Montana and Glacier National Park (Pt 2)

Hoary Marmot

Hoary Marmot

I’ve been a bit delayed in finishing this part of our holiday write-up, so my apologies.

The following morning, we set off north again heading for Essex, MT. It was a pleasant drive and we meandered our way north, stopping at various interesting places and small towns. I love small town North America and it is even better in the west. The weather was good, with a deep blue sky and not a cloud to be seen. It was hot too. Our destination was the small town of Essex, which was where we would be staying for the next few days. There is nothing much in Essex except the hotel, a few houses, lots of trees and a rail-yard – perfect!

Issac Walton Inn

Issac Walton Inn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Issac Walton Inn was originally built by the Great Northern Railway as a hotel for people arriving at Glacier National Park. It was meant to be a grand entrance for the soon to be built southern entrance to the park. Sadly, the war came along and the southern entrance was never built, but the hotel is still a lovely place to stay, overlooking the railroad, with sitting on the porch watching the trains go by being a favorite pass time. They also have a collection of cabooses that have been turned into hotel rooms and we were able to stay in some.

Montana Rail Link Caboose hotel Room

Montana Rail Link Caboose Hotel Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a good nights rest, we set off for Glacier Park.

Road over the mountains

Road over the mountains

Problems you may encounter on the road

Problems you may encounter on the road – Free range cows. They will sleep in the middle of the road too.

 

Lake McDonald and Lodge

Lake McDonald and Lodge

The first day we went horseback riding up in the mountains. It was spectacular and a great way to see the scenery. I didn’t get many pictures (not safe to ride and photograph at the same time, but here Diane and I are with our horses for the day, Firestone and Pepper. For Mrs Mud’s information, these are Belgian Half Draft crosses, big sturdy, hardy horses with a very gentle temperament.

Diane and Phil with Pepper and Firestone

Diane and Phil with Pepper and Firestone

It turned quite cold whilst we were out and so we stopped in at the lake MacDonald Lodge for a hot tea afterwards. After heading home, it was early to bed as the cold and altitude had made us extremely sleepy.

Lake McDonald Lodge

Lake McDonald Lodge

Inside the Lodge

Inside the Lodge

Driving home, we saw the most beautiful sunsets over the mountains. As we drove, we passed through several small towns and Native American reservations. This is a real eye opener, as the poverty is abject. There is a real disconnect as you have this magnificent scenery, wide open ranges and tourist areas located hard up against areas of dreadful poverty and substance living. We were quite quiet on the way home contemplating how this can be in this day and age. It does make one think.

Sunset at Dusk

Sunset at Dusk on the way home – this is at Marias Pass

The following day we drove over the continental divide on the “Going to the Sun Road”.

heading to the pass - we are going over these mountains!

Heading to the pass – we are going over these mountains!

Driving up the pass through an area ravaged by forest fire

Driving up the pass through an area ravaged by forest fire

More burnt trees - Forest fires are incredibly intense but part of the natural forest cycle and regrowth starts within a matter of days

More burnt trees – Forest fires are incredibly intense but part of the natural forest cycle and regrowth starts within a matter of days

Climbing the pass

Climbing the pass

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Spectacular scenery

Spectacular scenery

And into the mist

And into the mist

This is a steep mountainous road and crosses Lolo Pass at about 7200 feet altitude. At the pass we went hiking up to Hidden Lake, and passing a herd of mountain goats on the way, and some hairy marmots, which are like large gophers about 20 inches long. The goats were wary of us, but the marmots couldn’t have cared less and waddled right up to us. The weather did the typical mountain thing, varying between rain, bright sunshine and snow / sleet, all in the course of an hour. It was a pleasant walk, but I was feeling the altitude a little, the higher we went.

View back down the valley towards St Mary from Lolo Pass

View back down the valley towards St Mary from Lolo Pass

 

Starting the walk up to Hidden Lake

Starting the walk up to Hidden Lake

Friendly Hoary Marmot

Friendly Hoary Marmot

Herd of Mountain Goats

Herd of Mountain Goats

Another Mountain Goat

Another Mountain Goat

 

Busy Chipmunk

Busy Chipmunk

 

 

 

Hidden Lake - Our destination

Hidden Lake – Our destination.

 

 

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Scenery at Lolo Pass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold, but happy, we headed back to the car and descended the other side of the pass. This was real mountain roading and fortunately I have driven in the mountains before, so know how to do it. However, even I found it steep and twisty and it was plainly obvious that many others hadn’t a clue about how to descend long steep hills. There was a pungent smell of hot brake hanging about the road from other cars riding their brakes. The better way is to lock the transmission into low gear (most North American cars are automatics) to restrict the speed and just use the brakes occasionally to adjust speed when necessary. It is also a good idea to pull off occasionally to allow brakes and transmissions to cool. (Pulling off also has the added advantage in that you can lose the idiots who think it is fun to ride my tail all the way down). Unfortunately, as I was driving, we have no photo’s of this part of the trip. Note to those who are thinking of doing this trip – it is better to go east to west, as that way you are mainly against the mountainside and not the edge of the abyss! And no, in many parts, there is NO safety barrier…

After a gentle ride home, it was early to bed again.

