Written by btwood2 on 12 Oct, 2007
Last Chance Gulch is where it all began, the heart of old Helena. For it was here that four guys known locally as the Four Georgians, though there's some speculation that there may have been more than four, and that not all of them…Read More
Last Chance Gulch is where it all began, the heart of old Helena. For it was here that four guys known locally as the Four Georgians, though there's some speculation that there may have been more than four, and that not all of them were actually from Georgia, found GOLD. Prospecting does not a well-platted city make, and old south Helena's streets exemplify futile attempts at straight lines, succeeding less often, but providing more interesting geometry and adventure than any perfectly platted city.Old buildings, new structures, and all ages in between are intertwined and side by side, making for an entertaining if not always consistent experience in architectural viewing. On the streets and walls, and in nooks and crannies, you'll find artwork, from the dynamic bullwhacker statue, whip raised high, to the Women's Mural honoring Montana's women through history. Bob and I spent an enjoyable afternoon wandering about Last Chance Gulch, a portion of which was converted to a walking mall in the mid-1970s. Many old-time Helenans rue the destruction of entire neighborhoods that took place during that 1970s wave of urban renewal. Yet many beautiful and unique historic buildings remain.The heart of the Gulch runs roughly between 6th Avenue (north) to Reeder's Alley/State Street (south), and Park Avenue (west) to Cruse Avenue (east). A good place to begin wandering the Gulch and Mall, once you've found it, is from anywhere nearby you're lucky enough to find a parking place. This was somewhat challenging (finding the Gulch itself as well as a parking place) when we visited in September 2006. However, a new car park between 6th and Broadway, probably opening even as I write (October 2007), should be an easy place to park and start. My tendency is to get up high and look around to gain perspective. A good place to do so is from the Guardian of the Gulch, the historic 25-foot tall fire tower that is also Helena's official city logo. The squat wooden not particularly elegant but highly beloved structure is visible from most of the Gulch. It's also one of the few fire towers of its kind still standing. Just make your way over to Cruse Avenue across Broadway to find the trail that leads past the hillside pocket park and picnic area up to the tower. You can walk completely around the tower, but it's fenced off and climbing it is off-limits. It was utilized as a fire lookout from the 1860s to the 1930s. From the hill on which the Guardian stands, you'll be rewarded by panoramic views of the Gulch and more distant landmarks.After taking in those views, I made my way down the hillside into the Gulch again. My checking out individual buildings, businesses, and artwork, was interrupted by a man's voice, seemingly directed at me. Hey, hippie... I ignore him. Tanja! OK, that's my name, so I suspiciously turn in his direction. Nice looking, reddish-blond hair, mustache, about my age; did I know this character from my dubious past? Surreptitiously, my husband Bob emerges from the shadows behind him, grinning. A typical Bob trick, very funny. The two had started up a conversation when they bumped into each other, wandering the streets of Last Chance Gulch, and soon I was also engaged in conversation with Jim Fetzer, owner/operator/and chocolate artist extraordinaire, of Northern Chocolate Company in Milwaukee. He's visited Helena before, and had some good tips about things to do and see in and outside of town, including nearby and not-so-nearby ghost-town recommendations (Bannack highly recommended). Thanking Jim, we continued our explorations. Kitty-corner from Bullwhacker's Western Grill, Saloon, and Casino, which advertises the largest steak in Helena, stands the Bullwhacker statue. With stoic expression and whip raised high to keep those oxen under control, he's a memory of Montana's frontier past. Another statue up the street commemorates a later time: a diminutive newsboy holding his paper high shouts out (mutely) "Extra! Read all about it!"We spot a picturesque white and red Helena trolley. Though we didn't ride on one, they run routes downtown, during summers also to nearby trailheads, and apparently can even be rented for weddings. In front of Windbag Saloon and Ghost Art Gallery stands a restored Helena streetcar, painted cheerful yellow, now stationary. The building behind it housed one of Helena's last brothels, Big Dorothy's, until 1973. Propeller, anchor, and bell of the third USS Helena (CA-75) are on display in a small park at the end of Last Chance Mall. She was a heavy cruiser who served during the Korean War. Her extensive naval career ended when she was sold for scrap metal in 1974. Gunner's Mate Earl Pullin describes the histories of all three USS Helenas, beginning with a gunboat built in 1896.Finally, we make our way under a colorful spray-painted, tagged, and grafittied bridge to historic Bluestone House. Almost as much of a city landmark as the Guardian of the Gulch, this architectural gem was allegedly designed by architect James Stranahan for his bride, Leona, in 1889, out of locally quarried stone. The legend (as related on the plaque in front of the house) continues that James died before the house was finished, and Leona only resided there for a short time. Bluestone House was severely damaged by a 1935 earthquake, but reconstructed in the 1970s, thanks to urban renewal funds. It now houses a law firm, and some say it is haunted.Treat yourself to Helena As She Was, a website that features a historic photo tour of Last Chance Gulch, and other old treasures of Helena.Close
Written by btwood2 on 08 Oct, 2007
We spent the better part of an afternoon nosing around historic Reeder's Alley, at the south end of Last Chance Gulch. At first glance, it doesn't look like much. A conglomeration of mismatched buildings - some log cabins, some wooden, and quite a few…Read More
