Mount Gould, Diorite Sill, Grinnell Lake, and distant view of Grinnell Glacier
Wildflowers along the Hike to Grinnell Glacier
Beargrass on Grinnell
Wildflowers on the
way to Piegan Pass
Piegan Pass View
All Images Copyright Steve
Glacier National Park
In late July, 2000 I hiked several areas of Glacier National Park. I briefly explored the Lake McDonald Region on the first day, followed by three hikes in the Many Glacier area (Logan Pass through Piegan Pass; Grinnell Glacier hike; Iceberg Lake), ending with two hikes in the East Glacier region (Dawson through Pitamakin Pass region; Marias Pass area in the Blacktail Hills).
Wildlife:Many wildflowers were in bloom, including: Bear Grass, Cow Parsnip (a favorite of grizzlies), Yarrow (a broad white flower used by native people for its hemostatic properties), Arnica (small, yellow flower resembling the Black Eyed Susan family), Heather, Harebells (small blue bells on a stem), Sitka Valerian (resembling Yarrow, but with longer stamens), Monkey Flower (5 purple pedals and two yellow stamens), Forget-Me-Nots, Penstemon (purple, downward facing, wrinkled trumpets), Gentian (deep purple, smooth, more upwards facing trumpets), Yellow Columbine, Glacier Lilly, Lupine (purple cone-like arrangement), Indian Paintbrush (both red and yellow varieties), Moss Campion, Lousewart (whitish bells), and Fireweed (so named because it is one of the first plants to recolonize and area cleared by fire). Tree varieties included Lodgepole Pine (which is serotinous, referring to the fact that its cones only open during the heat of a fire), Aspen, as well as White Bark Pine (which is endangered as a result of the Blister Rust fungus, carried over from Europe). The White Bark Pine tend to grow in clusters due to the fact that several seeds are "planted" in the same place by the Clark's Nutcracker, the major bird responsible for disseminating the seeds of this tree.
Animal life was easy to spot; we saw a grizzly from about 150 yards off of the Iceberg Lake trail, several ptarmigans along the Piegan Pass area (rocky terrain above the tree line where these birds tend to nest), Bighorn Sheep (Piegan Pass and Pitamakin Pass) and Mountain Goats (Grinnell Glacier, Pitamakin Pass, plus other high elevations). Marmots, grouse and Golden Mantle squirrels were frequently seen as well.
How the park was formed: The three forces that have shaped the park over the past 1.5 billion years are sedimentation, uplifting, and glaciation. Sedimentation began 1.5 billion years ago in a large shallow lake about 50 miles to the west of the current day park. The sediment turned to rock under the pressure of gravity over millions of years, resulting in various layers such as the Grinnell (reddish from oxidation) and the Appekunny (greenish). Over a 100 million years ago, the continental plate on which these sediments were resting was moving west, colliding over time with the pacific plate moving east. This is responsible for the upward thrusting which formed the Rocky Mountains, but it also led to an interesting feature of Glacier National Park, namely the Lewis Overthrust. The overthrust represents a phenomenon whereby the older, sedimentary rock (50 miles west, as old as 1.5 billion years) was pushed over younger rock from the Cretaceous period (only 70 million years old). As it was being thrusted over these younger rocks, it continued to travel eastward until it reached its current location in northwestern Montana. Finally, glaciation occurred starting about 2 million years ago and continues to a much smaller scale today. The glaciers are responsible for the breathtaking views of the park, resulting in the wide, U-shaped valleys containing multiple glacier-fed lakes (blue-green due to the way that sunlight reflects off of the sediment carried down by melting glaciers, sometimes referred to as "rock flour" or "glacier dust"). Cirques, aretes, and horns are remnants from a time when glaciers were the predominant feature present in this region.
If you look closely at some of the photographs below, you will notice a dark layer in the top half of many of the mountains and walls present in Glacier. This layer is known as the diorite sill and represents the only igneous rock present in the park. The sill formed by upward thrusting of a column of hot magma from the earth's mantle, climbing vertically until it found a weakness in the rock, allowing it to spread horizontally, like cake filling, throughout the entire region. The magma was so hot that it marbleized the rock immediately above and below the sill, as evidenced by the whitish coloration in these areas.
A great reference book for Glacier is written by David
Rockwell, entitled "A Natural History Guide to Glacier National
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