1YoT: Montana/Glacier National Park

I mentioned in my last post that we had finished in Seattle and were ready to head east. That’s not entirely true. As we left Seattle, we made one more stop: the Museum of Flight.

To save time and money, we only explored outside this museum, but even so, there was a lot to see. Pictured above (clockwise, from upper-left): the museum’s large plane hanger, including (amongst many others not pictured) a B-52 and the third 787 ever built, a tribute to one of the astronauts who died in the Columbia disaster, the first plane built specifically for Air Force One duties, the The Boeing Company’s original airplane barn, and an F14.

Okay, now we are ready for our I-90 journey, leaving Seattle and heading east. First up: Montana!


The beginning of I-90, a floating bridge connecting Seattle to Bellevue. Goodbye west coast, hello rest of the United States!


I-90 in Washington is boooooring!


The drive got better once we reached Idaho, where forests and mountain ranges started up again. While driving through, we stopped for dinner in Wallace, an old mining town that now has several entire blocks designated as a historic city. This was done because I-90 was originally set to cut through the city, and most of it would have been leveled to accommodate this path. Preservationists got the town registered as a historic district to preserve it from destruction, forcing I-90 construction to go around the town instead of through it.


Stopping in Idaho, we had to get potatoes. They were delicious. We also had locally microbrewed beer here, and it was great too.


Idaho’s panhandle is very thin, which meant it didn’t take long before we were in Montana. We’d always heard how beautiful Montana was, but experiencing it in person surpassed any expectations we had.


On our way to Glacier National Park, we stopped at a hot spring in a city creatively named Hot Springs. It was one of our favorite stops on our trip!


We are also officially in huckleberry territory, which means huckleberry milkshakes! Yum!


And we’re here! Lake McDonald, in Glacier National Park.


Look how clear that water is!


This is me paddleboarding on the lake. Inna and I took turns so we could also watch Leia and when I went I fell in the lake. But the water was so fresh and clean, falling in was part of the experience (that’s what the rental agent said at least).


Glacier National Park’s premiere attraction is the Going-to-the-Sun road. This road, built in the early 1930s, cuts through the park, rising 6650 feet as it crosses the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide. The road is a National Historic Place, National Historic Landmark, and National Civil Engineering Landmark, and it was featured in the opening of The Shining (Shining destination #2 on this roadtrip) and in Forrest Gump’s run across America. It is generally considered (along with Big Sur, Utah Route 143, and Blue Ridge Parkway) to be the greatest drive in the continental United States.


The Going-to-the-Sun road is 50 miles and takes several hours to complete. But it was totally worth it.


This is one of several glacial valleys in Glacier National Park, as viewed from the Going-to-the-Sun road. Almost all of Glacier’s glaciers melted away thousands of years ago, but even so, you can tell this is a glacial valley because it is U shaped, not V shaped. Rivers cut V shaped valleys, but when glaciers fill a valley, their weight causes the ground to sink, creating a U shape.

Two of several waterfalls we traversed on the Going-to-the-Sun road. Note where the bridges are in relation to the waterfalls: we drove right by them!


The weather got pretty intense as we approached the top.


We made it to the summit! It was very cold up here, so we didn’t stay long.


Leia had a harder time with the cold weather than Inna and I did, but we took care of her.


Driving down on the east side of the Rockies. There must’ve been a fire recently; much of this side was burned.


The Going-to-the-Sun road ends at Saint Mary Lake, a lake just as beautiful as Lake McDonald. I didn’t think that was possible, and I especially didn’t expect to find one on the same mountain road and so close to the other one.


“Hey car in front of me! Why are you stopping in the middle of a one lane highway? Oh look, a bear!” Good thing we were in our car, otherwise we would have been too close for comfort.


After finishing at Glacier, we had PB&Js for lunch. We finished our peanut butter and gave Leia the empty jar; she went to town on it.


Having visited the lakes and driven the Going-to-the-Sun road, we were pretty much done with Glacier National Park (most of what’s left is back country, but that’s for another trip). Our next stop: Yellowstone. We drove through almost all of western Montana to get there. 


We’re in religious country now and this is a Ten Commandments display we saw on the highway; it was very powerful, almost to the point of disturbing…


The 100+ year old St. Ignatius Mission, located on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The church is beautifully preserved, but unfortunately the reservation itself isn’t doing nearly as well.


Here we are taking the most intense scenic route of our trip: 20 miles with 6000 feet of incline, all on a dirt road. And we did it in our not-designed-for-offroading Mazda3. We took it slow, but we made it.


We took this route because the best preserved ghost town in Montana, Garnet, is located at the top of the mountain range the road passes through.

Garnet is a former a gold-mining town, and as many as 1000 people lived here in the late 1890s. In 1912, a fire destroyed half the town and the entire population moved out five years later, when the nearby gold mines ran dry. Today the town is preserved by the Garnet Preservation Association in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management.


Due to Garnet’s remoteness, and especially the dirt roads it took to get there, we spent a lot more time there than planned. Because of this, by the time we got back to the civilization, it was already getting dark. But that didn’t stop us from visiting Butte’s historic district, even if all we had time for was a drive-through.

After Butte we found a campground near Yellowstone (not the easiest thing to do in summer) and prepared for one of the major highlights of our entire roadtrip!



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