On location: Glacier Park’s Iceberg Lake

I used Glacier National Park’s Iceberg Lake in “High Country Painter,” of the three short stories in my family-oriented e-book/audio book Emily’s Stories.

Where Is It?

icebergmapIceberg Lake is a 5.9- mile hike from Many Glacier Hotel on the east side of Montana’s Glacier National Park. The lake, which is frozen over during the winter months, is named for the chunks of ice that float in it throughout the summer. It’s one of the most popular trails in the area.

En route to the lake from the hotel, the elevation increases 1,200 feet, however most of the uphill sections of the trail are gradual. For those who haven’t yet gotten used to the elevation or long walks, the hike provides a half-day of exercise.

In his book The Best of Glacier National Park, Alan Leftbridge lists Iceberg Lake as one as one of Glacier’s seven best day hikes. His level of difficulty for the hike is moderate. Hiking in Glacier calls the hike strenuous. (I guess it depends of whether or not one is out of shape!) If you don’t have a hiking guidebook, this web site provides a good overview of the trip.

How I Used it In the Story

Trail to Iceberg Lake - Photo by GlacierGuyMT
Trail to Iceberg Lake – Photo by GlacierGuyMT

Young Emily Walker and her family travel from Florida to Glacier National Park for a family vacation. She accompanies her father on the hike while her mother spends the day around  the hotel. Since she occasionally talks to birds and spirits, she knows something unusual will happen at the lake.

Why I Used the Lake

Iceberg Lake
Iceberg Lake

Emily and her father are used to the sinkhole lakes and blackwater rivers in the Florida Panhandle. I wanted to put them into a new environment. The arête in the picture is called the Garden Wall and it not only provides a lot of ice and snow to look at, but frequent mountain goats as well.

The lake sits in a cirque, a carved-out bowl left by ancient glaciers, and since it’s such a popular spot, hikers will  almost always find ground squirrels and chipmunks there begging for food. The lake sits in bear country, so it’s always good to check with the rangers for to see if there have been any grizzly bears in the area before you begin your hike.

The hike also features many wild flowers as well as some very different views of the mountains than one sees from the hotel. There are good views of many rock formations and other features of glaciation,

The first mile of the hike is on the paved road that connects the hotel complex to the camp store and the campground; park your car at the store to save a bit of walking.

Excerpt from Emily’s Stories

Available on Kindle and as an audio book
Available on Kindle and as an audio book

The horizon was hidden by a grey wall of rock which, according to the pack, also concealed incoming storms; now, carrying rain jackets on a sunny day made sense. By the time they passed the noisy waterfall and strolled through lacey-white bear grass (without bears) and scattered Indian paintbrush that gentled the grey rock (“limestone,” her dad said, descriptively), Emily was ready for lunch.

Deep snow lay hard-packed around the lake’s far shore where the limestone wall created a playground for mountain goats running across their grey and white world as nimbly as Southern chameleons ran along the Walters’ brick house. Sunny Florida was, as advertised, sunny and hot, but here deep summer had only melted the ice off half of the lake’s surface.

“I am astonished,” said Emily, dropping her knapsack on the ground and running down to the water. The water was as cold as it looked.

“Punkin, ‘astonished’ is a new word for you,” her dad said. He knelt down and splashed water over his
face.

Summing Everything Up

My teenaged protagonist talks to birds and spirits, so her stories are always set outdoors. Like other visitors to the hotel, the hike to the lake is one she would probably take. It provides great scenery for Emily to experience with her father as long with the possibility a bear might appear.

I worked at the hotel as a bellman for two summers and walked up to this lake many times. Using it in the story is an example of a writer writing what he knows.

Malcolm

Glacier: looking forward to a visit with a few mixed feelings

Long-ago days
Long-ago days – the employee picture

Although my novels (The Sun Singer, Sarabande, and The Seeker) are set in Glacier National Park, I haven’t set foot in the park for many years. (I worked there as a seasonal employee in the 1960s and visited in the 1970s and 1980s.)

Later this summer, I’m looking forward to seeing the place I have always thought was the most beautiful place on Earth. All my photographs and slides are old and faded, so I hope to capture some new memories along with some new pictures.

