Going to the Sun in Montana by:Lydia Kelly
Along the northern reaches of Montana lies the ice-buried expanse of Glacier National Park. Through the middle of this national treasure a winding two-lane road cuts a path, inviting tourists to experience natural wonders that once were nearly impossible to see.
Because of the sometimes 80' deep snow that covers the landscape in the winter, it takes weeks to clear the Going-to-the-Sun Road for summer tourists. Named for Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, the 50 mile long route is only open from mid-June to mid-September, although the park itself is open year-round.
With its tight twists and turns the route is not recommended for larger vehicles and maximum limits of 21' in length and 8' in width are posted to prevent accidents. For those with vehicles that cannot navigate the route, or for those who merely feel that driving the mountainside is more stressful than enjoyable, there are shuttle busses available from July to September.
When first arriving at Glacier National Park you may want to stop in at the Apgar Visitor Center. Here you can learn about the plants and animals that are native to the park, and make yourself familiar with the area.
As you begin your drive you will soon pass Lake McDonald. In 2003 there was a forest fire along the lake's far shore whose damages can still be seen in the charred remains of trees. At the north-east end, McDonald Falls plunges into the lake from a marshy region popular with moose.
A little farther along you will have the chance to stop at the Trail of Cedars, an elevated boardwalk that winds through ancient cedar forests. If you follow the trail along Avalanche Creek you will eventually reach Avalanche Lake and a series of waterfalls that cascade over 2000' cliffs into the water below.
Travelling steadily upwards you will soon encounter an impressive ridge that towers thousands of feet above you, forming Garden Wall. This ridge forms a part of the continental divide, the central point at which water must either flow west towards the Pacific or east towards the Atlantic.
You will pass below Garden Wall in a lengthy zig-zag called The Loop. The rising road will take you through a landscape of waterfalls, towering peaks, and plunging valleys. Perhaps the most notable of the waterfalls along this section of the road is Birdwoman Falls, whose waters race down the side of the mountains in a glorious cascade. More watery wonders include the Weeping Wall where several thin streams of water flow, making it seem as though the stone itself weeps.
The highest point along the Going-to-the-Sun Road is Logan's Pass. At 6,646' above sea level it is topped with magnificent domes and sheer ridges that tower over the stunted timberline below. Be sure to stop in at the visitor's center and enjoy the trails that will take you to see some of the better sights such as the Hanging Gardens.
If you like the prospect of seeing an actual glacier, you will have to stop at the Jackson Glacier Overlook. Although, like all glaciers in this time of global warming, the Jackson Glacier is steadily shrinking, it is still a sight to behold.
Finally, at the western end of the pass you will reach St. Mary Lake. Named "the inside lake" by the Blackfeet Indians, it is nestled between mile-high peaks that frame it like a blue-green gem. The Wild Goose Overlook offers a spectacular view of the lake and the surrounding landscape.
While the drive through the park may only take a couple of hours, it is worth your while to take some time and stay at one of the several campgrounds along the road. Glacier National Park is a glorious, virtually undisturbed wildlife that will take you away from the worries and cares of modernity and offer you a freedom rarely found in this day and age.
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