AMTRAK ROUTE GUIDE #15a -- Seattle, Washington to Glacier Park, Montana
Part 4 - Sandpoint to Whitefish
Whitefish to Glacier Park
Ephrata to Sandpoint


392    SANDPOINT station, 450 Railroad Avenue.  Elevation approximately 2086.  Sandpoint is currently the only AMTRAK station in the State of Idaho.  Sandpoint is a resort area built around Lake Pend Oreille.  The first settlers, who arrived in the 1880’s, had an abundant supply of lumber, and this resource still abounds in the area.  The region soon became a leading supplier of cedars used in telephone and telegraph poles.  In the 1890’s, the Humbird Lumber Company (later incorporated into Weyerhaeuser) came to town.  Downtown Sandpoint now contains many attractive Victorian buildings.

         Sandpoint is also known for its beautiful City Beach Park, just south of the AMTRAK station, which offers scenic views of the Cabinet Mountains to the east.  The city is host to several annual festivals also, including an August music festival, a 10-day Winter Carnival in January, the Timberfest in June, and the International Draft Horse show and sale in October.  The Bonner County Historical Museum, located at City Beach Park, features exhibits covering the Kootenai Indians, railroads, and the lumber industry, plus numerous historic photographs taken by noted photographer Ross Hall.

392.5 The track which leads straight ahead at this switch marks the former route of AMTRAK’s North Coast Hiawatha, which was discontinued during the 1980’s.

393.5 As we round the bend here, the Sandpoint Airport is visible on the right (eastbound).  Between here and Bonners Ferry, we will be following the Purcell Trench (see MP 353 above). The rocks west of the railroad (left if eastbound) comprise the Selkirk Mountains, which are composed of granitic Kaniksu Batholith rocks.  To the east is the Cabinet Range, which is composed of Precambrian Belt Series rocks intruded by Mesozoic-aged batholithic rocks.

396.5 The prominent hill on the right (eastbound) is a diabase sill which was injected into the Belt Series sedimentary rocks. In this part of the state, there are numerous Precambrian-aged diabase sills.  It is believed that they were injected over a time span of several million years; however, much more research is needed to understand the mechanism or the reasoning behind the formation of these intrusions.

401    Pass through Colburn.  The mountains on the left (eastbound) are parts of the Kaniksu Batholith.

403.5 Cross Pack River.

404    Pass through Samuels.  The hills on the left in the distance are the Kaniksu Batholith.

408    Pass through Elmira.  The mountains on the right (eastbound) are composed of Precambrian Belt Series sedimentary rocks intruded by younger Precambrian diabase sills.

409.5 Enter BOUNDARY County, named after the U.S.-Canadian international border, which is the northern county line.  McArthur State Wildlife Management Area is adjacent to the railroad on the west (left if eastbound).  Boundary County was created by the Idaho Legislature on January 23, 1915. It was formed from the adjacent Bonner County.

410.5 McArthur Lake is adjacent to the railroad on the left (eastbound).

411   Pass through the small community of McArthur, on the north end of McArthur Lake.

414    Follow the valley of Deep Creek. The rocks on the right (eastbound) are Cretaceous-aged granitic intrusive rocks.

415.5 Pass through Naples, named after the area in Italy which was home to many of the laborers who helped build the first rail line through the region around 1890.  The Ruby Ridge conflict of 1992 happened near here.

417    Deep Creek Campground is adjacent to the tracks here on the right (eastbound). The ridges of the hills on the left are composed of Cretaceous aged metamorphosed granodiorites and quartz diorite, which are part of the nearby Bitterroot and Atlanta Batholiths.

419    Pass through a deep gorge in the Kaniksu granitic rocks of the Selkirk Mountains.  We are still following the valley of Deep Creek.  Cross the Spokane International Railroad.

421.5 Pass through Moravia.

423.5 Looking north from this point (left if eastbound), the wide flat Purcell Trench is quite obvious.  The Trench is occupied here by the north-flowing Kootenai River.

