Posts Tagged ‘Glacier’

 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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Another excursion Vacation by Rails has is their tours to Yellowstone & Glacier. This article will focus more on Glacier (one of my favorite parks) since I discussed Yellowstone in depth in previous articles. Besides Amtrak, who is now starting their own escorted tours this year, only one other tour company offers a tour to these two places on the same trip. Vacation by Rails has 2 different tours covering these parks. One is a 14 day tour that takes the Empire Builder to Glacier (which also includes going to Waterton in Canada and the POW—Prince of Wales hotel for lunch). It runs backwards from the shorter tour and after Yellowstone and Salt Lake continues to Moab where you visit Arches & Canyonlands National Parks, and Dead Horse Point State Park (see my article on National Parks of the Southwest for info on Moab and these parks). From Moab, UT it is a hop, skip and a jump to Grand Junction, CO where you catch the Zephyr back to Chicago. (Since I don’t want to repeat myself you can read my article on Amtrak for info on these trains).

The tour I enjoy doing is an eleven day tour called “Yellowstone and Glacier Adventure”. On this tour, you board the Zephyr in the afternoon and the next evening you are in Salt Lake, where you are transferred to an all suite hotel with a hot breakfast each morning and free evening cocktails. The next morning you are off on a guided tour of SLC founded by Mormon pioneers and Brigham Young. (Did you know Loretta Young was an ancestor?) The most famous site is Temple Square, where the Gothic spires of the Salt Lake Temple rise up. You’ll also see Utah’s State Capitol, the Great Salt Lake, and sites from the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. After the tour, it is lunch at Lion’s House one of Brigham Young’s residences. Everything that can be, is made from scratch—think yummy yeast rolls and berry pie and what looks like tea is an excellent fruit drink (no caffeine allowed here).

The next day we head to Montpelier, Idaho for a visit to the National Oregon/California Trail Center, where you learn firsthand about this historic pioneer route and experience a simulated wagon train ride. Afterwards, it is on to Jackson, Wyoming for one night and a ride through Grand Teton National Park before continuing to Yellowstone for 3 nights. We fondly bid farewell to Yellowstone as we continue our journey to Glacier where we check into Glacier Park Lodge for two nights.

The natives (The Blackfeet) called this area “The Backbone of the World” and if you ever get there, you will know why as the motorcoach heads to its destination. The natives aggressively guarded their hunting grounds. Lewis and Clark came near Glacier, but because the weather was overcast it blocked their view of Marias Pass which would have simplified their journey. From then on, the Native Americans guided many visitors over safer but steeper passes and it wasn’t until 1889 that John Stevens finally figured out where Marias Pass was located. This pass had a lower altitude and easy grade for trains to cross the Continental Divide. Once the pass was discovered, two work camps were set up in East Glacier (where Glacier Park Lodge was built) and in West Glacier (where Lake McDonald Lodge was constructed).

Louis Hill and the Great Northern railroad built Glacier Park Lodge between 1911-1913. It was Hill’s attempt to develop the West, especially the tourism industry. Since there were not enough workers in the area, bridge and trestle crews were used. If you ever get to these lodges you’ll see the construction influence from these railroad crews. (By the end of September, the weather in this area gets so cold, that the lodges close and in winter there are times that food has to be brought in by helicopter to the Blackfeet who live in nearby Browning). 60 logs were used in the interior. These logs were from 500 to 800 year old when they were cut. Just sitting in the lobby you have to marvel at how this work was accomplished in those early days.

Meanwhile over in West Glacier, a small hotel had been built in 1895. Lake McDonald was a great hunting area and in 1913 Hill bought the hotel and expanded it, turning it into the lodge you see today. It still retains its hunting atmosphere and legend has it that the pictographs etched on the massive fireplace were done by Charles Russell, who had a summer home and studio nearby.

The next morning, it is off to the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road across the Continental Divide. We board vintage red open-air red buses, driven by jammers, for a tour deep inside the park. This road, which crosses Logan Pass, opened the area to millions when it was built in the 1930’s. As you cross over the pass, you see the great “U” shaped valleys that were carved by the glaciers, thus giving the park its name. The pass opens towards the end of June until mid-September and the views on this ride will literally take your breath away.

Although we don’t see them on this tour, there are two more great lodges connected to the park. One is the POW—Prince of Wales in Waterton, Alberta, Canada. It’s hard to describe this weird shaped lodge that sits high on a windy hill in front of Waterton Lake. This lodge sways when the wind blows hard, which it often does. This area is so remote that it only has 100 year round residents. Although the lodge has a unique shape, all you have to do is walk inside to know that this was also built by Louis Hill and his railroad crews.

The last of the great lodges connected with Glacier Park is Many Glacier. If you guessed it was named for the many glaciers in the area, you are correct. Many Glacier is half way (roughly) between Glacier Park Lodge and Waterton and the site was chosen for the waterfront as well as the views of the glaciers on the opposite side. Hill had 400 men working day and night from May to September in 1914. The building opened July 4, 1915 and the annex was completed in 1917. If you ever get to see this lodge, you can’t help but marvel at how it could be built in such a remote area (no trains come anywhere near here). The workers had to construct a sawmill and their own kiln on the grounds to accomplish their work.

Unfortunately it is now time to return home. Just a short ride (or walk) across the front lawn of Glacier Park Lodge, is the Amtrak station. After a group photo we board our motorcoach to catch the iconic Empire Builder, naturally once part of the Great Northern Railroad. Hill considered this a 1st class train and Amtrak continues the tradition. If you are in roomette, as you cross through the badlands of eastern Montana and western North Dakota, you will be invited to a wine tasting party in the diner. What a great way to savor the sites you have just visited on your way back to Chicago.

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