RED BUS Cruising: Glacier National Park

Hello dear friends and family!  We are moving along–actually faster than I can keep up on my posts!  But I will try to catch up since the train will be leaving the station tomorrow and I will get even further behind! We are currently in Heber City, Utah, but will be leaving tomorrow to head toward Zion National Park with Lisa and her family.  The kids are very excited to ride in Baby II for the first time.  But hold on–we will talk more about this stage of our journey in a future post.

The last time I left you, Bob was flying back from Indiana on the 30th of June and we were leaving the next day for Glacier National Park via a couple of stops.  First of all, after leaving Sequim we first headed to a repair facility in Mt. Vernon, WA.  We had a little wobble in the front end at slow speeds we wanted to check out.  I think Baby just wanted some attention since as soon as the service staff checked her out and pronounced her “just fine” there has been no further issues.  Hmmm…. But it was kind of funny how we traveled to Mt. Vernon–always a little twist in our travels!  If you recall, I talked about the Washington Ferry System in my last post and how it connects the Washington Highway System.  Before Bob returned, I had checked into the best ferry route to take to make the trip to Mt. Vernon shorter since we were scheduled for a big jump that day to the other side of Washington.  Bob read the info and was still a little apprehensive about taking our “monster-Baby” on the ferry; he was afraid she might drag in the front since the ferry brochure suggested that was a possibility.  So he thought he had programmed the GPS to cut out all ferry connections to take us all the way down the Peninsula and back up the other side, since Mt. Vernon (where the repair shop is located) is north of Seattle.  The trip would be MUCH longer but Baby would be safe.  Well, Baby must have had other plans, because when I woke up we were heading into a ferry lane.  Bob didn’t realize we were headed onto one of the ferries until we were well ensconced in the line and it would have been very difficult to back Baby (and all the cars behind us) up so that we could continue on land.  So Bob bit the bullet, went with the flow, and since the ferry folks didn’t gasp for air and choke when they saw us pulling onto the ferry, we figured all was well.  And it was!  I think Baby just wanted an adventure–a little whale watching–and she made sure she got one.

Reaching the other side, we held our breath as we rolled up the ramp but all was fine and on to Mt. Vernon we went! After a successful checkup, we got back on the road–but by that time it was mid-afternoon so we knew we wouldn’t make it to Spokane as we had initially planned.  So I went to work trying to find a place on down the road that we could get settled into before nightfall.  Unfortunately, what we found was a lot of forests and mountains in one national forest after another.  It was getting late and I was a little nervous (parking Baby after dark is kind of like wrestling GIANT greased pigs into a plastic ZIPLOC sandwich bag), when I finally pinpointed a RV park in the town of Leavenworth, WA that accepted BIG RIGS (that’s us–sounds ominous, heh?).  We called but apparently they were closed so we thought we would just chance pulling in and hoped for the best.  It was getting dark as we came down the last mountain and began searching for the campground, Icicle RV Park.  Sounds like the North Pole, doesn’t it?  We turned into what looked like could be a campground and it turned out to be an exclusive spa retreat.  I jumped out to go find out exactly where we were and the lady behind the desk informed me that no, they were not a campground but that they had a room available for the night at a special price of a little under $400.  She apologized and said unfortunately we would not get breakfast with that though since we were late arrivals.  I finally escaped that encounter, helped Bob wiggle Baby out of a TINY cul de sac in front of this cleverly disguised resort we had pulled into, and back on the road.  There ensued a tense discussion about turning left or right and I stressed that if the address was on Icicle Road we needed to stay on it, but Bob was worried about getting caught on what was increasingly becoming a darker dirt road.  We continued down Icicle Road for what seemed an eternity (clearly the GPS was no longer working) and Bob was saying we have to turn around when lo and behold Icicle RV Park came into view.  We breathed a huge sigh of relief and turned in.  I jumped out to try to find an open office (hah!) or late arrival instructions, and was looking around when a golf cart arrived with Santa Claus on it (no, I mean the PARK ASST. MANAGER–same thing under these ciricumstances!).  By this point things were a little surreal–but quickly improved when Santa (I don’t remember his real name) said “yes” they had a site available, that it was BIG RIG-friendly, and he would personally lead us to the back-in site and help us park our chariot.  Even with Santa’s assistance, getting back to the BIG RIG section was challenging since the park must have been made for small trailers and such with tight little turns and unexpected dead ends — but we were led to the new section in back which, after some maneuvering, we were able to slip Baby right into bed.  Later, we headed out to find something quick to eat and discovered that we had definitely missed a turn somewhere since we were in GERMANY.  Yes, the entire town was turned out “a la Bavarian.”  More Bavarian than anything I’ve seen in Bavaria and a lot nicer and newer.  Unfortunately, the similarities ended there–we couldn’t find a bite of schnitzel and spaetzle anywhere, so settled for pizza, salad and bratwurst (a little bit of Deutschland!).

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One of the Bavarian-esque buildings in Leavenworth, Washington.

