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A ride through Glacier National Park in Montana, USA

Located in Montana, USA, Glacier National Park offers more than glaciers to anyone who visits. It is rightly called Crown of the Continent.

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This view of Lake McDonald, one of many glacier-fed bodies of water in Glacier National Park, was one of the reasons adventurer Mikah Meyer decided to embark on an epic journey to visit all 417 national parks.
This view of Lake McDonald, one of many glacier-fed bodies of water in Glacier National Park, was one of the reasons adventurer Mikah Meyer decided to embark on an epic journey to visit all 417 national parks. VOA
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There was a time — in this northwest corner of Montana — when glaciers ruled the land.

Crown of the Continent

The abundance of the massive rivers of ice — and their runoff — created “a land of striking scenery.” That’s how American anthropologist, historian, naturalist and writer George Bird Grinnell described Glacier National Park, nine years before the land was set aside as a national park on May 11, 1910.

Today, there are far fewer icy behemoths. And they’re all shrinking.

These photos of Jackson Glacier – taken in 1911 and 2009 -- show how the once-massive river of ice has shrunk in less than a century.
These photos of Jackson Glacier – taken in 1911 and 2009 — show how the once-massive river of ice has shrunk in less than a century.

“There are currently 26 glaciers in Glacier National Park,” says national parks traveler Mikah Meyer. “I can’t remember the exact number that there were when it was founded but it was vastly higher,” he added. “The glaciers are melting and the snowfall is not restoring their size in the way that they have in past years.”

Melting glaciers

But the glaciers – both those long gone and those that still remain — have left their mark. As they started melting 10,000 years ago, they carved out majestic mountains, lush valleys, and pristine lakes.

Glacial waters are the headwaters for streams that flow west to the Pacific Ocean, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and east across the continent to Hudson’s Bay, according to the National Park Service. It emphasizes that that runoff “affects waters in a huge section of North America.”

With more than 760 lakes and nearly half a million hectares of parkland, it’s easy to see why Mikah has returned.

“Five years ago I stood on this exact same spot; at the end of the dock on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park,” he said as he stood in front of a landscape so serene, it could have passed as a painting.

“It was one of my first experiences with the National Park Service site and I was hooked,” he admitted.

Waters from those melting glaciers also feed Iceberg Lake — another popular attraction in the park. “It is very cold and very windy and lots of little icebergs floating back there by the snow,” Mikah said as he braved the winds to capture the scene with his camera.

Iceberg Lake is a popular day hike destination in the park.
Iceberg Lake is a popular day hike destination in the park.

But despite the cold, nearby wildflowers were in full bloom, creating a pastoral setting. As Mikah walked through a field of bear grass, he said he felt like he was “in some fairytale land.”

The elegant white blossoms are a common wildflower in Glacier National Park, which this year grew in prolific numbers. They provided a perfect environment to view the local wildlife, including deer, moose, marmots and mountain goats.

Generous tour companies

Mikah got lucky when several tour companies offered him a chance to explore the park from a variety of perspectives. With Red Bus Tours, Mikah got a nice overview of the park from their vintage 1930s buses.

The 33 Red Buses of Glacier National Park, nicknamed “The Rubies of the Rockies,” on average, transport 60,000 tourist each summer.
The 33 Red Buses of Glacier National Park, nicknamed “The Rubies of the Rockies,” on average, transport 60,000 tourist each summer.

“It’s a massive park — it takes an hour and a half just to cross it,” he noted. “So it’s a guided tour that allows you to focus on looking at the beauty of the park instead of having to stay on these tiny mountain roads.”

Swan Mountain Outfitters donated a horseback tour for an eight-hour trek to Cracker Lake, an eye-popping turquoise body of water which is also fed by melting glacial waters.

Mikah described the scene: “You crest over this hill on the horses and you’re in the middle, surrounded by bear grass and trees and flowers and these large gray mountains in the background, and it just pops like nothing else.”

With its stunning turquoise waters, Cracker Lake stands out like a jewel against a backdrop of greens and grays.
With its stunning turquoise waters, Cracker Lake stands out like a jewel against a backdrop of greens and grays.

And thanks to Montana Whitewater Rafting, Mikah got to experience those glacial waters up close during a rafting tour on the Middle Fork River — a 150-kilometer river in western Montana that forms the southwestern boundary of the park.

“It was a very clear river,” Mikah said, since the water was a combination of glacier melt and snow runoff. “So you could see down through the water to the bottom, see the rocks, and the fish, so very pure, very clear water.”

National parks traveler Mikah Meyer got to experience the clear glacial waters of Montana's Middle Fork River during an exhilarating rafting ride.
National parks traveler Mikah Meyer got to experience the clear glacial waters of Montana’s Middle Fork River during an exhilarating rafting ride. (Photo: Montana Raft)

Mikah was pleased to have experienced the park from the depths of the water as well as from the top of a ski lift where he could see “where it all started.”

