My eyes closed in the sun

Arms spread to the eager winds

I float

Though my feet remain firm to the ground.

This is a flight of the soul

A soaring of the spirit

A journey of the mind

And I am forever changed.

Rocky crags rise above valleys that seem never to have felt the footsteps of man. Crystalline streams cascade over boulders, glinting as though fountains of diamonds. Trees of green, fields of yellow flowers, and glacier-fed lakes of brilliant blue appear as though out of a child’s paint set. If ever there was to be found, in this sometimes dark and dismal world, a heavenly spirit guiding us all, this would be the place to discover such a being.

My poetry is certainly not meant to be celebrated through the ages, and my words pale in comparison to those who have celebrated the majesty of nature before me. But there is something about Glacier National Park that makes my heart reach for more, to try to do justice to this place that mere words, and even images, cannot truly capture.

Hidden Lake, accessible from Logan Pass

Glacier National Park encompasses more than a million acres of pristine mountain wilderness of northwestern Montana, straddling the Continental Divide along the Canadian border. Heavy winter snows make most of the Park accessible only during a short summer season (late June through early September, depending on the year), but visitors are in for an unforgettable experience, wandering through alpine meadows, gazing into glacial valleys and lakes, meandering among wildflowers and a host of other flora and fauna. However, the name might seem a bit misleading.

In the mid-nineteenth century, when efforts began to protect the area called the Crown of the Continent – due to both its high elevation and location at the far north of the country – the area now included in the Park had more than 150 glaciers. Today, only 26 remain, none on the western side of Logan Pass. (In order for a layer of ice and snow to be considered a glacier it must encompass at least 25 acres, be 100 feet thick, and move on its own weight.) Climate change scientists currently believe that there will be no glaciers left in Glacier National Park by 2030.

Glaciers once occupied all of these higher elevations. Now only bare stone remains.

As climate change takes away the last remnants of the last ice age, the effects can be felt in smaller, but perhaps even more impactful ways throughout the Park. As temperatures rise, so to rise the elevations at which the beautiful heavy forests are able to exist. This might seem like a good thing on its face; after all, bare rocky snow-covered peaks may be considered prettier when covered with trees, and more trees may also be considered a positive. However, as these sub-climate bands move ever higher in altitude, the arctic tundra at the top is eliminated, and with it those living things that exist nowhere else.

At the top of Logan Pass lies the Hidden Lake trail, a fairly easy walk of approximately 3.5 miles in circuit (wear closed-toed shoes, though, as the trail can cross snow fields depending on time of year). A Park Ranger in his ubiquitous flat-brimmed hat has a station set up at the trailhead with animal pelts for children to touch. He points out what appear to be scratches in the snow on a distant peak, saying that these are burrows of wolverines, animals that prefer temperatures well below 0. He tells us that with climate change, the habitat for this most elusive of Glacier’s inhabitants is rapidly shrinking, and with it the hope for the continued existence of this remarkable creature.

Ice fields like this may soon be a thing of the past

While glaciers may be in full retreat, Glacier National Park still offers some of the most majestic scenery anywhere. The Going to the Sun Highway bisects the park from West to East, and is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful roads ever constructed. The Park was created in 1910, and as the National Parks Service expanded in the 1920s under director Stephen Mather and roads constructed, this incredible feat of engineering was completed in 1929 after thirteen years of work. It was built in such a way as to not impede the views, or ruin any of the mountainous vistas it gracefully circles. A free shuttle system today guides visitors throughout the entire length of the highway, requiring a couple of transfers. It is a much better way to experience the road than driving oneself, as steep drops and stunning views combine for treacherous maneuvering, and parking at Logan Pass and the other sights is limited.

The views along the Going to the Sun Highway as it works its way up the mountains. This is at the bottom of the valley.

Opportunities for hiking are everywhere and for all ability levels. However, everyone should always stay on marked trails. Alpine flowers are fragile, and shouldn’t be trampled on. Furthermore, if you are planning on taking a longer, less populated hike, read up on what to do or not to do if encountering a grizzly bear. While mountain goats can be observed from only a few feet away (though don’t approach them), bears should give you a bit more cause for caution.

Cute and right by the path!

This mountain nirvana is not all that easy to reach. The nearest airport accommodating large aircraft is Spokane, Washington, about four hours’ drive west. Smaller places will land in Kalispell, roughly 45 minutes outside of the Park (and where you will likely be staying, unless you have the foresight and money for a room at the incredible Lake McDonald Lodge).

Lake McDonald Lodge.

Glacier National Park is truly a wonder. The mountains, meadows, and lakes meld together to form some of the most breathtaking scenery in existence. From the moment your shuttle begins to climb the elevations, and the sun glistens off the snow-capped peaks, sparkling off the river in the valley below, you will find yourself transfixed, waiting with bated breath to see what each curve of the road brings, always excited and never disappointed. The rocks and crags of the Crown of the Continent will remind you that we are but short-lived creatures walking this Earth, and in that smallness to truly understand what greatness may be.

The photos below were taken by my father, Arthur Berg, on a prior trip to Glacier. They are significantly better than mine are.

3 thoughts on “The Crown of the Continent

  1. Jonathan, thank you for the kind words about my photos. However, I must say that I think yours are quite good. I’m just sorry that the pass was still blocked by snow on each of my two visits to Glacier and I missed some of the spectacular scenery that you saw and captured in your photographs. I guess I need to visit again.

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