The next day during a 15-minute photo and exploring session (Bob was eager to hit the road), I learned that shop workers are expected to dress in their Bavarian clothes most of the year and that the Bavarian frenzy hits its peak during the Christmas holidays, when the little village is transformed into a Bavarian Christmas Village, attracting visitors from many miles around.  Unfortunately, it is also blanketed in heavy snow by that point so it is probably about as unreachable as the North Pole! On his early morning search for coffee that morning, Bob found the Icicle RV Park Coffee Club gang hanging out in the coffee hut and learned that this particular RV park had given Baby a new name–MONSTER RV.  I think we must have been the biggest thing to actually make it around their little curves after FINDING the park down that long dark road AND arriving in almost darkness–and probably waking all the older folks up who were already snoozing when our 450 Cummins diesel engine eased by their homes the night before.

Heading on down the road, we made it to the Motor Coach Country Club in Spokane, where life was easy for our overnight stay, sunsets were outstanding and the only thing to worry about was a golf ball going through the windshield.  Great or not, we had places to go!  We were up and rolling by 6:30 the next morning, headed toward Halispell, Montana, gateway to Glacier National Park.  As we were leaving this beautiful park the manager stopped us and asked us if we had a problem with the park;  he seemed very worried that we were leaving so early because we didn’t like his park.  We assured him it was very nice but we had reservations on down the road.

We arrived at the Glacier KOA RV Park in Kalispell, Montana in the early afternoon, and immediately realized why this KOA is called the “nicest KOA in America.”  The RV park was very well laid out with elaborate landscaping, many amenities, such as an ice cream parlor in a frontier log house,  and a cute little pavilion surrounded by flowers where we had breakfast each morning. After getting settled into our campsite, we drove into the Park and did a little initial exploring on our own.  We found Lake McDonald, a beautiful crystal clear lake with classic views of Glacier peaks along the edges of the lake.  We took the one-hour boat tour around the lake and saw views of the forests and mountain perspectives that we were told could not be  seen from the shore.  What a great way to be introduced to this magnificent park–but it still gave us little inkling of what was in store for us the next day!

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The Glacier Hotel at Lake McDonald, celebrates its 100th birthday this summer.
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The marina at Lake McDOnald.
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The forest-lined shores of Lake McDonald.
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Viewing some of Glacier’s many mountains and peaks from a lake perspective.
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The interior of the Glacier Hotel at Lake McDonald.

 

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Another view of the Glacier Hotel at Lake McDonald.
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The fireplace in the Grand Lobby of the Glacier Hotel could easily hold six grown men–standing.

Our first morning we finished eating in the breakfast pavilion and walked up to the front office and waited for our tour bus to arrive.  After all the driving we had been doing we had decided to let someone else do the driving as we explored the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a highlight of Glacier National Park.  To our delight, our BRIGHT RED antique convertible touring car, built by White Motor Cars in the mid-1930s, arrived with a flourish, driven by an older gent who said he had been doing these tours every summer for 17 years; he lives in Florida during the winter months.  And did he know his stuff!  He was knowledgeable and entertaining and gave us ample opportunity to get many photos, even if it was what he called the “prairie dog drive-by,” where we stood on the seats and popped our heads out over the convertible top for unimpeded shots of glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife. The following pictures speak for themselves.

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Our antique ride compliments of Glacier National Park.
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Hitting the (very) high road in an antique!
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Our Red Bus got a lot of attention! Sometimes tourists were taking more pictures of us driving by than all the scenic wonders of Glacier!

DSCN1444 It was a little intimidating at first when we realized we would be climbing peaks in vehicles older than we were.  But the driver reassured us that in the 90s, Ford Motor Company volunteered to upgrade the cars with all the safety requirements nonexistent when they were first built.  But the basic frame is still the same–made from wood with the same bright cherry finish on them as when they were first delivered to Glacier NP. And the Red Bus performed admirably on some of the highest, steepest, brilliantly designed mountain roads carved into the mountain to maximize the spectacular views of mountains, waterfalls, glaciers and glacier carved valleys — scenery you could never imagine.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the most spectacular highways imaginable.  Bisecting the heart of Glacier, the 50-mile long road follows the shores of the park’s two largest lakes and hugs the cliffs below the Continental Divide as it traverses Logan Pass.  We enjoyed many scenic turnouts and wayside exhibits along the way.  And with the top down we were able to see views from above that towered over us, and in some cases showered us (good thing it was a warm day) as we passed under waterfalls plunging down in every direction.  We had arrived at a perfect time–this was the first week the Going-to-the-Sun Road had opened after the final clearing of snow from the roadway, thus we had an opportunity to see the Park at its best–hundreds of roaring waterfalls coming out of everywhere (including out of the rocks themselves), flowers blooming in unlikely places as the snow continued to melt, peaks and glaciers unfolding at every turn in the road, and sweeping valleys carved by glaciers with rivers twisting and turning across the valley floor.

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Traversing Logan Pass before heading down the back side of the mountain.
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Our fearless driver handled the Red Bus very well even with all the challenges, while making sure we saw all of the scenic wonders along the way.
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Stopping at Logan Pass, the Red Bus attracted a lot of attention.
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I think Bob is wondering how he could get his hands on one of these.

