Glacier National Park is HUGE, as in you can’t really see and enjoy the whole place in one day, not even if you’re going to do the whole thing by car. It is just too big. This was my second day, when I explored the western half… and then wished I’d allowed myself a full week at the place.
Warning: If you arrive at the park early in the season (I was there at the very end of May) the “Going to the Sun” drive which connects the east and west segments and travels through the middle of the park will most likely STILL be blocked with snow. If it is you’ll be forced — as I was– to leave the park and circle around via lower altitude roads.
I learned later that the full road isn’t actually opened until LATE June or even mid July, depending on weather conditions — there is even a web page dedicated to updating tourists about how much of it the plows have opened for traffic. Apparently about Oct. 16th is when the road closes down again because of expected snow accumulation… one of these days I will go there again in September after the kids are back in school so I can drive through the highest elevation parts…
I stayed two nights at Brownies Youth Hostel and Restaurant, which is near the eastern side of the park. I had found it via Airbnb, but had then contacted them directly and made the booking by phone in order to ensure that I got the specific room I wanted (a private and across the hall from the ladies bathroom). It was the ONLY Airbnb near where I wanted to be, as close to the park as possible but not far off the highway I was going to take up to Calgary, and every hotel I found in that same area (note: I was not yet truly skilled in the ways of finding high quality mom and pop motels yet, so this price was compared to the larger hotels, etc) were asking WAY more than I wanted to pay. Here at the hostel, a bunk-bed in a shared dorm room is $22/night, and a private room with a double bed is $65 — utterly reasonable prices. I really enjoyed my stay there and met a bunch of really nice college kids who were roughing it, as well as a really nice married Indian couple who were both young professors (one taught business, the other psychology).
I will say the only unexpected (it is a hostel and not a hotel) downsides of Brownies were 1) the WiFi in my bedroom sucked to the point of useless; the modem was down the hall where the shared spaces were — kitchen and living room and was good and fast there, but the signal just didn’t really reach to my room. And, 2) while the rustic log cabin walls were cute and provided visual privacy, they resulted in small gaps between the interior and exterior walls with the result that they did not block noises from the other rooms pretty much at all. This would not really have been a problem were it not for the fact that the college dude sleeping in the bed on the other side of it had a snore like a freight train (thank the lord I ALWAYS travel with an ample supply of top of the line ear plugs). He was in a group of guys who were bicycling their way across America (raising money along the way), and we all kidded him about he’d have to do something about that snore if he ever wanted to get and stay married.
After breakfast I headed around south and then west along route 2 through the Marias Pass to the other end of the “Going to the Sun” road, which I had not been able to reach the yesterday due to snow and ice still blocking the roads at the higher elevations.
To quote Wikipedia:
“The pass traverses the Continental Divide in the Lewis Range, along the boundary between the Lewis and Clark National Forest and the Flathead National Forest. The pass forms the southern limit of the Continental Ranges….. The Great Bear Wilderness in Lewis and Clark National Forest is south of the pass and Glacier National Park is to the north. During the winter, the pass is the only way to cross the Continental Divide by road in the United States north of Montana’s Rogers Pass (to be distinguished from British Columbia’s Rogers Pass), because of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.”
Note: I passed through the Canadian Roger’s Pass a few days later while driving the TransCandian Highway
So, on the way there I passed through the Louise & Clark National forest, which is yet ANOTHER stop of the Louise & Clark trail… and get this, it’s May 28th, and it is SNOWING! (no wonder the higher elevations are still blocked with snow). Off to the side of the road there was an area with two big memorials, and one tiny one:
This statue is in memory of John F. Stevens (25 April 1853 – 2 June 1943), an American civil engineer who helped to build both the great Northern Railroad and the Panama Canal, [the following is according to the highly faded and barely legible sign that was standing in front of him, sad] “was charged finding a suitable rail route across the Continental Divide. In December of 1889, Stevens located and recorded the pass which had been used by area Native Americans for many centuries” i.e., what came to be known as Marias Pass.
There was also a third, very small memorial … just a big chunk of pink rock with a plaque embedded into it which I actually found kind of touching:
There’s a story (found it on the cite I linked to Morrison’s name, see below)), about how “John F. Stevens, credited by the Great Northern Railroad with the discovery of Marias Pass, spoke at the dedication of the Stevens statue at Summit. In the course of his speech, Stevens told of hardships in searching out the pass over the Continental Divide. He explained that it was December, and he had nearly perished in a blizzard at the pass. At this point, Morrison spoke up from the crowd: “Why didn’t you come over to my house? I was living right over there,” he said, pointing to his cabin.” — makes me smile
Anyway, you have to think, here’s this old guy who is apparently highly educated, who didn’t have any kids (that he knew of) to leave his land to, and knowing that they had established a huge National Park across the street (Established 1910 by President Taft, although much of it’s infrastructure was built as part of the Roosevelt’s depression era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) .. think “New Deal”), and that realizing that a lot of tourists would be passing along that street, he probably realized that his best bet at any sort of immortality/legacy lay in donating his land for this purpose.
