Category Archives: 2010 Summer Road Trip – Yellowstone and More

2010 Aug 22 – Day 11 – Yellowstone National Park

I lied.  I am sorry.  I didn’t mean to.  I had said that the photo-heavy post about our second day in the park was probably going to be the longest one.  After sorting through my photographs of this day though, I think it will be very similar.  I had forgotten about what we saw and where we went on our last day in Yellowstone.

We originally planned to spend three days in the park, but once we got there we realized how much there was to see so we extended our stay by one more day.  Looking back at the brochures and maps as I work on this blog series shows me how very much we did not see.  I guess another road trip to Wyoming is in order.We returned along the road we traveled the day before.  We had gotten as far around the loop as West Thumb Geyser Basin which is located on the bump at the west edge of Yellowstone Lake that, surprisingly is called West Thumb.   Between West Yellowstone and West Thumb Basin is the Lower Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pot, Midway Geyser Basin, Upper Geyser Basin, and Geyser Hill, home to the most famous geyser in the world, Old Faithful.  I am sure that just reading that list has already prepared you for the quantity of photos in this blog.  What can I say? I love to take photos.

When I was cleaning out my dad’s house after he passed away I found a “National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States” and brought it home.  Even though is was printed in 1989 I felt it would contain lots of useful and interesting information that I could read – someday.

A part of the section about Yellowstone National Park is a ‘how to’ guide for traveling around.  The book says, “At Fountain Paint Pot, a cauldron of hot reddish-pinkish mud, blooping and spitting, is always entertaining.  Any hot spring could become a mud pot with the right balance of acidity, moisture, and clay; however, a constant flow of water keeps most springs clear.” Unlike the travertine we saw at the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces, most of the formations in the other areas of Yellowstone are made up of geyserite, a silicate mineral deposited by hot water, that creates some very delicate and intricate designs and shapes.                                                           Spasm Geyser This is one of my favourite photos from our Yellowstone trip.

From the Fountain Paint Pot we drove the Firehole Lake Drive.                                                             Firehole Spring                                                             Surprise Pool

Great Fountain Geyser erupts about every 11 hours and the park rangers post the potential time frame the next blow is expected.  If you have time to wait for it the Great Fountain Geyser is one of the best. Not far past Great Fountain is White Dome Geyser.  It has a massive cone, but its eruption is a thin spray.       The shore of  Firehole Lake  was home to some pretty flowers. This small geyser is called Young Hopeful.  I guess it has aspirations to be bigger some day.  And, it may very well come to pass, because the landscape and geysers and springs at Yellowstone are constantly changing. The park flower, Western Fringed Gentian was in bloom. Back on the main road at the end of the Firehole Lake Drive we drove down to the Midway Geyser Basin located along the Firehole River. The river flows through several geyser basins and contains three of Yellowstone’s waterfalls.  Early trappers named the lake and river for the steam that makes it appear to smoke as if on fire.  The river is surrounded by geothermal activity which adds a continuous supply of heated water.  This makes the river temperature 5-10° warmer than nearby rivers without geothermal activity.  The water has reached a high temperature of 30° C (89° F).

Midway Geyser Basin is home to the largest (370′ wide) and most beautiful spring in the park; the Grand Prismatic Spring.  It was not possible from the boardwalk to get a shot of the entire pool and the steam rising from the water made it hard to get a nice detail of the colours.  I went online and found a free stock photo to include in the blog to show the whole thing.  Next time we go to Yellowstone I am going to find a trail or path that will take me up a rise at a distance to get a full image. The colours are caused by algae and bacteria, different types of which thrive in different water temperatures. Below is the stock photo I found online.  I couldn’t find the name of the photographer to give him/her credit.  Below is Twin Pools.  It’s not hard to figure out how it got named.
The bright orange is mineral deposits being left behind by the water as it flows over the ground surface into the pools.

At the northern end of Upper Geyser Basin is Biscuit Basin.  There is a short boardwalk trail past several pools, springs and geysers.

