Our second full day of living off the grid (digitally speaking) left us searching for either a cellphone signal or a dependable Wifi connection. That’s what led us to Babb, a tiny town about 10 miles north of St. Mary. It also happens to be the gateway to the Many Glacier area of the park, so after a hearty (and pricey) breakfast at a local diner (which proudly proclaimed “No Wifi Here — Just Talk to Each Other”), we made our way to the interior. The weather was overcast and rainy, so we weren’t optimistic about our chances to take in any scenic wonders.
After traversing a very rough road (clearly, Glacier invests heavily in the Going-to-the-Sun Road at the expense of all others), we entered this less-popular area and, as if on cue, the skies cleared, revealing breathtaking views.
Massive mountains, active glaciers, sparkling lakes, hiking trails, and abundant wildlife make Many Glacier a favorite of visitors and locals alike. It’s also a destination where one can travel by car, foot, boat, or horseback, to get a close look at glaciers and see their impact on the landscape.
The road ends at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, built in 1933 to meet the needs of middle-class travelers in search of affordable recreation. Prior to that, only travelers of means who could afford the price of a railroad ticket and accommodations at Many Glacier Hotel experienced what many people consider the “heart” of Glacier National Park. By the late 1920s, as automobile travel became more popular, the road from Many Glacier Hotel was extended a mile west and Swiftcurrent Auto Camp was established.
It consists of a campstore and a number of small, spartan cabins arranged in tepee configurations. The camp was designed to be unobtrusive to its natural setting — a significant departure from the design of the park’s earlier grand hotels.
We took the opportunity to peek inside a cabin, which featured a sitting room with a washbasin (cold water only) and a tiny bedroom. Toilet and shower facilities are shared. Talk about roughing it!
The small glaciers seen today sculpt the land in much the same way as the larger ancient ice-age glaciers did — slowly grinding away on the mountains, carving rock and leaving a changed landscape. Global climate change scientists predict that under the current warming trends, all of the park’s glaciers will become inactive by 2030, affecting habitat and survival of plants and animals throughout the park.
Many Glacier is surrounded by the high peaks of the Lewis Range, and is noted for numerous lakes, waterfalls and dense evergreen forests interspersed with alpine meadows. We were grateful for a three-hour break in the weather that allowed us to view this awesome landscape.
A few lessons we learned along the way are worth sharing:
- When the National Park Service identifies a road as “rough,” take it seriously.
- A nap taken on a cloudy afternoon is as satisfying as a nap taken on a sunny afternoon.
- You’ll always find cat food, but not dog food, at every establishment in or around Glacier National Park (a woman said, “We’re a very dog-friendly camp,” and we replied, “You’re not very dog-friendly if you don’t have dog food,” whereupon she said, “Well, our dogs usually eat wild game”).