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Glacier National Park, East and West, and Train Chasing on Hwy. 2

"Spring Training" to

Glacier National Park, East and West, and Train Chasing on Hwy. 2

May 12 - 13, 2010 - Story and Photos by Carl Morrison,

Any stay at the Izaak Walton Inn provides a great opportunity to visit Glacier National Park through both the East and West Entrances, and the best way between the two is US Hwy 2.  The Izaak Walton Inn sits roughly midway between West and East Glacier on US Hwy 2 AND on the Empire Builder Route (BNSF Mainline).  This means that either entrance is about 30 miles from the Izaak Walton Inn.

US Hwy 2 and the BNSF tracks on the south side of Glacier National Park both run in and out of the Park as they progress from East to West Glacier Stations along the southern border of the Park.

After arriving at the Izaak Walton Inn on the morning eastbound Empire Builder from Portland, we checked into the Great Northern, trackside, Room, rented a car and drove east on Hwy 2 to catch some BNSF freights on high bridges and eventually visit East Glacier Lodge.  

When you check in, ask for a map (below) from the desk clerk, ask for them to point out what you'd like to see.  Even though the map is made up for rail fans, the clerk will highlight where best to see wildlife, if that is your interest.

Widen your screen to see the full width of this map.e

Click the map to see the original size map with descriptions, then click that map to enlarge it and you can scroll left/right and up/down to see all parts.

East Glacier Entrance

(Double-click any photo below to see a double-sized copy; Click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)

Track side of the Izaak Walton Inn

There was a crew doing some landscaping in front of the Pavillion, and the truck driver (right) looked like a dog to me.

Our first stop was the Continental Divide at Marias Pass and this Theodore Roosevelt Monument.

Another Famous Morrison

Other monuments are here at the Continental Divide as well.

This area is called Memorial Square at Marias Pass

When we arrived at the Park Entrance, a freight was holding for trackwork we had passed on the way up.

Black Feet Indian Reservation borders the Park on the East side.  This monument and the freight reminded me of "Iron Horses of a Different Era."

The Glacier Park Station is adjacent to the East Park Lodge.

The freight was still holding for track work.

Wanda, Amtrak Agent at Glacier Park and Shelby, MT.

The first thing a Midwesterner wants to know when he steps off a train is, "Which way is north?"  Not much question at Glacier Park Station.

The freight was still waiting as we took some photos of the Lodge.

View from the Glacier Lodge Station westward toward the Lodge itself.

As we started to pull into the Lodge parking area, the gate was closed, and we realized it was not yet open.  However, the red buses were out for photographs.

I find these classic vehicles fascinating.

There was an entire fleet of 33 busses built for the Park back in 1936 to 1939. The busses of today are basically the same busses, having been completely renovated and restored.  All are safety inspected for tourist travel. The renovation was done in 1989 at a cost of over 800,000 dollars. The style and shape was kept the same, to make us feel as if we were riding in the style and grace of the 30s.

These wonderful old busses were built by the White Motor Company in Cleveland Ohio. They were painted Mountain Ash Berry Red. And are still kept that color today. This company built 500 of these busses, just for our western National Parks, including Bryce Canyon, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Mt. Rainier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks.

Most of the other parks did not renovate or restore their busses and they were retired from service in the 1950s. Some of the older residents of Montana, still call them "Jammers" because when they were first used, they had standard transmissions, and the drivers could be heard "jammin" the gears up and down the mountain roads. What a thrill to ride across the Continental Divide. in one of these big red open air busses.

--- From:

Red Bus logo

Front of the East Glacier Lodge

A quick look inside the closed Lodge Lobby.  They open May 28, 2010.

While east of the Lodge taking this popular still life, better with a train on the trestle, we heard the freight that was stopped at the station sound the 2-blast High Ball, so we raced westward to catch some photos of it underway.

Heading west from East Glacier for Marias Summit

Bolting ahead of the BNSF Freight, we stopped at the Goat Lick and looked across the Middle Fork Flathead River to the high, Sheep Creek Trestle and awaited  the frieght to cross.

Even using a 300 mm lens, the freight still looks like a model train in a beautiful setting, on Sheep Creek Trestle.

Of course, each way you turn the Glacier National Park provides another photo op.  This one between Essex and West Glacier Entrance.

Keep an ear out because at any time, a train may pass on the double-track.  This time it was right below me while taking the previous photo.

