The elements of Glacier’s personality are so unusual that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to make phrase describe it. Comparison fails. Photographs will help, but not very efficiently, because they do not convey its size, color, and reality; or perhaps I should say its unreality, for there are places like Two Medicine Lake ‘in still pale mid-morning, St. Mary Lake during one of its gold sunsets, and the cirques of the South Fork of the Belly River under all conditions which never can seem actual.
To picture Glacier as nearly as possible, imagine two mountain ranges roughly parallel in the north, where they pass the continental divide between them across a magnificent high intervening valley, and, in the south, merging into a wild and apparently plan-less massing of high peaks and ranges. Imagine these mountains repeating everywhere huge pyramids, enormous stone gables, elongated cones, and many other unusual shapes, including numerous saw-toothed edges which rise many thousand feet upward from swelling sides, and suggest nothing so much as overturned keel-boats. Imagine ranges glacier-bitten alternately on either side with cirques of three or four thousand feet of precipitous depth. Imagine these cirques often so nearly meeting that the intervening walls are knife-like edges; miles of such walls carry the continental divide, and occasionally these cirques meet and the intervening wall crumbles and leaves a pass across the divide. Imagine places where cirque walls have been so bitten outside as well as in that they stand like amphitheatres builded up from foundations instead of gouged out of rock from above.
Imagine these mountains plentifully snow-spattered upon their northern slopes and bearing upon their shoulders many small and beautiful glaciers perched upon rock-shelves above and back of the cirques left by the greater glaciers of which they are the remainders. These glaciers are nearly always wider than they are long; of these I have seen only three with elongated lobes. One is the Blackfeet Glacier, whose interesting west lobe is conveniently situated for observation south of Gunsight Lake, and another, romantically beautiful Agassiz Glacier, in the far northwest of the park, whose ice-currents converge in a tongue which drops steeply to its snout. These elongations are complete miniatures, each exhibiting in little more than half a mile of length all usual glacial phenomena, including caves and ice-falls. Occasionally, as on the side of Mount Jackson at Gunsight Pass and east of it, one notices small elongated glaciers occupying clefts in steep slopes. The largest and most striking of these tongued glaciers is the western-most of the three Carter Glaciers on the slopes of Mount Carter. It cascades its entire length into Bow-man Valley, and Marius R. Campbell’s suggestion that it should be renamed the Cascading Glacier deserves consideration.
Imagine deep rounded valleys emerging from these cirques and twisting snakelike among enormous and sometimes grotesque rock masses which often are in-conceivably twisted and tumbled, those of each drainage-basin converging fanlike to its central valley. Sometimes a score or more of cirques, great and small, unite their valley streams for the making of a river; seven principal valleys, each the product of such a group, emerge from the east side of the park, thirteen from the west.
Imagine hundreds of lakes whose waters, fresh-run from snow-field and glacier, brilliantly reflect the odd surrounding landscape. Each glacier has its lake or lakes of robin’s-egg blue. Every successive shelf of every glacial stairway has its lakeone or more. And every valley has its greater lake or string of lakes. Glacier is pre-eminently the park of lakes. When all is said and done, they constitute its most distinguished single element of supreme beauty. For several of them enthusiastic admirers loudly claim world pre-eminence.
And finally imagine this picture done in soft glowing colorsnot only the blue sky, the flowery meadows, the pine-green valleys, and the innumerable many-hued waters, but the rocks, the mountains, and the cirques besides. The glaciers of old penetrated the most colorful depths of earth’s skin, the very ancient Algonkian strata, that from which a part of the Grand Canyon also was carved. At this point, the rocks appear in four differently colored layers. The lowest of these is called the Altyn limestone. There are about sixteen hundred feet of it, pale blue within, weathering pale buff. Whole yellow mountains of this rock hang upon the eastern edge of the park. Next above the Altyn lies thirty-four hundred feet of Appekunny argillite, or dull-green shale. The tint is pale, deepening to that familiar in the lower part of the Grand Canyon. It weathers every darkening shade to very dark greenish-brown. Next above that lies twenty-two hundred feet of Grinnell argillite, or red shale, a dull rock of varying pinks which weathers many shades of red and purple, deepening in places almost to black. There is some gleaming white quartzite mixed with both these shales. Next above lies more than four thousand feet of Siyeh limestone, very solid, very massive, iron-gray with an insistent flavor of yellow, and weathering buff. This heavy stratum is the most impressive part of the Glacier landscape. Horizon-tally through its middle runs a dark broad ribbon of diorite, a rock as hard as granite, which once, while molten, burst from below and forced its way between horizontal beds of limestone; and occasionally, as in the Swiftcurrent and Triple Divide Passes, there are dull iron-black lavas in heavy twisted masses. Above all of these colored strata once lay still another shale of very brilliant red. Fragments of this, which geologists call the Kintla formation, may be seen top-ping mountains here and there in the northern part of the park.
Imagine these rich strata hung east and west across the landscape and sagging deeply in the middle, so that a horizontal line would cut all colors diagonally.
Now imagine a softness of line as well as color resulting probably from the softness of the rock; there is none of the hard insistence, the uncompromising definiteness of the granite landscape. And imagine further an impression of antiquity, a feeling akin to that with which one enters a medieval ruin or sees the pyramids of Egypt. Only here is the look of immense, unmeasured, immeasurable age. More than at any place except perhaps the rim of the Grand Canyon does one seem to stand in the presence of the infinite; an instinct which, while it baffles analysis, is sound, for there are few rocks of the earth’s skin so aged as these ornate shales and limestones.
And now, at last, you can imagine Glacier !