The crowd is roaring as the two teams are presented; Blowfish and the Shookers. The teams get into position. Straw in hand. Head bent. Fish cup on the go. One, two, three, go. And the goldfish race has begun.
It is East Glacier Park Montana. It is Blackfoot country. And I am at the only saloon in town. The Trailhead Saloon. The place is jam-packed as one of the most exciting events is taking place. The goldfish race has gathered more than 20 teams which all compete to blow their goldfish over the finish line first in a long run of elimination matches. If the goldfish doesn’t win, you eat it.
That night a lot of goldfish ended their days in the stomachs of hungry contestants.
East Glacier Park is a small four block wide town on the Empire Builder line. On the one side of the train tracks stretches out the four blocks and on the other, the majestic mountains of the Glacier National Park are hidden in the darkness of the Montana night. Most people who happen upon East Glacier come to visit the Park, either for work or recreation in the summertime. while in the winter the place can boast no more than 400 inhabitants.
Before ending up at the Trailhead Saloon, I have spent two days enjoying some of the spectacular views of the National Park. Unfortunately, the park is expensive to navigate without a car and distances are far. But an expensive shuttle bus leaving from the Swiss looking East Glacier lodge has taken me to see both Two Medicine and Many Glaciers.
Two Medicine and Many Glacier
In Two Medicine where I went on my very first day, I went for a short hike beyond the camp-ground to the North shore. However, being on your own in bear country is not the smartest of ideas. I therefore, ended up singing ‘Old McDonald had a farm…’ all the way. At some point I got so tired of my own lack of musical talent that I turned around and back to civilisation. But the surroundings of Two Medicine was so beautiful and full of wild flowers in all the colours imaginable.
Having had a taste of what the National Park offered but knowing the limitations to my mobility, I decided to join a Red Bus Tour around the park. The bus was scheduled to leave at 9 AM, and yet when I arrived it had already left. Arghh. I will never get used to changing time zones so often. Devastated that I missed a day of seeing the park, I felt pretty bumped. However, the very friendly and compassionate lady at the information immediately re-book me for the same tour the next day and then spent half an hour suggesting me other things to do. I ended up taking the shuttle once more all the way to Many Glacier. It blew a whole in my money purse, and yet when I look back I am really happy that I decided to go to Many Glacier and join a boat ride on Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Not only is this area one of the most iconic in Glacier National Park, but we also happened upon a rather brown black bear. Fortunately, we all got on the boat before he came too close, but what a treat. Now I can say that I saw both grizzlies and black bears. But more than seeing a black bear, I was surprised to see a man walking around in lederhosen. I mean what on earth is the folk costume of Bavaria doing in an American national park. The guy wearing the lederhosen was a valet, and it was a part of his uniform. Auch, no harm meant to German traditional costumes, but I am can think of a whole range of other uniforms would have been preferable to lederhosen. Even a potato sack. Anyway, the guy told me it was a part of the original planning of the Many Glacier lodge as well as most of the park lodges. Apparently back in the 1910’s Bavarian traditional dresses and Swiss Alp huts were very attractive to the upper class American. Hmm. So in order to attract this segment to hold their holidays back home in the national parks rather than in Switzerland and Bavaria, the area was constructed to look as the European Alps. This might all be very good for the newly weds and nearly deads of American tourists who frequent these parks, but it is pretty sad for the European traveller to go cross the Atlantic and find a replica of back home. I would have preferred tipis seeing as this is ancient Blackfoot land.
I suppose that is why I jumped at the opportunity to join some workers for the Trailhead Saloon. Except for the high concentration of season workers, it doesn’t get more local than this. Just the fact that it is a saloon and not a bar makes me excited. And that it moreover happens to be at an Indian reservation is just absolutely amazing, since I already have met the cowboys at the Calgary Stampede.
I knew absolutely nothing of the Blackfoot Indians when I arrived, but I will admit that I have read a bit about them and been told a few stories and legends by some of the people working in the park. Of what I have understood, the Blackfoot Indians are historically a very aggressive tribe, and was quite the scare for the white settlers. They are a proud people with rich historical tradition and closely connected to the Rocky Mountains. Today they are living to the East of the Glacier National Park. The park used to be their land and holds many their sacred places, such as Two Medicine. It seems that every mountain is enchanted by some Blackfoot legend or story. If I had had more time, I would have loved to become more acquainted with the history of the Blackfoot Indians.
Red Bus Tour
On the day after the goldfish race I woke up very early, scared that I would once again miss the Red Bus Tour. I was standing in the lobby of the East Glacier lodge an hour before departure. And yet only ten minutes to departure I realised I had forgotten my park pass in the cabin. I therefore once more was late. However, this time they knew and waited for an exhausted me panting with loss of breath and with my park pass in hand.
The tour was worth it. I came to see both the West side of the park, the Lake MacDonald and off course the scary Going-to-the-Sun road. For as long as we stayed on that road, I didn’t blink. What a long way down. However, I took so many pictures that my four GB of memory was full long before the end of the trip, and I hate deleting pictures from the camera. I hope that the pictures I kept and post here will give just a bit of a reflection of the marvels of Glacier National Park, as well as the fun of the local goldfish race.