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  • Writer's pictureRuby's Winding Road

Icy Glaciers, Wild Huckleberries and Red Jammers

What do icy glaciers, wild huckleberries and Red Jammers have in common? Glacier National Park. Let's go!

Glacier National Park sign
Welcome to Glacier National Park

We traveled west across Montana along U.S. Route 2 to reach Glacier National Park. This national park was established in 1910 and is an oldie but goodie. One of the primary routes to get to Glacier contains its own fun and interesting stops along the way. You can read about some of those here in our previous blog post. But, let's talk about Glacier!


Two Medicine

It was Labor Day when we reached the east side of Glacier National Park. From our journey along U.S. Route 2, we took Montana 49 north to Glacier. We entered the park at the Two Medicine entrance in the southeast region of the park.


Two Medicine was one of the more peaceful areas of the park at the time of our visit. Though some attractions were beginning to shut down for the season, guests were still exploring the trails and taking part in lake activities. We watched as a wooden boat toured visitors in Two Medicine Lake. The water rippled from the strong wind gusts and the old wooden boat in which they were riding rocked back and forth through the blue water. It was a day full of sunshine and the wind couldn't distract from gorgeous mountain views surrounding the entire lake. How can anything distract from those views? They are truly breathtaking.


Hikers, undeterred by the pushing winds, would occasionally emerge from and disappear back into the trails. Like them, we love walking/hiking trails in an attempt to wear out the step counter on our smart watches! But, in recent years we travel with our pet and most national parks have rules about pets being restricted to the developed areas. To experience the trails we often take turns with one staying with our dog and the other exploring the backcountry more in depth. We share our visit with you from this unique perspective.


Two Medicine General Store
Two Medicine General Store

Two Medicine General Store is an old log building perched lakeside. Listed as a National Historic Landmark, the General Store is the only building left standing from what was originally a multi-building chalet complex constructed by the Great Northern Railway between 1912 and 1914. The building originally served as a dining hall/kitchen for the chalet complex.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the chalet complex in 1934, where he is said to have given a fireside radio address. The existing building still looks much as it did when Roosevelt stayed there. Today, visitors have quick access to camp supplies, souvenirs and a scoop or two of ice cream. But, you're only able to shop the store if you arrive prior to Labor Day. The building was sealed tight when we arrived. Inventory had been covered and a window sign indicated the store had closed for the season just one day earlier. Bummer.


Lower Two Medicine Lake
Lower Two Medicine Lake

St. Mary

We rolled forward to reach the St. Mary Entrance on the east side of the park. After showing our National Park Pass at the booth, we proceeded through the gate and into the Visitor Center parking lot.

St. Mary Entrance
St. Mary Entrance

Visitor Centers are usually buzzing with people. Ugh. While bumping into bunches of people is not our thing, crowds are a way of life in popular national parks like Glacier. Parking lots and Visitor Centers can be the most difficult areas to navigate because of crowding. Nevertheless, take time to stop at the Visitor Center. It's there you can walk through a small museum to learn about the park's history and landscape. The St. Mary site also houses a book/gift shop to add some fun. At St. Mary, there's a staffed information area with park maps. Be sure to pick up a map because your cell service won't likely connect once you leave the Visitor Center. There are no fueling stations inside the park, so fill up in town just before entering through the park gates.


Interestingly, it was what we spied in the Visitor Center parking lot that piqued our interest; a little oval-shaped hut. We went for a closer look. Popping our head in through an open door, we saw a fella working on a large telescope. "Sorry, we're closed for the season," he said. We realized we had stumbled upon a part of the park's astronomical observatory. Too bad it was closed.

St. Mary Visitor Center and Astronomy Observatory
Astronomy at St. Mary Visitor Center

Glacier's deep and dark night skies are the perfect place for observing stars, planets, and all things cosmic. The park has programs for those interested and you can learn more at www.nps.gov. Not able to to look through their cool 20-inch telescope? That's okay. The park covers about a million acres of land with wildlife to explore right here on Earth. But, if you're in the park after the sun goes down, you'll find it hard to resist glancing at the night sky for a spectacular star-filled show. Telescope not required. The park website also has a "Sky Cam" for a live view of the Glacier sky... for when you get back home.



The St. Mary's area of the park is not too far from our Canadian neighbors. With proper identification you can easily travel a short distance north for an international adventure.


