Living close to a world wonder tends to dilute its significance. Spanning the 49th Parallel, the world's first International Peace Park - also a UNESCO World Heritage Site - is composed of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, and Glacier National Park in Montana, USA. From our home office in Calgary, it is only a short drive of a few hours along a major highway. However, the park also spans the Continental Divide, resulting in some of the most remarkable scenery to be seen anywhere in the world. It's what reminds us that this local getaway is the sort of place that other people save up their entire lives to visit.
We've been to the Canadian side of the park many times. The grassy prairies roll up to the foot of the Canadian Rocky Mountains on the eastern edge of the park, a unique geological circumstance reducing the formation of the foothills prevalent further north. Over this ancestral land of the Blackfoot First Nation, the mesa-like Chief Mountain stands eternal guard, gateway to the sublime landscape of towering peaks and abyssal valleys lying within.
A paddock of bison, a small remnant of the once great herds that roamed the continent, welcome us to Waterton Lakes National Park on every visit. Between these visits, we've experience most attractions available in the front-country. We've sat for high tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel, the iconic lodge standing high on a picturesque bluff, its great picture windows presenting a vista of the body of water for which the park is named. We've sailed to the American side aboard the antique International cruise ship, the border between the two countries marked only by two solitary pillars and a swath cut through the forest. We've walked through the ferrous-rich gullies of Red Rock Canyon, blazing like fire in the afternoon sun. We've stood on the shores of the placid alpine Cameron Lake, silent in the chilly twilight, while grizzly bears eek out a living on the far slopes beneath Mount Custer. We've heard the evening winds roar through the valley, whipping up the waves before hitting our tent with furious force.
Upper Waterton Lake and Cameron Falls,
Waterton Lakes National Park.
This summer presented an opportunity to go further afield, deep into the American side of the Canadian Rockies along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. An incredible engineering feat completed in 1932, it is one of the most scenic drives in the world. In a constant stream between the Grand Railway Hotels dispersed through the park - Prince of Wales Hotel, Many Glaciers Lodge, Lake MacDonald Lodge and the Glacier Park Lodge - antique red touring buses ply the road, crossing the Divide at Logan Pass and down into the cedar-hemlock forest on the eastern side.
One of the antique Red Buses.
Significant of the "National Parks Rustic" style, the Going-to-the-Sun Road seems to grow organically, geologically from the hillsides. Bridges constructed of native rock span Sunrift Gorge, leading down to Baring Falls, or perch precariously in impossible ways across the Three Arches. A low wall is all that saves the many automobiles and Harley-Davidson motorcycles (signifying one of the great American road trips) from a steep drop off the gargantuan mountainside. Mountains like Going-to-the-Sun tower to heights unimaginable even to the seasoned veteran of the Canadian Rockies further north in Banff, Kootenay, Yoho and Jasper.
St. Mary Lake and Going-to-the-Sun
Mountain, Glacier National Park.
The Continental Divide was especially impressive, as sublime as it was in its scope. The ranger station at Logan Pass or a bend near the "Weeping Wall", an outcrop over which pours a constant stream of water, allows one to stretch their legs, hiking paths through the glacial cirques and above the treeline, usually inaccessible from the valley floor. Logan Pass sits at 6600ft above sea level, the closest peaks another two to three thousand feet higher.
Though the paucity of photographs might suggest otherwise (and, quite unfortunately, we are currently experiencing Windows Movie Maker problems), the landscape of Waterton-Glacier is one of the most stirring that we have ever had the privilege of encountering. The Canadian Rockies as a whole are truly, as the Blackfoot suggest, the Backbone of the World. The dazzling vertical expanses of Waterton-Glacier are the crown.