Traveling to Glacier NP

The Western United States is a large area, and going from one section to another can take several days. Going from, say, Redwood National Park on the northcoast of California to Glacier National Park on the Canadian border in Montana takes at least seventeen hours to drive the thousand miles separating these two National Parks. From Eureka, CA, the trip is more than a thousand miles:

Traveling from the northcoast always takes a longer than traveling from most cities in California, because there are no fast interstate freeways running through the northcoast. You must drive on two land roads stuck behind RVs and other slowpokes before reaching the wider opportunities of the interstate. Nonetheless, the thousand miles to Glacier NP is a bit quicker than, say, the thousand miles to Grand Tetons or Yellowstone, and this is because there are more freeway miles and the route is less circuitous. Once you travel the 150 miles to Grant’s Pass, you can get on Interstate 5 and its freeway almost all the way to Montana.

Here’s an image of driving through traffic in Grant’s Pass:

Route 199 connects Grant’s Pass to California and Highway 101. The (mostly) two-lane road follows the Smith River toward the Oregon Border, than passes through a tunnel and heads up to several river valleys in southern Oregon.

Here’s a shot of the Smith River taken from just off 199:

From Grant’s Pass, it’s 240 miles to Portland, or about four hours. It’s a long tedious drive through mountains, or rather large hills, in the southern section of the route, and through small cities and agricultural lands north of Eugene.

The most challenging part of this trip is driving through Portland, largely due to the traffic and also because you have to change freeways, from Interstate 5 to Interstate 84. But once you get to 84, it’s smooth sailing for the next 180 miles. Interstate 84 takes you through the Columbia River Gorge, where the Columbia River has forged a path between the Cascade Mountain Range on its way to the Pacific Ocean. It is rather extraordinary that a river could carve a path right through the middle of a mountain range. The other big river west of the Continental Divide, the Colorado river, cannot boast of a similar achievement. Unable to force its way through the Sierra Nevada, the Colorado must, with its tail firmly ensconced between its legs, ignominiously sneak into the Gulf of California.

The Columbia River Gorge is a very scenic spot and worth visiting on its own:

In less than an hour you have passed through the Columbia River Gorge to the dry desert-like lands that lie east of the Cascades:

This area is known for its winds, thus the wind contraptions.

After two hours of driving, Interstate 84 begins to separate from the Columbia River, as it journeys on toward Boise, Idaho. At this juncture, our route takes us on Interstate 82 across the Columbia River into Washington State. We venture to Route 395 — the same road that, hundreds of miles south of here, skirts the backside of the Sierra Nevada and passes Mono Lake and the Alabama Hills — which takes us into Kennewick, part of the tri-cities area (along with Pasco and Richland). Here the freeway ends and one must navigate city streets until we again pass across the Columbia River and begin climbing into the dry grasslands of eastern Washington:

This area is quite picturesque in the spring, when its green. But in summer and autumn its dry and brown.

Route 395 takes you to Ritzville, and which point you join Interstate 90, the northernmost transcontinental highway. If you stay on 90 eastbound until its termination, you’ll wind up in Boston. In Washington State, 90 will lead you to Spokane and the Idaho border. This is a rather interesting section of the country. Because it’s so far north, summers are not brutally hot (average highs in the mid-eighties); and because the elevation is only 2,000 feet (which is pretty low for this part of the country), the winters are not brutally cold (average lows in mid-twenties). Indeed, Coeur d-Alene, right across the Idaho border from Spokane, has become a prime spot for those fleeing the corruption and fiscal irresponsibility of California for a land where the people are, at least statistically, higher in the personality trait conscientiousness.

Here’s a sunset in Coeur d’Alene:

From the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area Interstate 90 leads you across the Idaho panhandle into Montana. Thirty miles into Montana, we return again to two-land roads, where we take Route 135 to Route 200 to Route 28 to Route 93. This takes us to Kalispell:

From Kalispell you take Route 2 to Columbia Falls:

Columbia Falls SP12-4

Now, after a thousand miles of driving, you’re a mere fifteen miles from Glacier National Park and Lake McDonald: