Glacier National Park Part I
It was only about an hour and a half drive from Polson to our next stop in Coram, MT. Coram is about 5 miles from the west entrance to Glacier National Park. In Coram, we stayed at North American RV Park. North American RV has mostly pull-through sites with full hookups and free Wi-Fi. Some sites have 30 amp electric and some have 50 amp. The roads and pads are gravel. The sites are a little narrow, but we did have enough room for our awning and slides. Although there is grass between the sites, our grass was a little sparse. U. S. Highway 2 that passes the campground is a very busy road so there is some traffic noise during the day, but the traffic diminishes to almost nothing at night. There is also a train track nearby, and we could hear an occasional train whistle. The photo below shows our site at North American RV Park.
Glacier National Park is located in the northwestern corner of Montana right along the Canadian border. Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada is a sister park to Glacier. Together, the two parks are known as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Glacier National Park contains the southern extensions of the Canadian Rockies. The national park is named more for the colossal glaciers that existed in the past rather than the relatively small glaciers that exist today. Glaciers have worn down the mountains to leave craggy peaks, they have scoured the sides of the mountains to form U-shaped valleys, and they have dammed up rivers to form lakes.
Visitors first started arriving in the area of Glacier National Park in the 1890s, and the national park was established in 1910. Early visitors to the park would take a stagecoach to Lake McDonald, then take a boat to a hotel built along the lake. They would also hike or ride horses to various other hotels or chalets scattered around the park. As the number of visitors grew, so did the demand for a road across the mountains. This demand led to the building of Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Going-to-the-Sun Road traverses the park in roughly an east-west direction and is about 50 miles long. The road was opened in 1932 after 11 years of construction. Building the road would be a huge undertaking today, but it is truly amazing what they were able to accomplish that many years ago. The road is a true engineering marvel and is listed as a National Landmark.
We started our drive through the park at the western end of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Lake McDonald is a glacial lake located a short distance inside the park. The lake is a little over 10 miles long, about 1½ miles wide, and 472 feet deep. The photo below shows Lake McDonald from the southwestern end. It was very windy the day we stopped for the photo, and the lake is big enough to allow the wind to kick quite a few whitecaps.
Lake McDonald is fed by McDonald Creek; and a short distance past the northeastern end of the lake, McDonald Creek tumbles over McDonald Falls.
A little farther along Going-to-the-Sun Road, we stopped at another area where there was a smaller falls and where we could walk down to the edge of the water.
Margery tested the water. It was COLD!
Much of the near bank of the creek was solid rock, and Paul was interested in how the water had carved numerous potholes.
Our next stop was at Avalanche Creek where there is a four-mile round trip hike to Avalanche Lake and a shorter, .8 mile nature trail loop called Trail of the Cedars. Because Going-to-the-Sun Road is currently undergoing a multi-year rehabilitation, we knew there may be construction delays. Therefore, we didn't want to run out of time later on, so we opted for the shorter Trail of the Cedars hike. The trail passes through a dense cedar forest. At the far end of the loop is Avalanche Creek Falls. The next photo shows us on the bridge overlooking Avalanche Creek Falls.
Shortly after passing Avalanche Creek, Going-to-the-Sun Road starts to climb. The next photo is looking southeast back along McDonald Creek in the lower left toward Lake McDonald. Notice the characteristic U-shape of the glacial valley. The snow-capped mountain is 8,987-foot Heavens Peak.
The Continental Divide runs through Glacier National Park. The Continental Divide is the line where all the water on one side flows to the Pacific Ocean and all the water on the other side ends up in the Atlantic (by way of the Gulf of Mexico). Glacier National Park is the location of a triple divide. The third divide is called the Hudson Bay Divide where the water flows northward to the Hudson Bay. The Going-to-the-Sun Road crosses the Hudson Bay Divide at Logan Pass. The next photo is looking east as we approached Logan Pass. The Hudson Bay Divide is out of the picture at the top of the hill on the left. The mountain in the distance seemed to be floating on clouds.
It is on the western side of Logan Pass where Going-to-the-Sun Road is currently undergoing renovation. The road is down to one lane in several areas, and there is alternating traffic flow. Although we had to stop several times, we never had to wait more than 5 or 10 minutes. Rather than being an inconvenience, it was an opportunity to stop for photos in areas where there were no pull-offs and where there would otherwise not be an opportunity to stop. We got out of the car to take the next photo during one of the construction delays. There is a pile of snow on the left and the Going-to-the-Sun Road along the edge of the hill on the right.
Going-to-the-Sun Road carries a lot of traffic. One thing the park is doing to reduce traffic is to provide free shuttle buses. Since Going-to-the-Sun Road is so winding and narrow (vehicle length is limited to 21 feet going over Logan Pass), the park uses mini-buses.
The park also provides guided tours (for a fee) in restored red jammer tour buses originally built in the 1930s by the White Company. The original buses were used until 1999 when inspections raised questions about safety. The White Company went out of business in 1980, so Ford undertook renovating all 32 of the park's buses in a project that ended up costing $800,000. The buses were completely disassembled, repaired, and rebuilt. The restored and modified red bodies were placed onto new E-450 chassis with economical bi-fuel engines capable of running either on gasoline or clean-burning propane. Brakes were upgraded to four-wheel disc ABS systems, and glass and lights were brought up to today's standards. The next photo shows one of the restored red jammer buses.
There is a very popular visitor center at Logan Pass; but even with the free shuttle buses and red jammer tour buses to reduce the number of private vehicles, the parking lot at the Logan Pass was filled to capacity. So we continued on down the other side of the pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road. We have a lot more to report about the eastern side of Glacier National Park, so look for our next post.