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Archive for March, 2013

 I wrote a previous article about a tour I take to Glacier National Park but since this is one of my top favorite parks in the US, I wanted to give a little more information about the lodges in the park.
Glacier is in Montana right next to Alberta, Canada, so it is not the easiest place to get to.  It is called the “Crown Jewel of the Continent” and the native Blackfeet called the area, the backbone of the world.  If you saw the mountains rising up out of the plains, you can easily understand why the Native Americans used this expression.
It wasn’t until 1889 that a pass was found over the mountains in this area that was not too steep for a train.  Once J.J. Hill and later his son, Louis, began building the track for the Great Northern Railroad, both Hill and the US Government began an attempt to promote tourism in the West.  The slogan the railroad used was “See America First” and the massive log and stone lodges were built to lure the wealthy to this area.
Two camps were set up at what we now call East Glacier and West Glacier and the railroad was built.  From 1911-1913 Glacier Park Lodge was constructed in what is now called East Glacier so tourists had a place to stay when they arrived by train, which they still do to this day.
A crew of 75 men basically took two years constructing the building by hand.  When the travelers walked across the grass from the train station to the lodge, they could see the cedar trees that were used in the outside construction.  But it is the inside that is even more spectacular. A total of 60 logs 36-42” in diameter that had been cut from Douglas Fir stands that were from 500-800 years old, line both sides of the lobby.
Meanwhile roughly 90 miles to the west on Hwy 2, is Lake McDonald which is located in the area we now call West Glacier.  A lodge did not need to be constructed there.  In 1895 George Snyder built the small Snyder Hotel. Ownership passed to John Lewis and he built cabins in 1910 (the year Glacier was named a National Park) and added the present lodge structure in 1913 operating as Lewis’ Glacier hotel.
Mr. Lewis was a furrier and furnished all the hunting trophies still in display in the lobby.  He wanted the mounted animals to give the place a “hunting lodge” atmosphere.  The huge fireplace adds to the hominess of the lobby and legend has it that Charles Russell scratched the pictographs that you see in the base of the fireplace, although this has never been proved.  There is a beautiful log dining room and both the dining room and bar look out at Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park.(FYI: Anywhere there is a decent sized lake in the park, you may also find the old 1920’s era wooden boats to tour on).
Hill also built several chalets throughout the park. The idea was that after you came into East or West Glacier, every chalet would be a day’s horse ride away.  In those days the rich would come for a month to tour the park and they would stay at each lodge or chalet for several days.

Today only two chalets remain but both you have to hike into to get to and they aren’t real big.  One is the Granite Park Chalet which is a 7 mile hike to get to and the other is the Sperry Chalet that you also hike to that is half way between Lake McDonald and Logan Pass on the “Going To The Sun Road.”
There are two more great lodges in the park but I do want to mention one other place first.  Half way between East and West Glacier on Hwy 2, just outside the park, is the Izaak Walton Inn.  The Inn was built in 1939 as a residence for the railroad workers and is opened year round.  And, Amtrak stops right in the front yard here if you come by train.  The rooms are charming and cozy and there are even caboose cottages.  There is a full service restaurant and this is a popular place for fishing in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter. You can even catch the famous “Red Bus” tours from the Inn during the tourist season.  I have never stayed here but many people tell me it is a fun place, especially staying in a caboose.
The next lodge which was started in 1914 & finished in 1915 (although the annex wasn’t completed until 1917) took 400 men to build.  It is called Many Glacier and looks like a Swiss style building sitting on the banks of Swift Current Lake.  This place is so remote, they needed their own sawmill and kiln.  The hotel and the hot water are steam heated and sometimes you can hear the clanging in the pipes as the water heats or cools from the boiler.   But once again, that is part of the charm of these lodges that have all been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The last lodge is in Waterton, in Canada with a year round population of only about 50 people. This is a very unique looking building although the rooms are similar to the other two lodges, Glacier Park and Many Glacier, since Louis Hill and his railroad men built all of them.The building sits “high on a windy hill” in front of Waterton Lake and the building is known to sway in high winds.  But what a gorgeous place and you can even get afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel (the POW to locals).
The hotel has 86 rooms and only took a year to build starting in 1926.However, it took Hill 13 years to get the land leased from the Canadian government, which he started working on in 1913.  Much of the original furniture was built on site from British Columbia cedar. The hotel stands at the North end of Waterton Lake surrounded by mountains and the beauty will take your breath away.
Waterton/Glacier National Peace Park.The first peace park in the world shows how two countries can work together in peace to preserve so much of nature’s beauty that can be experienced in this favorite park of mine.
Wouldn’t it be great to have the time and money to spend a month there exploring this wonderful area.

