: Going to the Sun Road

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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The 50 mile Going to the Sun Road first opened to traffic in Glacier National Park in 1933 and remains a key attraction in the park today. On our first trip down Going to the Sun Road, we began at the East entrance in St. Mary (scroll down to the end for the video clip) and took a Red Bus tour of the Eastern side. We toured the road in our rental car a few more times that week and saw something different each time.

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Going to the Sun Road is partially closed during the colder months and very difficult to plow due to the twists & turns, sheer cliffs and the fact that they get snow drifts of up to 80 feet in the higher elevations. The plow crews started work at the end of April this year and when we got on a plane bound for Kalispell at the end of June, the road still was not completely open. Late on the night of our arrival, the Park Service tweeted out the happy news that Going to the Sun was open for the summer season!

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When the road opened in the 1930s, it was an engineering marvel and was a three-year project that actually took 11 years to build. The design of the road changed over the course of the construction from multiple switchbacks carving up the mountain to Logan Pass to only one long switchback called The Loop, reducing the visual impact, but increasing the cost and time needed for the project.

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The road is named for the mountain it cuts through on the East side of the pass. Legend has it that a Native American god came down from the sun to teach the Blackfeet how to hunt and left his image in the mountain upon his return to the Sun. The source of that legend is in dispute…is it a Blackfeet legend, or did a European settler make the whole thing up?

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On our trips up and down Going to the Sun, we saw tunnels, glaciers, beautiful mountains and valleys and countless waterfalls crossing the road. We were thrilled to have four bighorn sheep cross the road in front of our car one evening, pose for photos and then clamber up the cliff next to us.

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Another time, when all I had handy to take photos was my phone, we saw two black bears (one blonde, one brunette) frolicking by the side of the road. We’d heard a ranger talking about this duo on a hike earlier that day. Apparently the couple had come together to mate and there were multiple visitor sightings of the same bears in the St. Mary area.

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To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

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Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park, NHL

Date designated or established: 5/11/1910, Road added to NHL in 1997

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

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Bighorn traffic jam at the East Tunnel…can you see him peeking over the hood of the car in front?

Glacier National Park: Logan Pass

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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As we continued down Going to the Sun Road in our Red Bus Eastern Alpine Tour, we could see that Logan Pass was socked in with fog. When we parked in the lot, it was freezing and visibility was almost zero.

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Logan Pass was named after Glacier National Park’s first superintendent. It is the highest point on Going to the Sun Road and is one of the most visited spots in the park.

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When we were there with the red bus tour, there were kids skiing on the snow drifts. We grabbed a quick photo by the Continental Divide sign and the went into the visitor center to see the displays and get a souvenir pin.

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The red bus headed back up Going to the Sun Road, making a stop at the lush Reynolds Creek Valley overlook. There were waterfalls everywhere we looked. The view here more than made up for the fog over Logan Pass.

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We stopped by Logan Pass to see the view later in the week when there was no fog, in the early morning before the lot was crowded.


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This time we were able to see Clements Mountain looming over the visitor center. From the other side of the lot, we could see the sun rising over Going to the Sun Mountain.

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To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

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Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

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Glacier National Park: Wild Goose Island & Jackson Glacier Overlook

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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The 50 mile Going to the Sun Road first opened to traffic in Glacier National Park in 1933 and remains a key attraction in the park today. On our first trip down Going to the Sun Road, we took a Red Bus tour of the Eastern side. This fleet of White Motor Company buses have been  touring Going to the Sun Road since the 1930s, with restoration and mechanical updates donated by Ford.

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With the canvas top rolled back and the sun shining, our guide Laura drove us to our first stop, Wild Goose Island. We filed out of the bus to see the breathtaking view of Wild Goose Island in the glacial waters of Lake Mary, surrounded by snow-covered mountains.

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The island gets its name from a Native American story of two young lovers who sought refuge there. But their pursuers followed them to the island and were almost upon them. The Great Spirit took pity on them and transformed them into geese so they could fly away and live out their lives together in peace.

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Our next two stops were ‘Prairie Dog’ stops, where the bus pulled into small turnouts while we passengers stood up and glimpsed through the roof what we’d all come to the park to see: glaciers. When the park was established, there were over 100 glaciers. In 1966, only 35 were left and in 2015 the park was down to only 26 that met the criteria for being called a glacier. These remaining 26 have continued to decrease in mass, measured since 1966, and it is estimated that all the park’s glaciers will be gone within the next 20 years.

