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Glacier National Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrNaturalist John Muir called Glacier National Park “the best care-killing scenery of the continent”. This is one of the final untamed and wild territories of America. Located in the North central part of Montana, this is the last best place. The spectacular, jagged mountain summits tell secrets of wandering wolves, hungry grizzlies, carpets of wildflowers, and snow-melt waterfalls. Eagles are abundant here. Big-horn sheep jump and hide to avoid them. Coyotes and fox sneak quietly for prey, careful not to be seen. Two-hundred-year-old trees sit at attention as far as the eye can see. Lakes made from melted ice caps make even the bravest run from their cold clutches. Trails are mysterious and foreboding. This is Glacier National Park.
In the BeginningGlacier National Park was officially established on May 11, 1910. The original settlers in this territory were Native Americans over 10,000 years ago. Many different tribes inhabited the Rocky Mountains' area. The Blackfoot Confederacy dominated the wild land in the beginning of 18th century throughout the 19th century. Today, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation borders the east side of the park, while the Flathead Indian Reservation is on the southwest side. It is the Blackfeet who call the mountains of Glacier the “Backbone of the World” after many vision quests. In 1895, Chief White Calf of the Blackfeet sold the U.S. government 800,000 acres of this land for $1.5 million USD. Glacier National Park is over 1,013,572 acres with part of the park stretching into Canada.
How It All HappenedIn 1876, teenager James Willard Schultz traveled from his hometown in New York to work at a trading post in Montana. He married a Blackfeet woman, becoming very close with the tribe. He also began to write stories for the then popular magazine, “Field and Stream”. These tales impressed the editor, George Bird Grinnell, and it wasn’t long until Grinnell fell in love with the frontier and began the campaign to make this beautiful, wild territory a national park. Many people came to visit the untouched land, and witnessed the Great Northern Railroad Company completing its transcontinental route through the majestic mountains.
It was the railroad company who, in 1910, built a selection of hotels and chalets to promote tourism. They called it “America’s Switzerland”. Tourism begets many of the famous lodges which still stand today, such as Lake McDonald Lodge. All the while, behind the scenes mining companies were exploiting the land seeking quick wealth in silver and gold. It was also in 1910, when President William H. Taft signed legislation making this vast land, Glacier National Park.
The Park TodayToday, over 350 buildings and structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the lodges and chalets which have continued to operate. Only 131 of Glacier Parks many large lakes and 700 smaller ones are currently named. St Mary’s Lake, Lake McDonald, Bowman Lake , and Kintla Lake are the largest lakes within the park. Lakes like Avalanche Lake and Cracker Lake are colored like opaque and appear milky white, with temperatures of rarely above 50°. There are over 200 waterfalls actively coursing the mountain cliffs in the dry months of Montana.
As a part of a large preserved ecosystem known as the “Crown of the Continent”, Glacier is virtually an untouched wilderness of a pristine and majestic quality. A total of 1,132 plants species have existed there since white explorers first entered the region. Sprawling wildflowers are cast all over the mountain sides and valleys, with sightings of rare, high elevation species such as the Indian paintbrush or the Glacier Lily. The pointed, snow-tipped mountain peaks reach to over 10,000 feet.
WildlifeGlacier National Park is home to an abundance of wildlife and fauna, providing biologists an intact research ecosystem. The grizzly bear and Canadian lynx are the two most threatened species in the park. One or more bear attacks occur every year. This is typically due to surprising a territorial bear or a bear with cubs. Glacier park biologists believe there to be around 350 grizzles, and approximately 800 black bears. Montana itself is known for a healthy bear population. The black bear is less aggressive or intimidating, yet caution is still highly recommended when hiking anywhere in Montana.
Other wildlife seen frequently inside the Rocky Mountains includes wolverines, beavers; bighorn sheep, moose; elk, white-tailed deer; coyotes, fox; mountain lions, and porcupine. Unlike Yellowstone National Park, which reintroduced wolves into the park in the 1990s, Glacier National Park has always had wolves. They are seldom seen traveling the wildlife corridors of the Rocky Mountains. The controversy for wolf conservation is a heated continuous debate, with ranchers taking a stand by arms to keep wolves out. At any given time, the bald eagle and hawks of the region will show, and in the
spring it is not uncommon to see many at one time. Other birds of the park include osprey, peregrine falcon; Canadian snow goose, great-horned owl; blue heron, and harlequin ducks.
Adventures and RecreationHiking is the most popular activity in Glacier National Park, with over half of the visitors coming to the park hiking only to hike on one of nearly 700 miles of trails. 110 of these miles spans the distance of the park on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. High Altitude trails close late in summer season due to snow. Dogs are not allowed on trails because of bears and other large mammals. Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit and after the month of June, when avalanche risk is less.
Montana is world famous for the many blue ribbon fishing streams and lakes. Glacier National Park offers a pristine experience into fishing here. The endangered Bull Trout must be released if caught, other than this, no fishing license is required in the park and catches are abundant. Seeing the park by horseback still remains a popular choice. Many guests will combine a horseback-backcountry camping trip extend their adventure in some of America’s most spectacular scenery.
Whitewater rafting trips, and scenic rafting or adventure combos are also a preferred way to discover the park. An average day trip provides over 15 miles of wilderness untouched. Another choice way to see the park is bicycling through to the tranquil blue lakes or peddling until it burns on “Going to the Sun” road.
“Going to the Sun” road is what visitors and locales talk about when they speak of Glacier National Park. It is the highlight of the park, to travel this narrow, climbing road slowly creeping in elevation until it meets the Continental Divide at Logan’s Pass. The only road to completely traverse the park, it can be frightening and exhilarating at the same time. In the winter, it is a monumental challenge to keep the road plowed.
Some people might be intimidated by the road’s sharp-edged drop-offs and twisting corners, but Governor Frank H. Cooney said it best when the road was dedicated in 1933: "There is no highway which will give the seer, the lover of grandeur of the Creator’s handiwork, more thrills, and more genuine satisfaction deep in his being, than will a trip over this road."
How to Get ThereGlacier National Park can be accessed by arriving northwest Montana along the spine of the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Visitors with a car can use U.S. Highway 2 from either the east or west to access the park. From the north entrance to the park can be obtained by using Highways 17 or 89. There are local airports in Kalispell, and Missoula (highly recommended). Shuttles and car rentals are available as well as Amtrak services. While in the central Rocky Mountains, many other wildernesses, and unlimited recreational opportunities exist for an once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Glacier National Park remains one of America’s favorite destinations.
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Author: bluvahalla. Last updated: May 19, 2015