426-427  Pass through Bonners Ferry.  The Kootenai Valley area was originally inhabited by Kootenai Indians.  In 1808, a fur trading post on the river here was established by David Thompson and Finan McDonald.  During the Canadian Gold Rush of 1863, thousands of miners followed the Wildhorse Trail, which ran through here north to British Columbia.  The entrepreneurial Edwin Bonner, who lived in the area, built a ferry across the Kootenai River in 1864, and charged the miners 50¢ each, and each loaded pack animal $1.50.  Most of the miners crossed the river with mules, but a few of them used camels as pack animals, since the camels could travel for long periods of time without water, and could carry packs of 1000 lbs.  The camels were part of a program promoted by San Francisco’s American Camel Company, but the experiment failed.  Mr. Bonner’s ferry soon became the namesake of the town.

          After the gold rush, most passengers traveled from Bonners Ferry by steamship down the Kootenai to Canada, and the railroad reached Bonners Ferry in 1892.  The city today thrives on tourism, lumbering, and agriculture, including the production of hops and, of course, Idaho potatoes!  Bonners Ferry is the home of the Boundary County Museum, which includes exhibits on the Kootenai Indians.

         We will be following the Kootenai River upstream from Bonners Ferry into Montana for the next 60 miles or so, past Libby, the next stop for the Empire Builder.  As we follow the Kootenai out of town, the Purcell Mountains are visible on the north (left if eastbound), and the Cabinet Range is visible to the south.  Both ranges are composed of Precambrian Belt Series sedimentary and metasedimentary rocks.

428    Cross a small slough which flows into the Kootenai River.  We are traversing the Kootenai flood plain, which consists of Quaternary-aged stream alluvium.

429    Cross Webber Slough.

432   Katka Mountain, on the right (eastbound), is composed of Belt sediments of Precambrian age, which have been intruded by younger diabase dikes.

433.5 Across the Kootenai River on the left (eastbound), the Moyie River flows into the Kootenai.  A few miles upstream are the Moyie Falls, which consist of two beautiful cascading waterfalls, one 100 ft high, and the other 40 ft high,

435   As the train bends to the right (eastbound), we enter a small tunnel.  We are now following the approximate alignment of the Moyie Thrust Fault, which continues to the south and southeast for many miles.  The fault separates rocks from two distinct ages in the Belt Series.  The reddish colored rocks are mudstones in the youngest layer of the Belt Series, which have been faulted beneath the older formations along this fault.

437.5 Katka siding.  Katka Mountain is visible to the west (right if eastbound).

438.5 The Moyie Thrust Fault is located between the river and U.S. 2 here.

443    Leonia Knob is visible on the west (right if eastbound).  It is composed of sedimentary rocks and metasedimentary rocks of the Belt Series.

444    Cross over Boulder Creek as it empties into the Kootenai River.  Early in the 20th century, an attempt at gold mining was undertaken near here, as a small group of desperate miners attempted to build a “sieve” out of old railroad rails in the bottom of the Boulder Creek Valley.  This group then hydraulically washed some 800,000 cubic yards of dirt from the valley walls upstream down onto the sieve, hoping that the finer gold-bearing deposits would fall through the rail sieve, and the ore could then be extracted from the valley floor.  Their attempt was a total failure, and no one had even determined that there was gold to be mined in the area. Almost immediately, the boulders which rolled down the canyon ruined the rail sieve, and no gold was found in the area.

444.5 At Leonia, enter LINCOLN County, MONTANA.  The name “Montana” is from the Spanish word for “mountains,” and the state is known as the Treasure State due to its abundant mineral wealth.  Montana’s Native American population can be divided into two regional groups, those who lived in the Great Plains in eastern Montana, and those who lived around the Rocky Mountains.  The Kootenai and the Salish lived primarily in the western part of the state.  The Blackfoot, Flathead, Assiniboine, and Crow lived primarily in the eastern part of the state.  Many other Native American groups, such as the Sioux, Gros Ventre, and Cheyenne also spent time in Montana; however, their territory fell generally more to the east.  During the 18th century, European fur traders traveled inland from the East Coast in search of precious beaver pelts.  French trappers, or coureurs de bois, and adventurers monopolized the area around Lake Superior, and some may have ventured as far west as Montana.  The first significant Europeans to explore Montana were Captain Merriwether Lewis and William Clark, who got to the Montana Territory in 1805, in their search to find a water route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.  In July 1805, the Lewis & Clark Expedition reached the headwaters of the Missouri River, called the Three Forks.  They named the branches of the headwaters the Jefferson, the Gallatin, and the Madison Rivers.  They continued their journey on the Jefferson River.  By a circuitous route they crossed the Rocky Mountains, and in mid-September, they traversed Lolo Pass into Idaho and left Montana.