And yes, I plan to take a red bus ride up to Logan Pass and back, have a nice meal in the now-renovated Many Glacier Hotel dining room, and walk around Josephine and Swiftcurrent Lakes on a trail I once knew like the back of my hand.

I’ll be there with my wife and my brother and his wife. We travel well together and pretty much take a casual approach to sightseeing, dining and hanging out in scenic locations with a variety of activities.

But, like anyone going back anywhere, I worry about it being anticlimactic or that it will be changed more than I want to know.

The worst of the here and now
The worst of the here and now

I already know that there are fracking operations on the Blackfeet Reservation a stone’s throw from the park’s eastern boundary. I want to say, “I told you so” about such problems because after Glacier was called the most threatened park in the system in the 1980s, I campaigned strongly for legislation that would keep certain kinds of development farther away from pristine wilderness areas. This is worse than having a tar factory go up in city subdivision.

The response was, “we can only protect the park itself.” My reply was, “if you don’t restrict development outside the park, you’re not protecting the park.” And so it went.

Also, I already know there are 300 miles fewer trails than there were when I worked in the park. Inadequate funding is the main cause. On the plus side, Many Glacier and other park structures have been seeing some renovation work through various campaigns and grants. That makes our historic, National Register structures last longer so more people can enjoy them.

I can tell I’m out of touch. When I called reservations at Many Glacier Hotel, I asked for the Alpine Suite. That was the hotel’s best suite when I worked there. Nobody had ever heard of it. I described where the two Alpine Suites were, and learned they’d been converted into regular rooms.

The lure
The lure

The first few times I went back, the bellmen would always show me that the wall of names in the bellman room was still there. My name was there along with many other familiar names from past years. I already know this space has long-since been converted into a restroom.

If we stay on an upper floor in the main section of the hotel, we’ll appreciate the standard elevator that took the place of the old manually operated, cage-style elevator that guests were seldom allowed to ride. It was a great old elevator, one that probably would fail most building codes in the country if it were still there.

The last time I was in the Swiftcurrent Valley, my knee went out on a hike up to Grinnell Glacier. I was astounded. Those of us who worked at the hotel used to stroll up there dozens of times during the summer. Since then, my knees and ankles have grown weaker, so I wonder how much hobbling around I’ll be able to do.

In the past, I’ve always seen people there that I know. This time I won’t. It was fun having the manager, fishing guide, houskeeper, wranglers and others remember me on past return trips. This time, it will be rather like going back to your old high school long after the teachers, coaches, bus drivers, and administrative staff have all retired.

So, how will it go? I think we’ll all come home with some genuine new memories, memories of Glacier and ourselves in the here and now rather than Glacier as it was or might have been. And if that means our pictures show a bunch of weak-kneed, out-of-shape people sitting on the balcony watching the boats on the lake and the ospreys flying high over the nearby peaks, so be it. Maybe a young couple will talk by and ask, “have you folks ever been here before.”

Maybe I’ll say, “Sure, I used to jog up to the glacier and back after dinner and climb with the mountain goats.”

They’ll pretend to believe me.

Malcolm

A Glacier Park novel for your Kindle
A Glacier Park novel for your Kindle

Review: ‘Glacier Ghost Stories,’ by Karen Stevens

“Glacier Ghost Stories,” by Karen Stevens, Riverbend Publishing (May 7, 2013), 103 pages, trade paperback.

GlacierGhostStories2Karen Stevens (“Haunted Montana,” “More Haunted Montana”) has been collecting Montana ghost stories for thirty years and has been visiting Glacier National Park for forty years. Glacier Ghost Stories brings her passions together in a slim, but informative volume that follows her search for strange and inexplicable events at the park’s historic hotels.

Steven’s book is, in one sense, a reporter’s travelogue: she talks about her investigative trips, the weather, the accommodations, and her interviews with hotel personnel. In the process, she includes a fair amount of park history with details for each hotel: Apgar Village Inn, Belton Chalet, Glacier Park Lodge, Lake McDonald Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel, Prince of Wales Hotel and Sperry Chalet.

