The Two Medicine Country
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
An hour's automobile-ride from Glacier Park Hotel will enable our traveller to penetrate the range at a point of supreme beauty and stand beside a chalet at the foot of Two Medicine Lake. He will face what appears to be a circular lake in a densely forested valley from whose shore rises a view of mountains which will take his breath. In the near centre stands a cone of enormous size and magnificence—Mount Rockwell —faintly blue, mistily golden, richly purple, dull silver, or red and gray, according to the favor of the hour and the sky. Upon its left and somewhat back rises a smaller similar cone, flatter but quite as perfectly proportioned, known as Grizzly Mountain, and upon its right less regular masses. In the background, connecting all, are more distant mountains flecked with snow, the continental divide. Towering mountains close upon him upon both sides, that upon his right a celebrity in red argillite known as Rising Wolf. He sees all this from a beach of many-colored pebbles.
Few casual visitors have more than a midday view of Two Medicine Lake, for the stage returns in the afternoon. The glory of the sunset and the wonder before sunrise are for the few who stay over at the chalet. The lover of the exquisite cannot do better, for, though beyond lie scenes surpassing this in the qualities which bring to the lips the shout of joy, I am convinced that nothing elsewhere equals the Two Medicine canvas in the perfection of delicacy. It is the Meissonier of Glacier.
Nor can the student of Nature's processes afford to miss the study of Two Medicine's marvellously complete and balanced system of cirques and valleys —though this of course is not for the rheumatic traveller but for him who fears not horse and tent. Such an explorer will find thrills with every passing hour. Giant Mount Rockwell will produce one when a side-view shows that its apparent cone is merely the smaller eastern end of a ridge two miles long which culminates in a towering summit on the divide; Pumpelly Pillar, with the proportions of a monument when seen from near the lake, becomes, seen sideways, another long and exceedingly beautiful ridge; striking examples, these, of the leavings of converging glaciers of old. Two Medicine Lake proves to be long and narrow, the chalet view being the long way, and Upper Two Medicine Lake proves to be an emerald-encircled pearl in a silvery-gray setting. The climax of such a several days' trip is a night among the coyotes at the head of the main valley and a morning upon Dawson Pass overlooking the indescribable tangle of peak, precipice, and canyon lying west of the continental divide.
Taken as a whole, the Two Medicine drainage-basin is an epitome of Glacier in miniature. To those entering the park on the east side and seeing it first it becomes an admirable introduction to the greater park. To those who have entered on the west side and finish here it is an admirable farewell review, especially as its final picture sounds the note of scenic perfection. Were there nothing else of Glacier, this spot would become in time itself a world celebrity. Incidentally, exceedingly lively Eastern brook-trout will afford an interesting hour to one who floats a fly down the short stream into the lakelet at the foot of Two Medicine Lake not far below the chalet. There are also fish below Trick Falls.
St. Mary Lake, similarly situated in the outlet valley of a much greater group of cirques north of Two Medicine, offers a picture as similar in kind as two canvases are similar which have been painted by the same hand; but they widely differ in composition and magnificence; Two Medicine's preciousness yields to St. Mary's elemental grandeur. The steamer which brings our rheumatic traveller from the motor-stage at the foot of the lake lands him at the upper chalet group, appropriately Swiss, which finds vantage on a rocky promontory for the view of the divide. Gigantic mountains of deep-red argillite, grotesquely carved, dose in the sides, and with lake and sky wonderfully frame the amazing central picture of pointed pyramids, snow-fields, hanging glaciers, and silvery ridges merging into sky. Seen on the way into Glacier, St. Mary is a prophecy which will not be fulfilled elsewhere in charm though often far exceeded in degree. Seen leaving Glacier, it combines with surpassing novelty scenic elements whose possibilities of further gorgeous combination the trip through the park has seemed to exhaust.
