Monday, August 23, 2010

Waterton Lakes

On Saturday, the 21st, we broke camp in Lake Louise, feeling some sadness that we had finished our tent camping for this trip.  We're already talking about some short trips - to Yosemite, or King's Canyon, or the Redwoods for more camping.

We drove through some magnificent country on the border between Alberta's plains and its Rockies to Waterton Lakes National Park. 

This relatively small park is the Canadian part of the Glacier-Waterton Lakes International Peace Park, the first example of a cross-boundary park.  We had been to the adjacent Glacier National Park in Montana five years ago, but didn't make it across the border.  We rectified that by staying for two nights in the Waterton Lakes townsite.

The Canadian National Parks are quite different than the U.S. ones in that all three in which we stayed had developed towns within them.  In the U.S., there are lodges and campgrounds, but they operate under strict rules and are isolated from the commercial ventures outside the park.  I think our approach is better, since it provides for more pristine environmental conditions.

Nevertheless, the Waterton Lakes townsite is a charming little town, if a bit schizophrenic.  It simultaneously reminded me of Atlantic City, a very small upper midwestern town, and a bit of Canada.  The town has maybe 1500 residents now, but by the start of October the number will be about 50.  The real owners of the town are the deer, which can be found everywhere and are shown below occupying the baseball diamond.

The high point of our stay was a 2.5 hour boat trip from the townsite to Goat Haunt at the upper end of Upper Waterton Lake.  Goat Haunt is actually in Glacier National Park, since the boat crosses the boundary about halfway down the lake.  The boundary is defined by a 20' wide cut that marches from Puget Sound to Lake Superior.
The Boundary Cut into the Trees
Goat Haunt Ranger Station from Visitors Center
The boat, the International, is an 83 year-old, with a wooden hull, built at Goat Haunt so the Northern Pacific Railroad could claim U.S. registration. 
The International
The Northern Pacific brought its tourist passengers to the lodges in Glacier and built the Prince of Wales Hotel and the International as part of its efforts to spur use of its transcontinental line running just south of Glacier.
Prince of Wales Hotel
The Prince of Wales Hotel and the International were built at the same time by the same folk.  What I found pleasing about both was the sensibilities of the designs for the conditions - mainly harsh weather - both mustr endure.  The International has a deep keel so that she is remarkably stable in the high winds that sweep up the lake; the Prince of Wales has shaply peaked roofs to withstand the 200+ inches of snow it receives each winter.  Incidentally, the view down the lake from the hotel's lobby is one of the outstanding treasures of a visit to Waterton Lakes.

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