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Day 2 of 11: Glacier National Park

Posted by joeabbott on June 30, 2014

In the entirety of our trip, we scheduled only two days with fewer than 200 traveling miles: the day we drove from the wedding location to town we’d hold the burial ceremony for my Uncle Joe, and today … the day we’d tour Glacier National Park.

P1060188imageAs an outdoors enthusiast and a hiker\climber, I had exceptionally high anticipations for the day’s sights. Yosemite and Yellowstone may attract more visitors and be considered crown jewels of the National Park system, but Glacier is known as the Crown of the Continent! Packed with lofty peaks, the namesake glaciers and over a million acres of pristine lakes and unspoiled wilderness, I was ready for sensory overload and had done arm exercises so I could point to distant marvels all day exclaiming, “Lookit that!” without fatigue.

And yet, this day may very well have been the most disappointing day of our trip.

While some of that disappointment is due to my overly high expectations, a lot was due to it just being a sucky day. I’ll try to avoid being a complete killjoy, so come along … it wasn’t all bad!

The Plan

Before leaving Seattle, we found out the Going to the Sun road was still closed: crews were continuing to dig out the many feet of snow still covering the roads. As that was a major route we’d wanted to use through GNP, we changed our plans to something like: head to the end of the road (Avalanche Creek), hike around, then drive south around the park via Marias Pass to the Saint Mary Lake entrance, and hike around that part. We’d end the day in East Glacier Park at a motel called The Dancing Bears.

Good plan, great plan! Lots of time to do as we chose and very few miles (relatively) to drive: just 190 miles! As it turned out, we only drove 110 miles (or so) and if we hadn’t had reserved rooms booked for the next few days, we would have gladly just kept driving to reduce the miles in later days.

While it wasn’t part of the plan, we noted a strange behavior from the car operation, with it really standing out as a problem this day: we couldn’t regulate the temperature from the heater! If you wanted heat, it would blast the hottest air possible for a while, but then switch to cold air! Not just unheated air, cold air. And while not a problem this day, it would do the same when you had the AC on: air cold enough to freeze a body part in the flow of the vent, but warm air would issue after a while. Oddest thing. Would never buy the model car (Chevy Equinox) we rented … it was just odd.

The side trip that saved the day

P1060155We were 5 miles into the day’s driving when we saw a small sign noting “Scenic Drive” and so we turned a sharp right. It was still early in the day and we had time to burn as we waited for the clouds to lift, allowing us to take in the beauty of the day. I wasn’t sure what we’d find in terms of “scenic” but we kept on until we came to a sign telling us to leave our cameras in the car.

We’d found the Hungry Horse Dam; according to the visitor center keepers: last of the concrete dams you can drive across. And they said we could use our cameras as we saw fit.

Suzy and I weren’t interested in driving and we both had cameras, so we walked the length of the dam across and back, snapping shots as we went. It was a short detour but was the best part of the day: we got to talk to some of the locals, we discovered a hidden gem, and we got in a walk. All delightful.

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Glacier National Park

I wish I had more for this part of the entry … I’ll let my journal notes speak to most of this (below) and just add pictures here.

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The night’s stay

Leaving the park was the worst of the day. We’d intentionally stayed at budget locations: with 10 nights on the road, we had to live with some restrictions. However, East Glacier Park was a mess. The roads weren’t paved in many parts, those that were required significant repair, a block off the main road were ramshackle motor homes, and signs of decay and neglect were everywhere. We even spent some time in the lodge here but didn’t find that better.

2014-06-18 18.27.032014-06-18 18.27.042014-06-18 18.27.072014-06-18 18.27.08Summer 2014 049

Yes, the lodge was in better repair, but the crowds were ill-behaved, the seating areas were drafty and chill, and the menu at their restaurant was very expensive. Again, my journal entry covers this adequately. Suzy and I agreed to get up early and put this place behind us. It was a disappointing day for many reasons.

In my words

P1060167Weather forecast 1/4” rain all day – must have meant 1/4” per half hour, every hour all _ day _ long.

Wet.

Would like to report GNP is beautiful but not sure as we only saw people, cars, and rain. Lots of rain. There was clearly beauty hiding behind the veil of mist and rain but hard to enjoy in 36°F temps and constant drizzle.

We had planned to do Avalanche Lake Trail but it was too wet and cold. Doing it just to do it wasn’t in me today. We pulled out often and enjoyed the damp beauty from the car.

The day’s cold and wet weather had gotten to me. I napped at Avalanche Creek, napped at East Glacier Lodge, and griped about prices at the restaurants. In the end, I was just crabby.

We ultimately got some personal pizzas from an in-town joint and they were OK. Not great but they sufficed and a full belly did wonders for my attitude. The hotel also had modest charm.

And by “hotel” I mean Dancing Bears Motel.

My first thought was “ugh”. Cold, cramped, little rooms just off a ramshackled mobile home lot. The continental breakfast was some breads and a jar of peanut butter and Nutella. But, the host\hostess were pleasant, the heaters warmed the room nicely, and they have a modicum of charm once you’re in and have a book to keep you company.

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