Glacier National Park Then and Now

Glacier Then and Now Pin

Glacier National Park was the final stop on our National Park to Park Highway Tour. How did our visit compare to the original 1920s National Park to Park Highway tour? Let me tell you.


Going to the Sun Road

I doubt the original National Park to Park Highway visitors could imagine Glacier National Park as it is today. In 1920, when the National Park to Park Highway dedication tour came through, the Crown of the Continent was missing it’s most impressive jewel – the Going-to-the-Sun road.

This stunning stretch of road opened over Logan Pass in 1933. Before that, automobile visitors shipped their cars along the Great Northern Railroad from Glacier Park Station on the park’s east side to Belton Station on the west at a cost of $12.50 for automobiles and $1.75 for passengers.

Building the Going-to-the-Sun road was one of the top priorities for Stephen Mather, the nation’s first National Park Service director. In the 1920 National Park Service Annual Report (same year as the National Park to Park Highway Tour) he wrote “The one vital missing link in the Park-to-Park Highway is this transmountain road [in Glacier Park], which will some time become the strong link of the chain.”

Glacier National Park Scenery

In general, I don’t get excited about roads, but the Going-to-the-Sun road is pretty impressive. Nowadays you can drive from one end of the park to the other on a beautiful stretch of road that takes you past Glacier National Park’s most iconic locations. Bordering Lake McDonald on the west and Saint Mary Lake on the east, the road connects over Logan’s pass, now a safe haven for mountain sheep. Along the way you see rivers, forests and waterfalls with a few snowy mountain top glaciers thrown in.

The 1920s automobile enthusiasts on the original National Park to Park Highway tour would have gone ga-ga over the beautiful Going-to-the-Sun scenic drive. The least I could do was enjoy it, but that proved difficult. The scenery was breathtaking, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the thing that Glacier National Park is most known for was in obvious short supply. Glaciers.

Mountain Family at Glacier

Glacier Melt

According to scientists, all the glaciers in Glacier National Park will melt by 2030. Do that math. My children won’t even be adults by then. That depresses me.

As I think about the wonderful gift our forebears left us in putting aside these lands for public use and enjoyment, I can’t help but think about how we’re maintaining that gift for future generations. I’ve been trying to live greener, recycle more, and produce less trash but to be honest, after visiting Glacier – less National Park, all those efforts seem pointless.

I wonder if the original National Park to Park Highway visitors considered the possibility that the glaciers in Glacier National Park would disappear. In their whirlwind tour, they didn’t have time to hike to any of the Glaciers, but they did visit Lake McDonald Lodge in the Apgar village area. They probably saw the mountain glaciers in the distance, how they covered the towering peaks in white.

Baby L in Lake McDonald. Glacier-less mountains in the distance.

We also visited Lake McDonald. The view across the lake is beautiful, but now there is no white to be seen. The glaciers that once covered a significant part of the mountain in those days are gone now.

I Will Do My Best

I’m not going to advocate for a wide scale shift away from fossil fuels or a dramatic reduction of personal and industrial waste. Other people have discussed those issues better than I ever could. Not to mention, it would be pretty hypocritical coming from someone who just drove 7,000 miles in a truck with poor gas mileage for pleasure.

national-park-to-park-highway-original-photos-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instead I will leave you with this simple promise. I hope you will too.

I will do my best to preserve our natural resources for future generations.

My best might not look the same as yours, but it’s all I can do. If we all do our best, maybe we can make a difference.

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Glacier National Park Photo Journal

Glacier National Park is known as the Crown of the Continent. It’s a beautiful place, one we really enjoyed on our National Park to Park Highway tour, probably because it was our last stop. By the time we got to Glacier both Mountain Dad and I were ready to go home. But that didn’t stop us from seeing the amazing sights Glacier National Park has to offer. Here are a few of our favorites.

Island in Saint Mary Lake
Panoramic of Saint Mary Lake

Love
Waterfall
Recent wildfire in Rising Sun area burned several acres, but new growth has begun.
Flowers and water
Baring Falls
Hiking in Many Glaciers area

 

Many Glaciers. A hiker we passed spotted a black bear on the trail. We turned around.
View from Going to the Sun Road
Blue waters in McDonald creek
View from Going to the Sun Road

Glacier Photo Journal Pin

Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

The one glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park that can be accessed by land is Exit Glacier, just a few miles outside of Seward, Alaska. Mountain Dad and I were excited to see such a massive geological feature in person and luckily the hike to the Glacier is relatively easy.

