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Posts Tagged ‘Kalispell’

St. Mary Lake - Glacier

St. Mary Lake - Glacier

If you’ve never driven a motorcycle on the Going-to-the-Sun road it’s clearly one of the top 10 national park experiences you should have.

We rolled out early on the “Sun Road,” as it’s known, and were treated to views that exceeded the Canadian Rockies.  Largely because the cloud coverage made way for some spectacular open air views in the various pull outs.  There is significantly less traffic (shuttle buses and tourists) when traversing the park East to West.   We didn’t have to contend with crowds at any of the prime view pullouts.

H-D on the "Sun Road" - Glacier

H-D on the "Sun Road" - Glacier

From pockets of thick, forest lining the many lakes to Logan Pass to the mountain-goat-crowded alpine high country and then back down to West Glacier on the park’s western border…  the road offers a visual assortment of outdoor views that anyone will enjoy.  The “Sun Road,” which initially was called the “Transmountain Highway,” rolls through the Crown of the Continent and offers up some road entertainment.   It’s narrow, precipitous in places, and in a constant state of repair due to the annual freeze-thaw cycle.

Glacier Mountain Flowers

Glacier Mountain Flowers

It wasn’t always clear that the “Sun Road” would follow its current path. There were debates over the best routing of a cross-park road. Some wanted it to run all the way to Waterton Lakes in British Columbia, and others were arguing for it to go by Gunsight Pass.  In the end the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (the precursor to today’s Federal Highway Administration) decided the current route made the most sense. Once that decision was made, National Park Service landscape architects worked with Bureau of Public Roads engineers to, as much as possible, blend the road into the mountain environment.  The road is truly an engineering marvel and is a National Historic Landmark.  It spans about 50 miles through the parks interior and winds around mountainsides and cliffs.  Planners insisted that the bridges, retaining walls, and guardrails be made of native materials and to this day that mind-set prevails.

Logan Pass - Glacier National Park

Logan Pass - Glacier National Park

We pulled off at the Logan Pass visitor center.  This area is pinched tightly between Clements Mountain and the southern tip of the Garden Wall, and offers up terrific views that carries the Continental Divide through the park’s interior. Farther north are the bulk of the park’s glaciers and you soon realize that it would take a lifetime to really know everything that the park has to offer.  Many of the park visitors motor up the pass aboard a Red Jammer, one of Glacier’s renowned fire engine-red, open-air touring buses that debuted in 1937.  Supposedly they gained their nickname for the way drivers “jammed” their way through the gears.

The Red Jammer

The Red Jammer

We made our way down to West Glacier where it looks like time has stood still in this remote corner of Montana.  The log buildings haven’t changed much since they were built in 1938.  Any “inappropriate development” has been curtailed and the village has maintain its historic character.  There was a lunch break in Kalispell and we had a great drive along Flathead Lake and rolling farmlands.  The weather was comfortable as scattered clouds floated along the mountain range.  We were making good time for a layover in Missoula.

Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake

Just after St. Ignatius we connected with Hwy 200 and about 20 miles prior to I-90 we hit major road construction.  It was as if the contractor won every bid to re-surface the road, rebuild water culverts and widen bridges.  It was massive and to be candid riding a weighted down motorcycle on very loose and deep gravel was intense.  The “Motorcycles Use Extreme Caution” was an understatement!

We finally arrived in Missoula and met up with the other half of the posse from when we split paths in Canada.  Dinner and refreshments at MacKenzie River Pizza Company was a great break as we compared riding route and construction stories.

The next morning all I could think of was — No forest fires here!

Road Construction

Road Construction

This is usually the season for hot, dust-dry and smokey air in Western Montana.  Maybe an occasional thunder shower with little rain, but lots of fire-starting lightening.  However, our Missoula departure was met with flash-flood pouring rain.  We’re talking a wet-to-the-bone soaker!  Even with a full-face helmet it was miserable as we experienced 167 miles of heavy rain on I-90.  It didn’t stop until we exited in Coeur D’ Alene and was a half-hour into eating our lunch at a Denny’s!  I experienced for the first time rain gear seepage and damp jeans.  WTF?!  Sure that amount of rain qualifies as a season-ending event to the wildfires, but it was so intense and broad across the state that even I was looking for a culprit… maybe that hydrocarbon use is REALLY to blame for the glacier shortening and sea level rise which in turn effected the rings around the sun and the atmospheric motorcycle riding conditions in Montana?  A quick iPhone WeatherBug scan indicated that Spokane was at the edge of any possible rain and we decided it was time to head as directly as possible to sunnier sky’s.  By the time we hit Ritzville then south on Hwy395 toward the tri-cities it was re-hydration time and the layers started to peel off.  After several more wind surfing riding hours through the gorge we made it home.

