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HISTORY & PREHISTORY

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park Montana's Glacier National Park is 1.2 million acres of shining mountain ranges, deep valleys, and lakes carved by prehistoric ice rivers. The park features 60 glistening glaciers, alpine meadows, dense forests, waterfalls, majestic hanging valleys, and over 200 sparkling lakes. Set in a rugged section of the northern Rockies, Glacier National Park joins Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta Canada to form Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Glacier is the third largest National Park in the lower 48 states.

The park is home to 936 miles of rivers and streams and over 700 miles of hiking and walking trails. Relatively few miles of roads exist in Glacier, thus preserving its primitive and unspoiled beauty. The exception is the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Highway, which winds through the center of the park. The breath-taking, 52-mile highway crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass and traverses the towering Garden Wall. The remarkable red "Jammer" tour buses run daily (summer and early fall months) along this spectacular route.

Glacier National Park straddles the Continental Divide from Canada in the north to Marias Pass, Montana in the south. Heavy snows in the winter and melt from the many glaciers feed crystal- clear streams. These streams form the headwaters of three of North America's major river systems: the Missouri/Mississippi, the Columbia, and the Saskatchewan/Nelson.

Falls at Glacier National Park

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park protects an important habitat at the point where the Rocky Mountains reach their narrowest width. The two Parks support an exceptionally diverse and productive environment, reflected by abundant populations of large mammals and carnivores (meat-eating animals), including wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions.

Glacier National Park is the only location in the lower 48 states where these three predator populations still occur naturally. Additionally, the wilderness areas north and south of Glacier (Bob Marshall-Great Bear-Scapegoat Wilderness) provide a protected area for the movement of plant and animal species along the Continental Divide.

This feature is ideal for bio-diversity, the existence of a wide range of different types of plants, animals, birds, and insects in a given place at a given time. Not surprisingly when we think of bio-diversity we find it easier to identify with some species such as large mammals (elk, bear, deer), birds, and trees, than with others, like bugs, slugs, and molds. You might find it interesting that Glacier martens (a slender-bodied carnivorous mammal that is larger than the related weasel) are host to over 13 or more species of fleas, ticks, worms, and mites. We must remember the term wildlife refers to all living things, not just large mammals. While most of Glaciers species have been cataloged, scientists recently found four butterfly species that had never been recorded.

Mountain Goat at Glacier National Park

Researchers from around the world come to study the unique geology of Glacier Park. The park provides geologists with information about similar processes that are occurring in the Andes and Himalaya mountains. This is due to the preservation of the ancient rock, the recent glacial sculpturing of the rocks, and the accessibility of the park. One hundred and seventy million years ago the earth's crustal plates began to collide. This created the Lewis Overthrust. Glacier National Park, visitmt.com

Stronger, older rocks were shoved over softer, newer rocks. The exposed rocks of Glacier are 1,500 million years older than the underlying rock. Rarely have rocks of such ancient age been thrust over rocks that are so much younger. The ancient rocks are very well preserved and provide scientists with samples of fossils and other features of sedimentation, such as ripple marks, mud cracks, and raindrop impressions.

Glaciers are another unique feature of the park. These giant rivers of ice sculpted the mountains and valleys into their present appearance. The park is presently home to over 50 glaciers. Today's glaciers are carving the mountains as well. Although smaller, they work in the same way as the larger glaciers of the past, and teach us about Glacier National Park's geologic history. A glacier forms when more snow falls each winter than melts the next summer. The accumulation of snow above presses down on the layers below, and compresses them into ice. Ice near the surface of the glacier is often hard and brittle, but due to the pressure of ice above, the ice near the bottom becomes flexible. This flexible layer allows the ice to move downhill, due to the weight of the ice, the slope of the mountainside, and gravity. Once the ice begins to move it's called a glacier. As the ice moves, it plucks rock and debris from the sides and bottom of the valley. The rocks and gravel mix with the ice. Over a long period of time the sandpaper-like quality of the moving ice scours and reshapes the land into broad U-shaped valleys, sharp peaks, and lakes. Just imagine the valleys of Glacier filled with ice to the very top of the jagged peaks! The glaciers in the park are all relatively new, having formed in the last few thousand years. Presently, all of the glaciers in the park are shrinking. More snow melts each summer than accumulates each winter. As the climate has changed over the last two million years, glaciers formed and melted away several times. Glacier National Park

Glacier Park was sacred to the native Americans. Chief Mountain, on the northeast border of the park was and still is an important vision quest and prayer ceremony site for many Plains Indian people. The first white man to see Glacier Park was probably Hugh Monroe, a Hudson's Bay Company trapper known to the Blackfeet as Rising Wolf. Monroe arrived about 1815 and married a Piegan woman. Later, Father DeSmet visited the region and in 1846 gave the name St. Mary to the two mountain lakes pointed out to him by Monroe.

Explorers long sought a northern passage through the Continental Divide. Major Baldwin discovered it - Marias Pass in 1889. Dr. Lyman B. Sperry explored the park, advancing as far as Avalanche Lake, and reached the glacier that now bears his name. Sperry convinced the Great Northern Railroad's Jim Hill of the tourist and money-making potential for a railroad around the park. The Great Northern Railroad completed the road in 1892.Glacier National Park, Going-to-the-Sun Highway, visitmt.com

In 1895 settlers cut a trail from Belton to Lake McDonald. George Snyder shipped a steamboat to the lake and built a lodge there. Later, in 1895 the federal government seeking valuable minerals in what is now Glacier Park bought Glacier from the Blackfeet tribe. In 1910, after minerals were not found, the land was made a national park by Congress.

Today in Glacier you can enjoy a variety of activities, including bicycling, hiking and camping, wildlife viewing, photography, horseback riding, boating and fishing in the summer, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Accommodations range from the majestic The Many Glacier Hotel to backcountry camping. Must see, attractions include the Going-to-the-Sun Highway, Logan Pass, and Lake McDonald.

What do the Taj Mahal in India, the Colorado cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and the Egyptian Pyramids have in common with Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park? They are all World Heritage Sites. To be proclaimed a World Heritage Site, an area must meet several criteria which define outstanding universal value. Glacier is an exceptional area recognized throughout the world for its incredible biological diversity and majestic natural beauty.

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