Our final day in the northern Montana area was reserved for a return trip over to Glacier National Park. We were there in 2006, but only for a day, since we were all on our way to a national HOG rally in Billings. We wanted to go back to Many Glacier Hotel, travel on the gorgeous Going to the Sun Road once again, and also see some parts of the park we missed last visit. Next time I want to stay about a week since there are a lot of hikes that aren’t too strenuous that we could do. And we better go before 2020, since by then all the remaining 25 glaciers may be gone - at one time there were over 150 glaciers in this park! We stopped at East Glacier Lodge first and then into the park at Two Medicine Lakes Road – we had missed that altogether last trip, so we were glad to go today. It was beautiful, just like all the rest of the park. After moving on up to St. Mary, we went back into the park and ate lunch at Two Dogs Flat Restaurant, which is at the old 1950s style Rising Sun Motor Inn. I had some huckleberry vinaigrette salad dressing on a salad of field greens and grilled chicken with Swiss cheese – both were delicious! Guess what Fred had? Yes, a burger – he does love his meat!
Going to the Sun Road, the only road traversing the center of the park, is both a technological and engineering marvel, spanning fifty miles through the park's wild interior, winding around mountainsides and treating visitors to some of the best sights in northwest Montana. The road is one of the most difficult roads in the continent to snowplow in the spring. We read that up to eighty feet of snow can lie on top of Logan Pass, and more just east of the pass where the deepest snowfield has long been referred to as Big Drift. The road takes about ten weeks to plow, even with equipment that can move 4000 tons of snow in an hour. The snowplow crew can clear as little as 500 feet of the road per day. On the east side of the continental divide, there are few guardrails due to heavy snows and late winter avalanches that have repeatedly destroyed every protective barrier ever constructed; the road is generally open only from early June to mid October. I remember when we were here before, we kept checking the Internet each night wherever we were, to see if the road had opened yet. It finally did, but only two days before we were scheduled to ride through the park with our Harley group! The national park website says this about the road where construction was started in 1921: “The road officially received its name during its 1933 dedication at Logan Pass. The road borrowed its name from nearby Going-to-the-Sun Mountain. Local legend and a 1933 press release issued by the Department of the Interior told the story of the deity, Sour Spirit, who came down from the sun to teach Blackfeet braves the rudiments of the hunt. On his way back to the sun, Sour Spirit had his image reproduced on the top of the mountain for inspiration to the Blackfeet. An alternate story suggests a white explorer in the 1880s concocted the name and the legend. No matter which version is accurate, the road named Going-to-the-Sun still inspires all who travel it.” I also read that in the movie Forrest Gump, as Forrest reminisced with Jenny, he remembered running across the U.S. and remarked, "Like that mountain lake. It was so clear, Jenny. It looks like there were two skies, one on top of the other." The shots in the background are Going-to-the-Sun Road and St. Mary Lake.
Whatever the stories, the road remains an absolutely gorgeous pathway through the mountains. Since it is currently being repaired over the next several years, much of it is chip sealed and many of the pull offs are not available since they are filled with construction equipment and materials. I am glad Fred decided not to ride the motorcycle today – he had researched the road’s conditions and knew it would be tough on the Harley. The weather became cooler and cooler as we closed in on Logan’s Pass. As you will be able to tell from the photos there, it started to rain and was very cold – in the mid 40s when we arrived at the pass. We still walked around though, because it is too pretty to skip! We were also lucky to be able to stop and walk around at Siyeh Bend, Jackson Glacier Overlook, and at some of the numerous waterfalls that come down from the almost vertical walls along the road.
Due to construction, the road was only one way traffic at East Tunnel, but it was worth the wait to go through the 408 foot tunnel through Piegan Mountain; we just enjoyed the scenery and took more photographs! The sun began shining once again as we descended to St. Mary Lake, and the sparkling waterfalls cascading down the cliffs seemed even prettier than before. Wildflowers of very color stood at attention just for us as we passed by – red, pink, lavender, purple, white, orange, yellow, and blue – I couldn’t tell you their names if I tried, but they sure were gorgeous. We went next north to Babb and back into the park to see one of our favorite hotels: Many Glacier Hotel. We took a photo of the door to the room where we stayed in 2006, enjoyed our memories of that trip with good friends, gazed at lovely Swiftwater Lake and the mountains surrounding it, and even got to see two grizzlies high on the hill near the hotel. On the way back to the RV park, we stopped so we could share a piece of freshly baked huckleberry pie – some calories are worth it!