By Molly Priddy, 6-24-12
||Caption: It didn't take long for word to get out that the Going-to-the-Sun Road was open and cars quickly headed up Logan Pass. - Justin Franz/Flathead Beacon
With the opening of the gates, summer truly began at Glacier National Park as tourists began the twisting, iconic journey to Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Park officials fully opened the road on a rainy June 19, but the weather did not deter numerous tourists from making the ascent. In fact, some of the people sporting out-of-state license plates on their vehicles had been waiting days for this moment.
Tom and Mary from California had been on the east side of the park for a few days, anticipating the trip to Logan Pass. They took U.S. Highway 2 around the park’s southern border on June 17 to try the west entrance, to no avail.
And while there’s plenty to do in the park even when the road isn’t open, Mary said the couple wasn’t going to leave without making the trip to the top. They kept checking the park’s website for updates, and decided to try again on June 19.
“We drove in three times this morning,” Tom said with a laugh, standing near a waterfall above the Packers Roost pull off.
Further up the road, Ray and April Carpenter of Ohio took a break from the drive with their kids at a prime Heavens Peak viewing spot. The family was on a three-week summer journey, taking the train from Chicago to their first stop in Glacier Park. From here, they head to Seattle, California and the Grand Canyon.
They only had to wait a half-hour for the road to open when they drove into the park.
“We got lucky,” Ray said.
Continuing the ascent, drivers and passengers were treated to incredible vistas and shades of green throughout the park. Rivulets of snowmelt cascaded down the road as water found every available crack and path to rush downhill.
There is still construction on the road, and a couple sections of one-lane traffic. The stops, however, didn’t last over five minutes, and many drivers and passengers passed the time with their camera lenses trained on the views.
About five miles from Logan Pass, low-hanging clouds swallowed the line of cars and hid the mountaintops, and the trip became less about going to the sun and more about going back to winter. The cloud cover gave the road an eerie-yet-peaceful feel as the clouds continually shifted and revealed snapshots of the park’s scenery for only minutes at a time before disappearing again.
Last summer’s construction efforts in the alpine region allowed for pavement in certain sections near the pass. Many of these sections were walled by snow on the uphill side of the road.
Approaching the top, where in warmer months the mountain goats appear in the alpine fields just below Logan Pass, winter still reigned. Poor visibility kept traffic slow as it crawled to the visitor’s center parking lot, which was the emptiest this reporter has ever seen it.
The visitor’s center was still closed and snow banks at least seven feet tall lined the paths up to the trail for the Hidden Lake overlook. Even with the cold weather – rangers reported receiving four to six inches of fresh snow the night before – the tourists at the top laughed and threw snowballs.
Adam Stokes of Columbia Falls came up to ski the still-plentiful hills. Though the visibility wasn’t great for skiing, he did manage to spot a wolverine running across the landscape.
Not many people ventured further than the beginning of the overlook trail, snapping photos as they shivered in shorts while standing on June snow.
Still, the smiles remained. Dale and Mary Wheeler, hailing from Kansas City, said they came to the park hoping the road would be open, and found nothing but satisfaction at the cloudy, cold and snowy Logan Pass.
“We’re here to experience this,” Mary said. “It is wonderful.”
For Glacier National Park updates, visit the park’s website at www.nps.gov/glac
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