St. Mary, Glacier Nat’l Park, July 8, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 We slept in and had to use the heat a little last night. It was chilly this morning with a temp of 52 degrees. Even though the sun rises at 5:30, it doesn’t warm up from the sun for awhile. (The sunset is around 9:30 behind the mountains, but it stays light until at least 10:30. When we went to bed at 10:30, there was still light streaming in the door window.) We had a reservation for a Red Bus Alpine (1/2 way) tour to Logan Pass today. We thought it would help to orient us to what hikes there are to do on this side (East) and it did. We also learned that there is a free shuttle that will pick up at the St. Mary Visitor Center and drop you at certain places along the Going-To-The-Sun Road. That seems to be the way to go. The road on this side is under major construction so some of the Overlooks and parking areas are no longer available. Parking at the trailheads is an issue. The Ranger told us that the month of August is really crazy in the park and parking lots will fill up by 9 AM. Then the shuttle comes in handy. So we hung out until it was time to go on our Red Bus tour at 10:30. The Red Bus will pick you up in the campground, but you have to prearrange that. I tried to call them yesterday and was the 9th caller to be on hold. This morning I tried again and then I was #18 in line. So instead, we decided to catch the Red Bus at St. Mary’s Lodge–less than 5 minutes from the campground. Then we could check out the lodge, stores, etc. after our tour. The bus picked up 10 of us at the lodge and we started our journey.

Our guide, Evelyn, was a 19 year veteran driver and native Montanan. She was a wealth of information–historian, geologist, and storyteller. We entered the park (2 minutes from the lodge) and crossed the St. Mary River. The buses are 1937 vintage with a soft convertible top making them “open air”. We made our 1st stop at Rising Sun Lodge and Motel for a restroom break and to take the top all the way down.

This is where our tour officially began. We followed the shore of St. Mary Lake–9.9 miles long of aqua marine water.

This morning there was no wind at all and the mountains were reflected in the lake like a mirror. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Across the lake were the rugged mountain peaks.

Evelyn provided us with all the names of the mountain peaks, glaciers, and valleys–too many to remember. All of the scenery was stunning!!

Sunrift Gorge and Baring Falls was one place I made note of because it is a short hike (0.3 miles one way) with steps to a gorge that displays a waterfall at the end. I’m hoping to walk it this week. Across the valley, we could see some falls in the trees–another hike I would like to do. The rest of the falls was hidden by the forest. 

The hike to St. Mary’s Falls (0.8 miles one way) is another hike I would like to do. It’s very popular and easy to do. The St. Mary Lodge has a list of all the hikes from each location at their information desk, so I picked them up today. Evelyn pointed out Going-To-The-Sun Mountain for us. The road was named for the mountain.

We passed a waterfall that splashed right onto the road. We were so close we could feel the spray!

We pulled off at one of the Overlooks to take in the sheer beauty of the Upper St. Mary Valley. She pulled the bus really close to the edge and some people really freaked out. Luckily, I was on the side close to the edge and I could see all the way down. AWESOME!

Can you see the waterfalls in the picture?

From where we sat, we could see no less than 6 waterfalls at once. Amazing!

We passed through a tunnel carved through the rock. We beeped the horn and yelled just to hear it echo!

This wall at the end of the valley was scraped and carved by the glacier until it couldn’t move any further. It created this unique arched formation.

Glacier Nat’l Park has 25 glaciers remaining from the original 150 glaciers discovered 104 years ago when the park was first established at the 10th national park in the country. We were able to see 3 or 4 glaciers on our tour today.

We finally reached our turn-around point at Logan Pass (El. 6,646 ft).

We had 15 minutes to look around and stretch our legs at Logan Pass. It was crazy busy with hikers and tourists of all kinds.

We could see an “ant line” of hikers trekking across the snow on the Highline Trail that runs parallel to the Continental Divide. It looked like a pretty popular trail.

Can you see them better now?

According to the locals, the 2013-4 winter was harsh with record amounts of snowfall. This winter the temps at Logan Pass registered minus 54 degrees–that’s 54 degrees below zero without the windchill. Winds were measured at 70 mph. Spring has just begun here and the spring thaw and run-off level is far above other years. The Going-To-The-Sun Road was finally cleared of snow this year on July 2 for vehicular traffic. I guess they knew we were coming! Up at the pass, the sun was hot, but the open air buses had their own AC as the breeze blew through the windows and the open top. The ride down had its delays due to construction and we were told we had just missed seeing a bear cross the road. Shucks! Another nice tour they offer is a boat trip on one of the lakes, in combination with a short hike to a lake, glacier, or waterfall. We’ll have to check that out!

It was just as pretty going down as it was going up.

It was well worth the $35/ea. and saved Bob a lot of white knuckle driving. He finally got to enjoy the scenery. We were dropped back at the lodge at 1:30 and spent a little time checking out the gift shop and stores in St. Mary. There isn’t much there, but they do have a nice grocery store. Back at the campground, we relaxed outside under the awning, enjoying the view and the solitude before everyone returned from their outings today. We had grouper on the grill for dinner, relaxed after an enjoyable day, and talked about our plans for tomorrow and the rest of our week here. Auggie got his evening walk as things started to cool off. We’ll check out the sunset tonight.

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