Gazing out our balcony window towards the mountains, I could see it was probably going to be another gloomy day. After I shot the photo above, clouds enveloped the mountain peaks, and rain threatened to ruin our Red Jammer ride on the iconic 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road. At least that’s what we thought…
(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)
Our group of 24 divided ourselves into two “jammers,” but when Scott hopped into ours, he noticed there was room for two more. None of the other 14 in the other jammer wanted to budge, though, so we had a little extra elbow room, which was nice.
Fortunately, the rain held off so Zack, our driver, could roll back the canvas roof top, allowing us to enjoy better views of the mountain peaks surrounding us. We were riding in style!
In the early days, visitors experienced Glacier National Park on horses. When gravel roads were built, bumpy horseback rides were replaced by equally bumpy automobile rides. In 1914, White Motor Company touring buses began taking passengers through the park.
Fast-forward to today, and what has become the “Red Jammers” are part of the largest, longest-running fleet of vehicles in the National Park Service. From 1999 – 2002, Ford Motor Company refurbished the buses, each getting a new V8 bi-fuel engine and a new chassis atop its original wheel base. They are now a safer, cleaner, environmentally friendly, and more comfortable ride to go with that classically stylish look.
The “Jammer” part of their name comes from the bus drivers who were affectionately known as gear jammers, because they had to jam the buses into gear so frequently.
Zack, our driver, did a great job of sharing what he had learned about the jammers and the sites we saw during our ride. Whenever we were about to approach a beautiful vista or a roadside waterfall, he slowed down and announced, “Prairie Dog!” giving us permission to stand up and take pictures through the rolled-back roof. Bruce and I looked at each other simultaneously and said, “Meerkat!” in memory of one of our favorite critters at the San Diego Zoo.
Our adventure took us from St. Mary Village west to Lake MacDonald, with a stop at Logan Pass, the highest elevation of the road at 6,646 ft. Until we arrived at Logan Pass Visitor Center, it was, indeed, a gloomy ride. The fog had lifted enough to catch some views, but it was a bit depressing.
As Bruce, Scott, and I hiked the trails behind the visitor center in search of spotting a big horn sheep (as Scott was sure we would see), I lamented to Scott that Bruce’s and my luck of having great weather during our previous travels had run out. Not more than two minutes later, magic! The clouds began to lift, we could see the glaciers, and my sullen mood brightened along with the beautiful blue sky. (We never did see a mountain goat, but we did spot this squirrel—wildlife!):
The windy, hairpin-curved road down from Logan Pass to Lake MacDonald was spectacular, making Going-to-the-Sun Road a must-see highlight of Glacier National Park. The road was the first to be recognized on the National Historic Registers as a Place, Landmark, and Civil Engineering Landmark. It crosses the Continental Divide, which marks the border between the eastern and western portions of North America. Rivers originating east of the divide flow into the Atlantic Ocean, while rivers with headwaters west of the divide flow to the Pacific. The panoramic views of the mountains and glaciers along the road was breathtaking!
Our ride terminated at the Lake MacDonald Lodge, a beautiful location for our lunch break. While others dined in the lodge’s restuarant or skipped lunch, we parked ourselves on a bench behind the lodge to enjoy the panoramic views of the lake and enjoy the remainder of our huge grab-and-go breakfast. The setting was lovely, and it was a perfect end to a morning spent on one of the most beautiful roads I had ever traveled.
David, our bus driver, met us at the lodge and drove us the remainder of the way to the Grouse Mountain Lodge, in Whitefish, Montana; our home for the next two nights. As soon as I walked into the lobby and saw the massive rock fireplace with the carved wood mantel, I immediately loved the place. Besides, it had a pool—tiny, but large enough to prepare for some upcoming swim meets by doing a modified workout, and logging some yardage into my U.S. Masters Swimming Go the Distance fitness log. At just 30 feet long, the biggest challenge was trying to remember my lap count!
Grouse Mountain Grill was where we savored our included group dinner to put an exclamation point on the day. The veggie option on our limited menu was grilled cauliflower, bok choy, (and more), in a coconut-ginger curry sauce. Salmon or chicken was an optional addition, so we extended our salmon streak and thoroughly enjoyed every bite.
We got a kick out of the dinner served to a couple in our group. It was Flinstone-sized full rack of ribs for each of them! They happily enjoyed the remainder of that rack throughout the following day.
The dessert, however, was what those of us who ordered chocolate torte raved about throughout the remainder of our tour. It was simply amazing. What a fabulous end to a wonderful day!
Next up: A Bird’s Eye View of Whitefish, Montana