The brilliant, clear blue of Sapphire Pool really is breathtaking.                                                    Jewel Geyser at rest                                                             Avoca Spring                                                                Shell Geyser

I liked Mustard Spring.  I don’t like mustard, but I Iiked the orangey-yellow edge around the pool, and the bumpy formations. At the end of the loop we passed Sapphire Spring again before driving down to the main parking lot at Geyser Basin, home to Old Faithful, which, by the way, is named for its steadiness rather than the predictability of its eruptions.                                                          Cliff Geyser

Emerald Pool was lovely.  I took a series of photos of it and stitched them together to make a wide angle shot.  The shore of Sunset Lake looks a lot like the Grand Prismatic Spring.The mile-long Upper Geyser Basin contains the world’s greatest concentration of hot springs and geysers.  If you walk the one and a half mile of boardwalk around Geyser Hill and you will almost be guaranteed to see several eruptions. At one time the water level of Teakettle Spring was visible from the boardwalk, but it has lowered over the years so all you see now is the steam.  You can hear it bubbling though.                                                         Pump Geyser                                                           Doublet Pool                                                 The little Aurum GeyserBeach Spring has a constant ripple of bubbles coming to the surface.                                                             Ear Spring

The Lion Geyser Group (below) put on quite a show.                                                                   Heart Spring                                                    Depression GeyserAnd what trip to Yellowstone National Park would be complete without an eruption from Old Faithful Geyser?                                                     Anemone Geyser

There was still so much to see at Yellowstone but we had a hotel reservation in Jackson that night and reluctantly said farewell and headed down the road and out the south entrance on John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Highway into Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming.






2010 Aug 21 – Day 10 – Yellowstone National Park

This big fellow greeted us as we entered the Park in the morning. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was first described and mapped by the same two private expeditions in 1869 and 1870 that confirmed the rumours about the existence of the area of boiling mud and steam that is now Yellowstone National Park. When Charles W. Cook first viewed the canyon after traveling west from the Lamar Valley on September 20, 1869, he subsequently wrote these words in his journal:

“I was riding ahead, the two pack animals following, and then Mr. Folsom and Mr. Peterson on their saddle horses. I remembered seeing what appeared to be an opening in the forest ahead, which I presumed to be a park, or open country. While my attention was attracted by the pack animals, which had stopped to eat grass, my saddle horse suddenly stopped. I turned and looked forward from the brink of the great canyon, at a point just across from what is now called Inspiration Point. I sat there in amazement, while my companions came up, and after that, it seemed to me that it was five minutes before anyone spoke.”  

The red line was our route for the day.  First stop was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

The canyon area, at one time, was a geyser basin resulting from rhyolite (igneous volcanic rock) lava flows, fault upheavals and heat beneath the ground surface.  The actions of chemicals and heat in the geyser basisn caused the rhyolite rock to be thermally altered, makig it soft and brittle and more easily eroded.  The Grand Canyon of the Yellowston was primarily formed by an accelerated erosion of the softened rock, rather than by receding glaciers like most other canyons.

The canyon walls contain a variety of different iron compounds and exposure to the elements caused the rocks to change colour.  The rocks are oxidizing, in effect, the canyon is rusting.  Most of the yellows in the canyon are the result of iron present in the rock rather than, as many people think, sulphur.

The yellow colour of the canyon walls really does make it look like a phony, or ‘doctored’ photo.

There is a steep stairway on the opposite side of the canyon that will take you to the river below the Lower Falls.  The stairway is called Uncle Tom’s Trail after a fellow named Richardson who was known as Uncle Tom.  He operated a ferry across the Yellowstone River in 1890 that took tourists down into the canyon below the lower falls.  The original trail down the canyon wall no longer exists but the staircase bears the same name.The forceful spray of the waterfall on a sunny day causes rainbows to form on the canyon walls. The view point at the top of the Lower Falls is literally beside the crest of the waterfall.    If you look closely at the top of this rock spire you can see a pair of eagles and their nest.Plants and trees are so tenacious.  They will grow in sold rock.