Glacier Park Lodge celebrated its 100th anniversary this summer. The other hotels are elders in the lodging business as well. The hotels are busy during their short summer seasons. They’re isolated from the world throughout the rest of the year. The schedule and the wild country are, it seems, the perfect recipe for legends, yarns and a long list of things that defy logical explanation.

While they don’t advertise ghosts in travel brochures, hotel managers and long-time employees had a lot to day about things that go bump in the night: people who suddenly disappear, objects that move when nobody’s looking, doors that lock by themselves, music and other sounds from unoccupied rooms, footsteps in the dark. Stevens includes the room numbers where things seem to happen. Take note of these before your next visit.

Glacier Ghost Stories includes legends about Marias Pass, Going-to-the-Sun Road, Two Medicine Valley and the Belly River. In the book’s postscript, Stevens writes that visitors to Glacier and Waterton parks “follow in the footsteps o those who came before us: Native Americans, trappers, hunters, explorers and others whose spirits even today may roam the land they loved so much in life.”

Stevens does not hear about or witness the over-the-top paranormal happenings we associate with Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King. She did uncover enough to make us wonder and to look over our shoulders the next time we visit any of the park’s hotels. The book is an engaging portrait from a ghostly point of view.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of paranormal short stories and four contemporary fantasy novels partially set in Glacier National Park.

A Glacier Park Novel
A Glacier Park Novel

A few updates – interview, a new review, Book Bits, and Glacier Park

  • coracoverI enjoyed my interview over at Deanna Jewel’s blog Tidbits. It will be posted there until February 8. Stop by, say “hello,” and sign up for a chance at a free copy of my e-book ghost story “Cora’s  Crossing.” We talked about food, Scotch, writing advice, contemporary fantasy, and location settings.
  • Meanwhile, I’m trying to wrap up everything I need to do for my fantasy adventure trilogy that’s coming out this year. The Seeker is the first novel in the series, planned for a March 2013 release. For more information on the trilogy, surf over the my website page for an overall synopsis and a book trailer for The Seeker.  My website also has a new inspirations and links page with info for writers and lovers of fantasy.
  • For those of you who try to keep up with the latest book reviews and author news, I’m publishing ” Book Bits” several times a week on my Sun Singer’s Travel’s blog. Essentially, this is a page of links. The most recent “Book Bits” post was uploaded today.
  • portoI enjoyed reading The Woman of Porto Pim by the late Italian author Antonio Tabucchi. An English edition translated by Tim Parks is schedule for release in June from Archipelago Books. I posted my review of this collection of stories this morning on Literary Aficionado. If you’re on GoodReads, you’ll also find a copy of my review there.
  • With a bit of luck, I might just make it out to Glacier National Park late in the summer season. I’m looking forward to it and hope we don’t get any early snowfalls that kluge up the trip. We’ll see if I can get some pictures of many of the locations I use in my fantasy novels. I’m also curious to see how Many Glacier Hotel looks after the recent updates and refurbishments. Once again, the Federal government is providing insufficient funds for the park’s most basic needs. Here’s a recent story about that:  National Park Service memo details $2.5M in proposed budget cuts at Glacier, Yellowstone.
  • mythmoorI can’t resist sharing this quote from Terri Windling’s blog: “Current cant equates fantasy with escapism, and current fashion would have it that fantasy is both easy to read and to write. It isn’t. When it is done honestly, by a skillful writer, fantasy takes us far enough beyond our daily perceptions to open us to the essential realities beneath it. This is the true goal of all art.”- Ellen Kushner
  • And, for a bit of Jock Stewart satire: High Video Game Score Guarantees Lucrative Government Employment

Malcolm

Many Glacier Hotel, 1964

Bridge at West Glacier - Photo by Mel Ruder, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the flood. See also his book "Pictures, a Park & a Pulitzer"

“When torrential rains poured on top of a heavy mountain snowpack on June 8-9, 1964, it caused, by some measures, one of the most powerful flash floods in the United States during the 20th century.” — Daily Inter Lake

When I returned to Many Glacier Hotel in late May of 1964 for another summer of work as a bellman, porter and houseman, I looked forward to meeting returning friends from the 1963 season, adding to my growing list of hikes taken and mountains climbed, and simply enjoying three and a half months in the land known as The Shining Mountains.