We spent the better part of an afternoon nosing around historic Reeder's Alley, at the south end of Last Chance Gulch. At first glance, it doesn't look like much. A conglomeration of mismatched buildings - some log cabins, some wooden, and quite a few red-brick ones. Between them, a faded pinkish-gray brick pathway leads up the tree-shaded alley. However, there's more than meets the eye and plenty to keep the interest. This location is the site of Helena's oldest buildings and its mining boomtown beginnings.I didn't realize there even was a visitor center in Reeder's Alley until after exploring some and just happening to stumble onto it, but that's a good place to begin. They have excellent handouts and knowledgeable staff. It's located in the lower alley, the front brick office, facing west. A four-page news sheet contains a wealth of information and drawings about the history of the alley, Last Chance Gulch, and geological features of this area. Reeder's Alley gets its name from Louis Reeder, a stonemason and bricklayer from Pennsylvania, who arrived in Helena in 1867, three years after gold was discovered in Last Chance Gulch. After helping to build Helena's first courthouse, he invested in property along the Gulch, gradually erecting several rows and tiers of brick tenements for miners. These 35 units provided comfortable and fire-resistant homes, sturdier and snugger than tents or even log cabins. They've withstood the test of time, earthquakes, and even urban renewal. Reeder himself died an untimely death after a fall from scaffolding, while repairing a chimney, in 1884. Through the decades, mostly single men, and later pensioners, made the small apartments of Reeder's Alley their home. Early on, it was bordered by a thriving Chinatown, and nearby, a very active red light district that continued to offer services until the '70s. Reeder's Alley and adjoining "unsavory" areas were slated by city planners for demolishment. Three Helena women, envisioning an artist colony instead, purchased and fixed up the buildings in the alley. The colony never really materialized, but thankfully, the alley was saved from destruction. In 2000, Reeder's Alley was donated to the Montana Heritage Commission. Pioneer Cabin right of the alley entrance, is the oldest building in Helena. The gray log cabin with white trim dates from 1864-65, built by brothers Wilson and Jonas Butts. After its last resident died in 1939, the Last Chance Restoration Association restored the cabin and furnished it with period pieces. Peeking through the many windows gains good indoors views. With its bright whitewashed walls, rocking chairs, sewing corner, and dining table all set in the kitchen, it looks downright livable. The cabin is a museum and tours can be arranged; call (406) 449-6522.Caretaker Cabin to the left is almost as old as the Butts cabin, but looks newer because its log walls were covered in clapboard. Yee Wau Cabin next to it, was built in 1870 by two brothers who sold groceries and Chinese merchandise. Helena's Chinatown, five sprawling blocks of homes, businesses, and extensive gardens, was populated mostly by men, as were so many Chinatowns in the old West. Already dwindling in the 1890's, the remaining buildings were entirely demolished by 1970's urban renewal. The sturdy little Yee Wau Cabin at the edge of Reeder's Alley is the only survivor. As we made our way up the alley, we came across a woman who was cleaning out one of the brick apartments, where she ran a curio shop all summer. She shared with us a most unusual experience she had there. The resident ghost of that particular apartment, a prospector, played a prank on her by locking her in a closet. She hollered for help, but it was evening and other shopkeepers had already gone home. She showed us damage to the wood, where she finally pried open the door to get out, after several hours. Even more strangely, there was no locking mechanism... Some apartments in the upper alley, now mostly offices and a few shops, use the stone of the gulch itself as a back wall. In the back part of the upper alley you'll also find the Stonehouse, which used to be and now is again, a restaurant, but didn't seem to be running when we were there. It's now called Bootlegger's at the Stonehouse. Beyond the Stonehouse you'll find Morelli Bridge, built in 1893, the oldest timber bridge in Montana. Karmadillo's enjoys a fantastic view of the Last Chance Gulch area from multi-level wooden decks on the upper alley. They serve extensive Southwestern selections for breakfast, and lunch/dinner, most under $10. Seasonal hours and days open can be found on their website. off S. Park AvenueVisitor center and information: Montana Heritage Commission 101 Reeder's Alley(406) 449-6522Close
Written by btwood2 on 18 Jun, 2007
It was the waterfalls that took Meriwether Lewis’s breath away in the summer of 1805. "I saw the spray arise above the plain like a column of smoke… It soon began to make a roaring too tremendous to be mistaken for any cause other than…Read More
It was the waterfalls that took Meriwether Lewis’s breath away in the summer of 1805. "I saw the spray arise above the plain like a column of smoke… It soon began to make a roaring too tremendous to be mistaken for any cause other than the great falls of the Missouri." The Hidatsa Indians had told him and William Clark about these falls. At noon on June 13, 1805, he first gazed upon "this sublimely grand spectacle… the grandest sight I ever beheld." But it’s the white man’s legacy to tame nature, and in 1880 when Paris Gibson first laid eyes on those falls and the four others upriver, he saw electricity, dollar signs, and his own perfect city sprouting up along Missouri’s shores. A Minneapolis entrepreneur whose woolen mill had gone bankrupt, he went West and dabbled in real estate, lumber, and sheep. Then he discovered his true destiny. In 1884, Paris founded the city of Great Falls. He laid out its wide streets and avenues in a grid, with