TO say that Glacier National Park is the Canadian Rockies done in Grand Canyon colors is to express 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 to-day.

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.


The elements of Glacier's personality are so unusual that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to make phrase describe it. Comparison fails. Photographs will help, but not very efficiently, because they do not convey its size, color, and reality; or perhaps I should say its unreality, for there are places like Two Medicine Lake in still pale mid-morning, St. Mary Lake during one of its gold sunsets, and the cirques of the South Fork of the Belly River under all conditions which never can seem actual.

To picture Glacier as nearly as possible, imagine two mountain ranges roughly parallel in the north, where they pass the continental divide between them across a magnificent high intervening valley, and, in the south, merging into a wild and apparently planless massing of high peaks and ranges. Imagine these mountains repeating everywhere huge pyramids, enormous stone gables, elongated cones, and many other unusual shapes, including numerous saw-toothed edges which rise many thousand feet upward from swelling sides, and suggest nothing so much as overturned keel boats. Imagine ranges glacier-bitten alternately on either side with cirques of three or four thousand feet of precipitous depth. Imagine these cirques often so nearly meeting that the intervening walls are knife-like edges; miles of such walls carry the continental divide, and occasionally these cirques meet and the intervening wall crumbles and leaves a pass across the divide. Imagine places where cirque walls have been so bitten outside as well as in that they stand like amphitheatres builded up from foundations instead of gouged out of rock from above.

Imagine these mountains plentifully snow-spattered upon their northern slopes and bearing upon their shoulders many small and beautiful glaciers perched upon rock-shelves above and back of the cirques left by the greater glaciers of which they are the remainders. These glaciers are nearly always wider than they are long; of these I have seen only three with elongated lobes. One is the Blackfeet Glacier, whose interesting west lobe is conveniently situated for observation south of Gunsight Lake, and another, romantically beautiful Agassiz Glacier, in the far northwest of the park, whose ice-currents converge in a tongue which drops steeply to its snout. These elongations are complete miniatures, each exhibiting in little more than half a mile of length all usual glacial phenomena, including caves and ice-falls. Occasionally, as on the side of Mount Jackson at Gunsight Pass and east of it, one notices small elongated glaciers occupying clefts in steep slopes. The largest and most striking of these tongued glaciers is the westernmost of the three Carter Glaciers on the slopes of Mount Carter. It cascades its entire length into Bowman Valley, and Marius R. Campbell's suggestion that it should be renamed the Cascading Glacier deserves consideration.

Imagine deep rounded valleys emerging from these cirques and twisting snakelike among enormous and sometimes grotesque rock masses which often are inconceivably twisted and tumbled, those of each drainage-basin converging fanlike to its central valley. Sometimes a score or more of cirques, great and small, unite their valley streams for the making of a river; seven principal valleys, each the product of such a group, emerge from the east side of the park, thirteen from the west.

Imagine hundreds of lakes whose waters, fresh-run from snow-field and glacier, brilliantly reflect the odd surrounding landscape. Each glacier has its lake or lakes of robin's-egg blue. Every successive shelf of every glacial stairway has its lake—one or more. And every valley has its greater lake or string of lakes. Glacier is pre-eminently the park of lakes. When all is said and done, they constitute its most distinguished single element of supreme beauty. For several of them enthusiastic admirers loudly claim world preeminence.

