June 2016 – During our visit to the east side of Montana’s Glacier National Park, we saw lots of storm clouds roll in and out, and at dawn and dusk the sky lit up in astonishing patterns and colors.
The Going to the Sun Road is the famous and extraordinarily scenic drive that cuts through the center of the park from west to east, and one great way to do it is on one of the Red Bus Tours. Many of these buses were built by the White Motor Company in the early 1900’s but have been converted to run on propane and gasoline. Some have been in service since the 1930’s!
We saw the red buses all over the place. They have tours of the west side of the park and tours of the east side of the park.
Sometimes we saw them in groups of two or three. With the top of the bus rolled back, folks could stand up inside to take pics of the mountains with a totally unobstructed view. This seemed like the best way to enjoy this incredible drive, as the traffic can be pretty intense. Why not leave the driving to someone else?
Of course, there are many ways to enjoy the Going to the Sun Road, and driving it in a Led Zeppelin van looked pretty cool too.
The views of Saint Mary Lake on the east side are just gorgeous, and we marveled at the ever changing colors of the water and the sky as the storms rolled in and out.
One of the nice things about driving your own vehicle (especially if you have a sweet hubby who chauffeurs you around) is that you can stop in every single pullout and see what’s there. We found wildflowers blooming on the banks of Saint Mary Lake.
At the beginning of the Going to the Sun Road, we were greeted by tall, craggy, gray mountains that didn’t have a whole lot of snow on their peaks.
As the road twisted and turned and rose higher, the mountains grew taller too, and they were dressed in their snowy white best. The road snuck right through a mountain at one point too!
The temperatures quickly cooled as we climbed higher, and the snow on the highest peaks got thicker.
Near the top, we found ourselves rounding a tight curve that took in an incredible view of the vivd green valley floor. What a setting!
There were patches of snow on the ground in the valley, and the tall evergreens seemed miniscule so far below us.
In 1995, Waterton-Glacier National Park was named a World Heritage Site.
A century earlier, America and Canada joined hands across the border to to unite their adjacent National Parks, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, and Glacier National Park in Montana, USA.
12,000 years ago, thick, moving slabs of ice and snow — glaciers – carved the valleys between these towering mountains, giving them a distinctive U-shape.
Waterton-Glacier National Park is referred to as the “Crown of the Continent,” and no wonder. The spiky mountains that encircle the valleys and lakes look like a crown.
This area also straddles the Continental Divide, the ridge that runs north-south down the continent and separates the water flow through the eastern states provinces from that going through the western ones. The water that spills down the mountains from the Continental Divide in streams and rivers heads towards the two opposite and very distant oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Far below us, tucked between the cliffs and grassy slopes and pine trees, we spotted a waterfall that was about a quarter inch tall from our vantage point. No doubt this is a tall cascade that plunges down with a thunderous roar.
We found another waterfall right alongside the Going to the Sun road near the top of the continent’s crown. This one was wide and shallow, and it scurried this way and that as it rushed downhill between the rocks.
Up near the visitors center at Logan Pass, the snow was still very deep in places.
Snow covered much of the ground, and it was really fun to follow the little animal tracks in the snow until they disappeared into round and deep holes. We didn’t see anyone peeking out of their burrows, but we knew they were under there. We threw a few snowballs at each other too!
There are three entrances to Glacier National Park on the east side. The Going to the Sun Road starts/ends in Saint Mary, but 37 miles south of there is the entrance at Two Medicine, near the town of East Glacier Park Village.
Two Medicine is home to a fabulous historic log building that was once part of the Two Medicine Chalet rustic vacation destination built by the Great Northern Railway in the early 1900’s. Today it is just the Two Medicine Store, but it offers a little bit of everything to visitors.
From souvenirs to guidebooks, hiking gear and tourist info, they also serve fancy fluffy lattes and yummy lunch fare and bottled microbrew beer. This cute cabin in the middle of nowhere has everything the modern hiker needs!
We were shocked at how reasonable the prices were too, especially after visiting the village of Waterton in the heart of Waterton Lakes National Park where the prices of certain essential food items (beer) were more than double the norm.
We were also very intrigued to chat with our latte barista and find out she was a college student from Colorado who was working at the store as a summer job. Her boyfriend was also working a summer job nearby at Amtrak’s East Glacier Park station.
