The National Bison Range: Happy National Bison Day!

img_2264Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! Happy National Bison Day!

I posted about our visit to the National Bison Range earlier this year and you can see that recap here. But today’s post is about more than the 350ish residents of the wildlife refuge in Montana…it’s about honoring the estimated half-million American Bison now living in the USA on National Bison Day.

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Yes, National Bison Day is actually a thing. Thanks to the persistent lobbying of the Vote Bison Coalition, a resolution was passed by Congress designating the first Saturday of November as National Bison Day. Then in 2016, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law which officially made the Bison our national mammal.

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Approximately 20 million bison once roamed the American plains providing sustenance for Native Americans. The Westward expansion of white settlers, ranching and over-hunting drove the species to the brink of extinction. In the early 1900s, there were only a few hundred left.

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In 1908, Theodore Roosevelt established The National Bison Range in Northwest Montana. This was the first time federal funds were used to set aside land for the protection of wildlife and marked the birth of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

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Location: 58355 Bison Range Rd, Charlo, MT 59824

Designation: National Wildlife Refuge

Date designation declared: 5/23/1908

Date of my visit: 6/26/2018

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Whitefish Depot – NRHP

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The history of Whitefish and neighboring Glacier National Park is intermingled with the history of the Great Northern Railroad. Great Northern was founded in 1889 by James J Hill and ran from St. Paul, MN to Seattle, Washington. Hill’s business strategy was to develop the areas the trains ran through in order to attract tourism and trade.

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The Whitefish Depot was built in 1928 in the same alpine style as the GN-built National Park Lodges. The Stumptown Historical Society purchased the station and restored it in the 1990s. Today it houses a museum with exhibits on local history and is once again an active railway station for Amtrak.

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With some time to kill before our dinner reservations at nearby Abruzzo, we walked around the depot.

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There is a vintage Great Northern locomotive on display, an antique bus that was used to transport passengers from Kalispell to Whitefish stations and a park across the street from the station.

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Location: 500 Depot St, Whitefish, MT 59937

Designation: National Register of Historic Places

Date designation declared: 7/11/2002

Date of my visit: 6/22/2018

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We saw trains like this throughout our stay in Glacier National Park, the legacy of the Great Northern Railroad. This one was near the Blankenship Bridge on the Flathead Middle Fork

Glacier National Park: Lake McDonald

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At ten miles long, Lake McDonald is Glacier National Park’s biggest lake. It is on the West of the Continental Divide, which receives more rain, so the area is lush.

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The lake is not fed by glaciers and so does not have the distinctive turquoise hue found on the Eastern side of the park. But the water is crystal clear, showcasing the multicolored Argillite rock on the lake’s floor.

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We stopped at Lake McDonald on our last evening in the park. It stays light longer in Glacier in the summer than where we live because it is farther from the equator. We stopped to dip our feet in the icy lake waters before going into the lodge for dinner.

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Lake McDonald Lodge was built in 1913 on the Eastern shore of Lake McDonald at the mouth of Midget Creek. Like the other lodges in the park, it has a Swiss Chalet design which was part of the Great Northern Railroad’s campaign to attract tourists to the ‘American Alps.’

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Though not as big as Many Glacier, the lodge has an impressive three-story lobby and was restored in the 1980s. It includes many of the original furnishings and some reproductions of the original Kanai craftsmen paper lanterns. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

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We had dinner in Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, which was far better than the disappointing meal we’d had previously at Many Glacier’s Ptarmigan Dining Room.

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This appetizer is a charcuterie platter with local game and cheeses. It was delicious.

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Location: 288 Lake McDonald Lodge Loop, West Glacier, MT 59936

Designation: National Park, National Landmark

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910, NHL 1987

Date of my visit: 6/27/2018

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Glacier National Park: Many Glacier Hotel Tour

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I’d read about Many Glacier Hotel’s dramatic rescue in a publication by The National Trust for Historic Preservation. I checked on the NPS website and saw that ranger-led tours of the hotel were held every afternoon. We timed our hike on the Grinnell Glacier trail to be sure we were back in time for the tour.

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We returned back in time to have lunch in the Ptarmigan Dining Room. This is a beautiful place to eat, with its high ceilings, two story windows and the view of Swiftcurrent Lake. But unfortunately, the food was pretty mediocre for the price paid.

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We met up with a park ranger in the hotel lobby for the tour at 2 PM. He spent some time there giving a history of the lodge.

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Many Glacier Hotel was built by Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railroad. Many Glacier was the largest of all the hotels built in the park in an effort by Great Northern to attract tourists to Glacier National Park. Hill is said to have been obsessed with Many Glacier and was more involved in the design and construction than in his other Glacier properties.

