Glacier National Park Marks 101 Years

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GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Mont -- Words can hardly match the natural spectacles of the mountainous Montana wonderland. But the words used to label places in the park often reveal its fascinating and sometimes humorous history.

Today marks the 101st anniversary of Glacier National Park.

Rising Wolf Mountain looms over the southeast corner of the park. But it's not named for any wolf. It's named after Hugh Munro, a Canadian who came to the region when he was just 17.

Munro was the first white man to explore and to settle in the area. Because of his bravery, he was embraced by the local Blackfeet Tribe, who named him Rising Wolf for his ever-growing prowess in battle, and for the fact that when he would rise in the morning, he was famously grumpy, like a rising wolf.

The mountain named for him towers over one shore of Two Medicine Lake. On just he other side of the lake stands the tall, jutting peak of Sinopah Mountain, named after the Indian maiden Rising Wolf desperately loved, eventually married, and with whom he had 10 children.

A peak located just behind Sinopah was named after her father, Chief Lone Walker, who had 16 wives living in five tepees. Legend has it that he also had two bears who followed him around the tribe's camp like pets.

Famous Conservationist

Grinnell Point seems to soar thousands of feet right up out of the waters of Swiftcurrent Lake. It was named for America's first famous conservationist, George Grinnell, whose tireless campaigning helped create the Glacier National Park. Grinnell also labelled many of the park's most prominent features during his adventures in the area.

Fusillade Mountain, featuring the sharpest peak of the many arrayed around Saint Mary Lake, was named for an incident where Grinnell's hunting buddies took 27 shots - a mighty fusillade - at a big bunch of mountain goats and managed to miss them all.

On the other hand, the long, flat-topped Singleshot Mountain was named for a moment when a bighorn ram suddenly appeared 300 yards in front of Grinnell, who quickly raised his rifle and brought the ram down with one quick single shot.

A noted odd omission is that no landmark is named for railroad baron Louis Hill. Hill built Glacier's beautiful lodges and much of the infrastructure to entice rich folks to ride his trains to the area for luxurious vacations. He as much as anyone celebrated when the U.S. Congress named Glacier as a national park in May 1910.

But at that same time, automobiles were starting to roll off production lines in Michigan. The popularity of vehicles eventually killed Hill's plan to reap an endless fortune transporting tourists to the park on his trains.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road

Most people preferred to drive to the park and that's why the federal government authorized the million of dollars needed to punch a road right up Glacier's massive peaks -- up to a height of 6,646 feet to cross the Continental Divide located in the middle of the park.

The effort started in 1921 and wasn't completed for 12 years. Many World War I veterans worked on it, wearing their military helmets to protect them from the falling rock, the first hard-hats.

Year after year they labored up the steep slopes and sheer cliffs, often seeing the winter weather wipe out what they'd built the year before.

"Many of the supplies and materials were drug up with mules," Jack Potter, one of Glacier's chief park rangers, told CBN News. "The camps were halfway up the mountain walls. And it was just handwork with drills and dynamite."

But after a dozen long, hard years, those men finished the road.

"It was just an enormous task. There's just no way you'd do that today," said Michael Ober, longtime park ranger and author of "Glacier Album," a collection of stories and photographs stretching back into the 1800s.

The road today winds its way around the slopes of one massive mountain after another.

"The Federal Highway Administration would look at that and walk away, shaking their head, realizing that the engineering challenges would be just too much and too expensive," Ober explained.

Such a marvel deserved a title to match. Some wanted to name it after one of the most prominent peaks looming over the road. But the Native American name for that peak seemed a bit unwieldy -- The-Face-of-Sour-Spirit-Who-Went-Back-to-the-Sun-After-His-Work-Was-Done.

Park officials decided on the white man's simpler version -- Going-to-the-Sun.

Without the road, most people would miss much of Glacier's best scenery.

"More than 90 percent of the people who visit the park go over Going-to-the-Sun Road," Ranger Potter explained. "In the Spring, it's got waterfalls and big snow fields Summer, it's big fields of flowers."

Landmarks Named

A whole slew of dedications can come from the simplest of events. Mountain man Duncan McDonald stumbled across a big beautiful lake at the feet of Glacier's western slopes and carved his name on a nearby tree. People began to call it Lake McDonald. The names of McDonald Creek and McDonald Falls quickly followed.

When it comes to the lake, though, some prefer what the Indians called it -- Sacred Dancing.

The Garden Wall is one of Glacier's most impressive sights, a miles-long rolling ridge of jagged peaks. Its name came from a group of campers in the 1890s. They were singing a popular song of the time, "Over the Garden Wall."

One of them looking up at the massive peaks said, "There's one wall you won't get over."

The Fire of '36

One of Glacier's wildest moments was a fire that leapt the 10,000-foot wall in 1936.

The fire started high on the slopes of Heaven's Peak, whose sides are so steep, firefighters couldn't get to it.

Soon the inferno raced east and jumped both the Garden Wall and Continental Divide.

The fire barreled down the eastern slopes, right towards Swiftcurrent Lake and the massive beautiful lodge known as the Many Glacier Hotel.

The flames were swept along by winds so powerful, they took water right up out of the lake and dumped it over the Many Glacier Hotel.

Park workers tried to evacuate the guests but some refused to go, wanting to fight alongside the professional firefighters and staff to help save the historic lodge. They fought the blaze for hours through the night with fire on every side of them.

Then rain began to fall. The lodge was saved, partly by those wind-swept waters off Swiftcurrent Lake that helped keep the hotel wet.

As history teaches, sometimes out of disaster comes new life. Lodgepole Pine trees can be seen all over the park. The tree's cones require flame to heat them up enough, so they can release seed and new forest is born.

Glacier goes on.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.