I'm happy to say that Glacier National Park
is just impressive today as it was in the 1970's when we first visited with our blue tent. The park is a huge square piece of real estate, straddling the Continental Divide. Just to keep things interesting it abuts a much smaller park in Canada called Waterton International Peace Park. Most of the park is inaccessible to all but the most energetic hikers. Geezers like us spend the day driving the road that bisects the width of the park. Both the east and west ends of this road caress the edge of blue, alpine lakes. Between the lakes the road climbs to 7,1000 feet. Going to the Sun highway is aptly named indeed. Because this area gets so much snow the road is often not open til mid June and must shut down again by mid October.
When the highway was built in 1933, no road crossed over the Continental Divide. Original design proposals suggested 15 switchbacks, but the final result had only one big loop at the top. The road was gravel until 1952 and is in need to shoring up in many spots today. It hugs the steep mountain sides and appears to have no support beneath it. Two stretches under repair, went down to one lane and there were definitely some curves where I spent my time casting loving looks at Ken rather than looking out the window. The traffic flow is reduced by historic looking, red, open air touring cars that function as shuttle buses. Also vehicles longer than 21 feet are not allowed at all.
Although the name Glacier National Park fit this spot much better before global warming had taken a toll, even today, a warm blue sky day in mid August, we could see snow patches and drove past waterfalls of snow melt. There were many visitors driving to the Sun, on one of the last summer Saturdays before children return to school. But the park is so big and there are so many places to pull off and enjoy the scenery, that we had no problem taking many too many photos. How atypical of us!
As we entered the park from the west, we were disappointed to see so many brown pine trees. We speculated about air pollution and disease, but were reassured to read that extensive forest fires had left their mark on the slopes in 2003. No one likes to see burned timber, but this is part of nature and we know the next time we return, the pine cones that burst open in the heat of the flames will have reseeded the slopes once again.
The highlight of the day was at the top, where we took a three mile hike up about 500 feet to Hidden Lake. The air was thin, but these two old, rotund travelers had no trouble going to the top, pausing to take pictures along the way. Alpine flowers were blooming vigorously, finally uncovered by the snow melt. Big horn sheep and mountain goats were not intimidated by the parade of tourists and willingly posed for us as long as we did not get too close.