Still heading north through Montana, we were looking forward to Glacier National Park which we had heard so much about in speaking to travellers over the preceding few weeks. We stayed in nearby Kalispell for a couple of days to visit Marli & Rick, who we had met in a hostel in Uyuni, Bolivia several months back. It was great to catch up with them and share stories of our time in Bolivia.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t ‘playing the game’ when we got to the national park nearby and although a pleasant temperature, the clouds were grey and low with the odd shower of rain. Not good weather for photos of glaciers!
Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada was established in 1895 and Glacier National Park in Montana, USA was established in 1910. In 1932, the two parks were linked to become Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park – a world first.
Small by comparison to Yellowstone, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is very spectacular, but not only for its glaciers. Unfortunately, while there are still 35 glaciers here in this region, the glaciers have receded significantly to the point that some can no longer be classified as glaciers. The many photographs and diagrams on boards around the park show clearly the changes over the past 70 – 100 years. However, the spectacular ‘Going–to-the-Sun Road’ which runs across the park, is an engineering marvel and provides some of the biggest views we have seen to date. Soaring, snow capped peaks, valleys that disappear into the distance, huge waterfalls and vivid blue lakes provided a most memorable drive. To the east of the park the land flattens out and from here, again, the enormity of the mountains is impressive as they rise from the surrounding landscape.
There are very strong cultural connections between the park and the Native American Indian peoples. The Blackfeet people traditionally inhabited the area and their reservation lies along the eastern side of the park. Waterton Lakes National Park nearly surrounds a wilderness portion of the Blood Indian Reserve. We drove through the town of Bunting, Montana on the weekend of Native American Indian Day to discover a 4-day event underway involving first nations peoples from many US states attending. The campground where the big, annual pow wow was being held was full of caravans and TeePees. The TeePees being purely for meeting purposes whilst people slept and ate in their RV’s, tents and caravans.
We drove out of Glacier National Park (U.S. side), crossed the border at Chief Mountain and then drove back into the park on the Canadian side all within about an hour. The Canadian side of the park (Waterton) has been devastated by fires over the past few summers, limiting access to a great many features, but the number of people in the park (on both sides of the border) is an indication of how popular these parks are and how special they are to both locals and tourists alike.
On both sides, we rather enjoyed visiting the grand lodges built in the early 1900s to make visiting the parks comfortable for wealthy visitors! Today, the foyers of the lodges are full of day visitors just having a look around the grand timber interiors or visiting the gift shops, as well as hotel guests enjoying the splendor these buildings still offer.