          Lincoln County was created in 1909, from Flathead County.  It is named after President Abraham Lincoln, and its county seat is Libby.

         Between here and West Glacier, the route continues to traverse primarily mudstones, claystones, and shales of the Precambrian Belt Series.  The Purcell Mountains are visible to the north (left if eastbound), and the Cabinet Mountains are visible on the south. We will continue to follow the Kootenai River for a while.

449.5 Across the river is the Yaak Campground, located where the Yaak River flows into the Kootenai.  Note the alluvial terraces visible directly above the flood plain of the Yaak River.  A few miles upstream, Yaak Falls has developed on beds of sandstone and quartzite of the Belt Series.

         The Yaak River originates near Yahk Mountain, in the Yahk Range, part of the Purcell Mountains, in southeast British Columbia. According to British Columbia's Geographical Names Information System, "Yahk" is a Kootenai word meaning either "arrow" or "bow," and referring either to the Yaak River or the Kootenai River.  The southward curve of the Kootenai River, from Canada into the United States, then back into Canada, is said to be a "bow", with the Yaak River possibly being the "arrow."

452   The Moyie Thrust Fault is now located west of the Kootenai Valley (right if eastbound).  Rocks visible in the Kootenai Valley are Uppermost Belt Series rocks, which are approximately 600 million years old, and represented here by the Wallace and Prichard Formations.

455.5 Pass beneath U.S. 2.

457    Small Troy Airport is located adjacent to railroad on right (eastbound).

458   Pass through Troy.  Due to its relatively low elevation of 889 ft, Troy’s weather makes it one of the mildest places in the state of Montana.  Troy was inhabited by Native Americans and trappers until around 1889, at which time Montana was becoming a state, and the railroad to Seattle was under construction.  Troy was established along the railroad as a place to for maintenance and to change engines and crews.  This stop provided Troy with economic growth, and after the trains no longer stopped here, mining and logging kept the town active.  In recent years, tourism has also been important in the area.

         Troy was named after either an engineer on the Great Northern Railroad, the son of a family with whom the railroad’s surveyor E.K. Preston stayed, or for the troy weight system used at that time.

459    Cross Lake Creek.  This was the site of the original camp established during construction of the railroad through this area, and was originally named Lake City.  In 1891m the town was moved to its present site at Troy.

461    Cuts along the road and railroad here expose the Wallace Formation, one of the members of the Belt Series.  This unit contains shales and metamorphosed limestones.

462.5 Throop lake on the left (eastbound).  The lake was named after L.E. Throop, a local businessman.

465    The Kootenai Falls are visible in the river on the left (eastbound).  These falls are the largest undammed falls in the Northern Rockies, and consist of two main cascades and numerous rapids.  The total drop is approximately 200 ft.

467-468  Note the rapids in the Kootenai River, as we pass through the Kootenai National Forest.  The prominent mountain on the south (right if eastbound) is Scenery Mountain, which is appropriately named.  The mountain is largely made up of the Precambrian-aged Missoula Group, a member of the Belt Series which is composed largely of quartzite and metamorphosed limestone.

473    Note the flat-topped terraces across the Kootenai River.  These terraces mark the shoreline of glacial Lake Kootenai, which was dammed by a large ice block which was part of the glacier which scoured the Purcell Trench in Idaho (see MP 353 and 423.5 above).

476    LIBBY station, 100 Mineral Avenue.  Elevation approximately 2075.  Libby was named after the daughter of George Davis, an early settler. Libby had its origin as a gold mining town in the 1860’s, when placer gold was discovered in a local creek (see MP 476.5 below). In addition to gold, the region has also had a history of silver and copper mining.  Today it is mainly a lumbering town, and hosts one of the largest sawmills in the State.  It is also the home of the Libby Heritage Museum, which contains a large collection of lumbering and mining tools, farm implements, Kootenai Indian artifacts, and stuffed native animals.  In addition, a mineral called vermiculite is mined  nearby, which is an expansive mica mineral used for insulation, acoustical plaster, and soil conditioners.