compass and survey tools to ensure they were straight. Looking far into the future, he set aside 886 acres for parks, and had elm, ash, and fir trees planted on the city streets, at specified intervals. By 1886, Great Fall’s population was over 1000. In 1887, James Hill’s St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad (to become Great Northern in 1890) reached Great Falls, opening doors for agriculture and mining. Business boomed (in a more or less planned fashion). In 1888, Paris Gibson became Great Fall’s first mayor.Between 1891 and 1958, the construction of five hydro-electric dams earned Great Falls its sort of dorky nickname "the Electric City". The first dam to be built was Black Eagle Dam, atop Black Eagle Falls (42 feet), the only falls within city limits. Rainbow Dam was built in 1910, obliterating Colter Falls (12 feet), and setting atop Rainbow Falls (48 feet). Volta Dam was built in 1915, on top of the actual Great Falls of the Missouri, the highest at 96 feet. It was renamed Ryan Dam in 1940, after the founder of Montana Power Company. The last two dams to be built, Morony (1930), and Cochran (1958), are further downriver and not associated with falls. Crooked Falls, at 26 feet, are the only falls that don’t have a dam on top of them.We viewed two of the dams and falls, Black Eagle and Rainbow, the closest ones to town, on the way to Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Giant Springs. To access Great Falls and Ryan Dam, take Rainbow Dam Road just north of Anaconda Hills Golf Course on the north side of the Missouri. This follows the north bank of the river past Rainbow Dam and Ryan Dam, which sits atop the true Great Falls. The road then veers away from the river to Morony Dam Road. Two 90 degree turns get you back to the river at Morony Dam "townsite".For Lewis and Clark and their party, the 512 feet drop over five falls required them to portage around the falls, a process that took them two arduous weeks. These days, getting around is ever so much easier, but less evocative of the awe and wonder expressed by Lewis on his first views of these majestic falls. To get more of a feel for the river and falls, walk or bike some of the River’s Edge Trail, past all four remaining falls. Thirteen miles of this 30-mile trail are wheelchair accessible. Seventeen miles are gravel, or single and double track. Other than the four miles of Class III rapids below Morony Dam, much of the Missouri River around Great Falls is easily navigable via raft, canoe, or kayak.Close
Called Black Eagle Spring by the Blackfeet Indians, these lovely clear-blue cold springs were re-discovered by Captain Meriwether Lewis in June 1805. He described it as "the largest fountain I ever beheld". Subsequent 1880s settlers re-named it Great Spring, Big Spring, Wonderful Spring, and finally,…Read More
Called Black Eagle Spring by the Blackfeet Indians, these lovely clear-blue cold springs were re-discovered by Captain Meriwether Lewis in June 1805. He described it as "the largest fountain I ever beheld". Subsequent 1880s settlers re-named it Great Spring, Big Spring, Wonderful Spring, and finally, the Giant’s Fountain. Lewis and Clark historian Olin Wheeler named it Giant Spring(s) in 1902, and that name has stuck for more than a century now. Giant Springs has been a Montana state park since the 1970s. It contains 3000 acres on both sides of the Missouri River. I walk down from the ranger station, the path taking me completely around the springs, offering views from all angles. The freshwater springs are completely encircled by a narrow arched concrete walkway that enhances rather than detracts. Bright green algae under the surface contrasts with the clear blue water, today sun-dappled but cold at a constant 54 degrees. The spring produces 6.4 million gallons of water per hour, 156 million gallons per day! Giant Springs flows into a river so tiny it holds title to Guinness Records’ smallest river, the Roe, around 200 feet long, then quickly empties into the Missouri. Though why it’s not considered part of the spring itself, I don’t know.The source of these springs comes from the Little Belt Mountains southeast of Great Falls. The Little Belts together with the Big Snowy Mountains, Big Horn Mountains, and Black Hills of South Dakota, recharge the Madison limestone aquifer, the biggest artesian aquifer in the U.S. Giant Springs sits atop a "leak" in this aquifer. The limestone is only 400 feet beneath the surface here, and cracks in the overlying Kootenai sandstone through which the water gushes, are visible at the bottom of the spring. Most of the Madison Aquifer, though, keeps flowing underground across Eastern Montana and northwards into Canada, where after 600 miles of underground travel, it eventually surfaces in saline seeps along the shores of large lakes in Manitoba Province. I was amazed to learn that this journey of water takes tens of thousands of years! The area of the park around the springs abounds with trees and shade. It wasn’t always so; in 1884, Great Falls city founder Paris Gibson had hundreds of cottonwoods and box elder trees planted on the site. Giant Springs is a good place to enjoy the cool ambience of bubbling springs and shaded grassy areas, bring a picnic lunch, go for a riverside hike, and visit the fish hatchery next to the springs. Since 1993, Montana Giant Springs leases 229 million gallons of spring water a year and bottles them as "pure Montana" water in a nearby plant. Though not entirely without controversy, water-bottling plants are a far cry from the old silver smelting plant that spewed toxic waste into this stretch of Missouri River from 1893 until it shut down.4600 Giant Springs Road (2 miles east of U.S. 87)(406) 454-5840Admission fee for non-Montana residentsClose
Written by btwood2 on 20 Feb, 2007
The eastern portion of the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road is where you really get to see what glaciers are capable of. Their awesome icy power is now mostly a thing of the past in this park named for them. Remnants of much larger glaciers can be…Read More