And finally imagine this picture done in soft glowing colors—not only the blue sky, the flowery meadows, the pine-green valleys, and the innumerable many-hued waters, but the rocks, the mountains, and the cirques besides. The glaciers of old penetrated the most colorful depths of earth's skin, the very ancient Algonkian strata, that from which a part of the Grand Canyon also was carved. At this point, the rocks appear in four differently colored layers. The lowest of these is called the Altyn limestone. There are about sixteen hundred feet of it, pale blue within, weathering pale buff. Whole yellow mountains of this rock hang upon the eastern edge of the park. Next above the Altyn lies thirty-four hundred feet of Appekunny argillite, or dull-green shale. The tint is pale, deepening to that familiar in the lower part of the Grand Canyon. It weathers every darkening shade to very dark greenish-brown. Next above that lies twenty-two hundred feet of Grinnell argillite, or red shale, a dull rock of varying pinks which weathers many shades of red and purple, deepening in places almost to black. There is some gleaming white quartzite mixed with both these shales. Next above lies more than four thousand feet of Siyeh limestone, very solid, very massive, iron-gray with an insistent flavor of yellow, and weathering buff. This heavy stratum is the most impressive part of the Glacier landscape. Horizontally through its middle runs a dark broad ribbon of diorite, a rock as hard as granite, which once, while molten, burst from below and forced its way between horizontal beds of limestone; and occasionally, as in the Swiftcurrent and Triple Divide Passes, there are dull iron-black lavas in heavy twisted masses. Above all of these colored strata once lay still another shale of very brilliant red. Fragments of this, which geologists call the Kintla formation, may be seen topping mountains here and there in the northern part of the park.

Imagine these rich strata hung east and west across the landscape and sagging deeply in the middle, so that a horizontal line would cut all colors diagonally.

Now imagine a softness of line as well as color resulting probably from the softness of the rock; there is none of the hard insistence, the uncompromising definiteness of the granite landscape. And imagine further an impression of antiquity, a feeling akin to that with which one enters a mediaeval ruin or sees the pyramids of Egypt. Only here is the look of immense, unmeasured, immeasurable age. More than at any place except perhaps the rim of the Grand Canyon does one seem to stand in the presence of the infinite; an instinct which, while it baffles analysis, is sound, for there are few rocks of the earth's skin so aged as these ornate shales and limestones.

And now, at last, you can imagine Glacier!


But, with Glacier, this is not enough. To see, to realize in full its beauty, still leaves one puzzled. One of the peculiarities of the landscape, due perhaps to its differences, is its insistence upon explanation. How came this prehistoric plain so etched with cirques and valleys as to leave standing only worm-like crests, knife-edged walls, amphitheatres, and isolated peaks? The answer is the story of a romantic episode in the absorbing history of America's making.

Somewhere between forty and six hundred million years ago, according to the degree of conservatism controlling the geologist who does the calculating, these lofty mountains were deposited in the shape of muddy sediments on the bottom of shallow fresh-water lakes, whose waves left many ripple marks upon the soft muds of its shores, fragments of which, hardened now to shale, are frequently found by tourists. So ancient was the period that these deposits lay next above the primal Archean rocks, and marked, therefore, almost the beginning of accepted geological history. Life was then so nearly at its beginnings that the forms which Walcott found in the Siyeh limestone were not at first fully accepted as organic.

Thereafter, during a time so long that none may even estimate it, certainly for many millions of years, the history of the region leaves traces of no extraordinary change. It sank possibly thousands of feet beneath the fresh waters tributary to the sea which once swept from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic, and accumulated there sediments which to-day are scenic limestones and shales, and doubtless other sediments above these which have wholly passed away. It may have alternated above and below water-level many times, as our southwest has done. Eventually, under earth-pressures concerning whose cause many theories have lived and died, it rose to remain until our times.

Then, millions of years ago, but still recently as compared with the whole vast lapse we are considering, came the changes which seem dramatic to us as we look back upon them accomplished; but which came to pass so slowly that no man, had man then lived, could have noticed a single step of progress in the course of a long life. Under earth-pressures the skin buckled and the Rocky Mountains rose. At some stage of this process the range cracked along its crest from what is now Marias Pass to a point just over the Canadian border, and, a couple of hundred miles farther north, from the neighborhood of Banff to the northern end of the Canadian Rockies.

Then the great overthrust followed. Side-pressures of inconceivable power forced upward the western edge of this crack, including the entire crust from the Algonkian strata up, and thrust it over the eastern edge. During the overthrusting, which may have taken a million years, and during the millions of years since, the frosts have chiselled open and the rains have washed away all the overthrust strata, the accumulations of the geological ages from Algonkian times down, except only that one bottom layer. This alone remained for the three ice invasions of the Glacial Age to carve into the extraordinary area which is called to-day the Glacier National Park.