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Laura pointed out Blackfoot Mountain which is home to Blackfoot Glacier, the second-largest glacier in the park. It was measured at 370 acres in 2015, down from 453 in 1966. It used to encompass Jackson Glacier, but they separated around 1929.

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The next stop was Jackson Glacier overlook. This lot was too crowded to get a clear view even from the top of the bus, so we came back on a different day to get better pictures. This glacier is the most easily seen from the Going to the Sun Road. It has lost a third of its acreage in the last 50 years.

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To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

  • Rising Sun
  • Wild Goose Island and Jackson Glacier Overlook
  • Logan Pass (Coming Soon)
  • Going To The Sun Road (Coming Soon)
  • St. Mary Lake (Coming Soon)
  • St. Mary Falls (Coming Soon)

Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

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Glacier National Park: Rising Sun

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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The 50 mile Going to the Sun Road first opened to traffic in Glacier National Park in 1933 and remains a key attraction in the park today. Prior to its opening, visitors came by train and stayed in the lodges built by the Great Northern Railway to capitalize on park tourism. To accommodate the new auto-touring crowd, the company built the East Glacier Auto Camp in 1941. It was later re-named Rising Sun.

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During our stay in Glacier National Park, we explored Going to the Sun several times, stopping frequently to see the sights along the way. On our first trip down Going to the Sun Road, we began at the East entrance in St. Mary (scroll down to the end for the video clip.) We parked in the Rising Sun lot.

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The exhibit in front of the motel describes Rising Sun as the place “where the mountains meet the prairie.” In addition to the motel, there are log cabins, a campground and a general store. Rose Creek flows through the complex to St. Mary Lake, with the mountain-prairie convergence allowing diverse wildlife to thrive here.

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After exploring the area, we boarded the Red Bus for the Eastern Alpine tour. This tour travels Going to the Sun Road from St. Mary to Logan Pass. This fleet of White Motor Company buses have been  touring Going to the Sun Road since the 1930s, with restoration and mechanical updates donated by Ford.

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Our driver and guide, Laura, is a school bus driver during the school year and it’s apparent she enjoys her summer job as a Red Bus ‘Jammer.’ When she pulled up at Rising Sun to pick us up, she hopped out and rolled back the canvas top so that we could ‘Prairie Dog’ at stops where we couldn’t get out. And off we went for our morning’s adventure!

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When we returned to Rising Sun around Noon, we stopped in for lunch at Two Dog Flats Grill. I didn’t have high hopes for a park eatery in a motor lodge, but our meal was surprisingly good. It is a simple, standard American menu with a few twists, and the food is well-prepared.

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We had the huckleberry pulled pork, fruit salad, build-your-own burgers and the best fries we had the entire trip.

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To see all of my Going to the Sun Posts, please click the following links:

  • Rising Sun
  • Wild Goose Island and Jackson Glacier Overlook (Coming Soon)
  • Logan Pass (Coming Soon)
  • Going To The Sun Road (Coming Soon)
  • St. Mary Lake (Coming Soon)
  • St. Mary Falls (Coming Soon)

Location: Going-to-the-Sun Road, East Glacier Park, MT 59434, USA

Designation: National Park, NRHP

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910, Lodge added to NRHP in 1996

Date of my visit: 6/24/2018

 

Glacier National Park: Twin Falls

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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On our first day in Glacier National Park, we explored the Two Medicine area. We took the scenic lake tour on Glacier Park Boat Company’s Sinopah, a boat that has been shuttling tourists across the lake since the park’s beginnings. When we docked at the West shore, we took a guided hike with Nathan, our boat captain and naturalist.

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The trail to Twin Falls is level and well-traveled. It begins with  a short boardwalk section over a bog and then becomes a packed dirt path with a bridge or two over creeks. It’s about a mile to the falls, so two miles round trip.

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At several points, we paused on the trail so Nathan could highlight a few things. He pointed out several dead trees and said that a Chinook Wind (a warm wind that blows over the Continental Divide from the Pacific coast in winter) fooled them into thinking it was spring and made their sap start running. When the weather returned to freezing, the trees burst.

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He also showed us some huckleberry patches. Huckleberries, similar to blueberries,  are a big thing in Montana…huckleberry pies, ice cream, BBQ glazes, salad dressings, etc are everywhere in restaurants and gift shops. The berries can only be harvested in the wild as they have not been successfully cultivated. Bears love them too, so one must be alert when walking through huckleberry patches.

