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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Powerful Medicine: Cross Country Skiing in Glacier National Park

Native sacred sites are often natural scenic treasures of such beauty that they make you want to quit your job and move your family to be near to them. The power that radiates from their rushing waters, towering stark stone, or impossibly green vegetation make it obvious why native populations believed that area to be inhabited by their gods.

Machu Picchu in southern Peru and Iguazu Falls on the Paraguayan, Brazilian, Argentine border were the first natural sites where I felt the presence of a higher power. Glacier National Park in Montana created a similar feeling. Previously when I thought of Glacier National Park, I thought of the poor melting glaciers and the only reported incident of a bear actually eating and digesting a human. Now, I fully understand why the Blackfeet and Flathead tribes hung around the area.

Switching to how-I-spent-my-spring-vacation mode, we took the Empire Builder AmTrak train on a 16 hour train ride to Essex, MT.

The town of Essex pretty much consists of the Izaak Walton Inn where we stayed in a refurbished blue locomotive engine pictured to the left. While it may look rustic, the locomotive engine had two fire places and a flat screen TV and DVD player.

When we weren't playing in the locomotive's intact engine room where we could pretend to drive the train, we covered 10-12 miles per day on cross county skis

The river (McDonald Creek) and mountain combo on the left is off the Going to the Sun Road which is the Covered with the Snow road in the winter. The starting point is the immense Lake McDonald.

On the right is the road to Two Medicine on the eastern edge of the park. The enormous mountain pictured is called Rising Wolf. With the name, imposing face, and the stillness of the area, I really would not want to do anything to anger this mountain.

Some may feel that I obviously spent too much time hitting the peace pipe in college with my comments on spirituality and powerful medicine.

However, the story behind the picture on the left will make even the most hardened pragmatist believe in a higher power. Located in the Two Medicine area, it's called Running Eagle Falls and is the burial site for a great female warrior. The frozen ice in the middle of the water fall looks like a heart.

The final photo on the right is for any readers who need something more tangible or have mocked vomited for the last time because of all my spiritual references. It's a story of steel, rail, commerce, manifest destiny, and taking credit for Native American discoveries. This photo is from a trail near Marias Pass which is the lowest point in the Continental Divide. Marias Pass is the reason for the financial success of the Great Northern Railway (or success until Warren Buffet recently bought it). Since the grade was not very steep due to the lower elevation of the Pass, the railway could operate more efficiently and less expensively than competing transcontinental railways.

The success of the railway led to the the opening up or rediscovery of Glacier National Park and my spiritual journey about 120 years later.

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