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 Lovestogo on 22 Feb, 2004
On our final day in Whitefish and Glacier National Park, we had no particular agenda. We were just going to go with the flow and see what happened. As we left Whitefish, the skies were bright and there was no smoke. However,…Read More
On our final day in Whitefish and Glacier National Park, we had no particular agenda. We were just going to go with the flow and see what happened. As we left Whitefish, the skies were bright and there was no smoke. However, as we approached Columbia, the smoke picked up and by the time we reached Hungry Horse, the smoke was probably the worst we had seen in our two weeks at Glacier and Waterton Lakes.
We had driven by the fire camp in Hungry Horse every day on our way in and out of Glacier. We had seen the signs thanking the firefighters in store windows, on the marquees, and in area resident’s front yards. We had passed the many firefighters each day as they were bused in and out of the areas, risking their lives to save strangers homes and businesses. We had seen the hundreds of different colored tents pitched near the river in their fire camp, but until we toured the fire camp at the Blackfoot Lake Complex. . . we had no idea what was involved and how much these firefighters risk to perform a service of saving thousands of burning acres of forests.
When we approached the fire camp, our idea was only to take a few pictures of the many tents. We were directed to the Information Officer’s trailer, where we explained that we would like to take a few photos for my vacation journal entry. Robert Rhinehart, an Information Officer from Chattanooga, Tennessee offered to give us a personal tour of the fire camp. Mr. Rhinehart explained that he was on a working two week vacation, and his job was to supply information that was posted each day around the area, updating folks on the size of the fire, how many acres it had burned, etc.; as well as setting up community tours and a tour for the school’s fourth and fifth grade classes. He explained that the Blackfoot Lake Complex covered nine fires in the area and that there were five different fire camps in and around the Glacier National Park area with the number one priority being to save structures and firefighter safety.
Imagine walking into a bare field that has been converted into a firefighter’s city, complete with 10 to 20 trailers that were used as temporary offices for Human Resources, Finance, Compensation Claims, Personnel, Medical, Information, Safety and Air Operations, as well as many others. The fire camp had its own meteorologist that monitored the weather conditions and was constantly updating the ever-changing conditions. The fire camp was self contained and had every service imaginable. There was a commissary that sold anything you could buy in a store, another tent set up as a Supply Station where you could pick up new Nomex clothes or socks and supplies such as chainsaw blades or files. Another tent served as a laundry drop off center where you could drop off laundry by 9pm and it would be ready for pickup by 9am the following morning. This fire camp contained separate showers for women and men, with each shower unit containing 12 showers. And the meal tent. . . the regulations that had to be followed was unbelievable. . . the safe handling of food was paramount, with constant temperature checks on food while it was thawing, while it was cooking and while it was in the ‘holding’ stage. The person in charge of food had to know the nutritional value of food. . . for example, meat with the bone in and meat with the bone out would have a different nutritional value. The amount of calories required to maintain a firefighter is over 6000 per day. Breakfast and supper is eaten at the fire camp and a typical sack lunch taken with them could include a sandwich, bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter, candy bar, fruit or granola bar and lots of sports drinks, water, etc. Dehydration was a major concern for the firefighters in the Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park because the area had such low humidity and the firefighters couldn’t see themselves sweating.
We also learned that there are two types of crews. Type 1 Crews consist of very well trained, young, energetic individuals who are sent to the worst part of the fires. Type 2 Crews consist of new firefighters, firefighters from the Forest and Park services as well as older, more experienced personnel.
Our tour of the fire camp also revealed that firefighters certainly do not live a life of luxury!! It is hot, dirty, dangerous and exhausting work. Stamina beyond belief is required to endure the long and strenuous 12 to 16 hour shifts. All in hot, smoky, hard to breathe conditions. The firefighters also become "a family" during their 14 days of eating together, sleeping together and working together. They are divided up into groups of 20 (a crew), with three squads of six people each within that crew. Each crew has a Crew boss, a crew representative and a Squad boss. When it is time for one crew to leave, another crew arrives beforehand so they can be briefed on procedures, status of the fires, etc. It’s hard to imagine, strangers coming together from all states and parts of the world with one common bond between them, to save precious lives, homes, businesses and forests.
While knowing some local firefighters at home, we never had the opportunity to see what they did up close. We knew that they truly loved and enjoyed their jobs and we knew what they did. . . made a difference. . . a huge difference. . . but we didn’t realize how hard they work to make a difference! It truly takes a special person, one filled with love and willingness to give to strangers; one willing to sacrifice many long, hard days to fight fires that run rampant through our national forests.