The receding level of this glacier is well documented with sign posts on the road indicating how far the glacier reached in the year on the post. The wall of blue ice was an impressive sight, well worth the hike, even if the trail at the Edge of the Glacier got steep and rocky toward the end.

More intrepid explorers can take the Harding Ice Field trail 8 miles round trip to experience the massive ice covered land that makes up most of Kenai Fjords National Park.

Standing next to Exit Glacier, so close I could’ve touched it (I wanted to, but it wasn’t safe at that point) I realized just a little more how large this amazing world is. That is the reason I love being outdoors, I always find something new and awe inspiring. The vast beauty that exists in the world should always be experienced first hand, and visiting a glacier before they all melt was a major reason we went to Alaska in the first place.

The night before exploring Exit Glacier, Mountain Dad and I stayed at the only campground in Kenai Fjords National Park – Exit Glacier Campground.

Exit Glacier campground is unlike any I have ever stayed at. As a tent only, walk in campsite there were no reservations, no individual parking spaces and no picnic tables for each site. A communal cooking and storage area had three picnic tables and space to put food overnight. Bear awareness postings were everywhere, so not even pets were allowed by the sleeping area.

Our campsite, number nine, was in a secluded alcove and gave the feeling of solitude, even with other campers nearby. The trail through the campground meanders past Exit Glacier runoff waters, and gave me an immediate sense of wildness.  Exit Glacier, the only glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park that has access by car, rose in the distance.

I highly recommend a stop at Exit Glacier if you travel to the Seward area. The views were breathtaking and the surroundings were beyond compare.

Edge of the Glacier Trail
Getting There: Turn on Herman Leirer/Exit Glacier Road at Mile 3 on the Seward Highway. Road dead ends in 8.5 miles at the visitors center.
Distance: about 2.2 miles round trip
Time: 2 hours
Tips: Stay out of the water – it’s FREEZING!

Aialik Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

 

Kenai Fjords National Park has the unique position of being one of the few national parks where the majority of its land is covered by ice. Because of its location, the easiest way to explore this national park is actually by boat, which is the reason Mountain Dad and I took a cruise through Resurrection Bay with Kenai Fjords Tours.

Aialik Glacier

 

 

The weather was wet, cloudy and cold, and I was very glad that I had purchased a rain jacket just the day before. Because of the stormy weather, the water was really rough as we crossed into the open ocean outside of Resurrection Bay. The four to six foot swells and ten to twenty knot winds were enough to make Mountain Dad quite queasy. To me it felt a lot like a roller coaster, not a sickness inducing traumatic event, only because I took motion sickness medicine beforehand.
 

 

Along the way out of Resurrection Bay we were lucky to find a pod of Orcas, or Killer Whales swimming out to sea. I’m impressed by their matriarchal society, with grandmothers being the ones to call the shots. Through out the day long cruise we saw a lot of wildlife including Oystercatchers, Comerants, Tufted Puffins, Puffins, Orcas, Dalls Porpoise, Sea Stars, Mountain Goats, Seagulls, and even a Humpback Whale. Zoom in close to the rocks near the water to see some harbor seals.
 

The highlight of the Kenai Fjords National Park cruise for me was watching the Aialik Glacier do its thing. This tidewater glacier morphs daily as huge chunks of ice break off and plunged into the water below. It was a spectacular view of nature’s forces at work, and one of the main things we wanted to see in Alaska. 
 

 
The beautiful scenery, wildlife sightings and glacier experience were pretty amazing, but what topped off the trip was a stop on fox island for a prime rib and salmon buffet and a park ranger chat. It was a great end to a wet day on the water. Although pricey, the boat trip to see such an incredible part of the world was worth it.
 
 
Price: $172 Adults / $86.00 Children (2–11), plus tax and fees
Time: 8-9 hours, includes lunch and dinner
Tips: Shorter and cheaper cruises are available as well as day cruises with different companies. Kenai Fjords Tours did not sponsor this post in anyway.