The eastern portion of the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road is where you really get to see what glaciers are capable of. Their awesome icy power is now mostly a thing of the past in this park named for them. Remnants of much larger glaciers can be viewed from Going-to-the-Sun Road, at Jackson Glacier Overlook, and Sperry Glacier from Hidden Lake Overlook, 1.5 miles up a trail from Logan Visitor Center. Glaciers are basically rivers of ice that are born when there is more snowfall every winter than melts every summer, compacting into ice. A hard brittle surface layer overlies a more flexible underlayer of ice, which due to the immense pressure above it, the angle of the mountainside, and gravity, begins to move, becoming a glacier. Glacier Park’s glaciers, though ancient by human standards, are all geologically young, born in the Little Ice Age. This period of cooling and glacial advancement, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, began somewhere between 1250 and 1450, and ended in the mid-1800s. Since then, glaciers worldwide have been receding. In 1968, the USGS listed 34 glaciers in Glacier Park; currently there are 27. How do glaciers carve and sculpt the landscape? These rivers of ice are filled with rocks and gravel that grind and scour like sandpaper, creating broad U-shaped valleys, sharp peaks, and cirque lakes. The piles of rocks and debris on the sides and in front of glaciers are called moraines. Horns are pointy peaks, and arêtes long narrow ridges, both formed by glacial flow. Hanging valleys were formed by glacial tributaries moving down side-canyons, and often contain waterfalls. Contributing to the spectacular nature of Glacier Park’s scenery is the Lewis Overthrust, a much older geological feature caused by the collision of two tectonic plates 170 million years ago, giving birth to the Lewis and Livingston Ranges of the Rocky Mountains, in Canada and Montana. The upper Precambrian rocks on this long eastward-moving thrust fault are 1300 million years old, covering younger softer Cretaceous rocks underneath. Clouds formed a uniform, hazy and somewhat drab overcast on the morning we took off from St. Mary Campground to drive the eastern portion of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, not an optimal day for viewing or photography, but our last day at Glacier. There are numerous pullouts to park and view the surroundings, and we took our time doing so. Oft-photographed Wild Goose Island at the western end of Lake St. Mary is a tiny picturesque islet growing a few spruce and fir trees, presumably a landing or nesting place for wild geese. The islet sits pretty with a dramatic backdrop of glacial peak after peak. Sunrift Gorge pullout is a must-stop for some very easy walks to a narrow gorge and waterfalls. The trail north of the bridge takes you on a 200-foot walk (40 foot climb) up to narrow Sunrift Gorge, through which Baring creek rushes. South of the bridge, walk past the grizzly-bear warning/fire hazard signs 1/3 mile down (100 feet) to 40-foot Baring Falls. A bit further up the road, at the St. Mary Falls trailhead, you can hike to two more waterfalls, St. Mary Falls, 0.8 miles and 260 feet down, and Virginia Falls, another 0.7 miles and 285 feet up. Jackson Glacier overlook provides impressive views of one of Glacier Parks remaining 27 glaciers. A young couple next to me were delighted to learn from the interpretive sign that the "ice began its retreat in 1860." "See, this proves it: global warming is bunk; SUV’s have nothing to do with it. It was already happening before there were cars!" I bite my tongue, guardedly roll my eyes, and think better of saying anything. Past wide-open glacial vistas, over bridges built of park rocks, under the late-summer trickle of Cataract Creek which passes under the road, and passing through a tunnel, we make our way up to Logan Pass. Roadwork is in progress. We’re pleased to see they’re using portable solar cells to operate a temporary stoplight. Logan Pass Visitor Center has natural history displays, good selections of books and posters, and rangers to answer questions. But I’m eager to begin my hike to Hidden Lake Overlook, 1.5 miles up from the visitor center, also covered in this journal. Bob stays at the center looking through books. On the way back down from Logan Pass in gathering dusk, we pull over once again to get some more shots of an irresistible vista, when I hear rustling to my left, on the mountain-side of the road. It’s a couple of bighorn sheep, crossing a stream. Soon they look up attentively from where they came, more rustling. Four more bighorns! I watch, enthralled, taking photos and hoping there’s still enough light. Bob, across the street, hasn’t noticed them and I keep quiet, not wanting to scare them. They run off anyway all too soon, but it’s a nice end to our day on Going-to-the-Sun Road. That night it snows, enough for Logan Pass to close temporarily the following day, and we leave Glacier Park. For up-to-date information on all park roads status, check Glacier National Park’s What’s New section. For a unique view of Going-to-the-Sun Road and Glacier Park, consider taking Blackfeet Indian run and operated SunTours, also known as the Blackfeet Cultural Tour. On these daily tours that run all summer, Blackfeet Indian guides show visitors historical, natural and cultural features of their Glacier Park homeland, on an all-day round-trip bus tour, east to west to east, with frequent stops and a lunch break at Lake McDonald.Close
We probably wouldn’t have returned to the town of East Glacier Park if it hadn’t been for forgetting to pick up our mail as we were driving through on our way up. Since we’re full time RVers, we notify our mail delivery service whenever we…Read More
