AMTRAK ROUTE GUIDE #15a -- Seattle, Washington to Glacier Park, Montana
Part 5 - Whitefish to Glacier Park
Sandpoint to Whitefish


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.

582.5 The small community on the right (eastbound) is Halfmoon. We are crossing the southern part of the Rocky Mountain Trench, which was occupied by thick glacial deposits during the Pleistocene Ice Age; therefore, the terrain over which the train is traveling is relatively flat here for a few miles, and is covered with glacial deposits.

585-586  Pass through Columbia Falls.  One story concerning the name of the town says that the original site for the town was planned in an area near a waterfall on the Flathead River, which is part of the headwaters of the Columbia River. Another story claims that the “Empire Builder” James J. Hill, who built the Great Northern Railway, had originally designated this town as a railroad division point named Columbia, but after local land owners demanded too high a price for the land, Hill moved the railroad division point to Whitefish, and renamed this community Columbia Falls.  The town was organized in 1891, and is located at the junction of the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River. The tow’s two major industries are Plum Creek Timber and Columbia Falls Aluminum.

587.5 The Middle Fork Flathead River is now adjacent to the railroad on the right (eastbound).  We will be following this river into Glacier National Park.  On the left is the large Columbia Falls Aluminum plant.

588-590  Pass through Bad Rock Canyon, which is cut into another Belt Series member known as the Grinnell Argillite.  These are hard metamorphosed shales and claystones.  The canyon is a glaciated valley, through which large glaciers from the area of Glacier Park flowed to the west, and eventually merged with the large glacier which filled the Rocky Mountain Trench, through which we have just passed.

589.5 Pass through a short tunnel.

591    Across the Flathead River is the town of Hungry Horse.  Approximately 5 miles up the South Fork Flathead River is the Hungry Horse Dam, which was completed by the Federal Government in 1952.  The town of Hungry Horse began as a base from which the dam building operations began.  Like many towns in this part of Montana, the main industry in the area now is tourism.  The mountain range on the south (right if eastbound), which is composed of the Precambrian Piegan Group of the Belt Series, is the Swan Range.

          Hungry Horse is the home of the International Larix Arboretum, a small arboretum and research facility dedicated to the study of the larch species of trees.

592   Cross the Flathead River.

592.5 Pass through the town of Coram, established in 1914.  The former Great Northern railroad station here was called Coram-Nyack.

595.5 The Flathead River is now visible on the left (eastbound).  This portion of the river has been designated the Flathead Wild and Scenic River System.  The high peaks of Glacier National Park should be plainly visible on the right now.

597.5 On the right (eastbound) is Lake Five, one of the many pretty little mountain lakes in this part of the Rockies.

600   The highway on the right (eastbound) is U.S. 2, which we will be following through Glacier Park for the remainder of this log.

600.5 Pass over Glacier Park Route 1, the famous Going-to-the-Sun Highway, as we pull in to the WEST GLACIER station, on Highway 2.  Elevation approximately 3230.  This is the western entrance to Glacier National Park.  This station was formerly known as Belton. Below the AMTRAK “West Glacier” sign, the old “Belton” sign remains on the wall of the station.  Glacier National Park was established in 1910, and is distinguished by its extraordinary beauty.  At one time, there were nearly 50 active glaciers in the park, but many of them are much smaller today, and some don’t even exist any longer.  There are more than 250 glacier-fed lakes in the park and many broad glacier-carved valleys and precipitous peaks with a maximum elevation of 10,448 ft (3185 m) atop Mt. Cleveland. The eastern and western sides of the park are connected by the Going-to-the-Sun Highway, which crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (6664 ft).  On the eastern slopes of the divide are stands of spruce, fir, and lodgepole pine, while the moister western slopes are thickly forested with ponderosa pine, larch, fir, hemlock, and cedar.  Animal life includes brown bears, elk, moose, cougars, mountain caribou, bobcats, mountain goats, bald eagles, and ospreys.  Glacier National Park is also quite well known for its famous 1910-vintage red “Jammer” busses, which carry tourists on guided tours through the park daily.

         For the next 40 miles or so, we will be skirting the southern boundary of Glacier Park and passing through more Precambrian Upper Belt Series sedimentary rocks.  We will then enter the Lewis Overthrust Zone shortly before Marias Pass, and will be traversing much younger rocks (see discussion at MP’s 636 and 645 below).

602-602.5  Pass through a couple short tunnels

603   The Belton Hills are visible to the north, which are composed of Siyeh Limestone, another member of the Upper Belt Series.

603.5 Pass through a tunnel.  The area we are passing through is known as Theodore Roosevelt Pass, named after the 26th President of the United States. who was a conservationist who played a role in the establishment of the National Park Service.  As we exit the tunnel, good exposures of Siyeh Limestone are visible on either side of the Flathead River.