Posse Pizza Dinner

Posse Pizza Dinner

A couple of closing thoughts on this great 8-day, ~2000 mile ride. The internet is for sharing.  It’s where we go to reveal our thoughts and describe experiences.  When going on a motorcycle road trip you encounter an array of fascinating landscapes, people and structures.  This trip brought with it some weather challenges for which we were mostly prepared and we adjusted to them.  There was also a lot of terrific riding, fun and now a historical travelogue.  At the end of the day, when you get home, it’s about having a few moments away from the daily routine and being able to share those memories with friends and family.  Thanks to the posse for a great time!

The 107 to 47 Journey — Part One HERE; Part Two HERE; Part Three HERE

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It was a sunny and brisk 46 degrees for our early morning departure out of Sandpoint.  We planned to head out the Pend Oreille scenic byway which spends its entire length next to water, whether the massive Lake Pend Oreille or one of the rivers that feed it.  This lake in the northern Idaho Panhandle, is 65 miles long, and 1,150 feet deep in some places, making it the fifth deepest in the U.S.  Only locals know that the lake is still used by the Navy’s Acoustic Research Detachment to test large-scale submarine prototypes.  View the Navy dock HERE.

We grabbed a drive-thru breakfast in Ponderay, a small community north of Sandpoint then headed eastward.  Highway 200 passes through the towns of Kootenai, Hope, and Clark Fork prior to hitting the westernmost portion of “Highway 200” which extends east through Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota.

About 30 minutes into the ride if you blink you’ll pass by the Cabinet Gorge Dam.  It’s located about 10 minutes prior to hitting the Montana border.  Located on a cliff directly over the dam there is a road which looks like a forest road to the right, but it’s just worn out pavement.  My grandfather worked at this Dam which was built in the early ‘50s.  It took only 21 months to complete with 1700 men working 24 hours a day.  Avista Utilities operates the dam which is one of several on the Clark Fork River which has caused issues with Bull Trout migrating to Lake Pend Oreille for years.

We connected with Montana’s Highway 56 which runs in a northerly direction from an intersection between Noxon and Heron, about 10 miles east of the Idaho state line. The highway runs approximately 35 miles and meets up with U.S. Route 2 about 3 miles east of the town of Troy, MT.  This highway passes through a forested and mountainous landscape.  It travels along the eastern shore of Bull Lake; the Cabinet Mountains are to the east. The entire route is within the boundary of the Kootenai National Forest. Highway 56 is known locally as the “Bull Lake Road” and you’ll often find “deer smear” laying on the side of the road.

We fueled up in Troy and headed east for the 100+ miles to Kalispell and West Glacier Park.  Glacier National Park is known as the “Switzerland of North America” and is enhanced by the historic Swiss style lodges and chalets located throughout the Park. There are over a thousand miles of hiking trails.  When Glacier National Park opened in 1910 it was a time when preserves were opening all over the West as railroads made mountain travel easier. The Great Northern Railroad had just built Belton Chalet, where well-to-do tourists could unload their trunks and servants to experience the wonders of the West in comfort.  This is just one of many hundreds of such stories that you can find about this rich in history area.

We rolled through the park and made tracks to East Glacier.  When we arrived in Cut Bank it was 95+ degrees.  By the time we passed the Camp Disappointment sign on the Blackfeet Reservation (near Browning, MT) we were ready for a swimming pool, but we needed to make some more miles.  Camp Disappointment is the northernmost campsite of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

It was somewhere near this area out on the plain that Santiago encountered a “suicide bird” attack on the chrome Harley wheel.  Sort of a “Wild Hog” moment, but not quite as funny.  We extricated the remaining bird feathers from the fender and proceeded across the plain to overnight in Havre, MT.  We accomplished ~450 miles thru bugs, heat and Montana wind.  We truly looked forward to dinner and some cool refreshments.

Interested to know more about our “Ride Home”?  Read the road blogs for: Day 1HERE, Day 2 HERE, Day 3 HERE, Day 4 HERE and Day 5 HERE

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