National Geographic : 1966 Sep
We pushed through bush as dense as hair on a dog's back. It gradually opened, shrank, and gave way to shale and outcroppings of limestone. The air, which had gone down like dry champagne two hours back, became painfully thin. On the long hump of Crandell's spine, we stepped over a knee-high forest, aspen and cottonwood 100 to 200 years old. The trees had been dwarfed by the cold, dry wind that funnels through these passes. In exu berant mood it can lift a traveler bodily off the trail, or force him belly-flat to escape the shrapnel-like shale in its jet stream. Now we walked through flower gardens, meadows twinkling with color: cushion pinks two inches high with two-foot tap roots, purple gentian, yellow cinquefoil, a hundred different kinds of flowers so thick in each other's shadows that we could not help trampling them. Far below me, pollen blew from the lodgepole pines in the puffs that can fool a warden into reporting smoke. Looking back, I could see where the pine thinned to fir, fir to grass, then moss. And now-nothing but rock, encrusted lime green and orange with lichen. We had climbed above the timber line into the tundra, in effect going north 1,400 miles in 4,000 feet. Now one last ridge, a short incline, and the summit. In the United States Rockies the salient feature is lava; here it is ice. All around us peaks and ridges rose dark against the snow. Even Camp, accustomed to all this, seemed exhilarated, for the beauty of a summit gained by hard physical effort restores the ego of a man even while the awesome height reduces it. St. Mary Canals Make 4,500 Farms Bloom We cooled our drinks in a snow field that slowly melted in the sun, re leasing its trickle of water for the prairies. For as far east as we could see and beyond, 200 by 75 miles, what had once been near-desert was pasteled green by 4,000 miles of canals. This was the St. Mary Irrigation Project. By harnessing the Waterton, Belly, and St. Mary Rivers, runoff from the Rockies is channeled to 4,500 farms. We lunched and rested, while six bighorn ewes with lambs eyed us curi ously from a ridge. Then, balancing on the heels of our boots, we glissaded down a snow field, gathering such speed that I once tumbled over and over. Then down a steep slope of the fine rock called scree, zigzagging, sliding, balancing, to revive our dehydrated cells at the cold, pure rush of Cameron Creek and follow its banks of boulders into town. I dined with Camp at the Prince of Wales Hotel, carved and gabled in cedar, with great windows overlooking the lake (pages 356-7 and opposite). Its builder, the Great Northern Railway, recently sold it to a company headed by Don Hummel, the courtly ex-mayor of Tucson, Arizona. And Hummel, joining us, explained that since 1927 this had been "Waterton's manor house, the epitome of exclusiveness." The exclusiveness ended in June of 1964 when a three-day rain turned Cameron Creek into a torrent. The lake flooded. Visitors fled. Townspeople sought safety in the hotel. And while the park staff was plowing the town site clear of debris-more than 250,000 tons of silt, rock, and trees-herds of children raced through the lofty, carpeted lobby, pressing grubby fingers against the huge windowpanes. "Until we became a refugee camp," said Hummel, "I had no idea the townspeople felt they weren't welcome here. But I think they left feeling Baronial hall with wheel-shaped chandeliers lends old-world elegance to the Prince of Wales Hotel (pages 356-7), which opened its doors in 1927. The name honors Great Britain's Duke of Windsor, then Prince Edward, who owned an Alberta ranch. Fierce winds blew the 100-room chalet eight inches off center during construction; main beams still stand four inches askew. When floods inundated nearby Waterton Park village in 1964, 360 townspeople took refuge in the hilltop hostelry.