Those of us who arrived before the seaon began were there to clean, unpack, set-up and get the hotel ready for the new season after it had been dormant during the fall, winter and spring months.

Flooded Valley

Mother Nature had other ideas: the Montana Flood of 1964. While Glacier Park was cut off from the rest of the world, Many Glacier Hotel was cut off from the rest of the park: the only road into Swiftcurrent Valley was washed out. As we raced to save the furniture in the lake level rooms and then began cleaning up the mess when the water receded back into Swiftcurrent Lake, we didn’t know at the outset just how widespread the flood was.

According to the Daily Inter Lake, “More than 20 miles of U.S. 2 were damaged or destroyed, along with six miles of Great Northern track. A section of Blankenship Bridge collapsed Monday night and the bridge at West Glacier buckled. The eastern half of the Old Red Bridge in Columbia Falls also washed away, together with three homes; another 50 homes south and east of town were flooded.” Damages were estimated at $63 million ($438 million in today’s dollars) as “At least 28 people died and more than 2,200 homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed in seven counties and a dozen communities in Montana.”

I wrote about the flood in an essay that appeared in the National Park Service’s Glacier Park Centennial book, 100 YEARS – 100 STORIES. That essay is a short, factual account that focuses on the hotel itself. While I changed the names for my account of the flood in Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, the true details in my novel present a larger account of the flood, as shown in this excerpt:

“They follow him down through the rain into the lobby. Jed and James, the professional staff, are in the lobby already, haggard automatons, barely recognizable in old clothes, bathed in the unreal glow of flames from the stone fireplace. The power is out, the phones are out, the road is out, the water is out, except for the lake which is a living creature in the hallway at the bottom of the stairwell.  David is in this hall with others of the skeleton crew who came to the hotel several weeks ago to shake out the winter cobwebs before opening day of the 1964 season. They rescue braided rugs, heavy when wet, and beds, dressers, mattresses, chests of drawers, pictures off the walls, the piano from the stage in the St. Moritz room.  Jed won’t allow anyone to work downstairs for more than a few minutes at a time because the water is cold.  He orders them upstairs to be wrapped up tight in blankets and force-fed coffee from the makeshift lobby kitchen. They are constructing history already, reports are coming in, well-intentioned and half true, that hotels, towns, roads, bridges, livestock, dams, railroad tracks, families whose faces we will see later in the newspapers, are out, down, broken, undercut, missing, rent, ruined, swept away.

Storm over Mt. Wilbur - M. R. Campbell photo

“As June 8th flows into June 9th and June 9th flows into June 10th, a discovery is made, and that is that mortal men have no meaningful words left for describing the scope of this event. They’ve already spent their words on small things. In a story headlined ‘NATURE TURNS OUTLAW,’ a Missoulian reporter writes that ‘Natural disaster brings a terror like the terror of a mob: Destructive, terrifying, unpredictable, inexorable, and heartless.’

“It came down to lists. Adjectives, acres flooded, bridges out, dams compromised, dollars in damages, head of cattle drowned, homes lost, miles of track torn away, miles of road destroyed, people killed or missing or homeless, power and phone lines down, rivers rising and falling, towns under water, visits by government officials.

“The Hungry Horse News prints lists of names. The paper ‘would appreciate any further information.’ He reads the names again and again: he knows so many of them. Sam keeps a list of towns. Nobody knows where he gets his information, though it’s probably KOFI and KGEZ radio in Kalispell, and random reports. He posts the lists behind the lobby information desk and makes entries with a black laundry marker every hour.

“‘It reads like a list of war dead, don’t you know,’ he tells David. St. Mary, East Glacier, West Glacier, Pendroy, Simms, Sun River, Fort Shaw, Fairfield, Big Fork, Whitefish, Lowery, Great Falls, Augusta, Choteau, Loma, Browning, Dupuyer, Babb, Ft.  Benton, Kalispell, Essex, Nyack, Columbia Falls, Polebridge, Missoula, Deer Lodge, Plains, Butte, Conrad, Lincoln, Shelby.

“An alphabet soup of agencies and organisations is mobilized.  ASC, BIA, BLM, BPR, BUREC, DHEW, FEC, FHA, NFS, NPS, MPC, OEP, PP&L, SBA, USDA, in addition to the Army, Air Force, and Red Cross.

