The story of Glacier National Park begins about 500 million years ago, at a time when there were no mountains in the region - only a vast, exceedingly shallow sea, bordered by desolate plains. The sand, clay, and mud, in part very limy, that were laid down in this sea eventually hardened into the rocks that are now known as the Belt series. These are the principal rocks in the park. Scattered through these rocks are crinkled, limy masses of many forms, the remains of deposits made by colonies of algae. After the Belt series was laid down, successive seas slowly advanced and retreated through long ages across what is now Glacier National Park, burying the Belt rocks under younger ones. After another very long time, a gentle uplift, the forerunner of later events, brought this part of the continent above the reach of sea water for the last time. Much later, some 50 million years ago, the disturbance became far more intense. To climax this upheaval, a mass of rock thousands of feet thick and hundreds of miles long was shoved eastward for 35 miles or more. This tremendous dislocation, well exposed along the eastern boundary of the park, is known as the Lewis overthrust.
When the rocks of the region emerged from the sea they began to be attacked by erosion. As successive periods of crustal movement and erosion continued, the younger rocks were slowly stripped off the Belt series and sculpture of the latter by weather and water shaped the early Rocky Mountains.
The final episode in the park's geologic past was the ice age, beginning about a million years ago. Repeated advances and retreats of the great glaciers in the high valleys accentuated the mountain terrain and developed the scenic grandeur that is now Glacier National Park. One may say that the park is still in the ice age, for some glaciers still exist.
The present report, companion to two more technical reports on the region, informally presents the story of the park's development through past eras for readers without geologic training. Many places worth visiting are cited in the text, and a shaded relief map is provided to help find them.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
The Rocks and Fossils of Glacier National Park: The Story of Their Origin and History