Going to the Sun

We're trying to take advantage of good weather days, so we headed back into the Park on Friday for day 2 of our Glacier Park explorations. The plan was a slow meander up Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass and a hike to Hidden Lake from the Visitors Center at the top.

Glacier National Park was created by Congress in 1910. Early visitors arrived via the Great Northern Railway and stayed in a series of chalets or grand hotels which were also built by the railroad. During the 1920s work began on the Going to the Sun Road. It was designed to cater to a growing number of automobile-borne tourists and to join the East and West sides of the Park. After years of difficult engineering and construction challenges the 53 mile long road was completed in 1932.

And what an amazing road it is. Because it's so narrow and curvy vehicles longer than 21 feet and wider than 8 feet (including mirrors) are prohibited. There are many places where the rock walls intrude into the roadway... which could be big trouble for vehicles higher than 8 feet or so. The highest 10 miles of the road on the west side of Logan Pass, the summit, is carved out of a nearly vertical rock face called the Garden Wall. In places, masonry archways support the roadway and keep it attached to the rock wall.

The road is closed during most of the year... buried under dozens of feet of snow. In late Spring every year snowplowing crews, using huge dozers and other heavy equipment, spend as much as 10 weeks opening the road for Summer visitors, often making progress of only a few hundred feet each day. It's usually open by early June and can close again in October. The road really takes a beating too... not just from the traffic but also from nature. Freeze/thaw cycles, rock slides, avalanches, and water erosion conspire to wear it away and send it back down the mountain where it came from. As a result, the Park is in the middle of a major road restoration project that will go on for years more, but is necessary to keep the road safe and capable of handling the throngs of tourists every year.

Along our route to the top, we stopped at many pull-outs to explore, to enjoy a snack along a creek, or to just soak up the views. Of course Dar also loves snapping pictures, hundreds of them on a day like today. Traffic was heavy, but moved right along. In some places the road rehab project has the road down to just one narrow lane with traffic signals controlling an alternating flow of traffic.

At the top we ran into another small problem. Parking. Early holiday weekend visitors had filled the modest parking lot at the Logan Pass visitors center -- every last space. We hovered, slowly cruising around the lot in a line of other cars doing the same thing... hoping to spot someone ready to leave. Hope was the strategy as we circled the lot for 15 minutes or so. To keep the story short, I'll say we did land a space eventually. Because we were on a "mission", we knew we were going to find a place to park... even if it had to be on the sidewalk over by the rest rooms.

 30 years ago, on our visit here with daughter Andrea, we stopped at Logan Pass and took the 1-1/2 mile (each way) hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook. Once again we wanted to chase those old memories and do it again. There may be a more scenic and awesome hike somewhere else in Glacier, but I don't know of it. As you straddle the continental divide at over 6,000 feet elevation, you look out on soaring peaks and mountains all around. You look down into valleys and ridges far below. Alpine lakes that hold some of the runoff from the 80 feet of snow that falls up here each winter... blue green and clear as glass. And the wildlife.

One of our memories from our last visit was seeing a few Mountain Goats up close. But during our hike yesterday we were rewarded with much more. Besides the seemingly ever-present Mountain Goats we were able to get up close to three Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep... two large males and a smaller juvenile.

Check out these photos... and, as always, see more pics of our day in our online photo gallery which should be available in the next day or so.

Can it possibly get any better than this?


Unknown said…
I am so Jealous!!! I have been looking forever on our travels for Mountain Goats or Big Horn Sheep and haven't ever seen them...... Now you two not only see the goats, you see two Bighorn Sheep! How cool!! Your picture of the Bighorn Sheep is wonderful!!
Thom Hoch said…
Shirleen, and as soon as Dar gets the rest ready for our online albums, check out the rest of the shots. It was really a special moment. The goats were very close... the sheep about 100 feet away, just browsing away and not very concerned about a bunch of us clicking away.
Joe and Tracey said…
Aye, aye, aye ... crystal blue mountain lake and bighorn sheep! That's a classic!

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