“Anecdotes serve when the lists grow old.

“Prior to the flood, the BIA was studying drought conditions on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. After the flood, the Indians don’t lose their wry sense of humour. They tell the BIA rep that his medicine was too strong.

“A man finds an overturned boat in his back yard; a woman finds a bridge. Owners please claim.

“Grateful that his son who was vacationing in the mountains is unharmed, a Louisiana man sends a check to help pay for the flood damage.

“The guys working on a dike along the Clark Fork down in Missoula are shooting rattlesnakes by the dozen.

“A GNRR lineman slips off a pole into the rising waters of the Flathead over in Bad Rock Canyon and is rescued through the combined efforts of a fellow lineman, a boat crew, and an Air Force helicopter.

“A truck on Central Avenue attempts to outrun the flooding Sun River and is abandoned as the water climbs up to the bottom of the windshield. Trees shoot through a bridge on the west side of the divide like giant arrows.

“Near Plains, an Associated Press photographer takes a picture of a sopping wet bunny floating down the river on a plank of wood.

“The lake level rooms in the hotel are an explosion of mud. Cleanup and repair crews work past meals, work past sleep, and hone the stories they will tell the employees who have been put up at other hotels until the roads are open.

“David and Al are the designated water carriers. An artesian well near the caretaker’s cabin is the only uncontaminated source. Water for toilet tanks and the cleanup crews goes into old garbage cans, water for cooking and drinking goes into new garbage cans, hauled in the red Thames van to multiple sites—hotel, camp store, cabins, dorms—day after day until their unvarying route is a deep channel carved into consciousness and time, until they are more river than men.

“The county health department flies a nurse to the isolated compound in a helicopter. She brings messages from the outside and enough typhoid serum to go around.

“During a lunch break, David drives the Thames downriver to the curve where the road is cut. He takes pictures but they explain little.”

In real life, I was too busy to take photographs inside or outside Many Glacier Hotel. I wish I had some even though, as that fictionalized version of me says in the novel, they would explain little. Even so, after the hotel opened (a bit late), those pictures would be part the story about Many Glacier Hotel in 1964.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of three novels set in Glacier National Park, including the recently released contemporary fantasy “Sarabande” available on Kindle.

His nonfiction about Glacier Park includes “High Water in 1964” in A View Inside Glacier National Park: 100 Years 100 Stories (NPS-produced paperback) and Bears, Where They Fought: Life in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley (99 cents on Kindle).

Another Glacier Park Novel

Mt. Gould - NPS Photo

When my next novel Sarabande is released this fall by Vanilla Heart Publishing, it will become my third novel set partially in Glacier National Park. Sarabande’s Glacier Park locations include Mt. Gould, the Angel Wing, Lake Josephine, Swiftcurrent Lake, Many Glacier Hotel, and Chief Mountain.

When the novel begins, my protagonist Sarabande has just finished spending the night on top of the Angel Wing. I’m sure the park service prohibits this practice, but then she lives in a look-alike universe that is accessed via several portals in the park. Her world is the 1970s. Our world, at the time the novel is set, is the 1980s.

99 cents on Kindle

She has much to learn about our world, from electricity, to the existence of a major hotel sitting where there’s an empty space in her world, to cars and highways, and how to travel across country. The Many Glacier area, as I mention in my e-book Bears; Where they Fought: Life In Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley, is rich in history, trails and mountains to climb.

The popular valley is not only a draw for tourists, but is my favorite place in my favorite park. I can think of no better place for an adventure novel. We have the extremes of weather, of dangerous high places and the chances of meeting grizzly bears or moose or ospreys or wolverines.

I’m looking forward to the release of Sarabande for many reasons. It’s my long-promised sequel to The Sun Singer.  It’s told from a female protagonist’s point of view—a first for me. And it gives me an excuse to write again about Glacier National Park.  I have been posting about the heroine’s journey itself in my Sarabande’s Journey weblog.  It’s been fun to explore the differences between the solar journey in The Sun Singer, which follows Joseph Campbell’s well-known series of mythic steps in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and the lunar journey which is quite different.

