"Far away in northwestern Montana, hidden from view by clustering mountain peaks, lies an unmapped corner—the Crown of the Continent."
These words, penned in 1901 by famed naturalist George Bird Grinnell, introduced the world to the natural majesty of the area known today as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. It is comprised of two national parks in two countries - Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and Glacier National Park in the United States - linked by their ecosystem, geology, cultural history and scenic beauty.
St. Mary's Lake, Glacier National Park.
Upper Waterton Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park.
Waterton Lakes National Park in the province of Alberta was created first, in 1895, as Canada's fourth national park. It is contiguous with Glacier National Park in Montana, established in 1910, and that connection led to the creation of the world's first International Peace Park in 1932. Within Glacier's borders lies the southernmost tip of the Canadian Rocky Mountains: the younger, sedimentary range of mountains that comes to an end at the Marias Pass in Montana, south of which lie the older, igneous and metamorphic ranges of the American Rocky Mountains. Neither the waters nor the wildlife of each park respect national borders. The migratory routes of grizzly bears and bighorn sheep criss-cross the 49th parallel with impunity. Upper Waterton Lake and Cameron Lake have shorelines in each country.
Cameron Lake, on the Canadian side. The far shore is Mount Custer,
named for topographer Henry Custer, in the United States.
|The end of the Canadian Rocky Mountains at Marias Pass, Montana.|
To the left is the beginning of the American Rocky Mountains.
Both parks lie within the traditional territory of the Nitsitapii, known in English as the Blackfoot Confederacy, who tell many stories of the lakes, valleys and mountains. It was in the region of Waterton Lakes that they received the Beaver Medicine Bundle, one of their most sacred bundles. Another story tells of Ksiistsikomm, the Thunder, who lives at Chief Mountain just inside Glacier National Park:
Ksiistsikomm, Thunder, was jealous of a man and wanted his wife. He struck their lodge, knocked them unconscious, and stole the woman. When the man recovered he wandered all over, asking many animals to help him find his wife. All were afraid of Thunder. Finally, Omahkai’stoo (Raven) agreed to help. He flew to Thunder's home and challenged him.
Ksiistsikomm shot lightening bolts at Omahkai’stoo, trying to kill him. But Omahkai’stoo used his own power and, by flapping his wings, brought on the cold north wind and snow. Gradually, the cold slowed down Ksiistsikomm until he could no longer send out the dangerous bolts of lightening. It was a long battle, but eventually Ksiistsikomm gave up and returned the man's wife.
Omahkai’stoo insisted that he and Ksiistsikomm divide the year into two parts: winter, which is Omahkai’stoo's season, and summer, which is Ksiistsikomm's time.
Omahkai’stoo also ordered Ksiistsikomm to make a peace treaty with the man and to give our people his pipe as a sign of this agreement. Since that day we have opened our Thunder Medicine Pipe Bundles each spring at the first sound of thunder. We ask for good weather, good crops, and good luck for the coming year. [source]
For the thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, native peoples across North America carried on an extensive trade in shells, buffalo robes, corn, beans, and squash, tobacco, and other goods. Today, rather than traversing the mountains of Glacier by dog travois, visitors to glacier may do it in considerably greater comfort by automobile. The main thoroughfare through the park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark built as a Depression Era public works project in 1932. Its 53 miles of two-lane, cliff-hugging road crosses the Continental Divide at the spectacular Logan Pass, 6,646 feet above sea level.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Logan Pass and the silver sliver of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, after which the road is named.
|Jackson Glacier, the only true glacier visible from the |
Going-to-the-Sun Road. Like every glacier in Glacier
National Park, it is melting away due to climate change.
Above and paralleling the road on the Western slope of the Divide is the Highline Trail, one of the most popular hikes in the park. Its approximately 11 mile, 18 kilometre length passes through mountain meadows, alpine forests, rock falls bearing the 800 million year old fossils, and paths hewn from the living rock itself. It is not for the faint of heart or weak of constitution.
Beginning of the Highline Trail.
|Ripple marks from an 800 million year old beachfront,|
now high atop a mountain range.
Looking out over sheer drops.
|A large, fallen boulder strewn with fossils.|
|800 million years ago, Stromatolites (algae colonies) breathed|
in carbon dioxide and breathed out oxygen, which accumulated
in the atmosphere, eventually fueling the explosion of complex, multicellular life.
Looking out from a viewpoint along the Highline Trail.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road descends to the valley below.
|The end of the trail, looking back towards Logan Pass,|
about 11 miles or 18 kilometres in the distance.
A less strenuous and harrowing boardwalk to the jewel-like Hidden Lake departs from the visitor centre at Logan Pass. In time immemorial, a glacier carved out a secluded valley between the peaks at Logan Pass. After the glaciers, waters filled the cirque, creating Hidden Lake and feeding the spectral cascade known as Bird Woman Falls. Though often asked if the park's name will be changed once climate change has consumed the last of the glaciers, the National Park Service insists that the name will remain to reflect the role of glaciers in carving these geological features. It was here at Hidden Lake that a visitor once famously remarked "This is where God sat when He created America."
