Thursday was my ‘loop day’ into Glacier National Park. I took my side cases off, packed my warm weather gear in case it was needed, and headed toward the park. The sky was overcast but the pavement was dry when I entered the park and paid my $12 entrance fee. I took a picture from the edge of the lake but the clouds were low enough that you couldn’t really see the mountains very well.
Because the cloud deck was low enough, I didn’t get any close up view of the mountains until I was a couple of miles into the park. Then, suddenly, I caught a glimpse of the mountainside. I let out a few expletive words and pulled over at the first wide spot I could find. The view was only a sliver of what was to come (I later learned that I was only seeing the bottom half of the mountain).
Soon the road switched back, got narrow, and began to climb the hillside. That’s also where the construction began. I had to stop for close to ten minutes while waiting for the go-ahead to move forward. I never got out of first gear and often had to come to a complete stop as our line of cars crawled forward. The hillside gets steep, often vertical, and the road gets even narrower.
I was not able to stop very often to take pictures, and being on a motorcycle I had a difficult time trying to get glimpses of the view. But the sights I did catch were taking my breath away. The scale of the park is extraordinary and simply cannot be conveyed in pictures. The road I entered the park upon looked like a thin gray line far below me on the valley floor. The clouds danced around the mountain tops, revealing and concealing them from one minute to the next. The effect was ominous and made the experience more dramatic.
By the time I reached the summit of Logan Pass, the Continental Divide at 6,449 feet, I found myself in a dual state of awe and reverence. Mother Nature gives us hints of what she has in store in the scenic places we’re familiar with, but they are mere refined fractions of what She has in store. Glacier National Park is a personal audience with the Goddess at her kitchen table. It is raw and powerful and inspiring and little bit frightening. You know that Mother Nature is fickle and can change her mind in the blink of an eye. Being there was a privilege and a gift.
I took a picture of the view looking down the eastern slope of the Continental Divide, then rode on. The road up the western slope is slow, a crawl. The road down the eastern slope opens up and is much faster. The views are still just as inspiring. I stopped at a lake and took another picture, trying to dodge the tourists that kept getting into the shot.
By the time I reached St. Mary, the temperature felt like it was in the 40s and the clouds had descended almost to the deck. The speed limit cranked back up to 70 mph and the turns began to sweep fast and delicious. Without my side bags, I was able to really get sideways and fast. That stretch from St. Mary south on highway 89 to Kiowa was the funnest run of curves of the entire trip.
In Kiowa, I took a narrower side road back toward East Glacier. The road was narrow and bumpy so my speed was greatly reduced. There were numerous groves of aspen on both sides of the road, gray bark and gnarly branches. The road curved into a clearing and I was able to catch a view of the surrounding area. It looked like something you’d see in Alaska, not the lower 48 states, and I kept expecting to see grizzlies and elk on every turn.
Once reaching East Glacier, I got onto Highway 12 heading west bound. The speeds went back up to 70 mph posted limit and I took advantage of it to make good time back to Kalispell. I stopped off at the West Glacier visitors village and bought a souvenir t-shirt for my wife, then headed back to my hotel.
During that evening’s meal at the NW Bay Grille, I met a couple from Arizona named John and Joan. They moved to Kalispell seven years earlier. I was curious why people in Montana drove fast on the highways but drove the speed limit, or slower, in town. Apparently Montana law enforcement on the back roads is lax but overly aggressive in the cities. That’s a good thing to know, because I’m used to riding 5-8 mph over the limit in town. I adjusted my speeds accordingly.