Knowing that they have a special "job", that they make a difference, and that some stranger respects and appreciates them for saving their lives, home or business is enough for most firefighters. Their hard work and long days are rewarded by a simple "Thank you"!! God bless the people who give so freely of themselves!!
Written by dawn on 16 Sep, 2003
"There’s a war being fought in the forests." The contract firefighter looked at me with tired brown eyes and a soot-streaked face. The once-yellow bag on his shoulder was mostly black and smelled as if I had submerged my nose underneath a burning campfire. "The…Read More
"There’s a war being fought in the forests." The contract firefighter looked at me with tired brown eyes and a soot-streaked face. The once-yellow bag on his shoulder was mostly black and smelled as if I had submerged my nose underneath a burning campfire. "The problem is that I’m not talking about the fire! I’m talking about the inertia that has resulted from the fighting--environmentalists to loggers and all the groups in between."
Fighting forest fires is big business in this country. The 2003 federal budget is $2.6 billion and the projections are that the bills will exceed the $3.5 billion mark. In September, there were 2,705 firepeople in northern Montana being supported by our taxes. Can we do a stomach-stapling process to this obese monster in order to save this country from a financial stroke? The heart of the matter is more than the budget, as the priorities are environmental stability and jobs to support the local economy.
It’s interesting to note that when logging and grazing were allowed, the fees supported fire protection and the federal project broke even. I am not suggesting that the methods of logging used 20 years ago should be used today. Loggers have shown that sporadic and healthy thinning can be done. It is true that abuses have occurred when companies became greedy; or was it a result of their confusion? Today there are over 200 definitions of what an "old-growth forest" is. This spring, a Montana judge put a stop to logging as he requested, "Bring me ONE definition so we can proceed!" I hope that it doesn’t take hell to freeze over before a definition can surface, because logging families are now on temporary welfare, increasing the negative repercussions.
I recently heard some firemen using the words "bloke" and "mate." Why would the government pay travel expenses and living fees for a crew from Australia? The problem is that we are suffering from monster-sized fires across the entire western United States. Our own fire teams are stretched too thin. Montana has a phenomenal 22 fires currently raging that encompass more than 100 acres each. This is only one little speck on the United States map.
The policy of fire suppression from 1910 has caused layers of dead fuel and infringement of a lower canopy of opportunist trees that are choking the forest. One firefighter who travels across the country mapping fires told me that Glacier "is the worst forest I’ve been in for thick undergrowth!" In time, it will be thinned, regardless if it is through fire or human intervention, as an astounding 610,000 acres has burned this summer in Montana alone. The problem with the fire method is that the infernos are so huge that controlling them safely is impossible. Everyone agrees that fire in the forest is essential, but the environmental management methods are at debate.
Some groups are suggesting that limited cattle grazing and logging would keep the fuel levels down to manageable levels so allowed burns wouldn’t destroy too much animal habitat at each occurrence. It has been proven that when all parties play by the rules, this does result in healthier forests.
The opposite extremist groups (i.e., The National Forest Preservation Alliance and their cohorts) hold the view that the forest should be left alone and old logging roads should be reclaimed to the natural grade. The majority of people involved in this issue believe that the last position is very dangerous for humanity, animals, and the environment.
This group has been fighting for years to get the local people who live in the North Forty of Glacier Park to be removed by the government. Of course, the landowners were there before the park was established! The Roberts Fire in that area has been burning all summer and is being investigated for arson. Today, the talk in Columbia Falls rushes like a flash flood as people demand that "those terrorists" are brought to justice "or we’ll find ‘em and hang ‘em!" I would never underestimate the direct attitude and intent of any Montana resident! Proof is still forthcoming, and no group has claimed responsibility, but serious damage has been done as the hatred between the groups intensifies.
One ranger who asked not to be identified said, "those people sit in their cities far away and they think they can rationalize this problem. But they aren’t here fighting in the first line with 400 feet flames advancing on them and their skin getting scorched! They aren’t here to see us rescuing injured and displaced animals and the costs involved in cleanup (estimated to be $500,000 for northern Montana alone, which is $150,000 less than the Forest Department asked for). While the fires are still burning in Glacier National Park, an alliance has been made with the Wind River Bear Institute for impending rescues. Consider that a single male grizzly bear needs 364 miles of territory to live. With the Glacier and Bob fires, 1,784 bears could be displaced or dead. It’s astounding when you add all of the other critters of the forest to this tally. The poor marmot can’t outrun the fire, so it’s expected that they are all dead.