Again, there was a very faded sign in front of the memorial (that was even LESS legible than the last one) with more information:
“William H. “Slippery Bill” Morrison was a mountain man who had “squatters rights” on 160 acres at the Marias Pass summit. He donated a portion of his land for the site of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial monument.
Morrison was a frontier philosopher who would often expound on his favorite theories to anyone who would listen. Morrison spent most of his life as a trapper and prospector.
Slippery Bill diet in 1932 at the age of 84. According to his wishes the balance of his land was transferred to the federal government after his death.”
All of which was followed by a very faded sketch of the old guy:
As I approached the park, firstly I realized that there were way more people here than had been at the other end of the park, and second — after driving over an hour to get here — I realized I had better fill up before entering the West Glacier Park entrance, because those places almost never have gas stations inside the park boundaries. Also, it was SO FRIGGING COLD (may 28th and it was SNOWING) that I decided to try to unload my trunk and dig out the down coat, winter hat and gloves that I had buried in the compartment designed for the spare wheel.
Granted, this made them kind of inaccessible, but they were there for emergencies just like this one. My overall goal with these trips is to structure my movements so as to never need see full winter, but, that said I had had the forethought to bring them just in case. Let’s face it, even southern Florida occasionally gets a cold snap. I also lug around a big thick down blanket in the backseat of my car, for the same reason, and have had a few days when I needed it. My car actually is loaded with food (nuts, olives, etc), loads of water, and a heavy down blanket just in case the car should happen to break down in the middle of no where on a cold night. Yes, I’m a planner.
Anyway, since my massive suitcases were still in there, and I needed help in order to remove them, I spotted a guy standing off to the side with a handful of papers and called him over asking him to help me. Turned out his name was John Marshall and he was from the University of Montana and was doing a research questionnaire about tourism at the park, and in exchange for my scratching his back (answering the very long questionnaire) he helped me unload and then reload my car, and we got to talking…
As we were talking the question of the local Blackfeet population came up (I forget why), and I told him about the heavily graffiti-ed obelisk I had passed on the way to my hostel, just the day before; so, he was the one actually gave me the heads up about the confrontational history between the local tribes and Louis & Clark; and he was also the one who told me to look up Elouise Cobell, and how she had brought a case titled, Cobell v. Babbitt against the United states Department of Interior based on her own investigation of their practices (that she said “revealed mismanagement, ineptness, dishonesty, and delay of federal officials”of Indian trust assets … money owned by the government but held in trust for Native Americans… to the tune of $176 billion).
Apparently he had not long before attended her funeral, so she was active in his mind — and I got so distracted in talking to him that when I finally got into the park I realized that in all that moving, packing and talking that I had completely forgotten to actually pump any gas. So I had to leave the park after having just entered (yay for my National parks pass) to go get gas (again). At which point I realized it was already lunch time, and that I was hungry …. so I stopped at the West Glacier Restaurant and got myself an elk sausage (seriously, elk!), tomato Florentine soup and cup of a huckleberry tea (am saving room for more huckleberry pie for tonight) — it was supposed to be served in a kaiser roll type thing but I asked them to hold the carbs, and the french fries, and give me more veggies instead
And then FINALLY I got into the park!
Leading off of the lake and up into the mountains is this river, which is full of a lot of picturesque twists and turns, and rapids, etc… which the “Road to the Sun” follows alongside of, heading up into the mountains… or at least at this time of year up until the road conditions become unsafe….
and multiple times along the river you come to narrow bridges you can often drive across, but at the other side you usually find some limited parking and hiking trails (of course with my painful hips, knees, and plantar fasciitis — feet — this was not something I was going to do, that and I didn’t have proper hiking boots, just a pair of Crocs, because of the plantar fasciitis).
As I traveled around the park I kept running into this film crew who said they worked for a German TV station, they had this big red van and sometimes sometimes would prop the cameraman and his rig up over the top of at… the last time I saw them was when I was about to leave, and a park cop and pulled them over, lights and all, which made me think that maybe they didn’t have the proper permits… either that or he wasn’t pleased to see the cameraman perched on their hood
At one point I came to this place, where there were all sorts of cars parked to one side, only there was no parking for me, so I parked as far off the road as I could on the side where there was no designated parking (hoping it wouldn’t earn me a ticket.
When I initially parked here I was the only car not on the side with designated parking spot, but instead on the wrong side of the road pulled off to the side as much as possible… I came back five minutes later seven cars (two not visible) had already followed my lead
I kept driving up as far as I could, but about 45 minutes in, as the elevation started to rise, snow and sleet started to come down, I had started to approach, but hadn’t gotten anywhere near the area called
At this point the weather was definitively nasty (I actually ran into one of my fellow youth Hostel guests up there), and there was a massive road block… so there was no choice but to return the way I had come… only this time I took one of the many side roads that led back around the lake to the other side
After driving around a while I came to a section of the park that was all shops and restaurants, and a hotel complex within the park for visitors. In one of the shops I found this, and … well…. my new car is in dire need of some new bumper stickers:
Finally, I headed home and after stopping off for dinner, where I got myself that piece of Huckleberry pie, I headed back to the Hostel, at which point I realized that it was 10 pm and it is still light out… WTF?! How far North am I?