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It is designed to look like a Swiss Chalet as Hill considered Glacier to be the American Alps. The site for the hotel was chosen for the symmetry of the view across Swiftcurrent Lake. Grinnell Point is in the middle, flanked by ‘matching’ mountains on either side.

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Time, the elements and some ill-advised ‘improvements’ took their toll on the structure over the years. In 1996, The National Trust For Historic Preservation included Many Glacier on its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places. The force of heavy winter snowfalls had actually knocked the massive hotel off its foundations and the whole thing was threatening to collapse into the lake.

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Through the National Trust, the NPS and other organizations, the $42 million needed to restore the building was raised and renovations began in 2000. It took 17 years to pull the hotel back onto its foundation and restore it to its original design.

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The ranger took us up to the second floor for an overview of the grand lobby. He pointed out the interesting design of the central fireplace, the restored double helix staircase and the Japanese lanterns. These are replicas of the paper lanterns originally installed by Louis Hill who incorporated Asian influences into the overall Swiss Alpine theme.

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Next we went to the Ptarmigan Room where the ranger showed us pictures of what the Great Room looked like after a 1950s makeover. A drop-ceiling had been installed, harboring bats. The cathedral ceilings and pergola were restored in the 2000 renovation.

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The tour concluded outside to discuss the Swiss architecture. The only wooden element remaining on the exterior is the carport. The rest is made of more fire-resistant materials because of the area’s history of wildfires.

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Location: 1 Rte 3, Browning, MT 59417

Designation: National Park, National Landmark

Date designated or established: 5/11/1910 (1987 NHL)

Date of my visit: 6/27/2018

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Glacier National Park: Grinell Glacier Trail

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On our last day in Glacier National Park, we decided to explore the Many Glacier Valley. We parked in the lot for the Many Glacier Hotel since we planned on touring the historic lodge in the afternoon. From the lot, we followed the horse trail over the road and picked up the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail around the head of the lake.

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This short scrubby trail led to the Grinell Glacier Trail head. That parking lot was already starting to get full at 8:30 AM. The hike to Grinell Glacier is one of the most popular in the park.

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I’d already checked online and warned my family that we would not be able to go all the way to the Glacier. It was the last week of June, but the trail is not usually cleared of snow and ice at the top until late July.

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There were signs at the trail head saying basically the same thing, so we were mentally prepared to have a nice hike along the first two lakes and then go left at the fork towards Grinell Lake instead of bearing right to the steep trail to the glacier.

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The first two miles were relatively flat, travelling up the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake and then Josephine Lake. When we reached the end of Swiftcurrent Lake. we looked back to see Many Glacier Hotel against the mountains where we’d started.

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Then a gradual incline took us to a path above Josephine Lake through fields of wildflowers. We passed an inlet with an iceberg floating in it.

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When we got to the fork, we saw young people descending from the glacier trail. They confirmed that we could not get all the way to the glacier, but that we could get to a great overlook of Grinnell Lake by following the glacier trail for 10 minutes.

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Ten minutes turned out to be a steep, slippery, rocky climb of about a mile and maybe 45 minutes in the world of adults who have a less limited concept of time passage. Tall steps were carved into the rock in places and in others, little waterfalls rained down on us, cooling us off.

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The view of Grinell Lake from the overlook is breathtaking. The color of the water is the most vibrant of the three lakes in the valley because it is the closest to the glaciers and receives the glacial flour runoff first.

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At about the three and half mile mark, there was a ranger making sure that no hikers tried to go past the signs and risk traversing the ice covered cliffs.

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As we headed back down the trail, we had to break the news to hopeful hikers on the ascent that they wouldn’t be able to go all the way to the glacier.

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When we got to the start of Swiftcurrent Lake, we decided to hike the other shore back to Many Glacier Hotel. We were rewarded with some different scenes of canoes on the lake with Grinnell Point rising above it.

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Location: 1 Rte 3, Browning, MT 59417

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/27/2018

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Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

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The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site preserves an important piece of American Western history. The Open Range Cattle Era, from 1860-1890, gave rise to the legendary cowboy culture and helped to feed a growing nation.

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Johnny Grant, a Canadian, first settled the land on which the ranch was built. His marriage to a Shoshone woman insured his peaceful coexistence with the Native Americans in the valley. He made a living driving cattle to market in Sacramento and built the original ranch house in Deer Lodge, Montana in 1862.

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Conrad Kohrs moved to the territory in the 1850s without much besides knowledge of the butchering trade. He established himself and opened up several butcher shops where he bought cattle from Johnny Grant. In 1866, Grant sold his ranch and home to Kohrs and moved back to Canada.

