Going to the Sun

 

Glacier National Park’s Going to the Sun Road is aptly named.IMG_1997

The ascent begins on winding roads lined with lodgepole pines. Past tumbling, brilliant blue waterfalls and rock slides and forest floors blanketed with moss.

With every hairpin turn taken you gain elevation and are afforded new views of snow capped peaks shrouded with clouds, new views of valleys carved out between the mountains, filled with swirls of mist boiling and twisting.

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Gradually the turns quicken and the road narrows. To your one side, a rock wall– mountain extending above you into the sky. To the other side, a sheer drop. Take a look into the abyss, it’s beautiful. My knuckles turned white the first five times I rode up the road. People with a fear of plunging to their death would do best sitting in the back seat.

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Over bridges and through tunnels and up countless switchbacks, this is your journey to Narnia. The weeping wall is magnificent– stick your hand out the window and catch some snow melt as it tumbles down the mountain side.

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The road has to be excavated ever spring, and it’s a painstaking process. Especially if you happen to work at the front desk of a lodge in the park, and then you have to tell park visitors that no, sorry, the road is still closed– about 30 times a day. Snow can reach 80 feet in places, and there are huge challenges with working at that altitude. It usually doesn’t open up until mid to late June, and even then a big storm can wash out the road and close it down for days.

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The road runs directly through the park, from lush, wet Lake McDonald on the west side to arid, cold St. Mary’s on the east. It goes along the very spine of the continent, to the highest elevation you can drive to on the rockies– Logan’s Pass is 6,647 feet. It’s truly in the clouds.
Storms can brew up out of nowhere– even the sweetest most blue skied day can turn nasty in 20 minutes. This storm cloud was so odd and so quickly moving– you felt like you could almost touch it. Like some displaced float, blown astray from its parade.

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The visitors center there has a fire place for cold days and evening astronomy talks with rangers, where they set up telescopes. The stars! I’ve never seen so many stars in my life.
On my birthday I drove up there and watched a meteor shower, lying on top of the VW van.

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Things are different up there, in the mountains. I would never, ever hitchhike normally, but that summer I hitched more times than I can count. One time with a friendly, big Montana family, the mom who kept exclaiming, “holy buckets!”, every time we saw a new mountain. With three friendly college guys– I told them I didn’t feel like this was real life– one said, “of course this is real life. It’s so much more real than anything back home.” In the back of a pick up, with a sweet old couple, who called my friend and I, “footloose and fancy-free.”
There are free shuttles that run fairly frequently, but if you need to hurry to make a shift, sometimes it’s quicker to hitch.

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At Logan’s pass, there’s several trail heads, as well as ravens, mountain goats and bighorn sheep milling about the parked cars casually. People from the world over, a strange assortment of people, pick-nicking and stretching. One day I made friends with a guy in a sarong, playing the ukelele for his mom. He was wearing a cape. He said, “Don’t worry, it will all work out perfectly. Everything always works out perfectly.”
The Hidden Lake trail runs along a boardwalk, is just a mile and a half and is quite literally breathtakingly beautiful– at that altitude everything takes your breath away.
If you can brave the dark drive back down the mountains, going to Logan’s pass to watch the sunset is one of those things that’s almost impossible to put words to. I’m trying to now, and everything pales compared to simply experiencing it.
Things look pretty good up there, at the top of the world. The last, best place.

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