The St. Mary picture is impossible to describe. Its colors vary with the hours and the atmosphere's changing conditions. It is silver, golden, mauve, blue, lemon, misty white, and red by turn. It is seen clearly in the morning with the sun behind you. Afternoons and sunsets offer theatrical effects, often baffling, always lovely and different. Pointed Fusillade and peaked Reynolds Mountains often lose their tops in lowering mists. So, often, does Going-to-the-Sun Mountain in the near-by right foreground. So, not so often, does keel-shaped Citadel Mountain on the near-by left; also, at times, majestic Little Chief, he of lofty mien and snow-dashed crown, and stolid Red Eagle, whose gigantic reflection reddens a mile of waters. It is these close-up monsters even more than the colorful ghosts of the Western horizon which stamp St. Mary's personality.
From the porches of the chalets and the deck of the steamer in its evening tour of the lake-end the traveller will note the enormous size of those upper valleys which once combined their glaciers as now they do their streams. He will guess that the glacier which once swept through the deep gorge in whose bottom now lies St. Mary Lake was several thousand feet in thickness. He will long to examine those upper valleys and reproduce in imagination the amazing spectacle of long ago. But they are not for him. That vision is reserved for those who ride the trails.
Again passing north, the automobile-stage reaches road's end at McDermott Lake, the fan-handle of the Swiftcurrent drainage-basin. Overlooking a magnificent part of each of its contributing valleys, the lake, itself supremely beautiful, may well deserve its reputation as Glacier's scenic centre. I have much sympathy with the thousands who claim supremacy for McDermott Lake. Lake McDonald has its wonder-fully wooded shores, its majestic length and august vista; Helen Lake its unequalled wildness; Bowman Lake its incomparable view of glacier-shrouded divide. But McDermott has something of everything; it is a composite, a mosaic masterpiece with every stone a gem. There is no background from which one looks forward to "the view." Its horizon contains three hundred and sixty degrees of view. From the towering south gable of that rock-temple to God the Creator, which the map calls Mount Gould, around the circle, it offers an unbroken panorama in superlative.
In no sense by way of comparison, which is absurd between scenes so different, but merely to help realization by contrast with what is well known, let us recall the Yosemite Valley. Yosemite is a valley, Swiftcurrent an enclosure. Yosemite is gray and shining, Swiftcurrent richer far in color. Yosemite's walls are rounded, peaked, and polished, Swiftcurrent's toothed, torn, and crumbling; the setting sun shines through holes worn by frost and water in the living rock. Yosemite guards her western entrance with a shaft of gray granite rising thirty-six hundred feet from the valley floor, and her eastern end by granite domes of five thousand and six thousand feet; Swiftcurrent's rocks gather round her central lake—Altyn, thirty-two hundred feet above the lake's level; Henkel, thirty-eight hundred feet; Wilbur, forty-five hundred feet; Grinnell, four thousand; Gould, forty-seven hundred; Allen, forty-five hundred—all of colored strata, green at base, then red, then gray. Yosemite has its winding river and waterfalls, Swiftcurrent its lakes and glaciers.
Swiftcurrent has the repose but not the softness of Yosemite. Yosemite is unbelievably beautiful. Swift-current inspires wondering awe.
McDermott Lake, focus point of all this natural glory, is scarcely a mile long, and narrow. It may be vivid blue and steel-blue and milky-blue, and half a dozen shades of green and pink all within twice as many minutes, according to the whim of the breeze, the changing atmosphere, and the clouding of the sun. Often it suggests nothing so much as a pool of dull-green paint. Or it may present a reversed image of mountains, glaciers, and sky in their own coloring. Or at sunset it may turn lemon or purple or crimson or orange, or a blending of all. Or, with rushing storm clouds, it may quite suddenly lose every hint of any color, and become a study in black, white, and inter-mediate grays.
There are times when, from hotel porch, rock, or boat, the towering peaks and connecting limestone walls become suddenly so fairylike that they lose all sense of reality, seeming to merge into their background of sky, from which, nevertheless, they remain sharply differentiated. The rapidity and the variety of change in the appearance of the water is nothing to that in the appearance of these magical walls and mountains. Now near, now distant; now luring, now forbidding; now gleaming as if with their own light; now gloomy in threat, they lose not their hold on the eye for a moment. The unreality of McDermott Lake, the sense it often imparts of impossibility, is perhaps its most striking feature. One suspects he dreams, awake.