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A View From The Overlook: Global Warming, Goat Haunt, And North America's Best Hike (Maybe)
July of 2012 was the hottest July on record. August seemed to promise nothing better. The final blow was the death of our air conditioner from overwork.
Just before it died, the AC told me that “global warming was not in its job description and it could not take the outrageous demands we were making on it.” (For those of you who do not believe in talking air conditioners, let me paraphrase Mitt Romney, who might have said “My friend, machines as well as corporations are persons and can suffer from lack of love and a broken heart!”)
Joan, my spouse, asked me what I planned to do about global warming. Short of a red phone line to God, about the only realistic solution I could suggest was a camping trip in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Yes, we could have cooled off in Alaska or Iceland, but Montana and Alberta were affordable.
Battling Climate Change In The Rockies
Glacier National Park did not disappoint. There was morning frost on the tent fly at St. Mary’s Lake campground and wool watch caps and booties were useful in the sleeping bags. We made a sidetrip Waterton Lakes National Park, the Canadian part of the International Peace Park.
Waterton Lakes National Park is named in honor of Charles Waterton, (1782 to 1865); one of those classic brilliant, if eccentric, British naturalists and explorers who were such an ornament to 19th century science. Ironically, Waterton did most of his explorations in South America and never set foot in the Rocky Mountain West.
Although Waterton is much the smaller of the two parks, and Glacier National Park probably has the larger number of “charismatic mega fauna” like bear, elk, moose, and mountain goat, you will likely have a better chance of seeing these animals if you take a crepuscular drive in Waterton’s Red Rock Canyon.
(Joan was particularly charmed by the imperturbable grizzly bears grazing on the Waterton municipal golf course beside the equally unflappable golfers; she suggested that the course must have rather unique rules concerning playing through and ball placement!)
The centerpiece of Waterton Lakes National Park is of course, Waterton Lake, a more than 20-mile-long, 400-foot deep, fjord-like body of water that stabs into Montana like a liquid dagger. The best way to enjoy this world famous park view (It ranks right up there with such classics as the view from Bright Angel at Grand Canyon or Hurricane Ridge at Olympic) is with a glass of wine in hand in the dining room of the Prince of Wales Hotel at the Canadian end of the lake with a late afternoon thunderstorm breaking over the Montana end and a young woman in evening dress playing a cello on the hotel patio, if you can arrange it.
That was how we remembered Waterton Lake from years ago. Now, thanks to the effects of climate change, things are a bit different. The season in Waterton-Glacier is short. July was said to be the best month, with snow on the peaks and roaring waterfalls, but with danger of rain and clouds. August promised less vigorous waterfalls, but clear skies. With climate change, that is not necessarily so; the Rocky Mountain West is getting hotter and drier.
That means a more intense and longer fire season and that means more smoke. Glacier and the Waterton Lake Valley were full of the blue haze of distant forest fires in Montana and Idaho. No more looking into Montana, at least the day we were present. We took the excursion boat to Goat Haunt, the U.S. port of entry at the Montana end of the lake.
The boat is aptly called The International. This being Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, I am assuming that the International is powered by biodiesel, but I will have to check with Denise, Glacier’s public affairs officer.
(Possibly) North America's Best Hike!
We watched for bears and American bald eagles. Part way down the lake on the port side, we spotted a small unobtrusive dock. It is the trailhead for the Crypt Lake Trail; what some have called the “Best Day Hike in Canada” and what an expansive National Geographic once rather expansively referred to as “The Best Hike in North America.”
You must NEVER do this! Calling a trail “the best” is a little like saying, “My grandchildren are brighter and better than your grandchildren.” It will provoke needless argument and, in the case of the trail, lead to overcrowding. You must use British understatement: The Crypt Lake Trail is “Interesting.”
It is 5.3 miles one way, gains 2,100 feet, passes four major waterfalls, requires you to climb a ladder, crawl through a natural tunnel, and venture out on a ledge ten inches wide with a thousand-foot drop on one side and cliff face and steel cable on the other, before you reach Crypt Lake.
Joan and I agreed that it was an interesting experience.
In less than an hour we docked at the Goat Haunt Port of Entry in Montana. Prior to 9/11, arrival at Goat Haunt was no big thing, but now it is like entering some little European principality such as Andorra or San Marino. If we desired to leave the little NPS pavilion and do some hiking, which we did, it was necessary to walk down the beach a few hundred yards to the U.S. Customs pavilion where two friendly customs agents in their rather forbidding black uniforms would carefully examine our passports and then, with a straight face, stamp them with the official “Port of Goat Haunt, Glacier National Park” with mountain goat logo!
The Making Of A Peace Park
So how did Glacier and Waterton get to be the world’s very first international peace park way back in 1932? One might think that the idea was proposed by the old League of Nations or by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, or by the Audubon Society or the National Geographic Society or some university or other high-minded busybodies.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
The Peace Park idea was proposed by the grassroots, heartland outfit Rotary International. Yup! The Rotarians! That group of extroverted, optimistic boomer businessmen that exists in every town great or small and dedicates themselves to Community Betterment (along with possibly making a profit).
The idea of publicizing the parks and attracting tourists was at least as viable as promoting Peace and avoiding War, but their hearts were in the right place and the idea met remarkably little resistance either in the U.S. Congress or the Canadian Parliament (Mainly because no money needed to be appropriated) and in 1932, the world got its first International Peace Park.
Was it important?
Well, yes it is. Since Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was established, more than 170 joint border parks have been established throughout the world. The NPS pavilion at Goat Haunt has an excellent exhibit detailing a number of these parks and the effect that they had.
The most interesting thing is International Peace Parks established by countries that DETEST each other! (Canada and the U.S. are friendly and have been so for a long, long time) While Israel and Jordan don’t exactly brush each other’s teeth, they put aside their differences to create a shared Israel-Jordan International Marine Park. Costa Rica and Nicaragua were considering a war over disputed boundary lands when some bright soul suggested the land be turned into an International Peace Park “Just like Waterton-Glacier”
It proved to be a good idea!
Likewise three countries --South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique -- countries that don’t always see eye to eye, decided to pool the natural wonders of their countries into a Tri National Peace Park.
The list goes on.
Who knows? Perhaps we can do an International Peace Park at Big Bend on the Tex-Mex border!
So is everything perfect in the World’s first International Peace Park? Not quite. Through no fault of the NPS or Parks Canada, the two parks are separated at the border by an environmental boondoggle: a 40-foot-wide clear cut marking the border that is recut every ten years.
Well, I suppose it keeps the bears, elk, and moose alert and aware of their nationality.
PJ Ryan is on the loose after a 30-year Park Service career that landed him assignments at places such as Jewel Cave National Monument, Joshua Tree National Park, and even the Washington, D.C., headquarters. PJ hasn't lost interest in observing the world of the national parks. For a more regular dose of his observations, be sure to read Thunderbear.