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There was still lots of snow aound Logan Pass with piles of snow way above my head and skiers picking their way down the snowy peaks of Logan Pass where the US government-owned part of the Park adjoins the Native American side.  Roads were clear of snow and ice except for waves of water running across the roads as water gushed down the mountain in many, many waterfalls, streams, and rivers.  But that didn’t stop the many drivers, bikers, and hikers from setting out over the Going-to-the-Sun Road–a road that clings to the side of cliffs as it climbs steadily to Logan Pass.  Groups of motorcycles also climbed this precarious road, stopping frequently to view the astounding vistas that stretched for miles. Many drivers, unaccustomed to driving on such a narrow road, constantly drove in both lanes creating harrowing moments of Russian roulette as cars jockeyed for space with our Red Bus.  Each of those moments made me increasingly grateful we had not driven our car up the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Our tour host explained how Glacier National Park is also called the International Peace Park (a first!) since the area’s majestic wonders extend into Canada, comprising Canada’s  Waterton National Park.  But the adjoining parks are truly an example of  peaceful cooperation, demonstrated by the fact that both US and Canadian Rangers work together to create unique visitor programs, such as hikes that cross the international boundary and are led by both American and Canadian Rangers. Although we did not have time on this trip to check out the Waterton NP, or attempt one of the hikes or boat tours that cross the International Boundary, that is definitely a bucket list item!  In fact, from observing the cars on the Going-to-the-Sun Road it seemed that many Canadians were on the road that morning.  Our tour guide explained that many Canadians save themselves 90 miles of driving by cutting through the Park and driving across Logan Pass to get to the shopping in the US.  Of course, using the Park as a shortcut doesn’t help the traffic congestion on the 52 miles of steep, winding roads that cuts through the heart of Glacier National Park.

Mountain Peaks and Glaciers…..WOW!  The Going-to-the-Sun Road, named by the local Native American tribes, was aptly named since it is up, up, up—and more UP.  Here’s a few pictures of the beautiful mountain peaks and glaciers.

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You can see skiers here at Logan Pass. Our Tour Bus Driver said on one memorable day a skier actually flew off a pile of snow at this location, flew over his Red Bus, and landed in the snow on the other side. I wonder if his name was Evil Knievel?
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Admiring the view….
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The glaciers are slowly disappearing from Glacier National Park but there are still some beautiful ones to admire.
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This is where a humongous glacier began its slide to carve out the valley below.
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Mountain peaks.
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Admiring the scenery from our cat seat in the Red Bus.
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More peaks in the distance…
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Just breathe in that fresh mountain air. If only they could bottle it for a whiff once in a while…
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Bob is checking out the view.

Would you like to see some waterfalls?  Here goes…  Some of these waterfalls are only temporary as they disappear once the snow has completely melted.  But what a grand show the day we were there!

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This was so long I had to take multiple pictures to capture it all. This is just the top of it.  Parts of the waterfall flow beneath large islands of ice and snow and appear where the snow has broken away on its journey down the mountain.
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A melting mountain.
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With water flowing beneath the ice, it is extremely dangerous to walk on these columns of ice. But we saw people on them (with their children) slipping and sliding over the ice as if it was their own backyard.
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A photo cannot begin to capture this display.
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So many waterfalls—so little time!
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Our Red Bus drove under many of these waterfalls from the Weeping Rocks–the screaming as we got soaked in the crisp mountain air was almost like what you hear on the Big Bad Wolf ride at Busch Gardens!
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Aaaahhh…..

So enough with the scenery!  Would you like to see some wildlife?  Let’s start with a nice grizzly out having his morning breakfast.  We discovered this bear grazing along the roadway as we drove into the back side of Glacier Park.

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Glacier National Park is one of the few places in North America where all the native carnivores live. Grizzlies and black bears forage for greenery and berries. The Rangers told us that large predators indicate a healthy landscape with lots of prey. This grizzly looks like he could eat almost anything.
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The grizzly appeared very active–almost restless. Maybe he was craving a big steak rather than all the roots and berries.
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On the move again!
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Uh oh–I think he’s spotted us. Time to move this Red Bus on down the road!

Topping Logan Pass, we spotted some mountain sheep on the hillside.  They clustered just below the snow and rocky areas of the mountain tops.

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Bighorn sheep foraging for food.
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A stream in the valley is swollen with the water from thousands of waterfalls pouring off the mountain top.

As we descended the glacial peaks into the Valley at the end of the day, we remembered it was Fourth of July.  What a way to celebrate our beginnings as a country by exploring one of our national treasures!  No fireworks needed!

Our Red Bus dropped us off at the Campground and I headed down the road to a tiny grocery store to find something for dinner to go with our huckleberry pie we bought at a wayside bakery the day before.  I’m sure someone had fireworks somewhere but we never heard them since by nightfall we were sound asleep.  Clean mountain air, BBQ chicken, and huckleberry pie did us in!  And tomorrow was another day and another national park–Yellowstone!  Stay tuned.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Fourth of July!  Take care, friends and family!  Back on the road again–Happy Trails!

 

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