Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Waterton/Glacier National Peace Park


From Rocky Mountain House we headed south in the general direction of Waterton/Glacier National Peace Park. On the way we found another enjoyable small town called Pincher Creek, so named for a pair of horse shoeing punchers used to trim horses hooves, that were found in a creek by an army officer in the 1800s. There was a great town campground with huge cottonwood trees, very few people a very low price. Our favorite kind. Pincher Creek is known as the wind capital of Canada. It is where the plains meet the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and there are windmills everywhere, taking advantage of the constant wind.

While we were in this area we visited “Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump” The museum was housed in a fantastic building that was built into the cliff. All you could see of the building from the outside was what looked like sections of layered rock poking through at various levels along the hillside.

The museum explained how the Indians pulled off the incredible task of luring the buffalo off the wide open planes, into their man-made chute that lead over the cliff. This was often a combined effort of several tribes in order to pool enough manpower and expertise. They spent days making the chute from piles of stones, dung, rock, and brush. They stationed people behind these barriers to keep the animals going in the right direction. For days, runners, some dressed in coyote skins, some in buffalo skins, slowly but persistently got the herd to move from the open country toward and into the chute. One wrong step and the entire process could go wrong.
Other exhibits described seasonal traditions and legends of the Black feet Nation, as well as dioramas showing archaeological methods and finds at this site. This particular buffalo jump was not ravaged by bone hunters looking to ship the phosphorus rich skeletons to fertilizer factories because it was too far from any railroad. Here there are still bone piles that are 36 feet deep. This jump is thought to have been used for as long as 6000 years.

Waterton/Glacier National Peace Park

Before we left Pincher Creek, a fellow camper recommended a campground just outside Waterton named Crooked Creek. Turned out to be a great place, just a couple of miles from the park, much more privacy than in Waterton Townsite, and half the price.

Our first excursion, after checking out the visitors center, was Red Rock Canyon where we took a very nice hike to Blakeston Falls and along the red rock canyon. In Jasper there are glaciers everywhere, in Waterton, there are waterfalls everywhere. Our canyon hike was along the upper edge, but there were several groups of teens down in the canyon, hopping from one pool to the next, enjoying every minute.

That afternoon we drove to Cameron Lake, another picture perfect glacial made lake. While at the boathouse we saw 4 or 5 large dark blue colored birds. I asked the clerk and was told they are Stellar Jays, and their home range is Waterton Park, Canada. They look larger than blue jays, with deep midnight blue colored feathers and a black head comb.

On the road back from the lake we saw, not one but three bears. The first two were high up on a hill that had 3 meadows separated by corps of aspen trees. The first bear, which we think was a grizzly, was in the 2nd meadow up the hill. The other, maybe a black bear, was in the 3rd meadow. He had found a patch of berries and was content to eat these as long as they lasted. We watched for quite a long time, then moved down the road about ½ mile and Marlin spotted another bear in a clump of berries about 30 feet off the road. We took about 50 pictures of him, of which maybe one or two are any good. Yeah digital.

Everywhere you go in Canada, there are signs warning about bears and the dos and don’ts, one of which is “Don’t get out of your car” While we were parked at the side of the road watching this very close bear, many other cars stopped and lots of the people got out of their cars, one guy brought his four year old, and walked between our car and the bear!

That night at the campground we had some new neighbors, who right off asked us to join them in a glass of home made Saskatoon Berry and Choke Cherry wine. These very social folks owned a ranch not far from Pincher Creek. We spent two nights at their campfire drinking their homemade wine, which he hauled out in one gallon jugs.

The next day we hiked to Bertha Falls. We choose not to take the camera because it was hot and what was “one more waterfall”. Of course it was a mistake. There were wonderful view points of Lower Waterton Lake, the falls were outstanding, and we saw this incredible little bird called a dipper, jumping in and out of the waterfall and the pools enclosed in the rock pockets. This fascinating bird feeds underwater on insect larvae. He actually dives underwater to feed. We were close enough, and he hopped up and down on the falls long enough that we could have had some great pictures. That is always when you see the best sights, when you don’t have a camera.

That afternoon we took the boat trip on Lower Waterton Lake. This lake has an average depth of 275 feet with its deepest point set at 487 feet deep. It has the classic long narrow shape that all these glacial lakes follow. Our young narrator on the boat entertained us with tales of his climbing feats on all the visible peaks. This lake crosses the international border and docks at Goat Haunt in the US, which is only accessible by this boat or a 30 mile hike over a couple of mountains.

After supper we went back to Red Rock Canyon Road and sighted five more bears along the road. The best show was on the golf course. A big black bear was enjoying the well tended grass while all the golf carts were scurrying for high ground.

Glacier Park

Glacier has started a new free shuttle bus service that travels over the “Going to the Sun” road. The buses run every 15 minutes, stop at all the places where you can hike from, so you can get off and on at your own pace. One of our drivers told us that they estimate this system has taken between 500 and 1000 cars off this road daily. The 500 number is if there are four people in the vehicle.

We came in on the Saint Mary’s Lake side and the buses were school bus size. When you get to Logan Pass, the transport is the size of a van. After traveling that portion of the road, it is easy to see why the reduction in vehicle size. The road, a marvel in itself, is just wide enough for two way traffic with constant hairpin turns with vertical rock walls on the inside and vertical drop offs on the outside. It takes two hours to make a one way trip with out any stops.

Going into Glacier, we had several hikes and special spots to visit all planned. We decided to take the complete Going to the Sun shuttle ride on the first day to help us organize our visit in the park. When we got up the next day we looked at our plans and realized we were in overload from all the grandeur we had been seeing over the past two weeks. We needed a vacation from our vacation. It was painful to pull away from Glacier Park without even one hike, but we knew we did not have any enthusiasm left at this point. So we packed up and went about 75 miles south east to Fort Benton, Montana.

Marlin at our Crooked Creek campsite

The Prince of Whales Hotel near the gate of Waterton/Glacier Park. This hotel was also built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to attract tourists

Upper Waterton Lake. There three Waterton lakes. At one time they were all one lake but have been silted into three pieces over the years

Blakeston Falls

Far away bear

Close up bear

Cameron Lake, Waterton Park

A ram at Logan Pass, Glacier Park

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