Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Big Red Bus


If you’re Going to the Sun, take the Red Bus.

Going to the Sun Road is the ultra-scenic route through Glacier National Park, Mont., across the Continental Divide. The Red Buses are 1930s era touring cars with a canvas roof that rolls back for ultimate views.

But the Red Bus’s virtues aren’t just the skyward scenery and the pleasure of leaving the driving to someone else. The real reason you want to take the Bus is drivers like Matt Isobell, whose love and knowledge of Glacier National Park make this a journey in time.

Isobell is a former marine who loved the area so much he moved here, to a woodsy cabin without indoor plumbing. Winters, he works on his novels.

“If you want to see animals, go to Yellowstone,’’ he tells us. “This is the park to come to see scenery.

The Red Bus offers a range of tours; we’ve opted for the shortest, a half-day guided ride to Logan Pass and back to the 1913 lodge at Lake MacDonald.

From Isobell we learn that the trees with the drooping tops are hemlocks, that the Spanish moss-like growth in the trees is lichen, and how to tell a black bear from a grizzly (hint: It’s not the color.) This is important because if you run into one in the wild, you need to know whether to fight (black bear) or play dead (grizzly.)

The mountains here are sedimentary rock, created by a billion-plus years of inland seas that ebbed and flowed, depositing silt. Plate tectonics, water and glaciers took care of the rest, creating peaks that sometimes look as smooth as Egyptian pyramids and other look like a swirl of Rocky Road ice cream scooped out by a bear’s claw.

The 26 glaciers in the park today are not remnants from the Ice Age but left overs from a gold cycle about 200 years ago, we learn. Scientists estimate that all the glaciers will disappear here by 2030 – a result of climate change.

We have Ford Motor Co. to thank for the buses, says Isobell. In 1999, Glacier’s 33 Red Buses were starting to fall apart. Ford spent $6.5 million to restore each, adding 5.4 litre V8 engines that run on propane.

The Red Bus tours are so memorable that 38 years after taking his first one, as a college student, Dennis Troseth of Minnesota and the Florida Keys is back for an encore with wife Susan, who came here herself 50 years ago.

“I always wanted to come back. It’s so natural,’’ she said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"We have Ford Motor Co. to thank for the buses, says Isobell. In 1999, Glacier’s 33 Red Buses were starting to fall apart. Ford spent $6.5 million to restore each, adding 5.4 litre V8 engines that run on propane."

Surely you mean they spent $6.5 million TOTAL for the 33 vehicles?