Wednesday, September 10

1100 kms later...

"Tuesday's forecast is for a high of 1°C and an overnight low of -5°C. Expect constant rain turning to snow for the next 48 hours. Snow will accumulate up to 4cm in places."

This was the forecast that greeted us yesterday morning as we made final preparations to spend three days and two nights touring Glacier National Park. Our itinerary included one night in a cabin on the shores of Lower Saint Mary Lake, and a second night on the edge of the park.

We were also planning to spend a day on the park's famous “Going to the Sun Road.”,  This 50 mile mountain road is considered one of the USA's most iconic scenic routes. Popular tour guides describe the road as an asphalt ribbon that hugs the mountainside. At times its winds through tight curves and passengers on the passenger side of the vehicle can look over the road’s edge, while slowly rising to 6,646 feet over the remote Logan Pass.  This didn't sound like the kind of place to be trapped in a snow storm.

As a result, Garry and I made a last minute decision to change our itinerary and head south rather than north. Earlier in the year it had proven impossible to book accommodation around the park without paying one night’s deposit. This meant that the money for our cabins had effectively been spent already.  We were therefore keen to kept any change as cheap as possible.  An hour of internet searching and phone calls resulted in plans for a new “cost effective” itinerary.

So where are we now?  Tonight (Tuesday) Garry and I are settled comfortably in at Moab. It’s a small town in central Utah, about 200 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. Moab sits by the banks of the Colorado River. It’s here that the river begins to carve out canyons that eventually morph into the Grand Canyon several hundred miles west. It’s also the only place where you can actual drive along the canyon floor as the river winds its way towards the Pacific Ocean.

To get here we drove a total of 732 miles, or 1,178kms over two days.  Yesterday we drove more than seven hours from Bozeman, Montana to Salt Lake City, then another 3.5 hours today. Our route yesterday took us through Idaho for the first time. We can report that the state is a rather sparsely populated expanse of mountains, valleys and vast brown-grass smothered ranches. There's not much to see here. Although we did learn that Idaho sits halfway between the North Pole and the Equator.
 
In fact, yesterday’s highlight was a quick stop at the Berkeley Pit in Butte (the town's name is pronounced “Beauty” - which you find rather ironic in a moment). The pit was once the largest open cast mine the USA. More than 1.4 billion tonnes of ore was extracted from its depths over a period of 28 years.  When the mine finally closed the pit was more than 1,800 feet.

Today, it’s little more than giant, barren lake on the edge of town. However, you cannot swim on boat on the “lake” as its water is saturated with heavy metals that have leached from the surrounding rock. It’s now considered one of the USA’s most toxic sites in need of decontamination.

Currently the lake's surface is below ground water level so it acts as a 'sink", drawing water towards it.  However, were the lake to rise any further the opposite process would occur and its deadly chemical soap would seep into the surrounding ground water.  As a result, pumps work around the clock to extract water from the pit.

Today we stopped for a late lunch in Arches National Park, four miles north of Moab. You can see some of the photos we took above before the weather closed in.  Fortunately, tomorrow's forecast is for stunning weather  so we’ll come back for a more leisurely tour. Stay tuned for some wonderfully sunlit images.

Update: 7:00pm
We’ve just heard that the Going to the Sun road was closed to traffic earlier today. Yesterday's change of plans was clearly the right decision.

Update: 13 September
The Going to the Sun road has finally reopened along its full length after closing for five days.

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