Boardwalk to Hidden Lake.
Along the route to Hidden Lake.
A marmot sunning itself at high altitudes.
A popular sight along the Going-to-the-Sun Road are the historic red "jammer" buses. From 1936 to the 1960's, a fleet of buses manufactured by the White Motor Company toured guests though many of America's National Parks, including Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon and Yosemite. In Glacier, where the buses were painted a distinctive red colour (causing considerable confusion when they are called "White Buses"), they were nicknamed "jammers" because of the gear jamming that drivers would have to employ to get them up steep hills. From 1999 to 2002, the Ford Motor Company spent $6.5 million to refurbish the fleet from the ground-up, replacing everything from the glass to the brakes to the chassis to the engines, which can now run on liquefied petroleum gas and qualify as Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles. Of the entire NPS fleet, only those in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks continue to serve a role connecting guests, nature, and history.
Red Jammer Buses awaiting guests in Waterton Lakes National Park.
|At Logan Pass.|
Before the road, however, was the railway. Railroad companies in both Canada and the United States readily adopted National Parks as virtual private fiefdoms, providing hotels and concessions for the tourists who they hoped to lure with the promise of sublime, untrammeled wilderness. Northern Pacific supported the creation of Yellowstone, Southern Pacific staked out Yosemite, and Santa Fe laid tracks directly to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Union Pacific claimed the North Rim, as well as Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Teton and the southern entrance to Yellowstone. Canadian Pacific Railway ran through Banff, Yoho, Glacier (British Columbia) and Mount Revelstoke National Parks in Canada, and Grand Trunk Pacific - later Canadian National - brought tourists to Jasper National Park. Waterton Lakes and Glacier National Parks fell to Great Northern Railway. And each one attempted to outdo the other in the competition for tourists, offering unparalleled luxury and appointment.
These hotels and their services became parts in a chain that we would recognize today as the all-inclusive vacation. When "The Empire Builder" James J. Hill consolidated a hodge-podge collection of failing railways into Great Northern, he introduced a line dubbed the Oriental Limited. The Oriental Limited was so-named because it was, Hill asserted, the premier route from the Eastern United States to the Far East, via Great Northern Steamship from the Pacific coast. It was also the premier route to Glacier National Park. Great Northern's Glacier Park Lodge, on the southern fringe of the park, was mere steps from the station. Inside its grand lobby with towering tree trunk pillars, the oriental theme continued with Japanese lanterns and tea service. It was Great Northern, during the dark days of the Great War, that coined the "See America First" campaign. With the European tourist market shut down, it was the needed opportunity to strike a blow for homegrown tourism. This was quickly leapt upon by the National Parks Service itself.
|East Glacier Station, built by Great Northern Railway,|
now serving passengers from Amtrak.
|Trackside view of the station.|
|The walk from the station to the Glacier Park Lodge. In the old days,|
a path extended from the station to the lodge for the guests while
wagons conveyed the luggage and other effects.
|View from the bottom of the lobby, towards the|
Great Northern dining hall and the tipi on the second floor.
|The view from the second floor.|
|Rustic carving of a Blackfoot Native American.|
|Taxidermy mountain goat in the lobby. The mountain goat|
eventually became the mascot of Great Northern Railway.
|Pretty smug-looking moose for a mounted head.|
|Guests are welcome to play for each other on the piano.|
|Blackfoot Native American motifs are found throughout the hotel.|
|View from the rear balcony as the sun goes down.|
|While the front veranda welcomes the dawn.|
|A Red Jammer tour departs Glacier Park Lodge.|
Just as today, Glacier Park Lodge served as the disembarkation point for adventurous visitors. Unlike today, seeing Glacier National Park in those days was no pleasure jaunt. A string of backcountry chalets were sprinkled across the parks lakes and mountaintops, each a day's ride from the previous one. From Glacier Park Lodge, one day's ride would take guests to Two Medicine Chalet, on the shores of Two Medicine Lake. Built in 1914, it still stands today as Two Medicine Store, serving the nearby campground. Subsequent days would end at Cut Bank, St. Mary, and Going-To-The-Sun Chalets, all since demolished. Then guests would travel up, up, high into the peaks to Granite Park Chalet. Of the original eight chalets, the only two that remain and serve their original function as backcountry accommodation are Granite Park and Sperry Chalets. Granite Park also serves as the terminus for the Highline Trail. Along the route through the Marias Pass, Great Northern built the Belton Chalet as another launching point for park excursions. Belton Chalet is still in use today as a privately owned hotel.
|Granite Peak Chalet in the distance.|
|Entrance and veranda to Granite Peak Chalet.|
|Granite Park's dormitories.|
View near Granite Park.
Glacier Park Lodge and a string of chalets were not enough to accommodate the throngs of tourists enticed to visit the Crown of the Continent. Over the following years, Great Northern would add even more luxurious lodgings to Waterton-Glacier park.