We probably wouldn’t have returned to the town of East Glacier Park if it hadn’t been for forgetting to pick up our mail as we were driving through on our way up. Since we’re full time RVers, we notify our mail delivery service whenever we want our mail sent to us, General Delivery. We were so intent on getting to our destination, our omission didn’t even occur to us until the following day. As it had turned overcast and rainy, it wasn’t much of an outdoors day anyway, so we headed back down the 33 miles to East Glacier Park. After picking up our mail, we parked along the main street through East Glacier Park, Highway 2. At the colorful gateway that is the boundary between the Blackfeet Reservation and Glacier National Park, we saw the sign we’d missed on the way up. The one advising against rigs as big as ours taking the Highway 49 "shortcut" to St. Mary. Also called Looking Glass Road, it ascends Looking Glass Hill past the Two Medicine area of Glacier Park, before steeply descending down to Kiowa on Highway 89. Though the scenery was great, at 38 feet plus towing our Hyundai, we were WAY too big for this road. Bob was white-knuckling it on the steering wheel, as I was biting my nails next to him. Over 32-feet long rigs/combos should NOT attempt this road. East Glacier Park is divided into two parts, east of the railroad tracks (Blackfeet Country) and west of the railroad tracks (Glacier National Park). On the Blackfeet side of the aforementioned gateway stands one of four Blackfeet sentries, on horseback with spear held high, created by metal sculptor Jay Laber. Other sentries guard north, east, and south. Interpretive signs tell about Blackfeet history and culture, and the unfortunate confrontation between Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark) and a group of Piegan Blackfeet youth, on July 26th, 1806. Two of the young Blackfeet were killed by the Lewis party, who believed they were trying to steal their horses. The Blackfeet version of what transpired differs somewhat. On the east side of Highway Two you’ll find numerous businesses, colorful even on this dreary gray day. Dancing Bears Inn (motel), log-style Laundromat with showers, Trailhead Saloon, Blue Buffalo Pizza, Old Goat Traders, Two Medicine Grill, and Glacier Park Trading Company. On a sidestreet, Backpackers Inn ($10 per night) and Serrano’s Mexican Food in an East Glacier Park historic 1909 building – renovated of course! Two Medicine Grill was the place that came close to enticing me inside with its fresh pies… Alas, if only we’d had another day. Across the highway from all the businesses stands the log and wood-siding 1913-built East Glacier Park Railroad Station. It was built in the same Swiss alpine rustic style as Glacier Park Lodge, west from the station across lawns and gardens. Amtrak’s Empire Builder makes daily stops here all summer long. Though the station was closed, peering into the windows reveals a well-preserved interior with hardwood floors, wooden benches, and wall displays. Glacier Park Lodge was and is the first and grandest of the four lodges and nine Swiss-style chalets built here by Great Northern Railway. All four lodges still stand, but only three of the chalets are still in operation: Belton Chalet in West Glacier, and Granite Park and Sperry Chalets, accessible only by trail in Glacier National Park. Glacier Park Lodge opened in 1913. Its cavernous lobby is framed by 40-feet high Douglas fir pillars. The gardens around the lodge were fading at end-of-season, but riveting in its intensity was another metal sculpture of an Indian with braids and feet flying, across the drive from the entrance. Traditional totem poles and a stiff wooden Indian braced against a log pillar watch the proud dancing metal warrior, tomahawk raised, visage defiant. Indoors, visitors are gathered around the big blazing fireplace at one end of the lobby. A white mountain goat stands stuffed on a rock inside a glass cage. More cutting-edge metal art outside the bookshop. I wander inside and pick out a couple of books to leaf through in front of the fireplace. Before I sit down though, I look at the displays about the park, hotels, Rocky the mountain goat, and Gladys Johnson’s 1926-27 adventures in the park. But before long, I’m lost in the world of black bears and grizzlies, in Stephen Herrero’s fascinating book about them. An enjoyable, tasty and relaxing meal at Great Northern Steak and Rib House at the opposite end from my reading fireplace (but with a comparable fireplace of its own) made a great ending to our day at East Glacier Park. Close
Written by btwood2 on 28 Jan, 2007
The 52-mile long Going-to-the-Sun Road bisecting Glacier Park is rightfully famous. Brainchild of park superintendent William Logan, serious construction on this road between west and east Glacier began in 1921. Eleven years later (1932), the last portions of the road were completed and it was…Read More
The 52-mile long Going-to-the-Sun Road bisecting Glacier Park is rightfully famous. Brainchild of park superintendent William Logan, serious construction on this road between west and east Glacier began in 1921. Eleven years later (1932), the last portions of the road were completed and it was opened to the public. Its construction was a remarkable feat. It crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, 6646 feet elevation, in one of the most highly scenic and extremely rugged segments of the Rocky Mountains, known as the Rocky Mountain Front.
The road that traverses the Crown of the Continent is officially designated as a National Historic Landmark, National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and is registered as a National Historic Place. Since we were lucky to have a full week at Glacier Park, we drove portions of the road several times on the western segment, and once from east to the Loop.
When you turn off Highway 2 at West Glacier just before the railroad station, you will find yourself on a 2 mile stretch of road that passes through park headquarters and the west entrance. Some publications include it as part of Going-to-the-Sun Road. At the fork, Camas Road heads west to Apgar and North Fork country, and Going to the Sun Road veers right, soon hugging glacial Lake McDonald, Glacier’s biggest lake.