People often wonder how to make a living while RVing full-time. One option is to get fun seasonal jobs at popular tourist destinations. You just have to be as much of a go-getter as a college kid and be willing to do things like make espresso drinks or work at a train depot!
Mark had just purchased a Rokinon 12 mm lens for his camera, and he was absolutely loving the very wide angles that it could capture. He also found it made fantastic starbursts, so he had a wide-angle-starburst theme going for a lot of his photos at Two Medicine.
Two Medicine Lake is a beauty. We wanted to get out on it for the little boat ride that goes across, but we ended up saving that treat for our next visit!
There are lots of canoe rentals, and this lake would be a great place for a kayak too, especially in the mornings before the wind picks up.
Besides camera-created starbursts in the sky, we also loved seeing the stunning crepuscular rays at sunset when the sun lit the sky on fire.
On the morning we left Glacier National Park, the gods treated us to some unbelievable theatrics in the heavens. It began innocently enough with a beautiful pastel sunrise over the mountains. The thick forest of dead trees below seemed to mirror the shades of gray in the heavy moisture-laden clouds.
As we drove, the sky began to turn wild shades of yellow and orange, and heavy rain fell from the clouds in the distance. We pulled over the enjoy the spectacle and were stunned by the light show that followed.
The rising sun cut across the valley and lit the mountains in the distance with soft orange hues while rain fell from black clouds. Suddenly a brilliant rainbow appeared.
We ran around like mad snapping photos, and as if in joyful response to our excitement, the rainbow got brighter and brighter.
Then a second rainbow appeared outside the first one. This surely meant double good luck — but which one led to the pot of gold??
The outer rainbow eventually faded, so we knew it wasn’t that one! Off in the distance the remaining rainbow seemed to fall right into the heart of the valley below.
As clouds slowly parted and we made our way back to our buggy, we were breathless with excitement. What a sensational light show that had been.
We loved our visits to Glacier National Park this year, both the west side and on the east side. If you have a hankering to take an RV trip there too, there are more links for planning your adventure below.
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More info about the east side of Glacier National Park:
- Glacier National Park – Two Medicine – Official Website
- Red Bus Tours Home Page
- Red Bus Tours East Side Tours
- RV Camping at Two Medicine
- Amtrak Train Vacations to Glacier National Park
- RV Camping at Saint Mary:
Other blog posts from our RV travels to Glacier National Park:
- Glacier National Park’s “Many Glacier” – Crown of the Continent! 06/22/18
- East Glacier Scenic Drive – Treasures OUTSIDE Glacier National Park 06/15/18
- Glacier National Park’s Quieter Side – Saint Mary 08/17/16
- Waterton Lakes Nat’l Park – Starry Skies, the Milky Way & Wildflowers 08/09/16
- Waterton Shoreline Cruise – A Classy Tour of Waterton-Glacier NP 08/05/16
- Waterton Lakes National Park – Rocky Mountain High! 07/28/16
- Glacier National Park in Montana – Mirrors at Lake McDonald 05/29/16
- Glacier National Park, MT – Mountain Goats and Lake Views 08/27/07
Other blog posts from our travels where the Sky went Wild
- Grand Teton National Park WY – Wild Skies 09/10/14
- Craters of the Moon + Cataclysms from Sun Valley ID to Alpine WY 09/02/14
- Costalegre: Santiago – Brilliant sunrises every day! 03/31/13
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Nice photos. Thanks for sharing! This is on our list!
It’s a wonderful area, definitely worthy of any and all lists!!
Beautiful post guys. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. We’ve been stuck at home in the heat and smoke doing long overdue house repairs. Your posts are the light at the end of the tunnel for us. Hopefully it won’t be much longer before we can hitch up Bart to our rig and hit the trail.
Thank you, Lew. This area was so beautiful it was hard to choose the best photos to share!! It won’t be long for you, and you too will be out having adventures of your own. Good luck with the final months prior to launch and have a blast.
Wow. great writing and stunning photography! That all adds up to mean I can’t wait to visit there myself! 🙂
Wonderful!! That’s what we hope for. Life is too short to miss places like this. Enjoy your travels!
Beautiful pictures and stunning scenery,what kind of camera do you have?Some day I’ll get out there and experience it for myself.
Thank you, Doug. All of our camera gear as well as the resources we’ve used to learn photography are given in this blog post: Photography – Gear, Tips and Resources.