Glacier National Park, Northwestern Montana
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
TO say that Glacier National Park is the Canadian Rockies done in Grand Canyon colors is to ex-press a small part of a complicated fact. Glacier is so much less and more. It is less in its exhibit of ice and snow. Both are dying glacial regions, and Glacier is hundreds of centuries nearer the end; no longer can it display snowy ranges in August and long, sinuous Alaska-like glaciers at any time. Nevertheless, it has its glaciers, sixty or more of them perched upon high rocky shelves, the beautiful shrunken reminders of one-time monsters. Also it has the precipice-walled cirques and painted, lake-studded valleys which these monsters left for the enjoyment of today.
It is these cirques and valleys which constitute Glacier's unique feature, which make it incomparable of its kind. Glacier's innermost sanctuaries of grandeur are comfortably accessible and intimately enjoyable for more than two months each summer. The greatest places of the Canadian Rockies are never accessible comfortably; alpinists may clamber over their icy crevasses and scale their slippery heights in August, but the usual traveller will view their noblest spectacles from hotel porches or valley trails.
This comparison is useful because both regions are parts of the same geological and scenic development in which Glacier may be said to be scenically, though by no means geologically, completed and the Canadian Rockies still in the making. A hundred thousand years or more from now the Canadian Rockies may have reached, except for coloring, the present scenic state of Glacier.
Glacier National Park hangs down from the Canadian boundary-line in northwestern Montana, where it straddles the continental divide. Adjoining it on the north is the Waterton Lakes Park, Canada. The Blackfeet Indian Reservation borders it on the east. Its southern boundary is Marias Pass, through which the Great Northern Railway crosses the crest of the Rocky Mountains. Its western boundary is the North Fork of the Flathead River. The park contains fifteen hundred and thirty-four square miles.
Communication between the east and west sides within the park is only by trail across passes over the continental divide.
There are parts of America quite as distinguished as Glacier: Mount McKinley, for its enormous snowy mass and stature; Yosemite, for the quality of its valley's beauty; Mount Rainier, for its massive radiating glaciers; Crater Lake, for its color range in pearls and blues; Grand Canyon, for its stupendous painted gulf. But there is no part of America or the Americas, or of the world, to match it of its kind. In respect to the particular wondrous thing these glaciers of old left behind them when they shrank to shelved trifles, there is no other. At Glacier one sees what he never saw elsewhere and never will see again—except at Glacier. There are mountains everywhere, but no others carved into shapes quite like these; cirques in all lofty ranges, but not cirques just such as these; and because of these unique bordering highlands there are nowhere else lakes having the particular kind of charm possessed by Glacier's lakes.
Visitors seldom comprehend Glacier; hence they are mute, or praise in generalities or vague superlatives. Those who have not seen other mountains find the unexpected and are puzzled. Those who have seen other mountains fail to understand the difference in these. I have never heard comparison with any region except the Canadian Rockies, and this seldom very intelligent. "I miss the big glaciers and snowy mountain-tops," says the traveller of one type. "You can really see something here besides snow, and how stunning it all is !" says the traveller of another type. "My God, man, where are your artists?" cried an Englishman who had come to St. Mary Lake to spend a night and was finishing his week. "They ought to be here in regiments. Not that this is the greatest thing in the world, but that there's nothing else in the world like it." Yet this emotional traveller, who had seen the Himalayas, Andes, and Canadian Rockies, could not tell me clearly why it was different. Neither could the others explain why they liked it better than the Canadian Rockies, or why its beauty puzzled and disturbed them. It is only he whom intelligent travel has educated to analyze and distinguish who sees in the fineness and the extraordinary distinction of Glacier's mountain forms the completion of the more heroic undevelopment north of the border.