Glacier National Park Part I – Introduction
“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.” John Muir in describing Glacier National Park.
It’s one of the most beloved national parks in the country and visiting this picturesque location had been on my bucket list for ages. This year we finally made it happen.
After studiously researching books, maps and videos, I felt ready to set forth on this great adventure!
Glacier National Park was established in 1910 with the purpose of preserving and protecting this incredible resource for generations to come! Consisting of more than 1 million acres in northwest Montana, this magnificent park is bordered by Canada to the north, the Blackfeet Reservation to the east and Flathead National Forest to the south. There’s plenty to explore not only inside the park, but the surrounding area as well!
Within the park are two sections of mountain ranges, over 700 lakes of which only 130 are named, hundreds of species of animals, more than 1,000 different species of plants, and over 200 waterfalls. This vast, pristine environment is the centerpiece of what has been called the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem,” a tract of 16,000 square miles of protected land.
Animals of the region include large mammals such as grizzly and black bears, moose, mountain goats and even endangered species like Canadian lynxes and wolverines. But there are also the little marmots and ground squirrels that call this land their home.
Other inhabitants include hundreds of species of birds, over a dozen fish species as well as some reptiles and amphibians.
Our adventure occurred during wildfire season, when parched, hot lands of late summer and early Fall can ignite from lightning strikes or even human negligence such as unattended campfires. Wildfires occur every year and can actually contribute to the ecosystem of the land. But in some cases, like in 2003, a whopping 13% of the park, or 136,000 acres burned!
During our visit, haze from nearby wildfires surrounded us for many days that created, ironically enough in this pristine area, air quality and pollution alerts during our explorations. We also saw several of the burn scars from past fires, and the emerging life resulting from them.
Going to the Sun Road is the only thoroughfare that cuts across Glacier National Park in an east-west direction. Constructed in the late 1920s and early 1930s, it is an engineering marvel. It stretches over 50 miles. Some sections of the road will induce white knuckle driving along the narrow switchbacks that edge precipitously close to cliff edges as one nears the highest elevation at Logan Pass.
But along the way, there are stunning views of magnificent mountainous terrain, waterfalls and lush valleys below.
Along Going to the Sun Road and throughout the most visited areas of Glacier National Park, you will often see these curious looking red convertible buses filled with wide eyed passengers enjoying the views around them as well as listening to narration by the driver. These are the iconic Red Buses which were introduced to the park in 1914!
Hotels and chalets in Glacier were built over 100 years ago and several are still in use today. They were designed to look like the great lodges and chalets of Switzerland in an attempt to portray Glacier National Park as “America’s Switzerland”.
We explored these huge, rustic lodgings that today can serve as windows into how visitors enjoyed the park over a century ago. We basked around the cozy, crackling fires in their spacious lobbies as natural light streamed in from windows that extended to the tops of soaring ceilings.
Prominent solid timbers supported the structures’ open spaces. In these historic yet comforting surroundings we rested our tired bodies after long hikes as mounted heads of moose and elk watched over us. We even enjoyed buffet dinners in their popular dining rooms, a feast for both hotel guests as well as starving hikers just passing through.
There’s over 700 miles of hiking trails and we experienced as many as we could manage during our two-week adventure. Each one offered a unique experience and never did any trail, no matter how challenging or easy, disappoint.
In preparation for our explorations, we learned about taking precautions against bear attacks. It is after all, THEIR home and we are the visitors, or perhaps, even intruders. (Check out this article !!)
Within this vast landscape we marveled at rugged snowcapped mountains, wildflowers on mountainsides and prairies, thundering waterfalls, turquoise-green lakes, cedar groves, and of course, glaciers!!
Join us in these upcoming weeks as we share our adventures exploring some of the vast areas of Northwestern Montana. Come along with us on our hikes and see what dazzling sites await us at the end of the trails! We’ll also explore the adjacent Blackfeet Reservation, Flathead National Forest, as well as nearby Whitefish and Bison Preserve. But especially, we will focus on the crown jewel of our journey, Glacier National Park!!
Coming up next, our STRENUOUS (for us) hike on Grinnell Glacier Trail at Glacier National Park, so stay tuned!!
More information on Glacier National Park here.
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