Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Wilderness Lodges of Glacier - Part 2

Glacier Park Lodge, built in 1913, was joined by the magnificent Many Glacier Hotel in 1915. It is situated on the picturesque Swiftcurrent Lake, directly opposite the stunning Grinnell Point, named in honour of George Bird Grinnell. Louis Hill, head of Great Northern, deliberately chose the spot for its symmetrical qualities. Many visitors consider this region the true heart of Glacier. From the hotel, trails fan out to the feet of glaciers, to flowering valleys teeming with grizzly bears, and to lakes covered year round with floes of ice.

The hotel itself was built in a style similar to that of Glacier Park Lodge, which was itself inspired by the Forestry Building of the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon. That building featured an interior  colonnade of 48' high logs to architecturally recall the majesty of the Pacific Northwest coastal rainforest. Because no trees of such immensity grow in the vicinity of the Rocky Mountains, Great Northern was forced to import the Douglas Firs necessary to build the lobbies of Glacier Park and Many Glaciers.

Historic photo of the interior of the Forestry Building,
Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905.

Many Glacier Hotel with Grinnell Point in the background.

Grinnell Point and Swiftcurrent Lake.

The lakefront side of Many Glacier Hotel.

Many Glacier's lobby from below. 

Many Glacier's lobby from above.

Many Glacier's beautifully restored restaurant.

A red jammer bus outside the Many Glacier Hotel.
In 1914, a private businessman named John Lewis built his own hotel on the shores of Lake McDonald on the western side of Glacier National Park, near the end of the Going to the Sun Road. Aping the Swiss Alpine style affected by Great Northern, his hotel was smaller in size and cozier in atmosphere. Its lobby was adorned with countless hunting trophies and its lanterns inscribed with Blackfoot motifs. The only access to the hotel was by boat from Apgar, the town lying inside the western gate of the park (just outside the western gate is the town of West Glacier, which grew up around the train station there). Today's visitors arriving via the Going-to-the-Sun road actually enter the Lake McDonald Lodge from the back door: technically and architecturally, the front door is the one facing the lake. Directly across the lake, the famed Western painter Charlie Russell maintained a summer home until his passing in 1926. It is claimed that his hand etched some of the pictographs adorning the lobby's great fireplace. Great Northern eventually purchased the hotel in 1930.

The view up Lake McDonald from Apgar
The view down Lake McDonald from the hotel's shoreline.

A stone's throw from the headwaters of Lake Macdonald is the Trail of the Cedars. One of the most accessible of Glacier's excursions, this boardwalk rolls through the sort of cedar-hemlock forests that one would more likely expect to find in the Pacific Northwest. The shade and humidity of the gorge carved by Avalanche Creek has created a microclimate perfect for the flourishing of giant cedar trees, hemlock, and a verdant understory of ferns and mosses. The largest of the trail's cedars are estimated to have begun life around 1517. The Trail of the Cedars also serves as the embarkation point for hikes up to Avalanche Lake, Sperry Glacier and the rustic Sperry Chalet high in the park's backcountry.

The Trail of the Cedars
Once more Ashley gives us a sense of scale.

Turning north, Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada is significantly smaller than Glacier, but in its compact size has many wonders. The approach to the park is remarkable, as the mountains seem to rise directly from the prairies with no foothills to announce them. This is actually an effect of glacial till filling in the valleys between the hills some ten thousand years ago. On the flanks of the front ranges, the Parks Canada Agency keeps a herd of plains bison.

Some, like Red Rock Canyon, require a short drive from the townsite of Waterton Lakes. The geology of Waterton-Glacier has some of the oldest rock in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, recognizable by its oxidized red hue. Approximately 1.5 billion years ago, this area was on the shore of an inland sea in the supercontinent of Rodinia. Over countless eons, those muddy, iron-rich deposits solidified and metamorphosed under intense pressure into the vivid argilite rocks for which Red Rock Canyon is named. The Red Rock Parkway is also a good place for seeing black bears during the sunset hours of late summer, though there is always the risk of them drawing a "bear jam." These rubbernecking traffic jams are a danger to both humans and wildlife, as it may lead to bears becoming hostile to throngs of encroaching tourists or much too friendly and accustomed to them. Right in the townsite is the impressive Cameron Falls, emptying water from Cameron Lake into Upper Waterton Lake. The lakeshore itself has its own simple pleasures, though howling winds may roar down the valley at night.

Red Rock Canyon. The red rocks are argilite, a metamorphic
rock formed of muds and oozes. The white bands are marble,
another metamorphic rock formed of ancient coral reefs and
lime-rich ocean sediments.
Cameron Falls.

Upper Waterton Lake.

The last of Great Northern's hotels to be built was the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park. Originally intended to be constructed along with Glacier Park Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel, delays set the opening of the Prince of Wales Hotel back to 1927. Architecturally distinct from its kin, the hotel was still built in a vernacular Swiss style high atop a bluff with stunning views of Upper Waterton Lake. The hotel's name was a crafty, if failed, bid for celebrity: in 1927, Edward the Prince of Wales was touring Canada and Great Northern hoped that by naming the hotel in his honour, he would be enticed to stay there and give it a certain cachet among tourists. He was a dashing prince renowned for being a playboy, which would haunt him when he ascended to the throne as King Edward VIII only to abdicate in less than a year to marry the American socialite Wallis Simpson. Edward opted to stay at the well-respected Bar U Ranch instead, which so intrigued him that he later purchased the neighbouring ranch. Portraits of the prince still adorn the walls of the hotel, lending a royal air to the British-style afternoon tea enjoyed by visitors in the lobby.

Enjoying the view of Upper Waterton Lake.
The Prince of Wales Hotel.

Lobby of the Prince of Wales Hotel, with its huge picture windows.

Time for tea?

The wilderness lodges of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park are significant examples of the National Parks Rustic style, situated in one of the most beautiful corners of North America. Just as the first part of this article began with a quote by a pioneering naturalist, so shall the second part end with a quote by another. From John Muir, on the wonders of Glacier National Park: "Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven."

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