From the overlook at the Lower Falls we drove a bit further up the road and looked back from Red Rock Point. Look how close that viewing platform is to the crest of the waterfall.            I loved the rich red.                             Note all the green grass and moss in the photo on the right due to the constant water spray from the falls.  Inspiration Point allows you to view the Upper Falls, although they are a long way down river from where we were standing.  Thank goodness for zoom lenses. We were on our way to Mud Basin and spotted this bison having a dust bath.  When he was done he wandered up the hill and right down the middle of the road.  Just like in the preserves in Africa, animals have the right-of-way in Yellowstone.  Traffic just had to stop until he walked off the road and into the forest.

At the Mud Volcanoarea there were more mud bubbles and some very pretty grass.                         Look at the patch of bright green on this rock. Dragon’s Mouth Spring was so hot you could hardly stand close enough to the opening to get a photo. There was a patch of grass at Mud Volcano that was so bright and colourful it looked like it was under a special light or had been painted, but it was exactly these colours – must be the chemicals in the soil and water. Not far past Mud Volcano you reach the north end of Yellowstone Lake and follow the lakeshore around to West Thumb central basin.There were a few elk eating the grass and drinking the fresh water at the lake.   The temperature in Black Pool got too hot and it changed colour to a gorgeous sapphire blue.Everytime I turned around there were more colours, more patterns, more beauty. This big bull did not want the young elk to come close and kept chasing it off. John was walking along, keeping an eye on a female elk down by the lake, not realizing that it’s fawn was on the other side of the boardwalk.  Fortunately momma elk did not get upset when he walked between them.

As we were heading back to the truck there was a brief rainshower followed by a double rainbow.  It was a lovely end to a wonderful day.


2010 Aug 20 – Day 9 – Yellowstone National Park

Rumours in the mid-1800’s by several ‘mountainmen’ about an area of boiling water, mud, and steam  were discounted as myth and exaggeration.  It wasn’t until private exploration groups in 1869 and 1870 spent a month mapping the area that Yellowstone’s unique ecosystem became well known.  It took no time at all for pressure to be put on Washington to protect the area; which it did on March 1, 1872.

There was ongoing destruction and poaching in the park until 1886 when the U.S. Army was sent to build Camp Sheridan at Mammoth Hot Springs (later renamed Fort Yellowstone).  Over the next 22 years the army constructed many permanent structures and between 1933-1942 during the New Deal relief years after the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corp (the CCC) worked on reforestation, fire hazard reduction, campgrounds, trails and a visitor’s center.

Our second day at Yellowstone we decided to drive up to the Mammoth Hot Springs area of the park, which isn’t too far from the north entrance.  Historic Fort Yellowstone and the Albright Visitor Center are located in Mammoth but we did not check them out on this trip (Also the Museum of the National Park Ranger is located near Norris Geyser Basin).  It makes for a good excuse to go back another time.

This day’s journey is in green but it is hard to differentiate from the previous day’s black line.

Yellowstone is actually the caldera of a massive volcano – the largest by far in North America.  It is the underground rumblings of volcanoes that create the heated water, steam and the pressure releases that cause the geysers to erupt.

An elk herd was crossing the Madison River just east of our place of residence in West Yellowstone.On our way up to Mammoth we stopped at the Artist Paint Pots which are located just south of Norris Geyser Basin.Since the Yellowstone area is one giant volcanic bed there are openings in the earth’s crust, which emit steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen sulfide.  These openings are called fumarole’s (derived from the Latin  fumus, ‘smoke’).  The steam forms when superheated water vaporizes as its pressure drops when it emerges from the ground.

