Montana is a wonderful state, and should be on the “must see” list of any traveler to the north west. The human history is just short of unbelievable with its Indian tribes and heritage, its boom towns like Billings and Butte. Where would Zane Gray or Jimmy Stewart be without the influence of this wide open cowboy and Indian land. Still the greatest story every told in this land began millions of years ago when a giant glacier carved out a huge swath of land in the upper Waterton Valley. When the glacier receded, wind, snow and rain, worked with the ever present pressure of the rivers to cut the land up into one of the most dramatic landscapes in North America. The Glacier National Park, which makes up the large southern part consists of 1.2 million acres and includes 50 glaciers, 200 lakes and 700 miles of hiking trails.
The history of the park actually started back in 1818 when the 49th parallel to the continental Divide was established as the international boundary between the territory of the United States and what was at that time, the territory owned by Great Britain. In 1895 the northern fourth of the area became the Waterton Lakes National Park by an act of the Canadian Congress. The lower three fourths became Glacier National Park on May 11, 1910 by an act of the US Congress. At that time there were only a few miles of rough wagon roads. In 1932, largely through the efforts of Rotary International of Alberta and Montana, the governments of both countries established the first international park. The “Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park” as it is known today. It has been named by the United Nations, as a “Heritage Park”. One of only seven parks in the world to be so designated.
Driving up from Missoula Montana, past Flathead Lake, we arrived in West Glacier in early evening. We pulled into the West Glacier RV park on SR2, a privately-owned RV park just outside of West Glacier. This was due to the fact that, although there are a reported 1000 campsites within the park, vehicles and vehicle combination longer than 21 feet and wider than 8 feet are prohibited between Avalanche Campground and the Sun Point parking area. Our campsite was nice, clean and very woodsy. The next morning we ventured into the town of West Glacier. Somewhat commercial, with the basic necessities. Grocery store, photo store, restaurant and bar, even a liquor store. We continued on across the Middle Fork of the Flathead River to the entrance of Glacier National Park. We were driving on the now famous “Going to the Sun Road”. A road that took two decades of planning and construction to become a spectacular reality. When the park was created, there was much disagreement over what to do to make it more accessible to travelers. After overcoming a move to build a road along the railroad that bordered the south end of the park, Superintendent William R. Logan’s dream of a transmountain road was accepted and in 1921 Congress provided the first appropriation specifically for the park road, in the amount of one hundred thousand dollars. In 1924 Frank A. Kittredge of the Bureau of Public Roads conducted a survey of 21 miles over the Continental Divide starting in September. Kittredge raced to finish the survey before winter closed in. His team of 32 men often climbed 3000 feet each morning to get the survey sites. The crew walked along narrow ledges and hung over cliffs by ropes to take many of the measurements. The work was too challenging for some and Kittridge’s crew suffered from a 300% labor turnover in the three months of survey. In cooperation with the National Park Service, the road was built with minimum impact on the area. Bridges, retaining walls and guardrails were all constructed of natural material from the surrounding area Many exciting moments were spent as construction companies working from either end worked toward Logan’s Pass and the Continental Divide. The road was completed with the first car passing over the 51 miles of crushed rock road on July 15, 1933. At the official dedication the name was changed from the Transmountain Road to the “Going to the Sun Road”, taking it’s name from the nearby “Going to the Sun Mountain”. It would be 1952 before the last of the gravel would be replaced with black top.
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