One of a Kind Geology of Glacier Park

Charlie Russell and Ansel Adams have one thing in common: they both were inspired by Glacier Park. Russell kept a lodge at the foot of Lake McDonald. The local railroad sent artists to capture the West's beauty to inspire vacation and railway use via visits to the area.

  Before that, tribes danced on the  shores of her lakes or used her mountaintops for spirit quests. But Glacier’s muse is as much rooted in the wonders of geologic history as it is a mystery for artist’s to capture.

Glacier’s pristine ecosystems exist in the same state as when the first explorers—Lewis & Clark—set foot in Montana. The Blackfeet named her lands “the Backbone of the World;” whites dubbed her the Crown of the Continent for its original plants and animal species. To step foot in Glacier Park is to step foot in a kind of prehistoric time warp where biology, geology and ecology are frozen in time. 

This is where the oldest rocks lay on the outside, uppermost, exposed layers. When writers are  left  speechless to describe her wonders, it’s likely they are responding to the presence of the Lewis Overthrust—where billions of year old sedimentary rocks were forced up over the much younger rock strata. Glacier literally wears its geologic history on its sleeve—proudly and beautifully. A sense of the eras and the ages that forms the distinct nature of its cirques and swirled mountain patterns—a state of artistic grace that leaves tourists amazed and artists somewhat stupefied to capture. The primordial ooze, frozen in time.  

Many a writer finds words fail in describing Glacier's unique magnificence. But they still try. Search the library records (yes--there's a library in Glacier National Park. You have to make an appointment to see specific material. There is a reading room in West Glacier that is open a few hours each week. And you can read early 1900s poetry about her grandeur.

Turns out there is science at work. The same rocks that leave even writers speechless were spared much of the tectonic tumult that other sections of the Rocky Mountains experienced, so that the finest fossilized examples of extremely early life are found in Glacier Park.

 The unusual rock frame her other wonder: More than anything, Glacier is a park of water—whether it is frozen into  the glaciers that formed the u-shaped valleys or it is suspended in the spectacular green-blue hued (glacial silt) that defines the cold, clear water lakes of the park.

Glaciers took millions of years to grind away the moraines that are now the beautiful lakes lined with lodges and  admiring tourists. There are 700 lakes within Glacier Park, and as a testimony to her still wild nature, only 131 of those lakes are named.  

 200 waterfalls are scattered throughout the park—as alive and varied as the seasons that frame them. Some are roaring double waterfalls in the springtime but slow to a trickle in the summer.

And of course, there is the other form of water: the remaining glaciers. In 2010, 37 glaciers remained (originally counted as 70 at the turn of the century) and of those 37, 25 are considered ‘active’ glaciers. These glaciers are the last remaining reminders of the Ice Age that once dominated North America, and the park is a reminder of the slow, lingering power of those glaciers. These slow moving giants carved the park into the unique record of life that exists, unchanged, today.

© Power of the Pen, 2018