A fumerole field is an area of thermal springs and gas vents where the groundwater boils away faster than it can be recharged.  The high concentration of sulpuric acid leaches the rock, breaking it down into clay.  Because no water washes away the acid or leached rock it remains as sticky clay to form mud pots that bubble and boil creating lots of different shapes as the bubbles burst.  They were fascinating to watch. The lovely, crystal clear South Twin Lake is located just north of Norris Basin on the way to Mammoth. We spotted this young grizzly wandering through the grass. Sheepeater Cliff is composed volcanic basalt that creates columns very similar to those we saw at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.


This section looks to me like a Trans-former.









Before we arrived at Mammoth we had to pass through Golden Gate Pass, a section of the road that is closed from early November through to late April.

Mammoth Hot Springs is an enormous hill of travertine that was created over thousands of years as the hot water cools and deposits calcium carbonate on the ground.  Because of the geothermal vents in the area travertine flourishes and over two tons of this solution flow into Mammoth each day.

The entire area at Mammoth is composed of various terraces and intermingling colours contrasted with pristine white to make a magical display of natural wonder.  It is often hard to see in the photos because it is so clear, but much of the top surfaces and many of the hillsides of the terraces have thin layers of water flowing over them.                                          This area is called Angel Terrace.

The tops of the terraces come to abrupt ends and make for interesting knife-edges at the cliff top. There were many little pieces of foliage that lay under the water on the terraces. And so many shapes and forms in the travertine.  It was a great place to take a million photos.                                                    Minerva Terrace

When you go around to the cliff side of the terraces there are beautiful steps of purest white, orange and copper all streaming together. There are dead trees trapped in the travertine all over the place and yet, in the most unlikely environment, we would see grass growing or a plant in bloom. Mound Terrace & Jupiter Terrace were a boardwalk path away from Minerva Terrace.  This is Mound Terrace. Someone dropped a coin (it is under water like the foliage bits above) and it is slowly leaching.  It will eventually be covered with the travertine and become a bump on the surface.

We did not go into the community of Mammoth Hot Springs but we could often see the buildings as we walked the boardwalk around the Minerva Terrace and Mound & Jupiter Terraces.Below is Jupiter Terrace – I loved the ‘face.’

Along Upper Terrace Drive, a one way loop, we saw the Orange Spring Mound, which was one of my favourites. And White Elephant Back Terrace How could you not love this place!? Unbelievably a flower blooms.                   The steam makes this photo look out of focus. Liberty Cap sits at the bottom of the Lower Terraces not too far from the resort community of Mammoth Hot Springs. After leaving the wonders of Mammoth Hot Springs we continued on the loop road past the Petrified Tree.Calcite Springs Overlook above the Yellowstone River.

Yellowstone River

and Tower Falls

Finally, after a fantastic day, as the sun was beginning to set, we headed back to West Yellowstone for the night.


2010 Aug 19 – Day 8 – Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone became the world’s first National Park in 1872 as the result of great foresight on the part of many people.  The uniqueness of the geothermal landscape needed to be protected for future generations and saved from the destructive affects of mining or oil and gas drilling or too much development and commercialization. The park receives close to three million visitors every year.  It is 3,500 sq. miles of wilderness, canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs, and geyers. Our first day at Yellowstone was spent walking the 2 miles of boardwalks and trails at Norris Geyser Basin, which is the hottest and most changeable area in the park; primarily because three volcanic fault lines intersect there (one of the faults had an eruption of 7.4 on the Richter Scale in 1959).

Yellowstone National Park is estimated to have over 10,000 thermal features and almost 1,300 different geyers have erupted at one time or another, with 465 of them active during an average year.         We climbed the Monument Trail to get a look at the view. On the way to Norris Geyser Basin we stopped at the steaming ‘chimney.’                              And the Gibson Geyser Basin.                                    Emerald Spring at Norris Basin.                            Interesting formations on the shoreline.
Steamboat Geyser is constantly venting steam and is the world’s tallest geyer having sent 95.5° C ( 204°F ) steam soaring 120m (390′) into the air. It usually erupts about once a year but has had as many as 50 years between eruptions.  Steamboat has no particular schedule or pattern but does have frequent smaller eruptions of accumulated steam and water.

