August 25th is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson established the National Park Service by signing the Organic Act into law. The purpose was to, “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
What better way to celebrate than by looking at a true treasure and one of our nations most beautiful national parks, Glacier National Park. In 1910, President Taft signed the bill creating Glacier the 10th National Park. In 1932, Waterton Lakes National Parks in Canada and Glacier National Park were joined together and named the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. In 1995 it was designated the first World Heritage Site. We were fortunate to be able to visit there this summer for two short days. It is a spectacular park with towering rugged mountains, sparkling turquoise lakes, thick green forests, beautiful vanishing glaciers, colorful alpine flowers and home to the big eight of wild mammals – grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, wolves, wolverine, mountain sheep, moose and mountain goats.
Nicknamed the “Crown of the Continent,” by naturalist George Bird Grinnell, Glacier boast an impressive 1,013,322 acres of true wilderness. It is a haven for hikers and backpackers with more than 700 miles of trails ranging from “easy” to “strenuous.”
St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls is a very popular, easy 3.1 mile day hike in the St. Mary Valley. This area was part of the fast-moving wildfire of 2015 that decimated a section of the park.
There was a stark contrast from the unburned side of St. Mary valley and the burned side.
There is always positives that you can find in unfortunate occurrences. Wildfires are a necessary and natural event in any wilderness area. They open up the forest allowing for new growth and regeneration. Just a year later, this was quite evident as beautiful wildflowers were popping up everywhere as well as new tree seedlings.
There was beauty even in the burned out trunks of the trees.
The charred remains of this tree reminded me of the head of a bison. The bison and the woodland caribou are the only original missing mammals that used to call Glacier home.
The striations on the rock outcroppings and the variety of numerous wildflowers infused color into the charred landscape.
The hiking path got closer to the creek and we could begin to glimpse the deep turquoise blue of St. Mary Creek.
When a glacier starts to melt, this melt water flows into the lakes and streams. It carries glacier silt or rock flour. This is created when the rocks under the glacier are ground by the movement of the ice. This rock flour is super light and stays suspended in the water. The sunlight reflects off the rock flour making the streams and lakes turquoise blue.
In July and August, the flow of the melt water is highest and has the greatest concentration of glacial silt giving it the most intense color.
The closer we got to St. Mary Fall, the louder the roar of the falls got luring us into it’s spray. It was gorgeous – especially the turquoise color.
You can see into the depths of the lakes and streams because of the cold water. It never gets above 50 degrees so very little plankton can grow thus keeping the waters crystal clear. After being mesmerized by the beauty of the falls, we continued our hike to Virginia Falls.
We listened to the bubbling melody of St. Mary Creek as we hiked the path now on the opposite side.
It wasn’t long and we were up high looking down onto the falls, bringing water from a different mountain lake to Virginia Creek, and then to cascade over the ledge to join up with St. Mary Creek below.
Looking up the falls, the forest was thick and lush as this side of the creek had not been ravaged by the wildfire.
We stayed quite awhile reveling in the serenity and solitude of the area. Finally we tore ourselves away from the beauty. We knew there were equally gorgeous areas yet to explore.
In the words of a great conservationist, “It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.” ~ President Theodore Roosevelt