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Thursday, July 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Natural wonder

Tom Davenport Correspondent

“Hell, they have automatic transmissions!” Steve Burd exclaimed. Burd was a jammer in 1972. Now a Queen Creek, Ariz., resident, Burd recently took a tour through Glacier National Park where he once had worked, first as a gardener in 1967, then as a Red Bus tour driver, or jammer, in 1972.

An act of Congress and the signature of President William Howard Taft in 1910 reserved about 1.4 million acres of northwestern Montana as America’s 10th national park.

Glacier National Park is an ever-changing and evolving natural wonder, but mankind also has put its stamp there.

The Continental Divide bisects Glacier, and only one road cuts through the park. Built in the early 1930s, the Going to the Sun Road is a steep and narrow two-lane paved trail that runs from the west near West Glacier to the east, ending at St. Mary.

Spectacular views are found all along the road, highlighted by Logan Pass, the highest point of pavement.

Thousands of visitors stop at Logan Pass each day to enjoy the visitor center there. A boardwalk trail provides a tour of alpine vegetation and wildlife.

Wildflowers bloom all summer, but at an elevation of 6,646 feet, summer doesn’t last very long. Wildlife such as mountain goats, bighorn sheep and the famous grizzly and black bears often are seen.

Although most park visitors drive to Logan Pass, possibly the most romantic way to get there is via the historic Red Bus tours.

In earlier years, most people traveled to Glacier by rail. Stops at West Glacier and East Glacier were the starting points of an adventurous vacation. A transportation system was required, and the Red Bus tours were born.

Red Bus tours have been a staple of Glacier since the late 1930s. The vintage coaches were tough to drive, especially on the Going to the Sun Road. Lower gears were used on the descent, with the drivers sometimes “jamming” the rigs into gear. Thus, the name “jammer” was born.

The 33-vehicle fleet of Red Buses was rebuilt at the turn of the 21st century. Now powered by propane and gasoline, the buses feature modern safety features and conveniences such as anti-lock braking systems, power steering and automatic transmissions, making them a bit more driver-friendly on the treacherous Going to the Sun Road.

Road crews constantly are maintaining and rebuilding portions of the road that have been washed out.

Now, sections of the road’s shoulder are under reconstruction to make them a bit more stable. Sections of the roadbed are being brought up to standard, and the rock wall that serves as a guardrail is being rebuilt using the original rocks, put back in place by stone masons using modern equipment.

“They said (in 1972) they would be gone by 1990,” Burd said of the many glaciers in the park. Unable to be restored by mankind, most – if not all – of the glaciers, the namesake of the park, will have melted away by 2030, according to current estimates.

Some of the glaciers can be seen from the road and more with just a short hike.

A beautiful representative of planet Earth, Glacier National Park is ever-changing and evolving.

As Burd observed, “they even have women jammers now.”

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