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      My in-laws lived in Wyoming and we spent the first twenty years of our married life traveling every summer from Northern Illinois to Wyoming. We were very fortunate because all it cost us was our gas, out and back, and a hotel, going and coming.  Often my father-in-law would give us some gas money for our trip, so it was almost like a free vacation.  We would never have been able to enjoy such a vacation without having a place to stay that was “free.”  But my in-laws loved it because it gave them a chance to have their grandchildren around and our sons experienced and learned about the West in a way most kids don’t get a chance to.
     We travelled I-90 the whole way and when we first started traveling west, there were sections that were not yet interstate.  We traveled through southern Minnesota and into South Dakota.  There are 412 miles in South Dakota along that interstate and I used to know every exit of importance along the way (there aren’t that many!)
Thirteen miles in was Sioux Falls, the biggest city in the state. Another hour and you would get to Mitchell.  This is the home to the Corn Palace and definitely worth a stop.  Every year a new scene unfolds around the building done in multi colored corn, since the birds eat the previous year’s scene.
     Roughly another hour down the road is Chamberlain.  This town’s claim to fame is that this is where you cross the Missouri River, which Lewis and Clark traveled on.  You can also stop at Al’s Oasis, a fun western store and restaurant where coffee is still a nickel a cup.  After Chamberlain the towns are few and far in between but Murdo has an Antique Car Museum worth a visit.
     Finally, you come to The Badlands and you know you are closer to your destination.  Wall Drug (110 miles from the border, but only 50 miles to Rapid City) is your first stop (if you are driving by car).  We used to stop here coming and going because our boys loved it so much. You can get to Wall either on the interstate or by traveling through Badlands National Park.
     Wall Drug Store started in the 1930’s offering free ice water to tourists who were traveling in the summer in the 90 or 100+ temperatures in cars that didn’t have AC.  You can get buffalo burgers and cinnamon rolls, and my one son always had to have the blueberry pie.  This place is unbelievable and you can easily spend a couple of hours here.  There is the famed T-Rex that scares kids about every 15 minutes and all kinds of Western memorabilia—too many things to mention.
     When you leave Wall, it is just a 50 mile drive to Rapid City, the jumping off point to the Black Hills.  The Hills, as they are known, was sacred land to the Sioux.  The government even signed a treaty with the Sioux that said the land would belong to them “as long as grass grew.”  However, gold was discovered and that was the end of “grass growing” and the Native Americans owning the land there.  Custer’s Last Stand and Wounded Knee destroyed this once great nation.
     The reason they are called The Black Hills are they are filled with ponderosa pine trees that make the hills look black from a distance.  But the closer you get to an area, you realize the trees are really green.
            There are so many sites in the Hills you would be hard pressed to take them in on one visit; although many families come in campers and spend quite a few days in the area.  Obviously, Mount Rushmore is one of the more famous stops.  It is an awesome site to behold, although a few years ago the federal government renovated the area.  Now instead of the beautiful native limestone buildings, they have turned the site into a Washington monument with marble.  If you never saw it in the old days, take a look at Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest to see the way the buildings used to look.  They even added a multi story parking lot!  Mount Rushmore is still free but parking is not!
            Some of the other highlights in the area is Custer State Park where you can ride a jeep to look for buffalo and other wildlife, visit the Crazy Horse Memorial, another sculpture being carved into a mountain-side, ride on the 1880’s Train of the Black Hills that used to serve the area mines, and last, but not least a stop at Deadwood. Deadwood has a lot of western history.  It was home to Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok (he got shot there holding the “dead man’s hand” of aces and eights) and they are now both buried at “Boot Hill.”  You can ride a narrated tram through the city so as not to miss any of the local history.
            One thing you will miss is the wooden sidewalks.  A few years ago, Deadwood was dying so they brought casino gambling in. Out went the wooden sidewalks, no longer considered safe.  And, within three years more than half of the locals had to move from their hometown because they were so addicted to gambling.
            Finally, be sure and take in a chuckwagon supper and cowboy musical show, if you get a chance.  One of my favorites is the Flying T Ranch.  I have been to quite a few of these shows throughout the West, and while this one is smaller, they have good food and all the old favorite songs we grew up with.
            If you have never been to this part of the country, be sure and put it on your list.  You can get there by car or take an escorted bus tour.  Many travelers on bus tours combine this trip with Yellowstone.
It is the Journey…not the destination!

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