Lunar journeys are usually much darker and much for frightening because they focus on the lore of the night and the unconscious and, as we see in many myths, the domain of the underworld. Nevertheless, Sarabande is an adventure story with its primary scenes in a mountain world that park visitors know so well. The story also unfolds along U.S. Highway 2, the wetlands of northeast Montana’s prairie pothole region, and in Decatur, Illinois where Robert Adams, the Sun Singer lives.

As we get closer to the release date, I’ll begin posting excerpts of the book. It will appear first as an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle and in the other formats available at the smashwords.com site. A bit later, it will also be available as a paperback. If you’re a fan of Glacier National Park, I hope you will enjoy both the story and the location.

Malcolm

New Glacier Park E-Book Explores Swiftcurrent Valley

Swiftcurrent Valley two months ago - NPS photo

“The road up to Swift Current in its present condition has been known to make a preacher curse, and I have my opinion of the man who makes the trip over this road (!) without breaking the 3rd commandment or perhaps all ten of them.” — Dupuyer, Montana “Acantha,” March 3, 1900

Bears; Where They Fought: Life in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley, a new e-book by Malcolm R. Campbell, steps back in time to the short-lived mining boom town of Altyn that prospectors and developers believed would be Montana’s great center of copper and gold mining.

Today, the remains of Altyn sit at the bottom of Lake Sherburne less than a mile from the present-day location of Many Glacier Hotel. Altyn came and went as did the two grizzly bears whose fight attracted the attention of a Piegan hunting party about 1860 and lent a long-forgotten place name that came out of one of the valley’s many stories.

The new e-book, from Vanilla Heart Publishing, looks at some of the valley’s other milestones between those long-ago fighting bears and, the hotel’s construction and development by the Great Northern Railway and the floods of 1964 and 1975.

After employees saved Many Glacier Hotel from the Heaven’s Peak Fire in 1936 and wired the Great Northern that the structure survived, the railroad sent a telegram back with the word “Why?” Though the railroad was beginning to doubt the viability of its Glacier Park holdings, they owned an operated Many Glacier and other hotels and chalets in the park for almost another 30 years.

The hotel was saved in 1936 and, since then, it’s become a National Register property and another enduring legacy of a valley that stretches far back into the past in the land of shining mountains. I first walked into the Swiftcurrent Valley in 1963. Since then, I’ve gone back many times. Bears: Where They Fought is my way of capturing the spirit of the most beautiful country on the planet.

Bears; Where They Fought is available for 99 cents on Kindle and in multiple e-book formats (including PDF) at Smashwords.

“On a quiet day, however, those walking alongside the relatively recent Lake Sherburne reservoir may hear the voice of grandfather rock whispering a secret: within the scope of geologic time, all rivers are new, and the men and women who follow them are as ephemeral as monarch butterflies on a summer afternoon.” — “Bears; Where They Fought”

Malcolm

Many Glacier Hotel Summer 2011 Restoration

Hotel Dining Room - David Restivo, NPS

Many Glacier Hotel, on the east side of Glacier National Park, Montana, will be running at 50% capacity this summer due to a massive restoration project. Check with the concessionaire, Glacier Park, Inc.,  for restoration updates as well as this summer’s late openings of Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Rising Sun Motor Inn due to the heavy snow pack.

Hotel facilities impacted during the 2011 summer season include: 50% of the guest rooms, Annex 1, North Bridge, the main Dining Room, the Interlaken and Swiss Lounges, Kitchen, and Employee Dining Area.

Guests will be served meals in a modified dining room space since the kitchen will remain open during the project with regular menus and full services. Red bus tours, boating operations and the horse concession will not be impacted by the restoration.

According to Glacier Park, Inc., “There will be normal construction type noise in the northern half of the building during daytime hours. Early mornings, evenings, and weekends will be quiet. There should be limited noise in the lobby area and for guests staying overnight; there will be no construction noise in the wing where guest rooms are located.”

This phase of the restoration project is expected to be completed prior to the hotel’s opening for the 2012 summer season. Since future restoration work is planned and will be scheduled when funding is available, guests planning trips to Many Glacier Hotel in upcoming summers may wish to monitor the concessionaire’s website for room availability.