It’s impossible not to notice that the entire area across the lake, Howe Ridge, is covered with skeletal remains of trees. Tones of black and gray still predominate this re-birthing lodgepole-larch forest. The Roberts Fire, which devastated Howe Ridge, was one of many raging in and around Glacier Park in summer of 2003. Roberts Fire burned 52,700 acres both inside and outside the park, and did not stop smoldering until substantial winter rains.
Lake McDonald Lodge on the north end of the lake, is a destination resort with lots of activity around and inside it. It was built in Swiss-Chalet style, as were all the lodges and chalets in Glacier Park. In front of the lodge, (for it faces the lake), you can take a boat tour on the historic DeSmet, rent a smaller boat, take a Red Bus Tour, horseback ride, or hike from the lodge.
McDonald Creek and Falls may be viewed from a pullout and wooden decks a short drive up the road from the lodge, or from the trail off North McDonald Road, on the north side of the creek.
Trail of the Cedars takes you for a pleasant stroll, much of it boardwalked, in a small, moist ecosystem along the McDonald drainage up Avalanche Creek. Even if you don’t hike all the way to Avalanche Lake, just proceeding a short distance up the offshoot trail gives you misty views of sculpted Avalanche Gorge, a semi-slot canyon of the North.
The Sun Road continues to ascend alongside McDonald Creek and before you know it you’re climbing the Loop, the single switchback, and turning on your headlights in the West Side Tunnel. There’s a fair-sized pullout at the turn of the Loop. From here, you can again see evidence of another 2003 fire, the Trapper Fire. This high elevation fire almost made it across the Continental Divide before winter rains squelched its progress. Panoramic views from the Loop pullout include Heavens Peak and Mt. Oberlin.
Between the almost 180-degree Loop turn and Weeping Wall, we spot a ptarmigan nonchalantly walking alongside the road. Related to the grouse, these very adaptable birds camouflage themselves depending on the season. White in winter and brown and gray in summer, this one-pound puffy little bird simply fluffs up its feathers to stay warm, creating an air pocket around itself like a small down-jacket.
Weeping Wall isn’t weeping much this late in the season before rain or snow, but just beyond, Triple Arches is in plain view. These were built as an aesthetic alternative to unattractive retaining walls, thanks to the creativity of Williams and Douglas construction firm of Tacoma, Washington (1927).
On the last stretch before the summit, the the Garden Wall looms above the north side of the road. This massive arête, is a long narrow ridge that formed when glaciers ate away both sides of mountains between Lake McDonald Valley and Many Glacier Valley. The very popular alpine Highline Trail follows just under the crest of the Garden Wall west of the Continental Divide, 7.6 miles from Logan Pass to the backcountry Granite Park Chalet.
The summit at Logan Pass and eastern portion of Going to the Sun Road will be covered in the Glacier East journal. Click here for FAQ’s about Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Just getting to Polebridge is an adventure. There are two ways to get there from West Glacier: the Outside North Fork Road, or the Inside North Fork Road. They roughly parallel one another, on either side of the North Fork of the Flathead River, which…Read More
Just getting to Polebridge is an adventure. There are two ways to get there from West Glacier: the Outside North Fork Road, or the Inside North Fork Road. They roughly parallel one another, on either side of the North Fork of the Flathead River, which forms much of the western boundary of Glacier Park. Inside North Fork Road is all dirt/gravel and frequently closed. Outside North Fork Road, originating in Columbia Falls, is the "better" one; portions of it are even paved.
Save don't pave: I was to learn in Polebridge that most North Fork folks do not want the unpaved parts of their access road paved, and for good reasons. The North Fork Preservation Association (www.gravel.org) is a local activist group whose mission is to protect the natural resources that make the North Fork an unparalleled environment for wildlife and people. They believe full paving would hasten development, threaten wildlife and water quality, and encourage faster driving speeds.
Though it was our experience that some drivers in dusty trucks and 4-wheel-drive vehicles went rip-roaring down the road leaving us in their wake quickly rolling up our windows to avoid dust suffocation, others and timid tourists like us were taking it at a more sane speed, namely, snail’s pace. We accessed Outside North Fork Road from (paved) Camas Road inside Glacier Park. Both roads pass through large swatches of burned trees on either side of the Flathead.
Eventually we reach an open meadow scattered with a few cabins, most old, some falling apart. The Polebridge sign announces the general store, North Fork Hostel, Square Peg Ranch, cabins and camping. Slow Down people breathing is broad-tip felt penned on rough cracking boards nailed to a wooden pole on the side of the tree-lined washboardy gravel road.
Anticipation builds as we spy the large, red "Merc" building, localese for Polebridge Mercantile at the end of the road. Dogs, bicycles, and a car or two are parked in front of the old well preserved building. A somewhat tattered American flag is fluttering high on a thin pole to its right.
Polebridge is named for the bridge connecting this community to the Glacier Park side a bit further upriver. Bill Adair and his wife Jessie settled here in 1904. The unhewn log homestead cabin they built in 1912 now serves as Northern Lights Saloon and Café, open most evenings for dinner roughly at 4pm. They built the false-fronted Mercantile store in 1914, and it quickly became a social center and gathering place for other North Fork homesteading families. Though that population has dwindled, it’s still a social hub for the folks who make the North Fork their home, full-time or part-time.
