Peter Jackson’s footage of New Zealand may have defined epic fantasy visuals for a generation, but Montana had imprinted on my heart years before that.
I’ve been to Glacier National Park every few years throughout my life, as the largest part of my steady childhood diet of lengthy road trips. (I’m fortunate to have family just outside the park to stay with, so it remains an easy option, in addition to an amazing one, now that I have kids.) As the “crown of the continent”, Glacier was a convenient point of reference when I was reading epics.
Gloomy primeval depths of towering cedars littered with mossy boulders! Waterfalls pouring from the face of towering craggy peaks! Forests twisted by screaming winds, blackened by raging fires, or standing ghostly watches half a century after their death! Mountaintop watchtowers and remote trails-end inns! Your mom constantly warning of your potential horrible demise by grizzly bear, falling, or drowning! Glacier has all these and more!
The Going-to-the-Sun Road, the park’s most popular feature, is the kind of ridiculous colossal construction project that could only have been built by ancient titans. Fifty miles of road climb from the eastern plains up and over a mountain pass, narrow lanes clinging to the wall of the continental divide with rock straight up on one side and straight down on the other, before descending into pacific northwestern forest.
Beyond being a convenient reference point, I have some specific connections from fantasy to Glacier. My family’s road trip ritual included a pre-vacation book store visit to equip us for the ride. I remember reading Return of the King one year during the drive west, dark storm clouds gathering over the plains of central Montana with the Rockies looming on the horizon in front of us as Frodo and Sam crept into Mordor. On the trip after fifth grade, I picked up the Forgotten Realms boxed set for the ride based only on the cover art. I knew nothing of role-playing games until reading through that on the trip to Montana; later trips saw my brother and I playing D&D in the back seat during the drive.
I’m consciously continuing that tradition. My wife gets carsick easily if not driving, so I’m the designated provider of snacks, navigation, and entertainment on the road. This year I picked up the Pathfinder 2e beginner box and ran a game for my kids from the passenger seat. (No map/theater of the mind, they’re using the box lid for a dice tray between them, and my daughter is trying really hard to read the module over my shoulder from the back seat.) They’ve picked up the theme, deciding they see stone giants everywhere in the park, slumbering as rocks a la Frozen 2.
Regardless of whether you love epic fantasy (and why wouldn’t you?) or just hiking, Glacier is worth a visit. Preferably before the cyberpunk-but-annoyingly-banal dystopia we actually live in eliminates the rest of the glaciers and sets the park continuously on fire, but I suppose it depends on what genre you’re trying to envision?