Saturday, September 20, 2008

An Extraordinary Voyage

The cool thing about blogging is that you meet a lot of people that share the same interest as you. In this case it is all about National Parks, an area of interest that I truly enjoy to no end. I also know that this blog is always 100% "Americana". But every once in a while you have to bend the rules a little. After all, "Were All in North Americana"!

Having said that, I have invited a fellow blogger, Cory Gross from Canada to give us a look at a recent trip that he and his friend, Jolene Robertson took through Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

"The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is the name of the union of the Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and the Glacier National Park in the United States. Both parks are declared Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO and their union as a World Heritage Site.

The union of the parks was achieved through the efforts of Rotary International members from Alberta and Montana in 1932. It was the world's first International Peace Park, symbolizing peace and friendship between the two countries."

So in his own words, highlighting both the Canadian and U.S. areas of this "Majestic Park", here is Cory:

On the Internet, most know me as the creator of the Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age weblog. Classmates, however, know me as a fellow recipient of a degree in Museum and Heritage Studies. A love of the antique romance of the past drives both of those projects, but a large part of my degree focus was on design, delivery and style.

How the environment, natural and artificial, can be used to convey information, express emotion and cultivate experience is fascinating. A recent trip through Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park served as a potent laboratory for examining the subtlety with which this can work it magic.

Upper Waterton Lake, looking across the border.

In appearances, there is very little that is different between the Canadian and the American national parks along the stretch of the Rocky Mountains. The foundational premise of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is that Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and Glacier National Park in Montana share the same geology, ecology and bodies of water straddling the 49th parallel.

Glacier National Park incorporates the southernmost tip of what are known as the Canadian Rocky Mountains, as distinct from the American Rocky Mountains. Unlike the southern chain, the Canadian Rockies are composed of older, sedimentary cherts, black slates and blue-grey limestone thrusted upwards and sculpted by the passage of Ice Age glaciers.

The Continental Divide at Logan's Pass, Glacier.

The southern part of the Canadian Rockies share cultural, as well as natural, history. The Blackfoot First Nation, or Blackfeet Native Americans in the United States, had a territory that bordered the Rocky Mountains between the Yellowstone and the South Saskatchewan rivers. The world of the Nitsitapii, their own name for themselves, was distinguished by a geographic unity and bordered by natural landmarks, rather than by abstract lines of latitude and longitude on cartographers' maps.

Chief Mountain, an important landmark to the Nitsitapii.

The arrival of Europeans, the establishment of the national parks and the construction of chains of "Grand Railway Hotels" appears superficially similar as well. Yellowstone, the world's first national park, was created in 1872. In Canada, Banff was created in 1885, Yoho in 1886, Jasper in 1907 and Kootenay in 1920. Waterton Lakes was set aside in 1895 and Montana's Glacier was set aside in 1910. The original timber Banff Springs Hotel was built in 1888 and replaced by the current stone building in 1928.

Banff park's Chateau Lake Louise was started in 1913, while the Jasper Park Lodge was opened in 1921. Glacier Park Lodge, Lake Macdonald Lodge and the Many Glaciers Hotel in Glacier were built in 1913-14. The Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton was built later, in 1926-27. Banff, Yoho, Jasper and Glacier were all developed by railway interests, but the construction of the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier in 1932 aligns it with Kootenay, which was established with the automobile in mind.

St. Mary Lake, Glacier.

All the parks share a subtext of classic North American rustic architecture with their log cabin walls and trophy animal heads, but it's in the style of those most impressive and iconic buildings, the Grand Railway Hotels, that we can begin to see the differences between the two nations' parks come into focus. Nearly all the hotels looked to a European model, taking seriously the advertising slogan that the spectacular Rockies were the Alps of North America. From that inspiration, they diverge along subtle but still radically different lines.

Lake MacDonald Lodge, Glacier.

In Canada, the hotels became the type of what is sometimes called the country's main national architectural style: "Railway Gothic". This is a blend of Gothic Revivalism and the French Chateau style used in most of the Grand Railway Hotels (hence the term) and many public buildings. Hearkening back to the English Arts and Crafts movement spearheaded by William Morris, Railway Gothic expresses the Victorian obsession with mediaevalism and all that entails. The feeling one gets is overwhelmingly that of the Old Country, of ingrained traditions, of the Crown, the red serge of the Mounted Police and the red, white and blue of the Union Jack.