I have a logging friend in Eureka, Montana who’s also a volunteer fireman. Jay said, "I love this place! My father and my grandfather were loggers in this country and I hope that my children and grandchildren are too. Environmentalists need to understand that I don’t want to harm this country and lose my quality of living! This IS my backyard! Contract firemen come here for two weeks at a time, but I will be fighting this fire every day for months on end until the snow finally puts it out. It [the fire] doesn’t have to be this intense and out of control if we would be allowed to thin the forest."
The pendulum may be swinging now that Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt has recently talked about forest fires in this country. "This is a historic moment," he stated, indicating that policy change would be forthcoming without really clarifying the government’s intent.
What we need is a judge with the wisdom of Solomon who can tell each specialty group to design the ultimate management plan, which they would then submit to a steering committee. This committee would hear and research each side and collect the best ideas from all of them. It will work if the committee is allowed judicial teeth to have final authority on their recommendations. I wish that the government would take a parental stance by sequestering this group and allowing no one to play until their homework is done!
While I hold my breath, it seemed like a good day to take a ride through my beloved Glacier National Park. It had rained the day before, so I knew that the dangerous columns of flames would be temporarily knocked down.
The smoke was all the way into Kalispell over 25 miles away, giving a blue, filmy cast to the air. Driving northeast, the haze increased in intensity at Columbia Falls, resulting in itchy red eyes and a runny nose. I can’t imagine what asthmatics and the elderly have been doing to protect their health.
It was spooky during daylight inside the park. Lights were necessary as we drove through swirling smoke that hung low in the valley. Across Lake McDonald, the land was charred black, and a fire was burning over the next peak, staining the sky a peachy pink. We stopped at Lake McDonald Lodge and saw that temporary sprinklers had been set every 4 feet along the rooftops and bulldozers were on standby to make the earth barren if the fire encroached too close.
Climbing the road along Logan’s Loop, I stopped to look over the edge at the blackened world. Across the valley, the first dusting of snow was on the peaks, while the tree line was smoldering with curling smoke spirals. From the valley to the crest on my side, everything was destroyed. Later, I found out that this was a "no-stop zone" because the dead trees could have fallen and killed us. I know that the whole side of Logan’s could avalanche down the valley in a massive landslide, while the stream is certain to be toxic with ash all next year.
Why is this occuring? Lack of strong leadership and squabbling groups who aren’t committed to finding a resolution are the plague of millions of American and foreign travelers who visit here.
I cried in frustration, because we aren’t willing to reach a settlement that will benefit the majority rather than the minority.
I cried because international politics have enraptured us while important issues at home are ignored.
Most of all, I cried and found no comfort because I care for this place so much. If you do care, it doesn’t matter...if you remain silent.
Written by callen60 on 22 Mar, 2006
Glacier was the third stop on our tour of the northern Rockies national parks. Like a lot of folks, our itinerary included the big three of Glacier, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone. We found it surprisingly easy to get time away from crowds here, despite arriving…Read More
Glacier was the third stop on our tour of the northern Rockies national parks. Like a lot of folks, our itinerary included the big three of Glacier, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone. We found it surprisingly easy to get time away from crowds here, despite arriving in peak season (early July). Actually, the only places where we really found a lot of people were at Apgar (near the park's southern end), and when we popped in at the classic old in-park hotels to see what we were missing by staying elsewhere.Nonetheless, we thought it would be fun to head up to a really remote part of Glacier—but one still reachable by car! When the newlyweds on our raft trip said that Polebridge was also home to the world's greatest bakery, we knew we had our itinerary for the next day.We headed up the Camas Road out of Apgar, which takes you out of the park on to the Outside North Fork Road. It begins as a decent gravel road, and actually turns paved halfway there. It generally parallels the North Fork of the Flathead River, which forms the western boundary of the parks (which is why the whole area is known as "North Fork"). It's a pleasant drive through the woods and meadows of Flathead National Forest, with a couple of nice views across the river.About halfway between Apgar and Canada, there's a short spur to Polebridge. This small town mostly consists of Polebridge Mercantile, a bakery, store, campground, lodge, with a commune-like feeling, situated in a large meadow about a mile outside the park's western edge. If you want a cheap, bare-bones base for forays into Glacier's northwest backcountry, this is it. Somehow, the whole place gave me the feeling I was back in 1970 (in a pleasant way).The bakery is as advertised—fantastic! The family that runs this place just dreams up interesting things to make: breads stuffed with cheeses and vegetables, gigantic cinnamon rolls, as well as the usual bakery fare. We ordered a few things for a quick lunch before driving to the Polebridge Ranger Station (size: 125 square feet or so), and back into Glacier for a little meadow hiking. There's nice views of the Kintla mountains here. We hiked along the Covey Meadow Loop Trail, a level and short jaunt of a mile or two along a mostly open two-track that starts just south of the Ranger Station. We were, of course, the only people on the trails, and as we gazed across at the peaks, felt like we were the only folks in the whole darned park. That feeling alone was worth the trip.