The final day was a gentle hike to Avalanche Lake. This time we started from the west side and headed to the trail head. On the way we saw a couple of young moose playing in the river.

Bull and Cow moose

Bull and Cow moose

Moose are the biggest deer in North America and have a reputation for being dangerous. But really, that is only because they have extremely poor eyesight and will run at the first sight of danger. being so big and basically blind, they tend to run through things rather than around them. But it has been show that it is perfectly possible to tame them and train them to work.

The hike to Avalanche lake took about 2 hrs each way, through the trees. There was plenty of wildlife around, but my camera had flat batteries. However, the destination was spectacular and Diane managed to get this panorama with her phone.

Panorama of Avalanche Lake

Panorama of Avalanche Lake

At the far end, we could see the waterfall, which was the outflow from Hidden Lake, which had been our destination of the previous day.

Waterfall

Waterfall

The road down the other side of the pass can be made out as the line crossing the picture from left to right. Note the sheer drop!

Hidden Lake is, well, hidden up there!

Tired and contented, we made our way back to the car and headed for the hotel. As it was our last night, we had dinner in the hotel and very nice it was too. A nice steak, and a great desert, whilst watching the trains go by. Being off season, it was very quiet and we had the place to ourselves.

The following morning, it was an early start and a long drive (500+ miles) back to Bozeman for the flight home. No pictures but I did spot two series land rovers (both 88’s). Sad to leave, but we know that we will return here again. It is very different from the Yellowstone which we are familiar with and well worth the visit.

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4 thoughts on “Montana and Glacier National Park (Pt 2)

  1. Great post Phil. I really enjoyed reading it and some of those photos are stunning. The roads appear to be very empty? Also I like the caboose – what is it – a brake van? we don’t have them on UK railways so not sure what it equates to. That lodge is also very impressive, quite fancy staying there 🙂

    • Hello Ian,

      Thanks for the kind comment.

      The roads were indeed empty, partly because that is how things are in that part of the country, but also because it was off season. Summer is my busiest time at work and so we don’t normally get our break until mid September, which is after children have all gone back to school. This is actually quite nice as it is quieter and less crowded. We have learned the hard way that the US National Parks are fantastic places to visit, but in high season, can be extremely crowded. Because there are just the two of us, we are able to be a bit more flexible about when we travel. In addition, we are fortunate that Diane’s North American head office is in Bozeman, MT, so we have been able combine some trips with her working visits out there. With local knowledge from her co-workers in the office, we have been able to visit some fantastic and off the beaten track places in the mountainous Northwest. One of the best things about being HQ’d in Bozeman is that the office is literally an hour away from Yellowstone, and we have been able to visit there several times. (Indeed, we got married there!). I have a post on Yellowstone in preparation.

      You are indeed correct, a caboose is the equivalent of a Guards van / Brake Van on UK railways. They are becoming increasingly rare now, but a lot were sold off for use as accommodation / holiday homes, etc. The hotel had several and I am just finishing a post on the ones we stayed in. give me a day or two.

      • Ah, yes I guess we would also have quieter roads in some areas of the UK outside of kids holiday season but probably not fully empty. It is very overcrowded on UK roads now so even rural back roads are generally never completely empty like they were when I first started driving back in the 1980’s. I remember being able to drive for literally miles and miles without seeing another car. You struggle to go a 100 yards now without coming across another car. I suspect the population density in rural areas of the UK is still much higher than rural areas of the states. Even though population in UK is concentrated in City/urban areas because of the relatively short distances from city to rural area many people choose to live in the rural areas and commute to the town/city each day. I’m guessing in some rural areas of the US the distances would be too great to allow such daily commutes so the population in those areas will be less dense?

  2. Although the population density varies widely In North America, I think its fair to say that on average, it is far less than in the UK. OK, you have extremes with places like New York or LA, where everyone is living on top of each other. For me, this is purgatory. But then you have the opposite in areas like Wyoming, Montana and Nevada, where the wide open spaces and isolation is almost unnerving. This is more predominant in the West than the east, but even in the east, you can literally drive for hours without seeing another car or person. For someone coming from the crowded UK, it did take a bit of getting used to. As you say, in some places, the distances are just too far for commuting and so few people can make a living in those areas. In addition, the climate is often more extreme in these low density areas, making it less hospitable to live there. (The long cold winters of the Rockies are fierce, whilst the summer heat of the Nevada dessert is like the Sahara).Hence, few people want to live there! Like many places, these areas are nice to visit as tourists, but it may be impossible to make a decent wage or attain a decent standard of living there.

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