The Lewis Overthrust, so called because it happened to the Lewis Range, is ten to fifteen miles wide. The eastern boundary of the park roughly defines its limit of progress. Its signs are plain to the eye taught to perceive them. The yellow mountains on the eastern edge near the gateway to Lake McDermott lie on top of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, whose surface is many millions of years younger and quite different in coloring. Similarly, Chief Mountain, at the entrance of the Belly River Valley, owes much of its remarkable distinction to the incompatibility of its form and color with the prairie upon which it lies but out of which it seems to burst. The bottom of McDermott Falls at Many Glacier Hotel is plainly a younger rock than the colored Algonkian limestones which form its brink.

Perhaps thousands of years after the overthrust was accomplished another tremendous faulting still further modified the landscape of to-day. The overthrust edge cracked lengthwise, this time west of the continental divide all the way from the Canadian line southward nearly to Marias Pass. The edge of the strata west of this crack sank perhaps many thousands of feet, leaving great precipices on the west side of the divide similar to those on the east side. There was this great difference, however, in what followed: the elongated gulf or ditch thus formed became filled with the deposits of later geologic periods.

This whole process, which also was very slow in movement, is important in explaining the conformation and scenic peculiarities of the west side of the park, which, as the tourist sees it to-day, is remarkably different from those of the east side. Here, the great limestone ranges, glaciered, cirqued, and precipiced as on the east side, suddenly give place to broad, undulating plains which constitute practically the whole of the great west side from the base of the mountains on the east to the valley of the Flathead which forms the park's western boundary. These plains are grown thickly with splendid forests. Cross ranges, largely glacier-built, stretch west from the high mountains, subsiding rapidly; and between these ranges lie long winding lakes, forest-grown to their edges, which carry the western drainage of the continental divide through outlet streams into the Flathead.

The inconceivable lapse of time covered in these titanic operations of Nature and their excessive slowness of progress rob them of much of their dramatic quality. Perhaps an inch of distance was an extraordinary advance for the Lewis Overthrust to make in any ordinary year, and doubtless there were lapses of centuries when no measurable advance was made. Yet sometimes sudden settlings, accompanied by more or less extended earthquakes, must have visibly altered local landscapes.

Were it possible, by some such mental foreshortening as that by which the wizards of the screen compress a life into a minute, for imagination to hasten this progress into the compass of a few hours, how overwhelming would be the spectacle! How tremendously would loom this advancing edge, which at first we may conceive as having enormous thickness! How it must have cracked, crumbled, and fallen in frequent titanic crashes as it moved forward. It does not need the imagination of Dore to picture this advance, thus hastened in fancy, grim, relentless as death, its enormous towering head lost in eternal snows, its feet shaken by earthquakes, accumulating giant glaciers only to crush them into powder; resting, then pushing forward in slow, smashing, reverberating shoves. How the accumulations of all periods may be imagined crashing together into the depths! Silurian gastropods, strange Devonian fishes, enormous Triassic reptiles, the rich and varied shells of the Jurassic, the dinosaurs and primitive birds of Cretaceous, the little early horses of Eocene, and Miocene's camels and mastodons mingling their fossil remnants in a democracy of ruin to defy the eternal ages!

It all happened, but unfortunately for a romantic conception, it did not happen with dramatic speed. Hundreds, thousands, sometimes millions of years intervened between the greater stages of progress which, with intervening lesser stages, merged into a seldom-broken quietude such as that which impresses to-day's visitor to the mountain-tops of Glacier National Park. And who can say that the landscape which to-day's visitor, with the inborn arrogance of man, looks upon as the thing which the ages have completed for his pleasure, may not merely represent a minor stage in a progress still more terrible?

The grist of Creation's past milling has disappeared. The waters of heaven, collected and stored in snow-fields and glaciers to be released in seasonal torrents, have washed it all away. Not a sign remains to-day save here and there perhaps a fragment of Cretaceous coal. All has been ground to powder and carried off by flood and stream to enrich the soils and upbuild later strata in the drainage basins of the Saskatchewan, the Columbia, and the Mississippi.

