GTTSR: Day Four

Glacier National Park, and a taste of the Plains.

Sorry about the lack of a lot of text last night. Yesterday was a long, fun day, and I was just too tired at the end of it to write. I promise I’ll go back and update that page with the full story when I get the chance. I have notes, photos, and the route book to jog my memory. For the time being, I’ll make up for it with tonight’s addition:


Well today was just another awesome day on the road in Montana. 🙂

Above: The bonnet of the 65E’s Coventry Cousin. A 1966 Triumph TR4A, driven by Bill Warden and Ray Martinez. These guys drive this car at the limit! Fun to run with! They told me yesterday that they loved the sound of the Jaguar’s exhaust note. That would explain why they always waved me by, but then stuck to my rear for as long as the little Triumph could.

Above: The 1965 Alfa Veloce Spider, driven by Mitch Katz, and Bradley Goldstone leaves the hotel in Whitefish as Dad emerges with his luggage.

We started with a great breakfast in the tent where we spent the night before having fun. It was chilly, and the cars were covered with dew. It made sense since we were on the “wet side” of the Continental Divide. The weather is more like my part of the world, where the westerly winds pile weather up against the mountains to the east and force the moisture from them before they move on east. Indeed, there was little of the smoke and haze in the Whitefish area compared to points south and east. This is not to say that we were “smoke free” as fires still rage in Idaho and Washington, and indeed all over the west, so things were far from clear. In many ways this has been the “Going To The Smoke Rally” as hazy smoke from forest fires have been the dominant theme. I have to do a lot of manipulation of my histograms to get the mountains to pop off the hazy grey-brown sky in a lot of these photos. Thankfully for me the Knoll brothers created some good software.

Above: Rally Organizer Jim Sitton drives his 1956 Jaguar XK 140 OTS through Whitefish.

Leaving the hotel we made our way through the relatively built-up area around Whitefish and made our way to the west entrance of Glacier Park. Dad & I went along in the Jag, coats and winter hats on our heads, but clad in shorts and the heater going to keep our legs warm. We knew we were headed for the vast hot plains east of the Divide. An hour of running the heater was a small price to pay in exchange for the convenience of being in shorts later. I have visited the area around Glacier before, but only on the Canadian side of the border. This was my, and my father’s, first drive over the Going To The Sun Road. I have seen a million pictures of it, so I knew what to expect to a certain extent, but it didn’t lessen the adventure a bit.

Before we got to the climb though we rounded a corner of the road and my Dad saw two or more Black Bears in a creek, so we stopped the car and tried to see if we could look down and see them. As we had stopped, several other people did too. We were all trying to spot the bears down below, when somebody said “Look up there!”

Sure enough, about 10 feet above our heads in a tree was a cub. Having spent many years travelling in the backcountry, I knew that was our sign for a hasty exit, so I snapped one photo and we hopped in the car and got out of there. Earlier we passed a drive-through bear wildlife park on US 2 whose sign read “Your Car Is Your Cage”… I joked to Dad at the time with the punch line: “crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside!” Black Bears are generally harmless, with the single exception of a mother bear with cubs. I had no interest in finding out how protective this particular mother bear could be.

A short time later we rounded a curve and were presented with the headwall of a mountain, and upon closer inspection, could make out the road!

Above: The Going To The Sun Road. I’ve highlighted the road cuts so you can make it out.

Occasional glints of sun off of car windows confirmed that this was indeed the fabled road, the namesake of our rally. Let me describe this road. You start at a relatively low elevation for Montana and the Rocky Mountains… ~3000′. The road is following a valley floor and above you looms a wall. The road goes first left and up, then after a long way, switches back right, and never stops going up until it has reached the sky. That is the Going To The Sun Road. Here is a hybrid sat image from Google maps:

It was different than the Beartooth Highway, but certainly as spectacular. Very narrow, with some places with rock cliffs towering over your head, AND falling away off the passenger side of the car. Not a good place for people with acrophobia. I took a lot of photos, and one in-motion movie. I’ve labelled where they were shot in the map image above to help present for you a sense of scale.

Above: “Pic 1” taken shortly after the switchback on an outside curve, looking out over the abyss towards the mountains across the valley.

Above: “Pic 3” taken at a wide spot, where the road takes an inside curve and the slope above and below is relatively gentle compared to the headwalls on either side. I took quite a few shots of cars passing here.

Above: Jerry & Kathy Nell’s Series Three E-type powers up the grade.

Above: Leslie & Patricia Rich’s 1960 XK 150 almost runs me over. 😉

After I had shot a bunch of pics (see the “all photos” link later for more) we hopped in the Jaguar and also powered up the grade to near the top of Logan Pass, where I took this photo. If you look closely you can see the line of the road going down the slope on the right and into the valley below!…


We had to wait for a bit of construction at the actual summit of the pass, and then we began an equally spectacular descent to St. Mary Lake and the east entrance of the park.

Above: St. Mary’s Lake. Full Disclosure about this photo… A Jeep Cherokee has been photoshopped out (see the original in the “all photos” link later.) I had set up this shot by parking as far away from other cars as possible. There was actually a crowd further down the pullout all looking UP at some big horn sheep, or maybe mountain goats… I don’t know. But I wanted another “Jag in a pretty spot” picture, but this guy in an SUV came and parked RIGHT in front of me AS I WAS shooting the picture! Oh well, ….so I erased him. 😉

Check out the “all photos” link for more shots of this spectacular lake… as if you haven’t seen enough in your life as it has appeared in innumerable places!