The Banff Springs Hotel is the prime example. Built in the Scottish Baronial style, it is a piece of the Highlands transplanted to the New World. One is as likely to hear the wail of the tartaned piper as the cry of elk, reposing in the shadows of solid stone towers or admiring the tapestries and armorial bearings therein. The same sense is felt in Waterton's Prince of Wales Hotel.

Though built by America's Great Northern Railway and currently owned by Glacier Park Inc., the American concessionaire that operates the lodges of Glacier National Park, it was named after royalty in order to entice the future King Edward VIII to stay. He opted for his own nearby ranch instead, but the hotel bearing his title retains a cultivated sense of aristocratic propriety. At 4 o'clock on the dot, in halls adorned with photos of the errant King, one can take in that most British of all traditions, afternoon tea.

The Prince of Wales dwarfed by Waterton Lakes' mountains.

If Canada retains its historic connection to the Victorian Era in its Rocky Mountain resorts, the United States enshrines its own exercise in wilderness expansion and Manifest Destiny. Though the hotels of Glacier National Park are built on the Swiss model, they developed into the American style dubbed "National Parks Rustic". It still hearkens to an Arts and Crafts movement, but not the British one. The underlying aesthetic of the American Craftsman style is the line and geometry that worked its way through American art and architecture in the 1920's and 30's.

Beneath the rough-hewn stone and logs, one still sees this "wilderness streamline" and it invokes all the same sensations as Streamline Moderne. The weight of Victorian tradition is absent, and in its place the motifs of the landscape and its indigenous people is fitted over an architecture communicating progress, the ideal future of a World's Fair and the red, white and blue of a revolutionary nation.

Many Glacier Hotel on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier.

The three main lodges of Glacier - Glacier Park Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel and the Lake McDonald Lodge - share this Swiss-come-American style with the common motifs of tall pillars of rough-hewn tree trunks imported from Washington and Oregon supporting high-roofed, airy lobbies. Throughout these are trophy heads and skins set beside Native artwork recalling the indigenous Blackfeet.

Beyond these is Glacier's most iconic institution, the red "Jammer Bus". Established in 1936, this fleet of touring cars are sleek, 1930's vehicles built by the White Motor Company specifically for the United States National Parks. Of the fleet, only the red buses of Glacier and the yellow buses of Yellowstone remain in use. Against the incomparable backdrop of the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, they cut an impressive profile.

The famous red bus.

In spite of the cultural differences between the two nations, one is still taken aback and rendered breathless by the natural landscape. We come again to what pulled the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park together. From the west, the Rockies rise up suddenly, eschewing the rolling foothills by abruptly jutting from the prairies. In Waterton, a herd of bison are kept as a reminder of when this monarch ruled the grassy plains. Facing the view directed by the Prince of Wales and Many Glacier hotels, one sees glittering blue lakes surrounded by mountains. Looking back, one sees the grasslands stretching out, inexplicable.

Where the mountains meet the prairies, Waterton Lakes.

Moving deeper inside the parks, one rises up the grade of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, past its namesake mountain into the land dubbed the "Crown of the Continent". The broad valleys of the more northerly Rockies and east Glacier are traded for startling extremes.

Above the highway tower vertical cliffs to immeasurable heights. Beneath, these same cliffs drop into distant ravines. At the Divide is the astonishing manifestation of the sublime hewn in living rock and windswept trees. In the midst of this, national differences - neither better, only different - pale to the same insignificance of the human hearts which enshrine them. This is the very point of the International Peace Park.

The following is a 10-minute silent film travelogue of the park, with very cool vintage music and effects! Text and video by Cory Gross. Photos by Jolene Robertson.


Major Pepperidge said...

Wow, what a beautiful place! Gotta go there someday....

Cory Gross said...

I highly recommend it! Jolene and I are certainly planning on returning next summer, hoping to explore deeper into the backcountry of the Continental Divide. The Rockies as a whole are a place that never tire of visiting, or living in the shadow of.