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Shortly before the falls  Pumpelly Pillar comes into view. This dramatically shaped rock is named for Raphael Pumpelly, who led the Northern Transcontinental Railway Survey Party that passed by it in 1883. The Twin Falls cascade off the eastern slopes of Pumpelly Pillar.

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After taking a few photos at the falls, we headed back to the dock. Apparently we left a little too soon because people who arrived after us at the dock saw a moose on their return journey. While we sat on the dock waiting for the boat, we watched a surefooted mountain goat clamber up a cliff, high above the lake.

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The boat tours that include the guided hike only go out a couple of times a day. They are very popular and sell out quickly. I was able to reserve our tickets online a few months in advance.

To see my other Glacier NP/Two Medicine Posts, click the following links:

Location: 2 Medicine Rd, East Glacier Park, Mt 59434

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/23/2018

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Glacier Lilies

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine Lake

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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We spent our first day in Glacier National Park exploring the Two Medicine area. After our Aster Falls hike, we headed down to Two Medicine Lake for our ride with the Glacier Park Boat Company.

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Two Medicine got its name from the Blackfeet Indians. Each year, the clan seer would have a vision quest to determine where the tribe should build its ceremonial medicine lodge. One year, two seers from separate clans had visions of the same place which became known as Two Medicine Lodge (later shortened to Two Medicine.)

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We boarded the Sinopah, a 92-year-old enclosed wooden boat which has been cruising Two Medicine Lake from the park’s beginnings. Built in 1926 for the Great Northern Railway’s tourism company, it was named after the daughter of Blackfeet chief Lone Walker. Sinopah is also the name of one of the mountains towering over Two Medicine Lake.

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On our 20 minute ride to the other side, naturalist Hailey named the mountains we were passing and shared the tribal folklore behind some of the names. She told us that there are no glaciers on the Two Medicine side of Glacier National Park, even though we could see large snow fields that appeared to be glaciers. To be considered a glacier, it must be 25 square acres, 100 feet tall and show some signs of movement.

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We docked at the Twin Falls trailhead and hiked it with our boat captain/naturalist Nathan. We rode the 3:00 boat back, this time with Nathan providing commentary (along with some groan-worthy jokes) and Hailey driving. As we approached the general store and other buildings, Nathan pointed out the Swiss-inspired architecture.

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The general store, which carries souvenirs, camping necessities and has a small snack bar, was originally one of the park’s lodges. Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railroad, built most of the lodges like Swiss Chalets because he considered Glacier National Park to be the ‘Alps of America.’ He wanted to encourage wealthy easterners to use his trains to ‘See America First’, rather than voyage to Europe.

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To see my other Glacier NP/Two Medicine Posts, click the following links:

Location: 2 Medicine Rd, East Glacier Park, Mt 59434

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/23/2018

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This is the boat house where the Sinopah spends the icy winters

Glacier National Park: Aster Falls

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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We spent our first day in Glacier National Park exploring the Two Medicine area. After visiting Running Eagle Falls on the way in to the park, we parked in the lot by the General Store. There were plenty of spots available at 9 AM, but none when we left in the afternoon.

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The trail to Aster Falls begins at the South Shore Trail-head at the end of the lot and gently winds 1.2 miles up towards the falls. There are clear directional signs at each juncture. We passed by the lake, wildflower fields, beaver ponds and woodlands on our ascent.

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We’d been told to look out for moose, bears and other wildlife. We’d brought bear spray after being warned we’d need it. But all we saw on this hike were some chipmunks and woodpeckers.

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There was still snow in the higher elevations and the melt meant there was water everywhere. We navigated around mud, puddles and runoff as we hiked. The falls were pretty powerful as well.

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After the falls, we decided to keep hiking up the trail to Aster Park Overlook. This was a more arduous climb, gaining about 500 feet of elevation in less than a mile via steep switchbacks.

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When we got to a large clearing, my daughter and I rested and enjoyed the view of Rising Wolf Mountain. Rising Wolf was the first white man to live with the Blackfeet, having fallen in love with Chief Lone Walker’s daughter, Sinopah. Born Hugh Monroe, he was re-named Rising Wolf because of the way he got out of bed in the morning (on all fours.)

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My husband decided to jog up the rest of the way which was only a little further because we could hear him calling for us. But we were exhausted and needed to be back by the lake for our reservations with the Glacier Boat Company. We waited for him and then hiked down to the shore.

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To see my other Glacier NP/Two Medicine Posts, click the following links:

Location: 2 Medicine Rd, East Glacier Park, Mt 59434

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/23/2018

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