So we are heading for the east entrance, and I’m stuck behind a Ford Explorer, and contemplating passing him… but decide against it. As if to punish me for that grave error in judgement a few moments later a full grown adult Black Bear crosses the road in front of us, but since the gigantic ass of the SUV was in my way, I wasn’t able to get a photo. Oh well.

The top of Logan Pass is the Continental Divide, and east of Glacier park the wide expanse of the high plains reaches up to touch the Rocky Mountains. The foothills barely exist here. We popped out of the mountains like a cork from a champagne bottle.

Above: A 270° panorama looking from S to E at the East Entrance to Glacier Park.

Once we ran through a bit of foothills, with the recent evidence of a big fire, as well as some loose livestock on the road for increased motoring thrills, we found ourselves out upon those Great Plains. They stretch for a thousand miles to the east from here, and we were on their very western edge, but anyone who has ever travelled the American middle knows this view:

Well, OK, they may not have seen that EXACT view, with the impressive bonnet of a Jag out in front of them and the snarling of an XK engine throbbing in their ears, but that ribbon-straight road going over the horizon is a frequent vision here west of the Mississippi river. I thought I took a LOT of interesting photos here, of landscapes, cattle in the road, and mountains in the distant haze… but I guess my camera batteries were at their limit and I notice now that I have very few of what I captured. Here you go:

Above: The Nell’s Jaguar E-type runs with the Draper’s ’61 Ferrari California Spyder. (what a gorgeous car!) And we outran them both!

I drove along these open plains like they were meant to be driven… with a grin on my face, and my right foot down. We arrived in the wheat farming and railroad community of Choteau, the northern terminus of US Highway 287… a road I have now almost travelled in it’s entirety in bits through my life. (the southern end is in Port Arthur, Texas.) Lunch was in a community hall, and was composed of some awesome homemade soups, and some build-your-own sandwiches made with fresh baked local bread, from local wheat. Washed down with a nice mixture of fresh Lemonade & Iced Tea… it was heavenly.

We sat with Jerry & Kathy Nell, and talked about Jaguars, and when Dad said how the car was running well now that I was the owner Jerry cracked “That’s because he drives it fast like it is supposed to be!” 😀

When we headed out we found the 65E’s starter heat-soaked and refusing to turn over the engine. It was hot out, and we’d run the car hard. I’ve dealt with this before, even on flat surfaces like this, so I had Dad sit in the driver’s seat and manipulate the clutch and gearshift at my command while I rocked the car back and forth, moving the starter with the engine… a sort of backwards dance to rearrange the internal bits of the starter into a different location. Presto! The XK engine rumbles to life and we take off with Dad at the wheel, and me taking pictures. Unfortunately the camera was acting as wonky as the starter (which by the way is a Nippondenso starter, NOT a Lucas so dispense with those “Prince of Darkness” thoughts!) and wasn’t taking most of the pictures I was. I missed the warning beeps in the wind, engine, and exhaust noise. I did however manage to capture the most interesting thing of the day. We were cooking along the plains at speed when we noted on object in the road and started to slow down. We could not quite figure out what it was. The shape was certainly not an open range steer, or any other livestock. It wasn’t a car, or a pickup truck. It kind of looked like a motorcycle, but something about it said that it wasn’t. As we approached within a quarter mile or so I figured out what it was and grabbed for the camera. Thankfully this time it worked!

It was: A Boy & His Dog… on a 4-wheeler!

We roared down the plains and down into the spot where the Rockies thrust eastward and so pulled us into the mountains again. Unfortunately we were almost out of gasoline. Thankfully we met up with I-15 and the small one-gas station town of Wolf Creek. I bought fresh batteries for the digicam while dad filled up the car. One other rally car was there, the pretty little white Alfa driven by Mitch Katz and Bradley Goldstone. It had a voltage regulator replaced the night before and when they went to start got nothing. Some investigation found the battery terminal not connected fully, so the generator was not charging it. Some jumper cables were borrowed from a nearby truck and we pressed the Jaguar into service to jumpstart it. (The first time this car has saved another!) The cables were odd… blue and black color, and universally covered in dust to the point of making the colors indistinguishable from each other. I hooked up my end to the battery proclaiming “Black is negative, blue on positive.” Mitch hooked up his end and was greeted with a shower of sparks! A double-check of my end revealed that I had in fact put blue on neg and black on pos. D’oh! A quick switch (and me feeling REALLY stupid) and the little Alfa fired right up. We both jumped on the freeway for the 30-some mile run to Helena. I was hoping to get some shots of the Alfa, but they flew off down the road, leaving Dad far behind in their wake. Oh well.

We rolled into Helena, found the hotel, and as soon as I appeared online several friends all started chatting me on AIM. Weird when that happens. One of them, Bill Woodcock did provide a great suggestion for a place to eat in Helena, which I plan on using on my return trip back home in a few days. Thanks Woody!

Dinner tonight was again excellent! I brought the laptop along to show the photos I have taken, and people loved seeing a view of the event to-date.

I hope this post makes up for my lack of one yesterday. I really have to get some sleep now. You can see all of my photos from today here.