It is probable that little remained but the Algonkian shales and limestones when the Ice Age sent southward the first of its three great invasions. Doubtless already there were glaciers there of sorts, but the lowering temperatures which accompanied the ice-sheets developed local glaciers so great of size that only a few mountain-tops were left exposed. It was then that these extraordinary cirques were carved. There were three such periods during the Ice Age, between which and after which stream erosion resumed its untiring sway. The story of the ice is written high upon Glacier's walls and far out on the eastern plains.


Into this wonderland the visitor enters by one of two roads. Either he leaves the railroad at Glacier Park on the east side of the continental divide or at Belton on the west side. In either event he can cross to the other side only afoot or on horseback over passes. The usual way in is through Glacier Park. There is a large hotel at the station from which automobile-stages run northward to chalets at Two Medicine Lake, the Cut Bank Valley, and St. Mary Lake, and to the Many Glacier Hotel and chalets at Lake McDermott. A road also reaches Lake McDermott from Canada by way of Babb, and Canadian visitors can reach the trails at the head of Waterton Lake by boat from their own Waterton Lakes Park. Those entering at Belton, where the park headquarters are located, find chalets at the railroad-station and an excellent hotel near the head of Lake McDonald. There is also a comfortable chalet close to the Sperry Glacier.

To see Glacier as thoroughly as Glacier deserves and to draw freely on its abundant resources of pleasure and inspiration, one must travel the trails and pitch his tent where day's end brings him. But that does not mean that Glacier cannot be seen and enjoyed by those to whom comfortable hotel accommodations are a necessity, or even by those who find trail-travelling impossible.

Visitors, therefore, fall into three general classes, all of whom may study scenery which quite fully covers the range of Glacier's natural phenomena and peculiar beauty. The largest of these classes consists of those who can travel, or think they can travel, only in vehicles, and can find satisfactory accommodations only in good hotels. The intermediate class includes those who can, at a pinch, ride ten or twelve miles on comfortably saddled horses which walk the trails at two or three miles an hour, and who do not object to the somewhat primitive but thoroughly comfortable overnight accommodations of the chalets. Finally comes the small class, which constantly will increase, of those who have the time and inclination to leave the beaten path with tent and camping outfit for the splendid wilderness and the places of supreme magnificence which are only for those who seek.

The man, then, whose tendency to gout, let us say, forbids him ride a horse or walk more than a couple of easy miles a day may, nevertheless, miss nothing of Glacier's meaning and magnificence provided he takes the trouble to understand. But he must take the trouble; he must comprehend the few examples that he sees; this is his penalty for refusing the rich experience of the trail, which, out of its very fullness, drives meaning home with little mental effort. His knowledge must be got from six places only which may be reached by vehicle, at least three of which, however, may be included among the world's great scenic places. He can find at Two Medicine, St. Mary, and McDermott superb examples of Glacier's principal scenic elements.

Entering at Glacier Park, he will have seen the range from the plains, an important beginning; already, approaching from the east, he has watched it grow wonderfully on the horizon. So suddenly do these painted mountains spring from the grassy plain that it is a relief to recognize in them the advance guard of the Lewis Overthrust, vast fragments of the upheavals of the depths pushed eastward by the centuries to their final resting-places upon the surface of the prairie. From the hotel porches they glow gray and yellow and purple and rose and pink, according to the natural coloring of their parts and the will of the sun—a splendid ever-changing spectacle.


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 marvelously 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 Piller, 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, close 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 wonderfully 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. Swiftcurrent inspires wondering awe.

The water is McDermott Lake, one of the most beautiful in Glacier National Park
From a photograph by Bailey Willis

Fine examples of glacier cirques throughout the park. The peak is Mount Morgan; Glacier National Park
From a photograph by A. J. Baker

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 plink 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 intermediate 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.