Melanie (co-owner of Sundance RV Park) was right when she told us the baked creations at the Merc were to die for. Though I am blessed (or cursed) depending on point of view, with anosmia (no sense of smell), my husband Bob attests that the odors wafting around indoors were extremely hunger-inducing. Never mind smell, just looking at all the breads, buns, and trays of cookies was a visual delight.
A profusion of cinnamon buns and breakfast rolls, loaves laced with potato strings, onion, cheddar and parsley; guacamole-garlic-mozzarella bread, focaccia loaded with black olives, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, cheddar, jack and Parmesan, plump cookies of all sorts, a couple of generous prepared sandwiches ready for a late lunch… Need I say more? Everything looked like it just had come out of the oven; in fact, the long-haired sandled guy working the Merc was taking trays out of the oven as we watched. It was only with tremendous will power that we had him put our sack of goodies under the counter for us to pick up later, after our meal at Northern Lights.
In the last 12 years since Dan and Deb Kaufman from Idaho took over the Merc, it’s become famous statewide and beyond for bakery goods. But you can find a little bit of everything on its shelves, from grocery items to clothing to fishing licenses and souvenirs. It’s even a post office. And it’s one of the few places in Polebridge with a phone.
Polebridge has such a ‘60’s feel it’s uncanny. The "back to the earth" part of the ‘60s. Though it’s not a commune and the growing season is way too short for serious vegetable gardening, a bowl of small local apples on a sunny windowside table at the Merc has an index card stuck in it that says, "Free apples eat me!" A cabin down the road is named "Sweet Loretta’s". More cabins around the Merc can be rented, and the North Fork Hostel attracts all sorts of people, many international, in search of solitude and backcountry adventures. No electric poles mar the landscape; Polebridge is not on the power grid. Propane and kerosene are used for light, woodburning stoves for heat.
North Fork Valley lies between the Whitefish Range in Flathead National Forest to the west, and the Livingston Range in Glacier Park to the east. Bowman Lake and Kintla Lake are two popular destinations for camping, non-motorized boating, and hiking, both day hikes and backcountry. Polebridge is only 22 miles from the Canadian border (customs closed for crossing). The Flathead is a Wild and Scenic River for 42 miles from the border, and offers great fishing. Wildlife including grizzlies and black bears roam and thrive in the North Fork area.
Separate entry under Dining for Northern Lights Saloon and Café.
For more info, call (406) 888-5105 (the Merc), which stays open all year.
Written by creekland on 21 Oct, 2006
There are mountains, and then there are mountains. While all of them have their own beauty and character and should be seen, those in Glacier are simply awe-inspiring. To date, we haven't seen any that are like them (though, admittedly, we still have…Read More
There are mountains, and then there are mountains. While all of them have their own beauty and character and should be seen, those in Glacier are simply awe-inspiring. To date, we haven't seen any that are like them (though, admittedly, we still have more of this planet to see). Start with sharp peaks and crags of incredible mountaintops and valleys, add long blue lakes at various intervals, then add the diversity of critters that can be seen (like bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bears, marmots, ptarmigans, deer, etc), and finally add the abundance of summer highland wildflowers using pretty much every color available to you - well you MIGHT get the picture - but you'll still need to see it to KNOW what I'm saying.
We underestimated Glacier and only planned on spending two nights there on our whirlwind trip to the Pacific before my nephew had to return home (see 2006 Trip Part 1, the beginning, for more of an explanation). We almost skipped it entirely due to reports of the 2006 fire and wondering how that would affect the view. Am I ever glad we didn't though the view was affected by smoke. One can envision on clear days, the view has to be "other worldly." The smokey view was a disappointment, but it was interesting to see the park actively on fire - and see the devastation where the fire had been. Along the road you can also see nature's regrowth in areas that had fires previous years. Nature is resilient - what is taken away by her will soon return.
Now, we consider our trip to have been like a "movie trailer" - a small glimpse into what's there - leaving us the desire to go back and see it all - or at least - more of it.
That said, you CAN see Glacier in 2 days - as long as you don't want to hike (much). We did the fantastic Hidden Lake Overlook hike (see journal), we drove up to Many Glacier (see journal), and we drove the length of the Going to the Sun Road (the most scenic parts, three times as we went to/from areas we visited). So we saw the spectacular mountains, lakes, wildflowers, animals, fire/regrowth areas, and yes, the receding, but still there, glaciers.
What we missed (and needed more time for) were hikes... There are countless miles of hikes in Glacier (well, I'm sure someone HAS counted the miles if you check on the Park Service site, but...). If we had been able to stay, our next few days would have been spent in our hiking boots - crossing lakes (by tour boat) and hiking to glaciers, waterfalls, and in general, seeing more of the awe-inspiring views that are ever present - and ever changing (due to the light, etc). It seems around every corner there's more to be seen. No one peak is just like the others, esp up close, and, of course, the critter watching alone can provide wonderful entertainment - hours for us - esp with the closeness and variety of critters. If one is interested, there are also lodges that can be explored - and history tours. St Mary's Visitor's Center has a movie of the park that we unfortunately missed. We hadn't noticed that the Visitor Center hours were cut in the later season...
To be fair to us, on this trip my mom was with us so we knew our hiking needed to be carefully chosen... and my mom had been to this park before - and took some of the guided tours we'd like to go back and listen to... but nonetheless - we consider this park to be only "partially" done and definitely a spot we'll return to given the opportunity.
