We are headed to Glacier and the Canadian Rockies this summer – in a few weeks, actually.
I have been anticipating arriving just in time to experience summer in the valleys and spring in the mountains. In my imagination there will be flower-filled meadows and snow-capped mountains to photograph, and we’ll take scenic drives along the Going to the Sun Road and explore the easier hiking trails. It will be the perfect mountain vacation.
While the park is filled with gorgeous scenery, the highlight of the park is the dramatic scenery along the Going to the Sun Road. This 50 mile stretch of winding mountain road connects the east and west sides of the park across the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. Completed in 1932 after 20 years of work, it’s an engineering masterpiece as well as one of the world’s great drives.
The Going to the Sun Road closes during the winter, and there is always a question around when it will open for the season. When I checked at the beginning of June, plowing along the road was moving along smoothly, although still far from complete, with up to 30 feet of snow remaining along some sections. (During the height of winter up to 80 feet of snow can cover Logan Pass.) All signs indicated the road would be fully open to traffic by mid-June. Perfect.
But it’s been a challenging spring.
When staff began opening parts of the park that had been closed for the season, they discovered damage from winter snow and spring rock slides. At the same time, cool weather slowed work and late winter storms left 16 inches of snow and additional slide damage behind.
And then, just last week, another major storm dropped five inches of rain at lower elevations and three feet of new snow at higher elevations.
This latest storm has slowed the full opening of the road considerably. Avalanches and rock slides created additional damage, with avalanche danger along the Going to the Sun Road so high that plowing was suspended for several days. At lower elevations, flooding poses risks.
Clearing debris along the Going to the Sun Road; NPS photo
I am beginning to fear that the Going to the Sun Road will be closed and much of the park still in the grip of winter when I arrive this summer!
More images of Glacier, including extreme snowplowing, can be found on the park’s flickr page.
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