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US 2 – Around Glacier National Park

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For a town that’s so small, it’s surprising that East Glacier has two parts.  A few businesses line up along MT Rte. 49, while the rest are on US Hwy. 2 at the point where the two roads intersect.  When I drove through the first part, I thought, “wow, that’s it?”, but then was pleasantly surprised to find more up ahead.

There are a couple of restaurants and stores on the MT 49 portion, but nothing exciting, until you spot what very well might be the World’s Largest Purple Spoon.  It’s known as “Big Martha”, and stands proudly outside the Spiral Spoon store.  Inside, you’ll find more spoons – a lot more – all hand made, in an incredible variety of shapes and sizes.

You can learn more about Big Martha at the Spiral Spoon’s website.

After MT 49 dips under the railroad tracks, it abruptly ends, and you find yourself in the otherpart of East Glacier.  There are several restaurants and stores here.  I walked through the Glacier Park Trading Company and didn’t see anything I couldn’t live without, except for a Snapple, as I recall.

I don’t know who actually takes a train anymore in the U.S., but you can still visit Glacier National Park by rail, if you’re so inclined.  There’s an Amtrak station in East Glacier, and a couple of car rental places nearby, so you can drive into the park (if you want to avoid driving altogether, you could also ride the Red Jammer busses, which service Glacier Park Lodge).

Just south of the intersection, you’ll find one of the area’s grand old lodges: Glacier Park Lodge & Resort.  I stopped along the side of the road for a picture, and thought about going inside.  I’ve heard it’s beautiful, and the lobby is huge, with a ceiling supported by the trunks of giant trees.  But, the overall gloom of the day combined with my desire to make it back to Kalispell before dark, and after a few seconds of contemplation, I headed on.  There comes a time in every road trip when you just can’t stomach the thought of making one more u-turn, or finding one more parking space.  I was at that point.

So, I moved on.  After you leave East Glacier on US 2, there isn’t much to see.  The road is comfortably wide, and you can drive along as fast as the car in front of you allows.  The impressive towering escarpments are miles to the north.  In this area, there are only high hills, most covered with trees.  The highway stays outside the park for almost the entire trip around its southern end, except for one brief section.

US 2 enters the park for just a few miles around Goat Lick Overlook.  I stopped, even though the goats are much more likely to hang out here in the spring (they like to lap up the minerals in the exposed rock).

For miles, I had noticed a bit of smoke in the air, but once I stepped out of the car, I knew a forest fire must be nearby.  In the above picture, you can almost make out the extra layer of haze in the air (please try to discern it from the other gloomy ingredients in the atmosphere, mostly clouds).

You park at Goat Lick, then walk a few hundred feet down a path to a viewing platform.  If you stand in exactly the right place, and peer off into the distance (with binoculars, hopefully) you might be lucky enough to see a white blob which, again if you’re lucky, may be an actual mountain goat.

I’m not quite sure how I ended up at this overlook along with an entire tour group.  There were at least two vanloads of elderly people, all trying to spot mountain goats a half mile away.  They were all standing in the one spot at the end of the viewing platform where you could kinda-sorta see the tiny white blobs walking along the side of the equally white cliff.  As I stood and waited for my turn at the end of the viewing platform, I wondered why I was even bothering with tiny white blobs, when just the day before, I was close enough to an entire herd of mountain goats to pat each one on the head.  This hardly seemed impressive.  At any rate, the elderly crowd finally made room for me, I extended my zoom lens all the way out to 200mm, and took this picture…

…of a tiny white blob.

By the time I completed the circuit, and arrived back at West Glacier, it was less than an hour before dark.  I decided there wasn’t any reason to head back into Kalispell, so I turned south just past Hungry Horse.  As the sun set, I cruised through the Flathead Valley, on the east side of the lake.

To avoid the unnecessary trip back to Kalispell, take MT Rte. 206 south to MT Rte. 35.  MT 35 will take you through some peaceful farmland, then along the eastern edge of Flathead Lake.  You’ll pass a couple of nice small towns that would probably provide a good restaurant for dinner.  Then, at the south end of the lake, you skirt the edge of Polson and turn south onto US Hwy. 93.  Eventually, you run into Interstate 90, for the high-speed trip into Missoula.

After dark, and after I had met up with US 93, I drove through the most difficult and dangerous construction zone I had ever experienced.  Oh, and add to that, the longest.  I guess MDoT had decided to resurface the road, but they went about it in the strangest way–by simply removing it.  For mile after mile, this Federal Highway was nothing but dirt and orange barrels.  At least 30 miles, I estimated.  Every mile or two the lanes would shift from the main travel lanes to the shoulder, then back again.  It was pitch black, except for the blinding lights of the road construction rock-haulers that would rumble by me, engulfing me in a cloud of dust.

After about a half-hour of this madness, that same frustration that earlier had kept me from making a u-turn, now began effecting my right foot.  Missoula was still 60 miles away, at least, and if I kept going 25 miles an hour, I’d never get there.  50 mph sounded much better, to hell with the flying gravel and zero-visibility inside the dust clouds.  And if I die out here, my loved ones can cash in on a nice lawsuit against MDoT.

Of course there was no lawsuit, and no horrible crash, and I’m happy to report the rental car agency didn’t notice any of the dings that resulted from that brutal drive.  I made it to Missoula and had a very nice night, with enough sleep to re-gain my ability to make u-turns and control my speeding.

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.  Much of the same area was covered in the Big Sky trip in 2014.

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