605.5 Pass through another short tunnel.

607.5 The Flathead River is adjacent to the railroad on the left (eastbound).  We are now entering the part of the Flathead Canyon known as John F. Stevens Canyon, named after the chief engineer who built the Great Northern Railway as well as the Panama Canal.

609.5 Cross Deer Lick Creek.  Some of the highest peaks in Glacier Park can be seen from this point, including Loneman Mountain (elevation 7181 ft), Mt. Pinchot (elevation 9310 ft), Eaglehead Mountain (elevation 9170), and Mt. Stimson (elevation 10, 142).  At one time, there were signs posted in the meadow adjacent to the railroad pointing out these peaks; however, they are no longer in existence.

611   Nyack siding.  At a former passenger station here called Red Eagle, passengers were transported across the Flathead River in a basket suspended by a cable.  Nyack Ranger Station is located across the river.

611.5 Pass beneath U.S. 2.

612.5 Cross Wahoo Creek.

614    Cross Cascadilla Creek.  A public drinking fountain formerly located along the highway at this crossing was dedicated to a group of residents of Kalispell who campaigned to get U.S. 2 built through Glacier Park.

         The mountains on the southwest side of the river (right if eastbound) are part of the Flathead Range, and are composed of Upper Belt Series sedimentary and metasedimentary rocks, here primarily Missoula Group and Siyeh Limestone.

614.5 Pass beneath U.S. 2 again.

615.5 Across the river, the small creek which enters the river is Coal Creek, which is named after small noneconomic quantities of coal which occur in young Tertiary rocks, which have been thrusted beneath the much older Precambrian Belt Series in the Lewis Overthrust Zone (see MP 636 below).

617    Cross Stanton Creek.

619.5-620  Pass through 2 more short tunnels.

621    Pass through Pinnacle, most likely named after the pinnacle-shaped rock spires in the rugged mountains visible on the left (eastbound).

624   Small quarry on the left (eastbound) was dug into poorly consolidated Tertiary-aged alluvial sands and gravels, which were part of the formations which were thrust beneath the older Precambrian Belt Series rocks (see MP 636 below).

625.5 Cross Dickey Creek.

627   The picturesque Tudor-style building on the left (eastbound) is the Izaak Walton Inn, named after the famed English fisherman and writer, who was best known for his 1653 book “The Compleat Angler,” subtitled “The Contemplative Man’s Recreation.”  The book has been reprinted many times, and is still well known to anglers and sportsmen throughout the world.  The Izaak Walton Inn was built in 1939 by the Great Northern Railroad to house railroad workers.  Today it is still a relaxing and popular, railroad-themed tourist destination in the Glacier Park area.  Its interior contains numerous railroad memorabilia, photos, and artifacts. Along with the more modern hotel room accommodations, one can also rent a “caboose” efficiency unit at Izaak Walton.  The Inn provides limited rental cars and shuttle service to Glacier Park, and is also an embarkation point for the red “Jammer” bus tours of the park.  Other activities at Izaak Walton are hiking, biking, fishing, and cross-country skiing.  For railfans, there is also an observation bridge over the railroad where one can watch the daily Empire Builder come into and out of the Essex station, as well as numerous BNSF freight trains.

          ESSEX station, ¼ mile east of the Izaak Walton Inn.  Elevation approximately 3851.  The Essex “station” is only a concrete slab on a dirt road, from which a shuttle van will pick up and drop off passengers staying at the Isaak Walton Inn.  The BNSF yard, on the other side of the Izaak Walton Inn from the station, contain helper engines which assist long BNSF freights over Marias Pass and the Continental Divide.  Since the Izaak Walton Inn is open year-round, the Essex station is also open year-round.

627.5 The Walton Ranger Station is located across the Flathead River from the railroad.

629    This area is a favorite habitat for elk.  Mountain peaks on either side of the railroad are composed of the Missoula Group member of the Belt Series.

629.5 Cross Sheep Creek.

631    Pass through Nimrod.  This community was formerly named Java, but the name was changed by the Great Northern Railway and named after Nimrod, a mighty Biblical hunter.  The name “nimrod” therefore generally refers to an outdoorsman, and the Great Northern renamed many of its stations in an effort to attract hunters, fishermen, and other outdoor vacationers to the splendid Rocky Mountains, through which its trains passed.  Here at Nimrod, we cross the Middle Fork Flathead River, and leave the river valley.  Between here and East Glacier, the best views of John F. Stevens Canyon appear on the right (eastbound).

632    Bear Creek becomes visible on the right (eastbound), as we begin passing through numerous snowsheds on this part of the route.  Snowsheds were built to protect the railroad from numerous avalanches which occur near the Continental Divide during the winter months.

635.5 Bear Creek is still the steam which is parallel to the railroad on the right (eastbound).  This siding is known as Singleshot.  We continue to pass through several snowsheds.

