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The human touch

Glacier National Park is a superb destination for stepping into the wild, but it's also a place where you can appreciate man-made landmarks.

July 29, 2007|Thomas Curwen

Going-to-the-Sun Road

When the Going-to-the-Sun Road was dedicated on July 15, 1933, over 4,000 guests gathered at Logan Pass to celebrate the more than $2-million, 20-year project that over a distance of 50 miles connected the east and the west sides of the park. An engineering marvel -- a 3,500-foot rise at 6% over 12 miles with only one switchback -- the road still amazes. Last year, as park officials were beginning the road's first major reconstruction, torrential rains washed out major parts of the roadway. It reopened to through traffic July 1. The renovation continues, and drivers can expect minor delays. Besides the Red Buses, the Park Service is operating a free shuttle to alleviate congestion.

Red Buses

In 1914, Louis Hill contracted with the White Motor Co. for a fleet of touring coaches to help visitors get around the park. He made his last order between 1936 and 1939, and today 33 of those coaches, distinguished by their mountain ashberry red paint and their white retractable canvas roof, still allow visitors to safely rubberneck the vistas from the Going to the Sun Road. Restored in 2002, the buses have a new reason for being as the renovation of the Going-to-the-Sun Road continues.

Glacier Park Lodge

The Great Northern, thanks to Amtrak, still stops at East Glacier, making it possible to duplicate a traveler's early experience of the park. The 160-room Glacier Park Lodge is an easy stroll from the depot, and even if you don't spend the night, its grandeur is worth experiencing. Referred to as the world's largest log cabin, Glacier Park Lodge makes a mockery of Lincoln logs. The scale of the lobby, with 24 rough-barked Douglas firs and cross timbers of equal girth, is reminiscent of the Acropolis. Scrollwork on the door frames and windows came from a book on Swiss architecture. The lodge opened June 15, 1913, and because of its success, Hill immediately ordered an annex to be built to accommodate more guests. Soon thereafter a golf course, putting green, tennis courts, bowling green and croquet grounds were added.

Lake McDonald Lodge

The three-story Lake McDonald Lodge (above) was the one property in Glacier National Park that was not owned by the Great Northern tourist machine. Built by John Lewis and not Louis Hill, the Lake McDonald Lodge building is smaller and more intimate than the lodges on the east side of the park. With its menagerie of mounted moose, elk and deer heads and bearskins cascading over the railings, it is also one of the most well-preserved. Carved into the floors and on the lintels are aphorisms -- "Fires of Uncertain Light Are Fires Burning at Night" -- giving the lodge a decidedly Lummis Home vibe. When it opened on June 14, 1914, most guests started arriving by boat, often finding a fire burning in the enormous recessed fireplace. Today, it's a national historic landmark.

-- Thomas Curwen

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