             Cistern Spring                                                            Pearl Geyser This dead stump looks very much like some kind of lobster-like sea creature.Unlike the rest of the park, the waters from Norris Basin are acidic, not alkaline, so a different class of bacterial thermophiles live at Norris creating formations, patterns, and colours unlike those in other areas of the park.                                              Yellow Funnel Spring.       One of the many colours of the water at Norris Geyser Basin.                                           Black Growler Steam Vent There were so many pools of water with lovely colours and unusual forms and shapes in the bottom or around the edges.                                 Here is another weird root creature.           This panorama shot shows just a small area of Norris Basin.Pinwheel Geyser is located at the end of Procelain Basin (one of the sections of Norris) and from there we were walking the back of the boardwalk loop toward the truck.

                                   A larger shot of Porcelain Basin

I could not get over the vibrancy of the colours; so very beautiful.                                                      Constant Geyser                                                         Congress Pool                                 Porcelain Basin Overlook.

Over the course of our first day at Yellowstone I took almost 350 photos.  After weeding and deleting my file for the day contains 171 pictures.  Of those I have included about 90 in this blog.  I know this a lot, but you must understand by now that I love to preserve my memories in ‘film.’  I have really enjoyed walking the trails of Norris again for this blog.  I warn you that the next three entries will be similar.



2010 Aug 18 – Day 7 – Billings, MT to West Yellowstone, MT (Zoo Montana)

Before we left Billings we went to Zoo Montana, a 70-acre open enclosure zoo and botanical garden.  The zoo opened in 1992 and over 70,000 people visit annually.  I love animals and am happy that all the larger, reputable zoos now have good natural habitat enclosures and the critters are well fed and well cared for.  Zoo Montana isn’t really big as zoos go, but it had nice pathways and big open pens.  None of the animals we saw portrayed any of the stress behaviours I have seen in years gone by.                                                               Bald Eagles                                                                Grizzly   Sitka Deer – they are not very big and have very reddish antlers
      Siberian Tiger – I love the white spots on the back of the ears.                                Red Panda – these little guys are so cute.
Wolverine – don’t mess with these fellows, they are fiesty and mean.                                                            Wolf, obviously.

                      The flowers in the botanical garden were lovely.

After we finished at the zoo and gardens we headed southwest to the Montana-Wyoming border and through another high winding mountain pass.  The summit of Beartooth Pass is 10,947′ above sea level and, like the Going-to-the-Sun Road through Logan Pass, is only open from mid-May to mid-October.  Because of the high elevation snow storms can occur even in mid-summer and the pass is notorious for high winds.

                       Looking one way and looking the other way.

Beartooth Pass is often called “the Most Beautiful Drive in America” and it was stunning on the sunny day with which we were blessed. The 68-mile road enters Wyoming just south of Deer Lodge, MT and then re-enters Montana 17 miles south of Cooke City close to the eastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Beartooth Pass is a great ‘motorcycle road,’ with plenty of zigzags and switchbacks.  Over a 12-mile stretch you make an elevation rise from 1,600m (5,200′) to 2,400m (8,000′). The above photos are panoramic stitches of several photos to try capture the scope of the space.  Unfortunately the page width of the blog settings doesn’t allow them to be displayed very well.  You can get the idea though.These two photos give a good idea of the many corners and switchbacks on the route.

Yellowstone National Park is primarily in the state of Wyoming, however the north boundary is in Montana and the west boundary is along the Montana and Idaho borders so we went in and out of Montana and Wyoming a few times that day.  Our three-night hotel reservation was in West Yellowstone so we pretty much did a diagonal drive through the park and out again on the Montana side. It was fitting, I think, to be greeted to Yellowstone by a few members of their bison herd.

