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Glaciers of Glacier National Park

January 1, 1914

Glacier National Park derives its name and much of its interest from the presence of many small glaciers. Very much of the grandeur of its wonderful Alpine scenery, the final sculpturing of the great mountain valleys and of the amphitheaters at their heads, and the production of the basins of its many beautiful lakes are due to the action of the more extended glaciers of the past.

There are in the park about 90 small glaciers ranging in size from Blackfeet Glacier, with its 3 square miles of ice, down to masses but a few acres in extent yet exhibiting the characteristics of true glaciers. The most easily accessible of these from the beaten trails are the Blackfeet and Sperry Glaciers and the small glaciers at Iceberg Lake and at Ahern Pass. Some of the others can be reached by tourists who are willing to undergo the exertions of mountain climbing. Among these are Grinnell, Chaney, Shepard, Vulture, and Carter Glaciers, and one or two at Brown Pass. (See map facing page 17.)

After examining these features one can easily picture to himself, as he looks down the valleys, the great rivers of ice which in ages past cascaded from the cliffs below the upper cirques, converged as tributaries from the many branch valleys, and united in great trunk glaciers. In imagination lie can see these great glaciers many hundreds of feet ill depth filling the great mountain volleys from side to side, and deploying thence upon the bordering plains. lie seems to see these mighty engines plucking away the rock ribs of the mountains, smoothing, grinding, and polishing the irregularities and sweeping away the debris to be spread on the plains below. These glaciers developed and extended three times and, after each development, the congealed masses melted away on the return of milder climatic conditions, until at length only the small cliff glaciers of the present day are left lurking in the protected recesses at the heads of the capacious valleys. 

Many of the rock-walled amphitheaters are no longer occupied by ice, but from all there issue streams fed by the melting snow or ice. These plunge over the cliffs in beautiful foaming cascades and rush on down the mountain gorges. The melting glaciers left many inclosed basins large and small, and in these the waters rest a while and mirror in their crystal depths the dark green of the surrounding forests, the rich colors of the rugged mountain walls, and the deep blue of the cloud-flecked sky. On again from lake to lake the waters flow and finally start down their long courses to the sea to merge at length with the chill waters of Hudson Bay, the balm t ides of the Gulf of Mexico, or the rolling billows of the Pacific.

Compared in size with the great glaciers of Alaska the glaciers of Glacier National Park are insignificant. They are even surpassed in size by those of the Alps, of the Canadian Rockies, and of Mount Rainier, Washington. They are, however, thought small, among the best examples of this interesting type of phenomena now existing in the United States. They have also a splendid setting in magnificent Alpine scenery, unsurpassed in grandeur anywhere. Hidden away in the recesses of the mighty mountain ranges these rare and wonderful features form a climax to many of the interesting trips open to the tourist.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1914
Title Glaciers of Glacier National Park
DOI 10.3133/70200436
Authors William C. Alden
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Unnumbered Series
Index ID 70200436
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse