Marias Pass

by Steve Eshom on July 25, 2011

I don’t visit Marias Pass often. In fact this year was only my second time there as a railfan photographer. I have nothing against it.  In fact I think it is a very beautiful place and honestly the scenery on the pass is truly unprecedented.  One of the reasons I think I don’t make a point to visit often is the fact much of it is hard to get to and this makes me feel like I’ve seen every photograph there is to be taken there. When I read that someone visited the pass my expectation of their photos is that they will look much like ones I’ve seen before and honestly my photos from this brief visit are no different. Is there more to be had there? I’m absolutely sure there is with some effort and creativity. I think I need to go hang out with the Alta-Mont crowd and be treated to a more detailed view of the area.

Like many western passes Marias has two distinct personalities, the heavily wooded west side and the sparsely vegetated east side. Each side has its own unique flavor and if you prefer a certain style of photo one side or the other should suit you just fine. My family and I stayed at the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex so our overnight visit focused from the summit west. We did visit east of the summit but we were on our way east to our family reunion so I wasn’t able to wait around for another train.

After a fine meal at the Inn we ran up the pass to observe the mountain goats at the goat lick. My older daughter is a wildlife fanatic (foamer maybe?) so this suited her just fine. While we were there an eastbound grain train pulled across the Sheep Creek trestle and stopped at Java West to wait for #7. The Builder was still running on the abbreviated Havre-Seattle schedule thanks to flooding east of Minot.

The next morning, after a wonderful breakfast at the Inn, we headed east up the mountain. An eastbound stack train had about a 20 minute head start on us but I figured we’d run into it up the hill a ways. We stopped for road construction twice (if you are headed up there this summer check in for construction updates).  We caught and passed the train once then stopped for construction and watched it pass us.  We passed the train again just past the old Marias crossovers then at summit construction stopped us again.  The flagger told us 15 minutes so I hopped out with my camera to capture the absolutely beautiful area at the summit with a stack train in it.  I could literally sit at this spot for hours and stare at the mountains.  The fact you can capture a train in the scene is just icing on the cake.

Marias is certainly worth the time even if you do happen to take the same photos everyone else has.

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