Yellowstone is huge and there are many loop roads and trails to explore.  Our three-night stay lasted four and I could have lingered for another week.  Each day we explored a different part of the park so we did see a lot of it, but there was a lot left to see when we checked out and drove south.  The next few blogs will be very photo heavy with all the geysers, basins, formations and colours that we saw.

2010 Aug 17 – Day 6 – Lewiston, MT to Billings, MT (Pictographs)

The drive between Lewiston and Billings takes about 3 1/2 hours.  We only made one stop; at Pictograph Caves State Park 5 miles south of Billings.

The 23-acre site contains three caves, Pictograph (the largest), Middle and Ghost.  There are pathways for access and interpretive signs for information.The first professional archaeological dig in Montana was begun at the caves in 1937.  Over 30,000 artifacts and 20,000 animal remains (bones, teeth, etc.) have been recovered. The pictographs are estimated to be between 200 and 2,100 years old.  The oldest one, of a turtle, has been carbon-dated at 2,100 years old.  The meaning of many of the drawings is up for debate, but they include people, animals and even rifles. Many of the pictographs are becoming quite faded and, of course, in more recent years idiots had to write on the cave walls marring the ancient images. With only one touristy thing that day it makes for a short blog, but any readers should take the time now to appreciate this as we arrived in Yellowstone National Park the next day and, trust me, the blogs covering our days in the park will be much longer.  Photos.  Photos. Photos.  I loved, loved, loved Yellowstone and definitely plan to return some day – soon, I hope.

2010 Aug 16 – Day 5 – Great Falls, MT to Lewiston, MT

The day started at the Charles M. Russell Museum.  Charlie Russell was born in 1864 in St. Louis, Missouri.  As a youngster he drew sketches and made clay figures of animals.  He was always fascinated by the ‘wild west’ and left home at 16, finding work for a short time on a sheep ranch.  He met a hunter-trapper-turned rancher in Montana and went to work for him, learning much about the west. He also lived for a time with the Blood Indians, a branch of the Blackfoot tribe.   He only returned to Missouri once to see family before coming back to Montana where he lived until his death in 1926 at age 62.

The way of the west and the life of the Indians and cowboys was changing rapidly. Russell’s paintings did much to capture that time period before it disappeared forever.  He began to make his living as a full-time artist in 1892 at the age of  28.  The museum has five galleries showcasing over 2,000 of his paintings, poems, sculptures and artifacts.  One of his paintings sold for $5.6 million in 2005.                                                                                                    The Jerkline                   Pow Wow Ready                                                        The Hopi Pot

Russell was a prolific letter writer and maintained close correspondence with many friends and family.  His letters, post cards, poems, and Christmas cards were adorned with small sketches; often tongue-in-cheek jokes on his friends or illustrations to go along with a story he was writing about in his letter.  I purchased a book that was a compilation of many of his letters, poems and cards that friends preserved and donated to the collection.                                                                       His studio. I had a wonderful time exploring it all before we got in the truck and headed east to Fort Benton.  We had hoped to explore the fort but it was closed the day we arrived.  We stopped in again on our way northward and were able to tour the fort then. We walked the riverside trail and saw the Shep Memorial.  This was a story I knew from my youth, about the faithful dog that waited every day at the train station for his master to return. The drive that day took us through the middle of the state of Montana.  It was a lovely day and we had plenty of sightings of Pronghorn Antelope in the grain fields.

We arrived in Lewiston as the sun was setting.   We have been through Lewiston several times.  The town is named after famous American explorer Meriwether Lewis, who, with is partner William Clark, explored and mapped much of the western states before the pioneer settlers headed westward.

We spent the night in Lewsiton and headed off for Billings the next day.

