Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August 31 – Going to the Sun Road

First, I forgot to mention something from yesterday that made us do a double take. At one of the bus stops going home a very elderly couple got on quite slowly, even having a hard time with the steps. The driver asked them where they were going and they said “We have to go to the last stop because that is where we left our bikes”.

We had initially planned to do the long 2 1/2 hour each way trek to the Many Glaciers area of the park but the forecast called for rain and thunderstorms so hiking was probably out. It was also a LOT cooler today. We actually had to wear jackets.

Instead we decided to drive the Going to the Sun road end to end and back stopping at all the viewpoints along the way. The road is the only way to cross the park without going around the edges. The road itself is a National Historic Landmark and one the most amazing drives I have ever done. It is almost 50 miles long but take about 2 hours to go end to end and you will see why.

Entering from the west the first 20 miles are fairly flat and follow Lake Macdonald and then Macdonald Creek.





Moving on towards the Continental Divide.


The next 12 miles climb to Logan Pass. If you remember the continental divide wall that we hiked the other day, the road climbs the same wall. First you go north about 4 miles and then do the only hairpin and then 8 miles south to the pass. This is one of the craziest 8 miles you can drive. No vehicle over 21 feet long, 10 feet high or 8 feet wide is allowed on this section. The road is carved out of the cliff side and in most cases is not much more than 2 cars wide with a very low stone wall on the edge.

Google Maps

Our first stop was at the tunnel with a viewpoint in the middle.




Not much to see in the view but the viewpoint itself was interesting.


After making the hairpin turn, you essentially get almost the same views as from the Highline Trail that we took but here Jennie didn’t want to look and I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road.

In the picture below follow the scar in the cliff side off as far into the distance as you can see.


Our next stop was a pullout to see the ribbon waterfall that passes under the roadway.



We could also see back down the valley that we had driven beside the Macdonald River.


There are not a lot of places to stop so most of these pictures are through the windshield but you get the idea.





Unfortunately today it was the “Going to the Clouds Road”. As we got up near the pass it got like this. We all drove very slowly.


There was also some construction so we had a bit of a wait.


The visitor’s center.


We continued on down the east side and eventually got back out of the clouds. We stopped for a quick look at Sunrift Gorge and Baring Falls. We had to park up the road a short way and walk down across a bridge.



It wasn’t raining. Jennie just likes the coat because it is warm. I like it because it stands out in the pictures.


Look at the guy in red in the picture below.


He had scrambled across those logs to get to the other side of the creek. When coming back he somehow lost his footing and ended up in the pool below where he is standing.


I didn’t see it happen but I heard his kid yell and ran back to see him stand up in the water. I can’t believe he fell down there without hurting himself. After seeing that he was all right, I REALLY wanted to take a picture of him in the water but I could tell that he was just so embarrassed that I couldn’t. I heard him say that he didn’t have a change of clothes and that is glacier water.


On, under the bridge towards the falls.





Onward and the road follows the edge of Saint Mary Lake.


As usual it is much drier on the east side of the mountains.


We stopped at the east side visitor’s center, watched a movie and then headed back.

By the time we got back to Logan Pass I guess it had cooled even more because we got caught in a hail storm.



I opened the window to get a picture and they were bouncing all around the car.


At the bottom we did a quick stop at one of the lodges.



As a side note. If you don’t want to drive the road they have day tours in the famous Glacier National Park Red Buses. They have a canvas roof that can be rolled off to get better views.


However we don’t like tours where you are told where to go and when to get on and off the bus. We also thought they were quite expensive at $45 to $80 a person depending on the length of the trip. Not everyone thought that because they have 33 of the buses and they always seemed full whenever we saw them.

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