476.5 Cross Libby Creek.  About 20 miles south of here, placer gold was discovered in the creek bed in 1886.  The source of the gold ores is igneous intrusions located in the Cabinet Mountains to the west.  Gold continued to be produced into the 20th century, but in relatively small and uneconomical amounts.

477-478  Note the flat terraces visible above the railroad on the south (right if eastbound).  These terraces mark the shorelines of ice-dammed glacial lakes which existed during the Pleistocene Ice Age.

481   As we make the bend here to the right (eastbound), we are following the trace of an overthrust fault, one of many in northwestern Montana, in which older Precambrian rocks are faulted over much younger Upper Belt rocks, thereby exposing older rocks above younger ones.  Such faults are much more pronounced in the Glacier National Park area (see MP’s 636 and 645 below).

482.5 Across the river is another prominent flat glacial lake shoreline terrace just above the river (see MP 477 above).

483    Pass through the ghost town of Ripley, which was active in 1908 and 1909.

488.5 From Jennings here, a railroad line was completed to the north, to the oil fields of Canada, and the passenger line also continued following the Kootenai River to the north.  The railroad got to this point in 1892.  Four miles up the Kootenai from here is Libby Dam, which impounds 90-mile long Lake Kookanusa, which extends to the Canadian border.  The river between here and Libby Dam is a spawning ground for kokanee salmon.  We will now bee leaving the Kootenai River valley.

          The mountains on either side of the railroad are composed of the Missoula Group member of the Belt Series.

490    We are now following the valley of Fisher River, which flows north, into the Kootenai at Jennings.

491.5 Cross Fisher River.  We are still traversing the Missoula Group of the Precambrian-aged Belt Series.

499    As we make the bend to the left here (eastbound), we are now traversing the valley of Wolf Creek, a tributary of the Fisher River.  This valley likely originated during the Ice Age.  The mountains on either side of the valley are the Missoula Group of the Upper Belt Series, which have been folded into a broad anticline between here and Whitefish.  This broad Purcell Anticline is approximately 20 miles wide.

503    We are continuing to follow the narrow valley of Wolf Creek through the Kootenai National Forest.  The mountains on either side of the railroad here are composed of the Precambrian-aged Ravalli Group, another member of the Belt Series, which is composed largely of shale and quartzite.

509   Cross Wolf Creek.

512    Cross Little Wolf Creek.  Five miles southeast of here, at Island lake, a wildcat well was drilled over 17,000 ft deep into Precambrian rocks, with the hope that younger oil-bearing sedimentary rocks might exist beneath the Purcell Anticline overthrust block.  No Paleozoic-aged rocks were encountered, however, and the well turned out to be a dry hole.

513-515  We are now passing through a wide flat area known as Wolf Prairie.  The Ravalli Group is exposed on the left (eastbound), and the Prichard Formation is exposed on the right, both of which are members of the Belt Series.

515   Cross one of the few roads in this part of Montana.

517    Wolf Creek bends to the northeast here.  We are still traversing the Upper Belt Series’ Prichard Formation.

520    We are now passing through the Salish Mountains, composed of east-dipping sedimentary rocks of the Upper Belt Series, primarily the Prichard Formation.

522.5 Cross the highway again. This highway connects Jennings to Highway 93 to the north.

525.5 Enter the 7-mile Flathead Tunnel, the third longest railroad tunnel in North America.  It will take approximately 15 minutes to pass through the tunnel.

532.5 Daylight reappears as we leave the Flathead Tunnel.  We are still traveling through the Salish Mountains in the Kootenai National Forest, and are still crossing the Purcell Anticline (see MP 499 above), composed of Upper Belt Series sedimentary rocks.