For a few tips... The east side outside of Glacier is quite undeveloped, so don't look for much in "extras" there. It is, however, a quick way to reach the park by car with little other traffic while keeping awesome views (we went that way from Yellowstone). The west side has more "outside the park" lodging and various entertainment options typical of a tourist area. Kalispell on the west side is a pretty big town having everything one could possibly need - BUT you'll also have almost an hour drive to get to the park.
If you can afford them, the lodges inside the park have gorgeous views and great locations. Make reservations early though. If you like camping, this is an IDEAL park to camp in - saves money and has great, natural ambiance. There are both reservation and first come, first served campgrounds. Bring in your own food. True grocery stores are far away and stores in the park only carry expensive basics. There are restaurants, but we didn't have time to stop at any of them.
As a last note, we don't recommend coming to this park with seeing glaciers in mind - those are better seen elsewhere in our opinion - but don't let THAT turn you off from this park! Warming (whether natural or man-made) is occurring and the glaciers are small. In many places they simply look like small snow packs by the end of summer. Perhaps closer to spring they look more impressive? You'd miss the wildflowers then though. On Hidden Lake Trail you can often see mountain goats ON one of the glaciers - that's neat to see - but otherwise, this park needs to be renamed. Those we overheard were rather disappointed as they were looking for GLACIERS (think of pictures of Rainier or Alaska). Many times I felt like telling them to open their eyes and see the OTHER beauty all around them. I do think they saw it - cameras were all about - and comments on mountain beauty - but if this park could be renamed "Alpine National Park" (or something like that) it would sure fit it better.
Young and old, we all loved Glacier and would gladly return. I think the only ones who would not would be those that simply aren't nature (or mountain) people to even a little extent.
Written by MizScout on 03 Jul, 2005
We stayed at the Meadow Lake Resort–NeNastako Village in Columbia Falls, Montana from December 28, 2004 to January 2, 2005. We lucked into getting this resort over the Christmas holidays, by way of booking at the last minute and booking by points per night, not…Read More
We stayed at the Meadow Lake Resort–NeNastako Village in Columbia Falls, Montana from December 28, 2004 to January 2, 2005. We lucked into getting this resort over the Christmas holidays, by way of booking at the last minute and booking by points per night, not weekly. We actually booked this resort on December 5, 2005. This was our first booking through RCI and after repeated calling of the 1-800 number, and much frustration, we finally were able to get a booking together (but that’s a different story). The Meadow Lake resort is easily accessed from Kalispell and Whitefish, Montana and is large and quite beautiful. I can only imagine what a beautiful golf course it must be in the summer. We found the front-desk staff to be pleasant and always willing to help with questions. Every day there was a list of activities to do at the resort and in the area.
Our first day consisted of driving into Whitefish and exploring the area. We headed up to the Big Mountain ski hill just north of Whitefish in the afternoon. It was a glorious day, very clear. Because we were travelling with my parents, who don’t ski, we took the chair lift to the summit of Big Mountain on the passenger lift pass ($9 per person). The view was fantastic. There is a small restaurant/cafeteria at the top. The mountain is pure adrenalin. Being from the West Coast, we have skied Mt. Washington and Whistler and have to say that Big Mountain ranks right up there with the best. There are 90 runs in total that range from beginner to expert. Night skiing was very impressive, with one entire side of the mountain open.
Once we returned to the ski resort village, we went in search of Meadow Lake Lodge (available for people staying at Meadow Lake) located somewhere in the village. It was on the main strip with the shopping and was central to everything on the mountain. We enjoyed complimentary hot chocolate and use of the facilities. There is a small kitchen for one to store their lunch in while skiing, a sitting area with a large-screen TV, and ski storage. The lodge was certainly an added bonus during a day of skiing.
We didn’t end up trying the on-site restaurant, as we had a full kitchen in our townhouse and a barbeque on the deck. However, we did have one dinner out in Whitefish at the Pollo Grill Rotisserie & Bar (863-9400). It was very nice, with large portions and friendly service. If you can, try to request a table in the covered sunroom overlooking the front of the restaurant. The atmosphere is much nicer here.
One aspect of the resort that we had a minor problem with was the concierge service. Because we enjoy winter activities so much, we wanted to enjoy as many excursions as possible. We had booked our snowmobiling excursion through the resort, but as it turned out, our reserved time was full. We were informed the night before we were to go snowmobiling that we had to reschedule. Luckily, there was time available later in the week. Snowmobiling ended up going off without a hitch, and we had a great time.
We were also interested in dog sledding while in Montana. We asked at the resort whether or not there was space available for anytime during our stay. We were told everything was booked and that there was also a wait list. However, we decided to call the company directly ourselves (Dog Sled Adventures, 881-BARK). It’s a good thing we did, as the owner was able to fit us it when he had a couple of cancellations. It turns out that dog sledding was one of the highlights of the trip. The dogs, ranging from 8 to 12 dog pull teams, take you on a 12-mile run through peaceful snow-covered landscape. It was absolutely magical. I know that if we had relied upon the resort to book us into the dog sledding, it would not have happened.
Overall, we had a wonderful time on our holiday. I celebrated my 30th birthday and New Year’s Eve in Montana at the Meadow Lake resort and would definitely go back.