To realize the spot as best we may, let us pause on the bridge among those casting for trout below the upper fall and glance around. To our left rises Allen Mountain, rugged, irregular, forest-clothed half-way up its forty-five hundred feet of elevation above the valley floor. Beyond it a long gigantic wall sets in at right angles, blue, shining, serrated, supporting, apparently on the lake edge, an enormous gable end of gray limestone banded with black diorite, a veritable personality comparable with Yosemite's most famous rocks. This is Mount Gould. Next is the Grinnell Glacier, hanging glistening in the air, dripping waterfalls, backgrounded by the gnawed top of the venerable Garden Wall. Then comes in turn the majestic mass of Mount Grinnell, four miles long, culminating at the lakeside in an enormous parti-colored pyramid more impressive from the hotel than even Rockwell is from Two Medicine chalets. Then, upon its right, appears a wall which is the unnamed continuation of the Garden Wall, and, plastered against the side of Swiftcurrent Mountain, three small hanging glaciers, seeming in the distance like two long parallel snow-banks. Then Mount Wilbur, another giant pyramid, gray, towering, massively carved, grandly proportioned, kingly in bearing! Again upon its right emerges still another continuation, also unnamed, of the Garden Wall, this section loftiest of all and bitten deeply by the ages. A part of it is instantly recognized from the hotel window as part of the sky-line surrounding famous Iceberg Lake. Its right is lost behind the nearer slopes of red Mount Henkel, which swings back upon our right, bringing the eye nearly to its starting-point. A glance out behind between mountains, upon the limitless lake-dotted plain, completes the scenic circle.

McDermott Lake, by which I here mean the Swiftcurrent enclosure as seen from the Many Glacier Hotel, is illustrative of all of Glacier. There are wilder spots, by far, some which frighten; there are places of nobler beauty, though as I write I know I shall deny it the next time I stand on McDermott's shores; there are supreme places which at first glance seem to have no kinship with any other place on earth. Nevertheless, McDermott contains all of Glacier's elements, all her charm, and practically all her combinations. It is the place of places to study Glacier. It is also a place to dream away idle weeks.

So he who cannot ride or walk the trails may still see and understand Glacier in her majesty. Besides the places I have mentioned he may see, from the Cut Bank Chalet, a characteristic forested valley of great beauty, and at Lewis's hotel on Lake McDonald the finest spot accessible upon the broad west side, the playground, as the east side is the show-place, of hundreds of future thousands.

So many are the short horseback trips from Many Glacier Hotel to places of significance and beauty that it is hard for the timid to withstand the temptation of the trail. Four miles will reach Grinnell Lake at the foot of its glacier, six miles will penetrate the Cracker Lake Gorge at the perpendicular base of Mount Siyeh, eight miles will disclose the astonishing spectacle of Iceberg Lake, and nine miles will cross the Swiftcurrent Pass to the Granite Park Chalet.


In some respects Iceberg Lake is Glacier's supreme spectacle. There are few spots so wild. There may be no easily accessible spot in the world half so wild. Imagine a horseshoe of perpendicular rock wall, twenty-seven hundred to thirty-five hundred feet high, a glacier in its inmost curve, a lake of icebergs in its centre. The back of the tower-peak of Mount Wilbur is the southern end of this horseshoe. This enclosure was not built up from below, as it looks, but bitten down within and without; it was left. On the edge of the lake in early July the sun sets at four o'clock.

From a photograph by Haynes

Wall on the left encloses Iceberg Lake; on the right is the Belly River abyss; Glacier National Park
From a photograph by A. J. Thiri

Stupendous as Iceberg Lake is as a spectacle, its highest purpose is illustrative. It explains Glacier. Here by this lakeside, fronting the glacier's floating edge and staring up at the jagged top in front and on either side, one comprehends at last. The appalling story of the past seems real.


It is at Granite Park that one realizes the geography of Glacier. You have crossed the continental divide and emerged upon a lofty abutment just west of it. You are very nearly in the park's centre, and on the margin of a forested canyon of impressive breadth and depth, lined on either side by mountain monsters, and reaching from Mount Cannon at the head of Lake McDonald northward to the Alberta plain. The western wall of this vast avenue is the Livingston Range. Its eastern wall is the Lewis Range. Both in turn carry the continental divide, which crosses the avenue from Livingston to Lewis by way of low crowned Flattop Mountain, a few miles north of where you stand, and back to Livingston by way of Clements Mountain, a few miles south. Opposite you, across the chasm, rises snowy Heavens Peak. Southwest lies Lake McDonald, hidden by Heavens' shoulder. South is Logan Pass, carrying another trail across the divide, and disclosing hanging gardens beyond on Reynolds' eastern slope. Still south of that, unseen from here, is famous Gunsight Pass.