All in all, our expedition to this remote outpost took about half a day. We tried stopping at Huckleberry Mountain Nature Trail on the way back, to join a ranger-led trip over a forested hillside that was badly burned in the 2003 fires. However, an entire family reunion showed up as well, and although they were a friendly bunch, we discovered that we hadn't yet lost our taste for solitude. So we said our goodbyes here to Glacier and headed south to Missoula. Polebridge was a great place to take our leave.In addition to the Polebridge Mercantile, or "The Merc" (which is home to the bakery and offers lodging in cabins and a teepee located behind the store), Polebridge is also home to the North Fork Hostel and Square Peg Ranch, which operates the Northern Lights Saloon and Cafe. Close
Written by gowest youngman on 17 Dec, 2004
For a mere $10 admission to Glacier National Park, I was able to take a scenic drive like no other. After stopping briefly at the busy center of Apgar on the park's west side, I started my journey on the Going to the Sun Road.…Read More
For a mere $10 admission to Glacier National Park, I was able to take a scenic drive like no other. After stopping briefly at the busy center of Apgar on the park's west side, I started my journey on the Going to the Sun Road. Just beyond the McDonald Lodge area is the McDonald Falls pullout. This is a must-see, and hear the roaring falls as they cascade across large rocks and then into the flumes. Another popular stop is the Avalanche Creek trailhead. There is the Trail of Cedars, a short hike with lush vegetation and an impressive view of the creek flumes.
The road starts to incline toward The Loop, where pullouts are frequent, so that one can stop and enjoy the views. I chose a pullout just past The Loop, where I found awesome views of Heavens Peak and Clements Mountain, with green valleys full of pines and cedars. I could have spent hours gazing upon this beautiful scene, but since I didn't bring any food or water, I thought it was better to keep driving toward Logan Pass.
Going to the Sun Road becomes very narrow and winding, so take it slow and easy. It can be congested at times, so pullout and enjoy the beauty while giving your engine a breather.
I finally reached Logans Pass and went into the visitor center. My luck - no food service. I sipped some water from the drinking fountain and then decided to try a short hike - the Hidden Lake trail.
Only about 3 miles round trip, the hike is uphill one way and then downhill coming back. (Take small steps going up, as it makes it easier on the legs and back). The journey is well worth it. There are spectacular views and lots of wildlife to observe. During my vacation, I saw marmoths, squirrels, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep, all on this one trail. At the height of the trail is an incredible view of Hidden Lake, with its crystal-blue water. Above the lake, you can see Sperry Glacier, Mt. Reynolds, and views of mountains galore.
After Logans Pass, the east side of the park is just as beautiful. There are more mountains, and St. Mary Lake is glorious. This trip is a feast for the senses: to see the forest, hear the wildlife, and smell the pines.
Written by Astromaid on 20 Oct, 2002
The Going to the Sun road is the most scenic stretch of road I have ever seen. During our week long stay at the park, we traversed this road several times. We never tired of the beauty and found that different times of…Read More
The Going to the Sun road is the most scenic stretch of road I have ever seen. During our week long stay at the park, we traversed this road several times. We never tired of the beauty and found that different times of the day and changable weather patterns would transform the view. We constantly stopped to take pictures, and on our last day were reluctant to drive back down.
Our favorite trip was starting at dawn, driving through fog patches and watching the sun creep across the mountains. On this trip we saw a young bull moose swimming in St Mary Lake. Another day, we went from a light mist at lower elevations, into sunshine and then into a snow storm at the highest elevation. We found that the weather changed dramatically from east to west, so don't give up a trip if the weather on one side is poor.
Another suggestion is to take turns driving, as this road needs the driver's full attention being narrow and with sharp twists. There are many places you cannot stop the car to enjoy the view, and the passengers get the full benefit of all the sights. Luckily, there are many turnoffs for picture taking and marveling at the tenacious workers who carved this road out of the mountainside.