Malcolm, a former summer employee at Many Glacier Hotel and the author of two novels (“The Sun Singer” and “Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey”) partially set in the Swiftcurrent Valley

Glacier by the Grace of God and the Great Northern

“Empire Builder” James J. Hill (1838 – 1916) built the nation’s fifth transcontinental railroad across the top of the country without governmental subsidies. When he threw the weight of the Great Northern Railway behind the failed efforts to create Glacier National Park, Congress listened and the park was born.

Many Glacier Hotel in 1912 GN Brochure
Once the park was born, the railroad was subsidizing the government.

Louis W. Hill (1872 – 1948), who replaced his father as Great Northern CEO in 1907 and board chairman in 1912, made Glacier National Park his personal project. By 1917, the Great Northern Railway had spent twice as much as the Federal Government developing the park. Within another three years, the railroad had outspent the government by a factor of ten to one.

Early roads, trails, power systems, telephone systems, hotels and chalets were built by the railroad so quickly that one suspects that the plans for the region had been on the drawing board for years. As the playground evolved, Louis Hill’s “See America First” publicity campaign brought passengers to the park via Great Northern Trains: Glacier Park Limited, Oriental Express, Western Star, Empire Builder.

Swiftcurrent Lake
Authors Jennifer Bottomly-O’looney and Deirdre Shaw note in the current Glacier Park commemorative issue of Montana The Magazine of Western History that in spite of occasional friction between the railroad and the government, the park service had a sparse budget and welcomed the Great Northern’s investment.

Amrak’s Empire Builder still serves the park today and Great Northern Railway successor line Burlington Northern is the largest contributor to the 2010 Glacier Park Centennial.

Louis Hill visited the park often, taking frequent pack trips out of railroad-built Many Glacier Hotel. But the man who has been called “the Godfather of Glacier Park” was not a John Muir or a George Bird Grinnell. Like his empire builder father, he saw the park as a spectacular place that could also be very profitable.

He once said that “Every passenger that goes to the national parks, wherever he may be, represents practically a net earning.” Author C. W. Guthrie (All Aboard for Glacier) adds that he “had an artistic bent, and that gave him a real feeling for the park.”

Louis W. Hill
In his 1988 book Stars Over Montana, Warren L. Hanna laments the fact that Louis W. Hill is relatively unknown today when compared with the other patriarchs of the park. Hanna says that Louis Hill did more than anyone else at the outset to plan and develop the park and make it known.

“In all of Glacier’s more than 1,500 square mils, there is no peak, pass, lake, valley, or road named for this remarkable pioneer,” said Hanna.

Louis Hill knew a good view when he saw one. He knew exactly where each hotel and chalet should be placed and how to connect them with roads and trails, and he knew best of all how to get the people there to see it all.

More Information

Parallel tracks: Glacier National Park born from Great Northern Railway in the “Missoulian.”

“Producers of a Playground” in Man in Glacier by C. W. Buchholtz.

The lavishly illustrated All Aboard for Glacier: The Great Northern Railway and Glacier National Park by C. W. Guthrie.

Glacier’s Historic Hotels And Chalets: View With A Room by Ray Djuff and Chris Morrison.

“Glacier National Park: People, a Playground, and a Park,” by Jennifer Bottomly-O’looney and Deirdre Shaw in Montana The Magazine of Western History, Summer 2010.

Each purchase of this Glacier adventure benefits the park.

Many Glacier Hotel Hootenanny

Once upon a time, in those days now referred to as “the old days,” employees at Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier Hotel put on skits, talent shows, serenades and a weekly Hootenanny.

Return with us now to Swiftcurrent Valley on July 30 at 8 p.m. for a hootenanny presented as part of the Many Glacier Hotel employees reunion.

The program includes a folk-singing performance by ten groups of musicians drawn from employees of various eras in the Glacier Park Hotels. Musical performances have been presented in Glacier’s Hotels throughout their history.

Hootenanny programs were presented at Many Glacier from the 1960s to the 1980s, and have been revived since 2006. This program will celebrate the musical history of the lodges, engage visitors with fine talent and interpretation, and build community.

Maybe you’ll join in on some of the old songs and learn a few new ones.

Malcolm (Many Glacier Bellman in 1963 and 1964)