Monday, August 26, 2013

Crown of the Continent

Here we are in Glacier National Park, among over 2,000,000 visitors who come every year. It's an absolutely huge place, about 1,583 square miles, of which about 1,489 are considered wilderness, so the people mostly come to the same rather small areas to visit. It's about 50 miles across the middle of the park from the West entrance to the East entrance, crossing the Continental Divide at Logan's Pass, the highest elevation (6640ft.) reachable by car in the park. You begin to see the problems, right? So does the Park Service.
The road was originally built in the 1930's, by men with shovels, pick axes, mules and some dynamite. The slender line across the mountain in this photo is the road working its way up the mountain. It is beautiful, without a doubt, but narrow and twisty. Large campers and other such vehicles can't use it at all, of course. You couldn't pay me enough money to drive across it.  Definitely a white knuckle trip.
One of its biggest issues is snow, which can vary from 47 inches at the bottom, to almost 14 FEET at the higher elevations. Each year they have to get road crews with plows up there to remove the snow, without losing anyone over the side to avalanches. I don't understand how they can even find the road in all that snow! In 2012, for example, it wasn't opened fully until June 19.  The park posts updates on their progress on their website.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is now 75 years old and is in need of comprehensive rehabilitation to ensure that this National Historic Landmark is preserved for generations to come. This work will continue for the next 5 years, depending on funding. As they close down one lane at a time to be completely rebuilt, traffic can really back up, although it didn't seem too bad this morning. In October of this year, they will close the crossing at the top altogether, until next spring.
Having researched all this online, we were prepared, and signed up for the Red Bus Crown of the Continent tour this morning. Since 1936 a fleet of buses has carried park visitors across the Road to the Sun. Everyone liked the old design so well that Ford Motor Company re-created them using newer technology and safety features, but the old style. Drivers called "jammers," for the tendency to grind the gears in early days, also narrate tours as you drive along.
The roof rolls back, and you have absolutely spectacular views. When the bus stops, you can stand up and take photos through the rolled back roof! We rode the bus all day, over to the East side and back, stopping for photos and lunch. This was our orientation to the Park. No matter how many maps and brochures you read, you just don't have a good feel for how big this place is, and how to get from one place to another. The Park Service now has a series of free shuttle buses to take people to the most popular locations, and encourage visitors to leave their cars below. I certainly plan to do so!

You know me, I can't walk 6 steps in a place like this without taking a bunch of pictures, so here are some highlights from today....

Mountain Goats at high elevation

Columbian Ground Squirrel at Logan's Pass

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