Hungry Horse, MT (Glacier NP): August 3-8, 2011

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

Yes, Virginia, there is – and was — a Hungry Horse. Two, in fact. Tex and Jerry were logging horses that wandered off during the especially severe winter in 1900. Found in desperate condition a month later, they were nursed back to health and are now memorialized by this little town, a few miles from the west entrance to Glacier National Park.

Driving up from Missoula, we passed familiar territory, including the Bison Ranch and Flathead Lake we’d visited earlier. We paid for a week at a Canyon RV Park in Hungry Horse, but for the first time we left a park two days early, despite losing the fee. Conditions were awful, the owners were nasty, and we’d seen what we wanted to see in Glacier. And our senior Schipperke, Teddy, who had been fighting off the grim reaper for several months with amazing rallies, was fading.

Before going over to Glacier we visited the Hungry Horse Reclamation Project. Perhaps that’s just a euphemism for another dam, reservoir and power plant. But we were actually quite impressed. The Flathead River had wreaked havoc with the valley, and installing the dam in the early 1950’s has greatly ameliorated the potential damage, especially from heavy snowmelt. It’s an interesting structure, because the spillways, instead of coming through the top like waterfalls, exit through bypasses at the bottom adjacent to the turbines. Another feature we’d never seen before is the Glory Hole, a giant drain hole that can be lowered to rapidly spill large amounts of water from the reservoir if necessary. We got lucky. Walking out to the center of the dam, we found a visitor center employee behind us, coming out for a lunch break. She spent most of that time telling us chapter and verse about the dam and her personal experiences in the area. A summer employee of the Bureau of Reclamation, she teaches school in town and has been through several dangerous floods that would have been catastrophic without the dam. She also pointed to evidence that not only recreational opportunies were created, both fisheries and wildlife habitats had ben much improved. See last two pictures below.

We spent time around the base camp and village, and we took two trips up the Going To The Sun Road to its top at Logan Pass. For those of you unfamiliar with the route, the GTTS Road is a fifty mile long narrow, twisting pass through the lower half of The Park, accessible from both east and west entrances. It is an engineering marvel; originally constructed in the twenties, it is actually built into the side of the cliffs for much of its length. While still “safe,” it’s today undergoing a four year repair project. It’s so narrow that many outside mirrors have been lost and sides of vehicles scraped against the rocks. One curve, The Loop, is so tight that visitors’ vehicles are limited to 21 feet long. When it opens each year is an oddsmaker’s dream; it’s infamous for its snow depths and plowing efforts. It had finally opened for its full length on July 13th this year, only three weeks before our visit. There are free NPS shuttles, locals and expresses, that run constantly to ferry you to numerous venues. We used them the first day of our visit.

And then there’s the Red Bus Fleet. In the late 1930’s, the government purchased hundreds of White Motor Company Model 706 passenger buses to serve as transportation in national parks. Eight, painted bright yellow, went to Yellowstone. Thirty five, painted red with black trim, went to Glacier. These handsome vehicles hold 17 passengers, have separate doors on one side for each row of seats, and feature a canvas roll-back roof. The operators were known as jammers, referencing thesound of the transmission every time they changed gears! In the year 2001, the Ford Motor Company restored and upgraded 33 of the Red Buses, doing them over from stem to stern and replacing the running gear with dual fuel (propane/gas) engines and automatic transmissions. A 34th was left intact as a museum piece. (In 2007, they did likewise for 7 of the 8 yellow buses at Yellowstone, again keeping an original.)

So we re-rode The GTTS Road in a Red Bus to get the full nostalgia, enjoy stops along the way for sightseeing and picture taking, and getting a great narrative from our charming driver, Matt, two years out of college and slowly working his way into the marketing industry.

Pictures will tell the story better than many more words. They include Lake McDonald, falling waters, the scary road, some fauna, rapids, and the mountains themselves. I hope you’ll go through them all. You better hurry up and get there, however. In 1850, there were an estimated 150 glaciers in the region. When GNP was created in 1910, most still remained. By 2010, however, no more than 25 remain. One model predicts they could all be gone within a few decades.

We did get to see a bit more of the park on our way out, driving along the perimeter on Rte 2 past Goat Lick and East Glacier Park.

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