This post was prompted unknowingly by Mary Witzl, who commented in the previous post about trips through the Rockies, and by Linda McLaughlin recalling her mother's fear of heights.
For a stunning mountain panorama take a drive up into the interior of Glacier National Park in Montana on the "Going to the Sun" highway. My first trip there was at about age 4 or 5 -- the family had gone in the old Vauxhall (black with orange signal indicators that flipped up from beside the front doors). We had stopped at a level area next to a large bank of snow not yet melted by the summer sun. My father used the snow to put in the radiator as it had boiled over. When the car cooled off sufficiently we went on our way.
Several years later we returned in a '51 Chev, stopping at the same location to ease the vehicle's radiator. Yes, the large bank of snow and ice was still there. Another visitor to the park commented it was the tail end of a retreating snow pack as the snowfall in some winters was heavier than others.
"The road is one of the most difficult roads in North America to snowplow in the spring. Up to 80 feet (25 m) of snow can lie on top of Logan Pass, and more just east of the pass where the deepest snowfield has long been referred to as Big Drift. The road takes about ten weeks to plow, even with equipment that can move 4000 tons of snow in an hour. The snowplow crew can clear as little as 500 feet (150 m) of the road per day. On the east side of the continental divide, there are few guardrails due to heavy snows and the resultant late winter avalanches that have repeatedly destroyed every protective barrier ever constructed. The road is generally open from early June to mid October."
This serpentine highway was named after nearby Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, which in turn was named after the journey of a Blackfoot Indian god who, according to legend, came to earth to help his people and returned home by climbing up the mountain and disappearing into the sun.
In 2007, it was the first year of a $170-million, 10-year reconstruction of the highway, the most thorough rebuilding since it was officially opened in 1933. Visitors will still be allowed to bike or drive their own vehicles on the mountain road, but should expect construction delays.
The 2007 opening was postponed in mid-June due to a torrential rainstorm that washed away a huge section of the highway. The road opened July 1st, the latest opening since 1943. In some years, snowstorms can slow travel and even close the road in July and August.
Glacier National Park was designated in 1910, and by the 1920s, as auto travel evolved, people were clamoring for motorized access. Construction on the road began in 1925, and it was a daunting task for the equipment of the time. Using horses, steam-powered shovels and tons of dynamite and black powder, workers began carving away the steep mountainsides to create a narrow dirt road. The road was opened in October 1932, with an opening ceremony on July 11, 1933.
Rebuilding the 18-to-22-foot-wide roadway is especially painstaking because the job is not just putting down a new road but rebuilding the old one, which is a National Historic Landmark, to exacting historic standards. There are huge stonework arches and stone guard railings, for example, built by Russian stonemasons, that have to be replicated. Two new quarries had to be opened to provide matching rock.
Currently, the road is battered and patched; however, when finished it will provide access to deep wilderness in Montana's interior.
To see the 2008 snow plowing conditions of Glacier Park go here where there is a slide show revealing how deep the snow is. For the faint of heart who are bothered by heights, DO NOT look at the photos.
Photo credits:  SheltieBoy CC=nc-flickr,  Bill Strong CC=nc-nd-flickr.
Sources: New York Times, Wikipedia.
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