It is a stirring spectacle. But wait. A half-hour's climb to the summit of Swiftcurrent Mountain close at hand (the chalet is most of the way up, to start with) and all of Glacier lies before you like a model in relief. Here you see the Iceberg Cirque from without and above. The Belly River chasm yawns enormously. Mount Cleveland, monarch of the region, flaunts his crown of snow among his near-by court of only lesser monsters. The Avenue of the Giants deeply splits the northern half of the park, that land of extravagant accent, mysterious because so little known; the Glacier of tourists lying south. A marvellous spectacle, this, indeed, and one which clears up many misconceptions. The Canadian Rockies hang on the misty northern horizon, the Montana plains float eastward, the American Rockies roll south and west.


To me one of the most stirring sights in all Glacier is the view of Gunsight Pass from the foot of Gunsight Lake. The immense glaciered uplift of Mount Jackson on the south of the pass, the wild whitened sides of Gunsight Mountain opposite dropping to the upturned strata of red shale at the water's edge, the pass itself—so well named—perched above the dark precipice at the lake's head, the corkscrew which the trail makes up Jackson's perpendicular flank and its passage across a mammoth snow-bank high in air—these in contrast with the silent black water of the sunken lake produce ever the same thrill however often seen. The look back, too, once the pass is gained, down St. Mary's gracious valley to Going-to-the-Sun Mountain and its horizon companions! Sun Mountain (for short), always a personality, is never from any other point of view so undeniably the crowned majesty as from Gunsight Pass. And finally, looking forward, which in this speaking means westward, the first revelation of Lake Ellen Wilson gives a shock of awed astonishment whose memory can never pass.

Truly, Gunsight is a pass of many sensations, for, leaving Lake Ellen Wilson and its eighteen hundred feet of vertical frothing outlet, the westward trail crosses the shoulder of Lincoln Peak to the Sperry Glacier and its inviting chalet (where the biggest hoary marmot I ever saw sat upon my dormitory porch), and, eight miles farther down the mountain, beautiful Lake McDonald.


Although it was settled earlier, Glacier's west side is less developed than its east side; this because, for the most part, its scenery is less sensational though no less gorgeously beautiful. Its five long lakes, of which McDonald is much the longest and largest, head up toward the snowy monsters of the divide; their thin bodies wind leisurely westward among superbly forested slopes. Its day is still to come. It is the land of the bear, the moose, the deer, the trout, and summer leisure. Its destiny is to become Glacier's vacation playground.


The wild north side of Glacier, its larger, bigger-featured, and occasionally greater part, is not yet for the usual tourist; for many years from this writing, doubtless, none will know it but the traveller with tent and pack-train. He alone, and may his tribe increase, will enjoy the gorgeous cirques and canyons of the Belly River, the wild quietude of the Waterton Valley, the regal splendors of Brown Pass, and the headwater spectacles of the Logging, Quartz, Bownnan, and Kintla valleys. He alone will realize that here is a land of greater power, larger measures, and bigger horizons.

And yet with Kintla comes climax. Crossing the border the mountains subside, the glaciers disappear. Canada's Waterton Lakes Park begins at our climax and merges in half a dozen miles into the great prairies of Alberta. It is many miles northwest before the Canadian Rockies assume proportions of superlative scenic grandeur.


