Thursday, August 26, 2010

Going-to-the-Sun Road

The Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is regularly voted one of the most scenic roads in America year after year by many publications. And for good reason! It is quite the engineering accomplishment, having been blasted from rock in many places as it switchbacks up to highly scenic Logan Pass. Views from this road are outstanding!

But this road has much to see in it lower stretches as well as it leaves Apgar Village and winds around the waters of Lake McDonald. Views across the water to distant peaks are magnificent, especially in early season when the peaks are still snow-capped.

Just past the Lake McDonald Lodge is scenic McDonald Falls and the Sacred Dancing Cascades of McDonald Creek (shown above). Sacred Dancing Cascades are easiest reached from a pullout alongside the road. Across the foot bridge, a short trail leads to McDonald Falls.

A short ways up the road is Avalanche Gorge. A trail ascends thru the gorge en route to Avalanche Lake, one of the most popular hikes in the park. This trail can also be accessed from the Avalanche Creek Campground.

The gorge is magnificent with its deep blue rushing water. There are many viewpoints of it along the trail - all worth checking out. The view from the bridge might be the best of all though.

A great time for photographing Avalanche Gorge is in the morning before the sun hits the area. The area rests in shadows until mid-morning. I also found the area void of breezes for about the first hour of each morning I photographed it.

Obviously, cloudy skies would also be kind to this area.

You can continue up the trail to Avalanche Lake for possible evening photography. However, I think your efforts might be better spent else where.

Going-to-the-Sun Road continues up the valley. As it nears The Loop trailhead, views begin to open up to Mount Canon and other peaks towering above you. There are some nice pullouts along this stretch. Watch for wildlife in this area.

Continuing around the sharpe switchback, the road begins to climb in earnest. Views of Heavens Peak across the valley are excellent, and only get better! Beautiful sunrises and sunsets can be captured from various pullouts along here. Clouds can be dramatic during unsettled weather.

I found the last pullout (before the road goes around a sharp corner) to be the best for evening compositions of Mount Canon and Oberlin, but others would work as well. The view back down McDonald Valley is also impressive.

The previous evening I passed this spot after shooting Haystack Falls and saw a group of about twenty photographers set up here. Both evenings I shot from here, I was alone.

I wasn't fortunate to get much cloud action during my visits here. In fact, conditions became quite hazy during my second evening of shooting, with a storm advancing on the area. Still, beggars can't be choosers!

Road work on the Going-t0-the-Sun Road also dictated my shooting during the week days as the road was closed a short ways beyond this pullout at 9:00 pm. Sunset was close to 9:30 during my visit.

Next up is Haystack Falls. Pullouts are limited for this waterfall, but do exist. Evenings are a less hectic time to photograph this waterfall, after most road traffic has subsided. There really isn't much of shoulder to the road here, so your tripod will be set up in the road. Of course, evening also brings the best light to this area.

As this waterfall eminates from the snow above along the Garden Wall, I would assume this waterfall to all but vanish in late season once the snow is gone. These images were taken in late July, for the record.

There are a lot of composition choices for this waterfall. You can compose tight as I did on the first one, you can include part of the fancy stone work along the side of the road, you can include the pool at its base and/or the peaks above, etc. It's a fun waterfall to play with.

Beyond Haystack Falls, the road traverses below Weeping Wall and climbs up to Logan Pass, with jaw-dropping views the entire way.

As a photographer, you can really "get lost" along this road if you choose to. Opportunities seem to abound around every bend.

If planning to visit Glacier in the next couple of years, I would definitely encourage you to note the road closure times for construction and plan around them, especially in summer when sunrise and sunset both occur during closed times. This project was originally suppose to be coming to a close soon, but was recently extended in thanks to the Stimulous Package.

I hope enjoyed my little tour of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

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