October 3. We're still in Montana and on our way to Glacier National Park in the northwest part of the state. Enjoy the scenery. The West has lots of windmill farms.
This, my friends, is Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. Evidence of human occupation of this area dates back to over 10,000 years ago. When the first European explorers came here, several different tribes inhabited the area. The Blackfeet Indians controlled the prairies east of the mountains, and the Salish and Kootenai Indians lived in the western valleys and traveled over the mountains in search of game and to hunt the great herds of buffalo on the eastern plains. The majority of early European explorers came to this area in search of beaver and other pelts. They were followed by unsuccessful miners, and eventually, settlers looking for land. By 1891, the completion of the Great Northern Railway allowed a greater number of people to enter northwest Montana and homesteaders settled in the valleys and small towns developed. As the number of people moving west steadily increased, the Blackfeet, Salish, and Kootenai were forced onto reservations. The Blackfeet Reservation adjoins the east side of the park and the Salish and Kootenai reservation is southwest of Glacier. By the late 1800's people started looking at the land a bit differently. They realized this area offered more than minerals to mine or land to farm. Recognizing the area's unique scenic beauty, influential leaders, most notably George Bird Grinnell, anthropologist, naturalist, historian, and conservationist, pushed for the creation of a national park. Their efforts were rewarded in 1910 when President Taft signed the bill establishing Glacier as the country's 10th national park. The park is named for its prominent glacier-carved terrain and remnant glaciers descended from the ice ages of 10,000 years ago. Geologic processes formed and sculpted the peaks, leaving about 27 glaciers and 762 lakes. The eastern mountains are a result of an overthrust of the Earth's crust. The mountains began as sediments deposited in an ancient sea and slowly hardened into thick layers of limestone, mudstone, and sandstone. About 60 million years ago, tensions built up in the Earth's crust and the rock layers began to warp, fold, and finally break. A huge slab of rock moved from the west and slid up and over the softer rock of the eastern ranges. Eventually a 300 mile long portion of the crust had been thrust more than 50 miles to the east. Erosion stripped away the upper part of the original rock wedge and exposed the rocks and structures visible in the park today. Rarely have rocks of such ancient age been thrust over rocks that are so much younger. Rock layers about a billion years old lie above layers millions of years younger. Bedrock and deposited materials exposed by receding glaciers tell a story of ancient seas, geologic faults and uplifting, and the movement of giant slabs of the earth's ancient crust overlapping the younger strata. In other words, these combined geologic forces resulted in some of the most spectacular scenery I've ever scene. The glaciers here are all geologically new, having formed in the last few thousand years. Presently, all the glaciers in the park are shrinking. More snow melts each summer than accumulates each winter, and as the climate changed over the last two million years, glaciers formed and melted away several times. Geologists theorize that about 20,000 years ago, the climate became cooler and wetter, allowing for the formation of huge glaciers that filled the valleys with thousands of feet of ice, allowing only the tops of the highest peaks to stick out. These giant rivers of ice sculpted the mountains and valley into their present appearance. Today's glaciers are carving at the mountains as well. As the ice moves, it plucks rock and debris from the sides and bottom of the valleys. Rocks falling on the glacier from above mix with the glacial ice as well, filling the glacier with rock and gravel. Over long periods of time, the sandpaper-like quality of the moving ice scours and reshapes the land into broad U-shaped valleys, sharp peaks, and lake-filled basins. Massive ancient glaciers grinding over the bedrock below produced the spectacular landforms we see today. This area was known to Native Americans as the "Shining Mountains." Glacier National Park preserves over a million acres of forests, lakes, alpine meadows, rugged peaks, and glacial-carved valleys in the North Rockies and is a refuge for nearly every large mammal species native to the United States. We entered Glacier National Park on the east side at St. Mary's entrance. The 53-mile long Going-To-The-Sun road bisects the park and is the only route through the park. It is one of the outstanding scenic roadways of the world and traverses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. Logan Pass closes for the season no later than November 1 and reopens mid-June, weather permitting. Unfortunately, on our trip we were unable to pass Logan Pass since they were working on the road a ways ahead. One of the Park Rangers told me there was a hole in the road bigger than her Suburban. After the park was well established and visitors began to rely more on cars, work was begun on the 53-mile Sun Road, completed in 1932. The Sun Road is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1985 was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The road is one of the most difficult in North America to snowplow in the spring since up to 80 feet of snow can lie on top of Logan's Pass and even more just east of the pass. It takes about ten weeks to plow even with equipment that can move 4000 tons of snow in an hour. About 500 feet of the road can be cleared per day. On the east side of the Continental Divide, there are few guardrails due to heavy snows and the resultant avalanches which have repeatedly destroyed every protective barrier ever constructed. So, enough of the behind-the-scenes story. Go To The Sun.
From this viewpoint, Triple Divide is just one of many peaks. But summit hikers experience a vast alpine world: a 360-degree panorama of glaciated peaks and wilderness valleys. Triple Divide Peak is more than a two-ocean Continental Divide. From its three-sided pyramid, rain and snowmelt travel to three major river systems and enter the Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico.
From a distance, snowfields are often mistaken for glaciers until the annual snowfall melts away. As the global climate warms, however, the glaciers are melting as well. Visitors today see only 25% of the ice that existed in 1850 and scientists project that the park's glaciers will be gone by 2030. Of the estimated 150 glaciers present in 1850, only about 26 remain. The glaciers provide an important source of cool, fresh meltwater, supporting a series of natural relationships downstream. Once the annual snowpack melts, glaciers may be the only source of base flow in some mountain streams. When rain is sparse, as in late summer and during drought years, stream temperatures will warm or the streams may disappear altogether. The recession of glaciers affects the entire ecosystem in many ways. Fluctuation glacial meltwater will have major consequences for stream ecology. Many invertebrates that live in the park's waters are very temperature sensitive and live within a narrow temperature range. Because aquatic invertebrates are at the base of the food chain, putting them at risk threatens the entire stream ecosystem. Warmer temperatures and changes to the water cycle will also have consequences for park vegetation, which will migrate up the mountains with temperature and moisture gradients. The actual rates of vegetation expansion could be slower than the model forecasts because of biological constraints such as plant dispersal and competition between species.