Huckleberry Country

We're from Missouri and "huckleberry" to us sparks thoughts of Mark Twain's fictional character, Huckleberry Finn. We also think about Huckleberry Hound, the blue dog with a yellow hat in childhood cartoons. But in northwest Montana, huckleberry is that little blue-black berry featured everywhere inside and outside of the borders of Glacier National Park! A wild child of berries, the huckleberry is found in the same place you find huckleberry-loving bears; the wild areas of Montana and the pacific northwest.


There were advertisements for huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry soda, huckleberry jam, huckleberry honey, huckleberry syrups, huckleberry candy, huckleberry tarts, and huckleberry pie. Oh, my!


We've tried most things blueberry, strawberry and raspberry. But, huckleberry? No. Neither of us had ever tried huckleberry. With so many signs at restaurants and stores tempting huckleberry goodness, how could we not fall prey to the huckleberry while visiting Glacier National Park?



While staying at the KOA Holiday, St. Mary/East Glacier just outside of Glacier National Park, we were tempted during check in by a sign advertising a hand-dipped huckleberry milkshake available for purchase in their camp store. Yeah, we had to have one of those.


We placed our order for two milkshakes at the KOA's ice-cream counter. We watched as a young lady behind the counter hand dipped several scoops of the creamy purple/blue-speckled huckleberry ice cream into the mixer. She then added some cold milk. A minute or so later the young lady poured the thick mixture into two drink cups and set them on the counter with a proud smile. In a thick accent, she told us she had only learned to make milkshakes over the summer while working at the KOA. She wasn't originally from the United States she said. All we can say is she did a wonderful job! The shakes were delicious! And, huckleberries? Yeah, a definite seal of approval! With the huckleberry taste testing out of the way, other adventures awaited.


Our stay at the East Glacier KOA was good. It was conveniently located near the national park entrance. There were a lot of campers in the campground, yet plenty of spots were still available. They accommodated a change in our schedule allowing us to arrive a day earlier than planned. The KOA was a nice place to stay with full RV hookups, enough elbow room to be comfortable, and friendly staff. Oh, and coin-eating laundry machines. Blah.


Swiftcurrent

We had gotten up early to make the most of our day and headed toward the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. The motor inn has guest rooms and a dining area. Additional cabins are located behind the main building. There's another camp store at this location with gear, small food items and souvenirs. The store serves both the inn and Many Glacier Campground located opposite the parking area.



The campground was well occupied. We took a stroll through the area and people were walking, relaxing, cooking breakfast and getting ready for the day. The campsites were tucked neatly into the wilderness and spaced with elbow room. Sunbeams peeked through the trees into the campground letting campers know that the day had started. It was cool enough for a jacket, but not cold. Our walk was quiet and the campground was ruggedly nice.


Don't forget about the trailheads. They're all over the area from this point and lead to lakes including Iceberg Lake and Ptarmigan Lake. Once the day begins, parking fills quickly near the trailheads.


The Rubies of the Rockies

Red Jammer Huckleberry Cream Soda bottle
Red Jammer Huckleberry Cream Soda. Of course!

Before leaving the Swiftcurrent location, John stopped inside the store at the Inn. He emerged with a bottle of Red Jammer Huckleberry Cream Soda. The bottle described it as "delicious." It was. His mistake was only buying one. We had to share. The label was nicely illustrated. The soda was packaged for Glacier National Park and featured one of the park's famous Red Buses being driven by what's called a Red Jammer (driver).


As we prepared to leave home for Glacier National Park a few weeks earlier, a family member of ours asked for a very specific souvenir. A simple photo of a Glacier Red Bus motoring on the roads within the park. He wanted the photo to be taken by us through the windshield of our Winnebago. So, that's what we set out to do. Our family member had visited Glacier National Park with his grandparents nearly 70 years earlier as a teen. He remembered the buses. We had to find one.

Red Bus Parking sign
Where's the Red Bus?

At first the buses eluded us. We saw signs for Red Bus parking, but no bus.


Finally, just outside the park we spotted a sparkling Red Bus. Perfectly clean. Alone. Sitting under a Sinclair sign. It was bus number 97. Its canvas top was rolled back to let in the open air. We pulled up behind it in our "Ruby" red van and jumped out to take a few photos. All while trying to dodge filling-station tourist traffic. Whew!