636    The railroad is parallel to the trace of the Lewis Overthrust Faullt approximately here. The fault will be north of the railroad (left if eastbound) for the next several miles. The Lewis Overthrust is a major thrust fault in the area and marks the trace along which Precambrian Belt rocks moved at least 34 miles east at the end of the Cretaceous Period.  Because of the low angle of such large overthrust faults (almost horizontal in this case), older Precambrian rocks now rest on top of much younger Cretaceous and Tertiary-aged rocks. The Glacier Park area is the first area in which geologists recognized the existence of overthrust faults, in the 1890’s.

          From Marias Pass (see MP 645 below) we will get a better view of the rocks above and below the Lewis Overthrust Fault.

637    The community of Snowslip is visible on U.S. 2 on the right (eastbound).  The community is primarily a tourist settlement.

         The mountains to the south are now part of the Sawtooth Range, which is composed of complexly folded and faulted, anticlinal Paleozoic-aged sedimentary rocks overlain by Upper and Middle Jurassic sedimentary rocks, consisting of the Morrison, Swift, Rierdon, and Sawtooth Formations.  These rocks trend north-south.

638    The wide flat area on the right (eastbound) is the McCartyville Flats, an ancient lake bed,

          Pass through Blacktail siding.

640   The rocks exposed on either side of the railroad here are Cretaceous sedimentary rocks.  The Lewis Overthrust Fault is now north of the railroad (left if eastbound), and Precambrian Belt Series rocks are exposed above the fault.

642    We are still following Bear Creek on the right (eastbound).

645    Marias Pass, elevation 5216.  Enter GLACIER County, which was formed in 1919 from Teton County.  The county seat is Cut Bank.  Glacier was among seven counties created in 1919. It is Blackfeet Indian country, and is populated by grizzly bears, buffalo, beaver, elk, and antelope.  The county was named after the many glaciers in the area mountains, the same namesake as Glacier National Park.

         We are now at the Continental Divide.  Marias Pass was the pass which was sought by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1802-1806; however, Lewis and Clark never found Marias Pass, since they took a southerly route from Great Falls and then headed north to a point further west.  Marias Pass was discovered by John Stevens in 1889.  On U.S. 2, on the right (eastbound), is a parking area which contains a monument to Theodore Roosevelt, along with a statue of John F. Stevens.

         Looking to the north (left if eastbound), the Lewis Overthrust can be plainly seen.  Since the train goes rather slow, see if you can see the following two Belt Series formations, from the oldest (bottom formation) to the youngest (top formation) above the overthrust: the Altyn Limestone (tan-colored), and the Apekunny Formation (very thick green mudstone),  Above the Apekunny, but not visible from Marias Pass, are the Grinnell Formation (a thick bright red mudstone) and the Siyeh Formation (thick gray limestone).

         The Cretaceous-aged rocks exposed along the highway and the railroad consist of Colorado Shale.

645.5 Summit siding, named after the summit of the Continental Divide, Marias Pass.  We are still traversing the Colorado Shale, of Cretaceous age.

648-650  This part of the route offers beautiful views of the northern end of the Sawtooth Range on the right (eastbound).

650.5 Passing through False Summit.  Lubec Lake appears on the left (eastbound).  The rock formation on the left, separated from the main mountain mass, is known as Old Squaw.  The Lewis Overthrust is clearly visible on the left.  Note the abrupt change in the steepness of the slopes above and below the overthrust.  The Precambrian Belt Series above the fault is much more resistant to erosion than the underlying Colorado Shale, which is much less resistant.

651.5 Bison siding.

653.5 The train is now entering the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.  Rocks exposed on either side of the railroad are Cretaceous-aged Kootenai Sandstone, and at this location, the Kootenai has been prominently faulted, according to Lynn, Amber, and Sullivan (1955).  The small creek which is parallel to U.S. 2 across the road on the right (eastbound) is called Railroad Creek.

655.5 The Kootenai Formation is visible in the bed of Railroad Creek on the right (eastbound).  The overlying Colorado Shale is visible in the mountains on the left, below the Lewis Overthrust.

657    EAST GLACIER PARK station, 400 Highway 49 North.  Elevation approximately 4804.  This station was built in 1913.  Across from the station is the beautifully timbered Glacier Park Lodge, which is open during the summer months only.  The lodge was built by the Great Northern Railroad to attract tourists to the beauty of Glacier Park.  The wood used to construct the lodge was transported by train from the Douglas fir forests of Washington and Oregon.  This is a seasonal summer stop for the Empire Builder.  During the non-summer months, the area stop is at Browning, 14 miles to the east (see RR Log #15c). Browning is the headquarters for the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

               The main purpose for this stop is obviously for tourists destined for Glacier Park and areas in the nearby Two Medicine Valley. The Glacier Park Lodge is also an embarkation point for the red “Jammer” bus tours of Glacier National Park.