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Kohrs, along with his half-brother, built up a cattle ranching empire. By the 1890s, he was grazing cattle over 10 million acres and shipping 10,000 cattle a year to Chicago by rail. He became influential in Montana politics and played a part in the territory being granted statehood.

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We’d driven a long way to visit the ranch and when we pulled into the parking lot in front of a tiny visitors center, I was worried we may have spent hours on the road for a 15 minute stop. Fortunately for the sake of marital harmony, there is much more to this park unit than meets the eye.

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We signed up for a tour of the ranch house and explored the grounds while we waited for our tour time. In addition to the ranch house, there are several outbuildings to explore, livestock, and volunteers and rangers providing living history demonstrations.

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We practiced our non-existent lassoing skills, sampled some ‘Cowboy Coffee’ made by the chuck wagon cook and watched the blacksmith make a gate latch out of a nail. My daughter got to make her own cattle brand out of foam.

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The ranch house looks like an large, but unassuming country home on the outside. But once we stepped inside for the tour, we were blown away by the opulence. The docent explained that Kohrs would reward his wife with extravagant shopping trips in Chicago after enduring the annual cattle drive to the stockyards.

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One huge marble statue in the living room was from the Egyptian exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair. Everywhere we looked, there were ornate knick-knacks. The dining room table was set for 22 with fine china and silver that some hapless ranger has to polish on a regular basis.

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Kohrs’ large desk had a unique hinged design that allowed it to be closed up and locked when he was away. There was a sort of press in his office that acted as a copy machine (I bet it was more reliable than the one in my office.) We weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the house.

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Kohrs had expanded the house with a 5000 square foot addition, including a tub with running water and a flush toilet. Pretty unheard of in the wild west. Cattle ranching was lucrative for the Kohrs family.

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I asked the docent how all of the belongings and furnishings had been so well-preserved. Most historical homes I’ve visited are partially restored with period-appropriate items that didn’t necessarily belong to the original occupants.  After Kohrs’ death in 1920, the home and ranch passed to a trust company of which Conrad Kohr’s grandson was the head.

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Conrad Kohrs Warren and his wife eventually bought the ranch out from the trust. They moved into a more modern house on the premises. In 1972, they donated the original ranch house and property to the NPS with all of the elder Kohr’s belongings intact.

Location: 266 Warren Ln, Deer Lodge, MT 59722

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 8/9/1972

Date of my visit: 6/26/2018

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The National Bison Range

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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We drove south from Columbia Falls on Day 5 of our Montana trip to see a few places off the beaten path. We traveled down the length of Flathead Lake and kept going until we arrived at the National Bison Range. Established in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt, the National Bison Range is one of our country’s oldest National Wildlife Refuges.

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The refuge’s mission is to provide sanctuary for the American Bison. Driven to the brink of extinction by the late 1800s, the bison have made a successful comeback due to the Bison Range and other public lands. There are about 400 bison roaming the refuge today.

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The visitor center is open Thursday through Monday and we were there on a Tuesday. In the parking lot, there was a large educational exhibit about the types of animals found in the refuge, a lock box to place our $5 fee in and printed materials with which to take a self guided tour of Red Sleep Mountain Drive.

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There was also a huge pile of antlers collected from the refuge’s animals as they shed them each year.

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Red Sleep Mountain Drive is a one-way mountain road that climbs through grasslands into an alpine woodland and then has steep downgrades as it loops around to meet Prairie Drive. The loop is about 19 miles long with 10 points of interest featured on the self-guided tour.

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We stopped frequently to take photos of the bison visible from the wildlife drive. They are used to cars and so were often pretty close. It is not advisable to get out of the vehicle while on the wildlife drive.

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At sign number six on the drive, there is a small lot with a few displays about Glacial Lake Missoula which formed the valley below. There is also a restroom at this stop and a trailhead for the 1/2 mile High Point Trail.

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The High Point Trail leads to a point 4700 feet above sea level and has some views we wouldn’t have seen from the road. It wasn’t too steep and wildflowers were blooming in the fields around us as we enjoyed the lovely walk to the top.

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In addition to the herds of bison, the refuge is home to many other animals. We saw an elk, a pronghorn antelope and a few deer on our drive around the loop.

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The last spot on the loop tour is the bison corral. The bison are rounded up once a year for identification and health checks.

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Location: 58355 Bison Range Rd, Charlo, MT 59824

Designation: National Wildlife Refuge

Date designation declared: 5/23/1908

Date of my visit: 6/26/2018

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