536    We are now following the valley of Fortine Creek, named after Octave Fortine, an early settler in the area.

539    Across the highway on the left (eastbound), flowing through a small valley, is Fortine Creek.

541    Enter Flathead County for ¼ mile (see MP 548.5 below), then immediately re-enter Lincoln County.

544    Railroad cuts in this area are in the Precambrian-aged Ravalli Group member of the Upper Belt Series.

547    At approximately this location, we are entering the Rocky Mountain Trench, a 900-mile fairly continuous trough which extends from the Yukon Territory in Canada to the south, into central Montana. This feature is a geologic structural boundary between several overthrust fault blocks on the west and the very large Lewis Overthrust block on the east, which we will see as we travel through Glacier National Park (see MP’s 636 and 645 below).  The overthrust blocks to the west of the Rocky Mountain Trench, through which we have been traveling, consist of very large thick sequences of very old Belt Series sedimentary rocks, while the Lewis Overthrust and the other overthrust blocks to the east consist of thinner slabs of sedimentary rocks of all ages (including some much younger than the Belt Series), which have slid to the east and become “stacked” one on top of another.

548    At Stryker, the former Great Northern line enters this route from the north.  The town of Stryker was named after an early family in the area.

549    Enter FLATHEAD County, which was established in 1893, and named after the Salish Indians, who were also known as the Flatheads.  It was once thought that the Flathead Indians got their name from a practice of “flattening” the heads of young girls; however, no evidence of this practice has ever been documented in the Salish Tribe, but some tribes further to the west did in fact use this practice.  Another theory states that the Flathead Indians got their name from the “flat head” of the river valley in which they once lived.

         The county seat of Flathead County is Kalispell, and television personality Maury Povich is from Flathead County.

550   As we travel through the Rocky Mountain Trench, we are now following the Stillwater River on the left (eastbound).  Sediments in the valley are glacial sediments.

555    At Radnor, cross the Stillwater River.

555.5 Upper Stillwater Lake, on the right (eastbound), is a glacially-formed lake.  Across the lake, you may see flat-topped glacial deposits overlying the Belt Series rocks of the mountains.

560.5 Pass through Olney, named after a local rancher who lived in the area during the early part of the 20th century.  Red to green sedimentary rocks of the Belt Series in this area contain limonite, an iron oxide mineral.

561   Stillwater ranger station is visible on the left (eastbound).  We are now traveling through the Flathead National Forest.

562-563 Lower Stillwater Lake is visible through the trees on the right (eastbound).  It is impounded by a small dam.

566   Pass through Lupfer, named after an engineer in charge of construction for this portion of the Great Northern Railroad.  The hills on the left (eastbound) are now composed of the Piegan Group, another member of the Belt Series, which is characterized by high percentages of carbonate (limestone and dolomite) rocks.

567.5 As we round the bend here, the Piegan Group of the Belt Series is exposed on the hillsides on the left (eastbound).

569.5 Boyle Lake is visible on the left (eastbound).  Hills surrounding the lake are composed of Piegan Group carbonate rocks.

571.5 We are now skirting the shore of Whitefish Lake, a large glacially-formed lake, on the left (eastbound).  Across the lake is the eastern fault zone which marks the boundary of the Rocky Mountain Trench (see MP 547 above).  Big Mountain Ski Area may also be visible across the lake.

572.5 Vista siding, named after the beautiful view of Whitefish Lake and the Whitefish Range.

574.5 Cross Beaver Creek.

575.5 Pass through Whitefish Lake State Park, on Dog Bay of Whitefish Lake.

576.5 Whitefish Lake Country Club is visible on the right (eastbound).

578    WHITEFISH station, 500 Depot Street. Elevation approximately 3034.  Whitefish is named after its location on Whitefish Lake, and the lake got its name from the large amount of whitefish harvested from the lake.  This area is a center for outdoor recreation, including skiing, fishing, hiking, and other activities.  Big Mountain Ski Area is visible from the station to the north.  Whitefish was also a division point for the Great Northern Railroad, a second choice to Columbia Falls, which was initially considered, but later turned down when the “Empire Builder” James J. Hill couldn’t agree on a price with that town.  The city was settled in the late 19th century, and originally named “Stump Town,” due to the number of stumps from trees which were cut down to build the city in an old forested region. The Stumptown Historical Society Museum is located in the AMTRAK station.

          Whitefish is the home of the 4-day Whitefish Winter Carnival the second weekend of February, and the Flathead Festival in July, which features music throughout the area.  In August, the Huckleberry Festival takes place.

               Since this is a crew change/engine servicing point for the Empire Builder, you have time to get off the train for a few minutes and enjoy the crisp mountain air.  Notice the little Golden Agers Park, just south of the station across the street.
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