Mikah, who’s on a mission to visit all 417 national parks in the U.S., says he hopes to come back again one day, even if the glaciers are gone.

“Even if the physical glaciers don’t still exist because they melted away, it can still be Glacier National Park because that’s what created this amazing landscape.” (VOA)

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Ancient Cliff Dwellings built of Sandstone and Mud Mortar Draw Modern Crowds

NO one knows why the ancestral Pueblo people abandoned Mesa Verde by 1300

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Mesa Verde
Sometime during the late 1190s, after living atop the mesas for 600 years, many Ancestral Pueblo people began living in sandstone cities they built beneath the overhanging cliffs. VOA
  • Mesa Verde National Park in the southwestern part of the state, protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings built of sandstone and mud mortar
  • Because the dwellings are on the edge of a cliff, visitors get unprecedented views of the surrounding country
  • For seven centuries, starting around 1,500 years ago, the area was home to the Ancestral Pueblo people

June 27, 2017: After leaving the enchanting landscape of New Mexico, national parks traveler Mikah Meyer headed north into the state of Colorado, where he found more natural and manmade wonders.

Cliff Dwellings ‘on steroids’

His first stop was Mesa Verde National Park in the southwestern part of the state, which protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings built of sandstone and mud mortar. It is home to the largest, best-known and best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America.

Having visited the “impressive” Gila Cliff dwellings in New Mexico, Mikah said the ones at Mesa Verde were on a whole new level.

“They are 10 times bigger,” he said. “There are just so many ruins to look at, and hike to and from, and tour, that it’s basically a cliff dwelling site on steroids!”

Accompanied by a ranger, who was a family friend, he walked among the ancient structures, marveling at their beauty and architecture.

ALSO READHistorians Unearth Jain Inscription at Quilashpur Fort

Ancient culture

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, is not only a beautiful national park site, but historically significant as well. For seven centuries, starting around 1,500 years ago, the area was home to the Ancestral Pueblo people.

Their culture spanned the present-day “Four Corners” region of the United States – which is where four states – Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah – meet. Today, that notable spot is a popular tourist destination, where visitors can literally place a limb in every state.

Back at the park, visitors can visit cliff dwellings of different sizes.

Balcony house — a 13th-century marvel

Tucked under a sandstone overhang, Mesa Verde’s Balconi House offers an ambitious tour. Accompanied by park rangers, visitors have to climb a 10-meter (32-foot) high ladder and squeeze through a tunnel to reach some of the main areas.

But their efforts are rewarded with close-up views of the massive structures — including 40 rooms and two ancient Kivas, circular structures that were typically used for religious and social gatherings.

In a National Park video about Mesa Verde, ranger Andrew Reagan says visitors to the sites can’t quite believe the existence of the dwellings.

“They come to this park and they first see the cliff dwellings and they think ‘that’s an impossible place to live.’ But as soon as you climb that ladder and you’re inside the North Plaza, it all makes sense. They look around at the beautiful walls and the balconies that still have their plasters on them and they think, ‘I could do this…this is a really comfortable space.’”

Also, as Mikah points out, because the dwellings are on the edge of a cliff, visitors get unprecedented views of the surrounding country. “You can go to the peak and have amazing 360-degree views of Shiprock [Mountain] in New Mexico and the Colorado valley and mountains and white capped mountains to your east.”

Long House

The second largest cliff dwelling in the park is Long House, and getting to it is another adventurous journey. A two-hour ranger-guided tour includes hiking for 3.6 kilometers (2.25 miles) and climbing two ladders.

During the tour, park rangers point out the nearby stream which provided fresh water for the people who lived here, and discuss their agricultural practices in the dry desert.

Cliff Palace

Another site, Cliff Palace, is the largest cliff dwelling, not only in Mesa Verde park but in all of North America. With 150 rooms and 21 kivas, people say it looks more like a city.

After visitors walk down a sandstone trail and climb up a 3-meter (10-foot) long ladder, they’re greeted with stunning examples of ancient architecture.

“And you get to look at each individually crafted block of sandstone that was crafted 800 years ago and realize how much time and energy the Pueblo Society invested in these sites,” according to ranger Reagan.

Mesa Verde was abandoned by 1300, and no one knows why. Some say it was due to a series of prolonged droughts, or possibly by over-farming, which hurt food production.

But the site remains an attractive destination for visitors seeking beauty and ancient history. “They built these sites so grand that they were drawing people in from all over, 800 years ago,” Reagan said.

And 800 years later, the UNESCO World Heritage Site continues to draw visitors from all over, like Mikah Meyer.

He invites you to learn more about his travels across America by visiting him on his website, Facebook and Instagram. (VOA)