The weather - oh man. The day we arrived it was warm and the sun was shining. And then... overnight it snowed in the mountains. I woke to beautiful low hanging clouds over the mountains and lake. I wrapped up in a blanket and sat on the porch watching the sky change minute by minute. I did wonder if we were going to be able to take our Red Bus tour or would the road be closed. Well, hell it takes more than a dusting a snow to stop things from happening in Montana! Our Red Bus pulled up and we loaded up and off we went.
Spectacular people! Just spectacular. We experienced this road the first time on a Red Bus Tour. The drivers are called Jammers and our Jammer was Karl. As all good tour leaders should be, Karl was full of information and I'll share some of it with you. The buses were original White Motor Company 1936 buses first used in the park, sort of. While the chassis were new and they were redesigned by the Ford and were made to run on gas or propane. The propane thing has not worked very well, so a face lift will begin on that soon. Seems that at one point all the National Parks had these buses, Yellowstone had yellow ones, Glacier had red ones, the Teton's Green. Glacier is the only one that still uses them and they are fantastic. The top rolls back and when the bus stops you can pop up and take pictures. They provide blankets (not enough) and a running commentary that is both informative and funny. As Karl said, if you are every on Jeopardy and they ask what color these buses are: they are Mountain Ash Berry Red. He does expect a cut, which I think is fair.
Going to the Sun Road is an engineering marvel. It is 50 miles long, took almost 30 years to complete, all the retaining walls are built from local rock, the tunnels were carved by hand! Two tunnels - one about 190 feet long - they could carve about 5 feet a day. Back breaking work. There were two competing thoughts on how to build the road, luckily the smart guy won! Only one switch back on the mountain instead of 15! The grade on all parts is only 6% because cars needed to shift gears to do anything higher. The road crosses the continental divide at Logans Pass and here you can stop and see a trail called the Highland Trail. 7.5 miles across a pretty flat trail, where you can hike to a chalet that will have a bed and hot meal for you. But if you plan to do this, make your reservations cause there are no walk ins.
Three men died during the construction of the road and when you drive it, you wonder why that number is not higher.
Going to the Sun is open all the way only a few months of the year. This year it finally opened in mid June and will close sometime in October or earlier, depending on the weather.
We planned our trip for pretty late in the season on purpose. We wanted to avoid the crowds. One of the downfalls of this planning is that some things are closed. Like the "real" bathrooms at Logans Pass. So we and everyone else on the road had to make use of four pit toilets. While a little smelly, not the worst ones we have run into (literally) but by far the coldest. The top on the bus had been down for quite a while at this point and most of our bodies felt frozen anyway, so it was appropriate that our asses get caught up with the rest of us.
We went down the other side of Going to the Sun to St. Mary's - the end of the road - had lunch and started back the other way. Thankfully the top got put up for the ride back.
On the ride back we were treated to the site of a black bear not fifty feet off the side of the road eating. We were also treated to the stupidity of people. Everywhere you look are signs, everyone you talk to tells you that the wildlife is WILD. Stay at least 30 yards from a bear, don't approach it, photograph it from a distance. And every year someone is hurt or killed because they get too close.
Well we witnessed a couple of idiots, they were on a motocycle (that is not why they are idiots) but they stopped their bike near the bear, the woman got off the back of the bike and hopped over the barrier and approached the bear, turned her back to the bear so her side kick could take a picture. The bus driver was telling her to get back on road, people in the area were calling her stupid, she just posed for the picture and then the ranger pulled up. I am hoping they got a citation of some sort. We drove away with a great picture of the bear (taken by my beloved from inside the safety of the bus) and wondering how long before that woman got eaten by a bear.
Next up - day 2 - Driving the Going to the Sun Road on our own.