To realize the growing bigness of the land northward one has only to cross the wall from Iceberg Lake into the Belly River canyon. "Only," indeed! In 1917 it took us forty miles of detour outside the park, even under the shadow of Chief Mountain, to cross the wall from Iceberg Lake, the west-side precipice of which is steeper even than the east. The Belly River drainage-basin is itself bigger, and its mountains bulk in proportion. Eighteen glaciers contribute to the making of perhaps as many lakes. The yellow mountains of its northern slopes invade Canada. The borders of its principal valley are two monster mountains, Cleveland, the greatest in the park for mass and height and intricate outline; the other, Merritt, in some respects the most interesting of Glacier's abundant collection of majestic peaks.

There are three valleys. The North Fork finds its way quickly into Canada. The Middle Fork rises in a group of glaciers high under the continental divide and descends four giant steps, a lake upon each step, to two greater lakes of noble aspect in the valley bottom. The South Fork emerges from Helen Lake deep in the gulf below the Ahern Glacier across the Garden Wall from Iceberg Lake. Between the Middle and South Forks Mount Merritt rises 9,944 feet in altitude, minareted like a mediaeval fort and hollow as a bowl, its gaping chasm hung with glaciers.

This is the valley of abundance. The waters are large, their trout many and vigorous; the bottoms are extravagantly rich in grasses and flowers; the forests are heavy and full-bodied; there is no open place, even miles beyond its boundaries, which does not offer views of extraordinary nobility. Every man who enters it becomes enthusiastically prophetic of its future. After all, the Belly River country is easily visited. A leisurely horseback journey from McDermott, that is all; three days among the strange yellow mountains of the overthrust's eastern edge, including two afternoons among the fighting trout of Kennedy Creek and Slide Lake, and two nights in camp among the wild bare arroyos of the Algonkian invasion of the prairie—an interesting prelude to the fulness of wilderness life to come.

I dwell upon the Belly valleys because their size, magnificence, and accessibility suggest a future of public use; nothing would be easier, for instance, than a road from Babb to join the road already in from Canada. The name naturally arouses curiosity. Winy Belly? Was it not the Anglo-Saxon frontier's pronunciation of the Frenchman's original Belle? The river, remember, is mainly Canadian. Surely in all its forks and tributaries it was and is the Beautiful River.


The Avenue of the Giants looms in any forecast of Glacier's future. It really consists of two valleys joined end on at their beginnings on Flattop Mountain; McDonald Creek flowing south, Little Kootenai flowing north. The road which will replace the present trail up this avenue from the much-travelled south to Waterton Lake and Canada is a matter doubtless of a distant future, but it is so manifestly destiny that it must be accepted as the key to the greater Glacier to come. Uniting at its southern end roads from both sides of the divide, it will reach the Belly valleys by way of Ahern Pass, the Bowman and Kintla valleys by way of Brown Pass, and will terminate at the important tourist settlement which is destined to grow at the splendid American end of Waterton Lake. Incidentally it will become an important motor-highway between Canada and America. Until then, though all these are now accessible by trail, the high distinction of the Bowman and the Kintla valleys' supreme expression of the glowing genius of this whole country will remain unknown to any considerable body of travellers.

Kintla Peak, Glacier National Park, 5,000 feet above the lake, spreads glaciers out either way like wings
From a photograph by the U. S. Geological Survey

It heads close up under the Continental Divide, where is found some of the most striking scenery of America
From a photograph by M. R. Campbell


And, after all, the Bowman and Kintla regions are Glacier's ultimate expression, Bowman of her beauty, Kintla of her majesty. No one who has seen the foaming cascades of Mount Peabody and a lost outlet of the lofty Boulder Glacier emerging dramatically through Hole-in-the-Wall Fall, for all the world like a horsetail fastened upon the face of a cliff, who has looked upon the Guardhouse from Brown Pass and traced the distant windings of Bowman Lake between the fluted precipice of Rainbow Peak and the fading slopes of Indian Ridge; or has looked upon the mighty monolith of Kintla Peak rising five thousand feet from the lake in its gulf-like valley, spreading upon its shoulders, like wings prepared for flight, the broad gleaming glaciers known as Kintla and Agassiz, will withhold his guerdon for a moment.

Here again we repeat, for the hundredth or more time in our leisurely survey of the park, what the Englishman said of the spectacle of St. Mary: "There is nothing like it in the world."

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Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009