UPDATE | 6.21.13: The Going-to-the-Sun Road has officially opened for the season! Happy first day of summer!
If you're not familiar with Glacier National Park, it's a pretty sizable park (spanning over 1 million acres) in northern Montana with a spectacular road that cuts right through the middle of the whole darn thing.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTSR), as it's called, officially opened to vehicle traffic in 1932. It was no easy task to build as you can see in this handy eTour. Seeing how difficult it was to initially build the road, it doesn't come as much a surprise that it's a huge challenge to maintain and clear every year.
As I mentioned earlier this week, I spend my fair share of time researching trips. I'm taking it easy on the over-planning this time around, but one of the most awe-inspiring resources I've come across is the Glacier National Park Flickr account. While they post pictures of the entire park, lately the photo feed has been full of photos that capture the clearing of the GTSR.
We weren't sure if the road would be open during our trip, but it looks like they're getting close to opening! I had the opportunity to chat (via email) with Glacier National Park Management Assistant Denise Germann about what it takes to clear the road year after year. Here's the scoop:
How long does it take to open theGTSR to vehicle traffic every year?
We begin snow plowing many roads in the park, including the GTSR, in early April. However, opening the GTSR is more than plowing snow. There are over 400 removable guard rails that have to be installed by hand each spring and removed each fall. There is also debris along and on the road to clean, removal of snow poles and parking areas and other facility work to open and get ready for use. Access to Logan Pass is usually available anywhere from mid-June to early/mid-July depending on rehabilitation road work, weather, etc. Weather is a major component of access and -- recently and for the next few years -- rehabilitation work on the road affects access too.
How many people work the plows to open the road for the busy summer season?
We have about 10 crew members plus the avalanche technicians.
How many plows/tractors does it take?
- Three bull dozers
- Two large front-end loaders
- Three large rotary snow blowers
- One excavator
A section called “The Big Drift” is mentioned in some of the photos posted on Flickr. Can you tell us about that section, in particular? It appears to be a huge undertaking.
The Big Drift is located just east of Logan Pass. A large drift accumulates each year at this location that can be almost 90 feet in depth at times. This is the location that our two crews -- east and west -- meet to complete plowing the 50-mile road.
What can visitors expect to see along the road when visiting in late-June/early-July that they may not experience later in the summer?
Snow in the high country!
Anything else GTSR enthusiasts should know before visiting the park?
Always be prepared for changing weather conditions in the park. Drive with care. Know the driving restrictions on the road (length/width of vehicle, access, distance and time requirements) and have awareness of the option to utilize park shuttle service that accesses the entire GTSR. Our website has plenty of helpful information.
Many thanks to Denise for taking the time to answer questions during such a busy time in the park! Be sure to check out the official Flickr account for more photos. If you're interested in seeing Glacier National Park through my lens, feel free to follow me on Instagram (@JenSnyder). I'm sure I'll have just a few pretty images to share once we hit the road.
Okay, show of hands: who has already visited the park and cruised along the Going-to-the-Sun Road? What time of year did you visit? Want to share your favorite memories in the comment section below? I'd love to read 'em!