We took photos from every side of the bus. Having it just sitting there alone was like hitting the mother lode of picture taking opportunities. We didn't even notice until later that the Sinclair sign was advertising gas for $5.79 a gallon and diesel for $6.69. Holy cow! At the time of our trip it was about two bucks less back home. We also didn't even notice for a few minutes that the Red Jammer was hanging back and patiently waiting for us to finish our picture taking session. We suppose he's used to us tourists. Thank you!


What a thrill it was to get a cool picture for our relative just as he had requested. Wait. We then realized the bus was parked not motoring. It was outside the park and not on a park road. That was not our assignment. Sigh. Yes, he will notice.


Glacier's historic Red Bus
Glacier's historic Red Bus

Many of Glacier's Model 706 tour buses have been in service since the mid-1930s. They were made by the White Motor Company and originally had oak frames to support their bodies. The drivers would grind and jam the gears of the manual transmissions as they made their way up and down the mountains. This helped the drivers earn the nickname "Jammers."


The beautiful Red Buses are known as "The Rubies of the Rockies." There are currently 33 buses in the fleet and with a park as large as Glacier, no wonder we had trouble finding one at first.


The buses have had upgrades through the years. Ford Motor Company donated more than $6 million in 2000 to renovate the buses. The chassis were modernized and the transmissions upgraded from standard to automatic so less jamming goes on. Connoisseurs of all things automotive will enjoy digging into the history of the Red Buses.


Ready for a ride? Anyone can reserve a tour ride on one of the 17-seat buses for a fee. Unless your'e a dog. So, that minor issue kept us from cruising in one of these working pieces of history. Visit the park website to learn more about how to hitch a ride.


White Motor Company buses are also cruising in other large national parks like Yellowstone (their buses are yellow). The National Park Service purchased about 500 buses in the 1930s that were distributed to various parks.



For the record, we spotted a Red Bus later in the day driving in the park. It was bus number 86. The co-pilot in our RV fumbled quickly with the phone and did manage to capture a photo through the RV windshield for our relative! Hallelujah! We noticed more and more buses as time went on and snapped photos of those, too. As a bonus, we also brought him back his very own 1936 White Model 706 Tour Bus (display model). Mission accomplished!


Many Glacier

Something about visiting Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake makes you crave a cup of Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa. The Swiss-themed hotel was built in 1915 and is the largest hotel in Glacier.


We found this to be one of the most picturesque locations we visited inside the park. A Swiss-style hotel nestled near a lake and surrounded by mountain views. Perfect! Just remember the bug spray if you venture around the area on foot. Bzzzz.



What a neat hotel lobby the Many Glacier Hotel had. In particular, the baby grand piano drew our attention. Especially because it came with instructions for those guests wishing to use it. Only skilled players were allowed to tickle its ivory keys and those who do must abide by the "no play" list (i.e., no Chopsticks, Heart and Soul, Fur Elise). Well, now they're just taking all the fun out of it.



Most people who visit Glacier National Park want to spend as much time outdoors as possible. While the interior of this hotel is eye appealing, the exterior provides a large porch area with comfortable seating where guests can submerge themselves in amazing mountain and lake views.


Going-to-the-Sun-Road/Logan Pass

This was the coolest day ever! We set our alarm to wake at 4:30 a.m., munched our Cheerios, and left the KOA campground en route to the park. It was our day to drive Going-to-the-Sun-Road. This two-lane road was constructed over the Continental Divide and connects the eastern and western portions of Glacier National Park. Our goal was to make it to the Logan Pass Visitor Center near the top of the mountain before sunrise. Logan Pass has an elevation of 6,646 ft. and is the highest area reachable by car in Glacier.


Be aware there are length and height restrictions for vehicles traveling this road. Our Travato van meets the requirements, but many RVs won't. Make sure to do your homework.


We don't have photos to share with you of our drive up the mountain as it wasn't very scenic in the dark. Driving up a mountain before the sun comes up is a little scary. Okay, only one of us found it scary. Especially having to pull off so our dog passenger could take a potty break. Did we mention earlier how dark Glacier is at night? We do have a light on the side of the van. We turned it on and made sure our pup was quick with her pit stop. Did we mention bears? Be aware there are Grizzly bears in the woods. We also noticed there was a lot of traffic early in the morning. We're not talking traffic jam congestion. Just well-spaced and consistent traffic headed to the pass before dawn breaks.


