Visit Glacier Park While It Still Has Glaciers!

Publishers Note: This is the second blog in 2-part series on Montana’s National Parks. Be sure to read Part 1, Visit Yellowstone Before It Blows Up.

By BOB WIRE

Did you know you could own land within Glacier National Park? If my Red Bus tour guide is to be believed, you can. Some seventy land holders have a tight grip on some 400 acres that dates back to 1895 when homesteaders were allowed to establish themselves in the area that became a National Park in 1910. The government must have figured anyone who is crazy or brave enough to risk being chopped up into Purina Buffalo Chow by the Blackfeet Indians deserved a little real estate.

Don’t bother asking your RE/MAX agent to find you a quaint bungalow near Lake McDonald. These in-holders, as they’re called, rarely sell their land, passing the deeds down from generation to generation. The only way you’re going to get a Glacier Park mailing address is to marry into the lineage.

That’s my plan. I’m going to ingratiate myself to some desperate widow (or widower, if need be) and by the time I retire in 15 years or so, I’ll be able to stand on the front porch of my little Glacier cabin and take in the magnificent splendor of nature. Then I’ll shake my fist at every group of tourists that passes by, and holler, “Hey, you kids! Get off my glacier!”

Okay, that’s probably not going to happen. For one thing, my current wife may have a problem with this plan. For another thing, there probably won’t be any glaciers left by then.

TunnelRedBus

When the Park was established in 1910, there were about 150 glaciers of 25 acres or more. Today there are fewer than 25. Ice ages come and go, but it is generally agreed upon by scientists using science that an overall increase of the average temperature of the earth of 1.3 degrees Centigrade over the last 100 years is largely responsible for the retreat of all these glaciers.

Other factors, like smart ass tourists with salt shakers, and the cumulative effect of hot bear urine (when they wake up from a long hibernation, they really have to pee) come into play. In fact, plans are underway to change the name of the park to reflect its eventual lack of glaciers. Large And Somewhat Damp Mountains National Park is the working model, according to sources I’ll look up later on the internet

But today, the Park still sports several mountain loads of impressive glaciers. The supersized terrain provides some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, and the most popular way to see it is by traversing Going-To-The-Sun Road. This serpentine two-lane blacktop winds for 50 miles through the wilderness of the Park’s interior. From mountain meadows to lakeside bridges, the treasures of Glacier are accessible from this incredible route that’s open for only a few months out of the year.

The most breathtaking part of GTTSR is the section where it clings to the mountainside, drenching vehicles with snowmelt and forcing white-knuckled drivers to keep their eyes glued to the centerline. For this reason, you might consider taking one of the tour shuttles or the funky, iconic red buses. Why not entrust your life to a seasoned driver who knows this road like the back of his hand, while you take in all the visual splendor the Park has to offer?

BrokeDownBus

The jammers, as the drivers are called (the term comes from their predecessors having to jam the transmission into gear, not from a preference for certain toast-related condiments), give the 17 passengers a running interpretive commentary while they dodge distracted drivers on the road.

On a recent 8-hour tour that took us from Apgar Village to Two Dog Flats on Saint Mary Lake and back, I was lucky enough to snag the shotgun seat. I was close enough to our driver, Glenn Walker, that I could seek the twinkle in his eye when he said stuff to the group like, “Most of these waterfalls are not named. If you see one you like, give it a name.”

 

A wry sense of humor coupled with a mind-blowing breadth of knowledge about Glacier Park made Glenn one of the most entertaining tour guides I’d ever experienced. He spends his off-season studying history, he told me, and the casual authority he displayed made that pretty obvious. And yet he wasn’t afraid to have a little fun with this busload of sunburned, gaping tourists.

RedNose

“You see that peak across the valley there?” he says in to his headset microphone after stopping in a pullout on the way back across GTTSR. He directs the group to a rugged, pyramidal spire in the distance. “You guys ever see the logo of a Paramount movie where the stars swoop in and circle the mountain peak?” Murmurs of recognition pulse through the group. “Well,” says Glenn, after determining that the light bulb has gone on for every guest, including me. “That’s not it.”

Indeed, a quick google search later confirmed that the Paramount mountain is an artist’s creation.

Toward the back of the bus, sitting over a wheel well, a teenage boy has been compulsively yanking his iPhone from a pocket, checking for a signal. Glenn spots him in the rearview. “You’re not going to get a cell signal anywhere in the park, son.” He cuts his eyes over to me and pulls his mic away from his mouth. “And that’s a good thing.”

DriverPhotogRedBus

We roll on, drinking in the scenery, which looks even more dramatic in the late afternoon light. At  Logan Pass Glenn slides the red bus into a spot among a dozen of its topless brethren, and we disgorge for a twenty-minute bathroom break. I approach the visitor’s center and see a small crowd gathered around a corner in the sidewalk, cameras and phones trained on something in their midst. Wow, could it be a badger? Bear scat? A bigfoot print? A napping bighorn sheep? I get close enough to peek through a few bodies and I see it’s nothing more than an opportunistic chipmunk, stuffing himself with junk food being offered by the easily-impressed group of tourists. Damn, I think, how would they react to seeing a grizzly sow and her cubs crossing the road in front of their car? What if she was being chased by a moose? Who’s riding on the back of a buffalo? With a bald eagle on his shoulder? (Note to self: NyQuil and Red Bull before bus tour = bad idea.)

However you choose to get around Glacier, whether it’s by bike, car, RV or tour bus, don’t let another summer go by without visiting one of Montana’s most awesome treasures. The memories you’ll gather will entertain you for a long time to come. You’ll be settled onto the couch back home this winter, and as your Paramount movie starts up, you can point to the screen and brag to everyone, “Hey, see that mountain? I was there!”

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blogarchive.

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Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an openmind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.

 

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