2010 Aug 15 – Day 4 – Choteau, MT to Great Falls, MT (Ulm Pishkun State Park)

I think it is because I have lived my entire life surrounded by high hills and near the very high Rocky Mountains that I so love the wide open prairie.  To me there is a special beauty to all of the buttes and grasslands and distant horizon. We had spent the night at Choteau, MT which is only about 85 km (55 miles) from Great Falls which was our destination for the day.  Fifteen miles south of Choteau is the 12,000 acre Freezeout Lake Waterfowl Area.  During the spring and fall migrations as many as 300,000 snow geese and 10,000 whistling swans stop here. In order to protect the nearby farms, wheat and barley are planted on the reserve to sate the bird’s hunger.  The brochure lists the names of 227 species of birds that have been sighted at Freezeout Lake. Since it was mid-summer the migrating birds have already been through the area but we did see a nice-sized flock of American Pelicans, an avocet and an egret. A few miles south of Freezeout Lake we passed an elk ranch. We turned off the main highway onto a gravel road that would take us to Ulm Pishkun State Park which is located slightly southwest of Great Falls. John drives my Poppy truck very slowly on gravel roads to protect her paint.  Fortunately Montana is lightly populated so we didn’t meet any vehicles that threw up a rock as it went by. “Pishkun” is a Blackfoot word for buffalo jump.  For thousands of years it was a common hunting technique to stampede a herd of bison to the edge of a cliff via lanes with sides of stone.  As the firghtened animals milled around at the cliff edge the oncoming ones at the rear forced the ones at the front over the edge where they were easily dispatched if the fall didn’t kill them.  The entire tribe would work for days to get all the meat, hides, horns, and all things usable from the animals.  Only after the white man introduced the use of guns for hunting from horseback did the native way of life change.

At Ulm Pishkun there is an interpretive center with interesting displays about the culture of the Blackfoot and their hunting technique. A trail leads to the top of the cliff where there is a panoramic view of miles and miles of open prairie and agricultural fields.  This is the land of Charles M. Russell’s paintings that I so loved as a child.  The Russell homestead and studio is in Great Falls which is why we are staying the night there.  We had gone through Great Falls a few years ago and the museum was closed so I was glad to be able to go on this trip. Plants grow right out of the rock on the cliff face.  The photo above was taken looking straight down over the edge. We spent a few happy hours at Ulm Pishkun before driving into Great Falls for the night.

2010 Aug 14 – Day 3 – Whitefish, MT to Choteau, MT (Going-to-the-Sun Road)

Glacier National Park is located in Montana along the Canada-USA border south of BC and Alberta (Canada has a Glacier National Park as well, located in the Rocky Mountains – the two are unrelated).  On the Canadian side, in southwestern Alberta, is Waterton National Park.  Waterton was declared a park in 1895 and, in the US, Glacier became a national park in 1910.  In 1932 the two governments ‘joined’ the two parks as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park; the first of its kind in the world.  The two National Park Systems work closely to ensure the parks are managed well and the biosphere and animals are protected on both sides of the border.  (And the animals don’t even need passports or photo-ID to walk across from Canada to the USA and vice versa.)

Glacier National Park is called the Crown of the Continent and there is only one road that traverses the park through the Rocky Mountains from the west entrance to the east entrance.  This is the 80 km (50 mile) Going-to-the-Sun Road through Logan Pass.  The summit of Logan Pass sits at 2026 meters (6646′) above sea level and crosses the Continental Divide.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road follows the north shore of beautiful Lake McDonald, the largest lake in Glacier National Park at 10 miles long and one mile wide.  The water is pristine and the multi-coloured rocks on the bottom along the shore are clearly visible on a sunny day. The Sun Road was built between 1921 and 1932, officially opening the next year.  Avalanche repair work is ongoing to this day.  Logan Pass can receive up to 80′ of snow over a winter.  It takes 10 weeks to plow the roads open even with equipment that can move 4,000 tons of snow per hour.  A plow can clear about 500′ per day.  That is a LOT of snow.  Consequently the  Sun Road is only open from, usually, May to October (one year it didn’t open until mid-July) and summer traffic can be quite heavy on the narrow cliff-side pass.  There are parts of the drive that are definitely not for the faint of heart.