After goofing around with the pup more than we had planned, we eventually made it to Logan Pass. So did a lot of other people; you know, the ones who drove past us as we were goofing with the dog. A quarter of the parking lot was already a buzz with people just like us. We were all waiting under the stars for a glorious sunrise. People were strolling around the parking lot wrapped in blankets with steaming coffee in hand. Chatting. Laughing. Munching on snacks. Waiting. Then the sky started to brighten and change colors.


We snapped pictures and made videos. None captured the beauty of being in the moment quite as well as being there; the cool air, the smell of Christmas trees, the mountain shadows coming to life as the sun began to rise. It was exhilarating!



The people hanging out at Logan Pass began to unbundle from their blankets and get their gear ready as the sun continued to rise. By now the parking lot was filling fast. The early risers headed to the trails with backpacks on and hiking sticks in hand.


The Logan Pass Visitor Center wouldn't open until later in the morning. But there was plenty to do. Several paved paths with outdoor exhibits encircled the Visitor Center giving us a place to explore with our pup.


A trail to the Hidden Lake was behind the Visitor Center. It's a mix of pavement, boardwalk and unpaved trail to the lake. We each took turns walking this and other trails, leaving our pup with the other who hung back. Pets aren't allowed in the backcountry.


While waiting for John on his hiking excursion, Kristin and the pup had a brush with wildlife when she heard rustling in the woods only to have a large buck leap from the trees and nearly up and over them! It was an adrenaline rush for sure.



Mountains and flowers in early morning on Hidden Lake Trail
A View from Hidden Lake Trail

Going-to-the-Sun-Road was dedicated in 1933 and is a National Civil Engineering Landmark. It stretches more than 50 miles and was the first road to be built directly over a mountain terrain. Logan Pass housed only a rugged stone restroom for travelers until the current Visitor Center was constructed three decades later. The National Park Service offers a downloadable audio tour. Visit the park website to learn more.


The Logan Pass Visitor Center was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. It has mid-century architecture with a bit of historic rugged stone to blend with the mountainous surroundings. It's open mid-June until mid-September. While the park is open year round, not all services are available after summer. Check the park website if you plan to visit. Remember, too, that Logan Pass is a popular spot. By the time we left there mid-morning, the parking had reached capacity and drivers were circling the lot in search of a spot. We had a driver ask if he could follow us to our parking spot as we were leaving. Yep. It was that full.



Now about those glaciers. A glacier according the National Park Service website is "a mass of ice so big that it flows under its own weight." We understand there are only 25 active glaciers remaining in Glacier National Park. Though they are steadily disappearing and could soon be gone, some glaciers can still be seen from Going-to-the-Sun-Road. Others are tucked away and more easily viewed from trails. The location of each of these glaciers is available from the National Park Service. Bring your binoculars for the best views.


Pets

The pup in Glacier National Park
The pup

There are rules about pets in Glacier National Park. Of course, your pet is allowed in the park, but they are not allowed on unpaved trails in the backcountry due to wildlife. No, they can't go inside the buildings either. Why bring your pet? Well, our pup goes where we go at this point in our lives. We make accommodations in our travel to ensure we all have a good time. At times, one of us watches the pup while the other explores. It's just a part of traveling with a pet. There are kennel options and doggie daycare businesses around Glacier National Park if that fits your needs. Be sure to bring your pet's vaccination records/health certificates if they travel with you.




Lots to See and Do

We couldn't possibly see all of Glacier National Park in a day or week or even two weeks. Glacier is a place to be explored again and again. Especially if you like to dig into the trail system and get lost on a back trail. We concentrated on the east side of Glacier during our visit and mixed exploration of the developed areas with a few backcountry trails. While our plans initially included traveling to the west side of the park, we wanted to avoid wildfire smoke affecting that area at the time of our visit. So, after several fantastic days we turned toward home. We'll be back. In the meantime, he's a short video of our Glacier visit.



By the way, we bought a bottle of wild huckleberry syrup while in Montana. Do you know what goes well with morning Eggo's or evening French toast on a trip home? A drizzle of huckleberry syrup. Amen.


We hope you have enjoyed this blog post. Subscribe below to receive blog notifications sent directly to you email inbox. For those who already done so, thank you. Visit RubysWindingRoad.com for past blog posts, photos and videos.

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