We returned to the Izaak Walton Inn and I searched out a place across the tracks to photograph the evening pass of the Empire Builder.

View of the tracks and the Inn from the pedestrian bridge over the tracks.

The Inn and the new GN 441 accommodations.

Glacier National Park, West Entrance

We decided, the second day, to drive to West Glacier National Park Entrance, still using our rental car from the Izaak Walton Inn.  On the way, with our scanner on, we learned that a freight would be heading into a tunnel we had spotted the previous day from Hwy. 2 west of the Izaak Walton Inn, so we stopped for a morning photo.

Heading east, toward Essex, MT, this freight parallels the Middle Fork Flathead River, heading for a tunnel under the highway, between Pinnacle (MP 1173.2) and Paola (MP 1177.6).  If you hear the 1175 Milepost detector respond, there is either an east or westbound train west of Essex.  The other Detector you can hear on a scanner is MP 1160, East of Essex.  

Our goal this day, Glacier Park West.

Apgar Village Inn.  Located 3 miles from the entrance at the foot of Lake McDonald.  Open May-October (406) 888-5484

Views from Lake McDonald's South Shore

Don finds a Heavenly place to read.


Small pine cones.

Multi-colored rocks in shallow water of Lake McDonald.

We drove north on the "Going-to-the-Sun Road" along McDonald Lake.  The ranger in the Visitors Information Station gave us a nice  map and mentioned that there were many places along the road to stop and see the lake, as well as Lake McDonald Lodge and a couple of cascades on Sacred Dancing Waters.  The road is closed at Avalanche Creek, but parking is available to walk the "Trail of the Cedars."  Snow is still being removed from the road over Logan Pass and it is expected to be opened June 15.  Then you can drive from Apgar Village, West Glacier, to East Glacier all within the park on the "Going-to-the-Sun Road".

Lake McDonald Lodge

Lake McDonald Lodge

Nice view of the mountains from the Lodge.

Cabins for rent at the Lodge.

The Lodge was closed, but through the windows I could see how you winterize a stuffed animal.

View point along cascade.

Looking directly down at the cascade.  The green water reminded me of Niagara Falls.

The cascade was long.  The shot at the right shows the volume of water coming down from the top.

This is the only trail in the Park that is flat - either paved path or boardwalk.

The creek bed is made up of the same multicolored pebbles that we had seen on the south end of Lake McDonald.

The Gorge sign, with local 'wildlife' in the upper right corner.

You can imagine the sound of the water here.

As the sign had said, it was easy to reflect on what we had seen and were seeing in the quiet forest.

A nice, Accessible, forest path through the Western Hemlock and Red Cedars.

A fallen tree showed how its shallow root system had caused its demise.  Preacher Roe said, "There's a sermon title there somewhere."

One more stop, on our way out, to look down on the cascade.

Driving south provided different views of Lake McDonald as the weather began to get cloudy and cooler.

Three birch trees.

We headed back to Essex, and the scanner said we had an uphill freight, so we stopped at Java East, at this bridge over Hwy. 2.

We arrived just as a downhill grain train crossed a high river bridge near Hwy 2, Java Creek Trestle (right and below).

Java Creek Trestle

You can cross under the tracks here, but it is too close for a full-length shot of the bridge.  Unfortunate, because this was the west/sun side of the passing train.

At least the helpers provided a locomotive photo on the bridge.

East of the bridge above, Hwy. 2 is outside the Park border.  As soon as you cross under the RR, going west, you reenter the Park.  The next exit is "Goat Lick"

This fellow was resting on an outcropping and was the closest I've seen a mountain goat at this natural salt lick.

Another one was resting farther up the creek canyon at Goat Lick.

The freight that we had heard about on the scanner was headed up the grade to Marias Pass. It was having some difficulties and had to be walked by the conductor.  According to the scanner, in the process of walking the train, he sprained his ankle and he and the female engineer had to be replaced with another crew.  The situation was complicated because the freight was stopped at the Izaak Walton Inn's platform and Amtrak was due to stop in a couple of hours.  The dispatcher called for the helpers to pull the freight out of the way. Knowing this would take some time, we returned to the Izaak Walton Inn for supper and to await the evening Empire Builder.

I have covered the arrival of the Empire Builder in the Izaak Walton Inn portion of this report.

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