Libby

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

We stayed with Gail and Rick about a week and from Condon were headed towards Calgary. We discovered that there was a Highland Games festival taking place in Libby Montana so we decided that would make a good first stop. Gail decided to join us for so after packing up our car (and hers), we said goodbye to Rick, Poppy and the yard deer and set off.

After arriving in Libby we went to the campground where the games were to be held the next day. The title picture of this post is of Big Foot at the games!

The participants were practicing their skills so the three of us decided to join in and practice what we do best!

Huckleberry Adult Lemonade! Yum!

The next day we made it back to the games and frankly I was a little concerned at some of the judges! LOL

But I needn’t have worried. The athletes were pretty amazing.

The entrance of the Clans was probably the highlight for us though.

After some time at the games, we went to a local brewery and had a tasty lunch and then Gail headed back to Condon and Mike and I had a relaxing evening before hitting the road again to Canada the next morning.

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Flathead Lake & Big Fork

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

The nearest “big” town (45 min) to Gail and Rick is Big Fork. Gail originally lived here when she first came to Montana. It’s a great little town with beautiful views and the usual small shops and restaurants one would expect. It sits on Flathead Lake which is shown in the title picture above.

We made a couple of trips to Big Fork during our stay. One of those included having an afternoon drink at a marina on the lake. Followed by supper in downtown Big Fork.

After dinner we saw the Bigfork Summer Playhouse Repertory’s production of The Wedding Singer. This company counts among its alumni, J.K Simmons. It was a fun evening.

Glacier

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

One day during our stay in Montana, we got up early and left the house around 8!am and Rick drove the four (oops, Poppy made 5) of us to Glacier National Park where we rode the “Going to the Sun” road.

This 50 mile long road road was built from 1921-1932 purely as a scenic road across the mountains as a way for tourists to experience the beauty of the park. More about it in a bit.

Along the way we stopped at Lake McDonald Lodge for a break and a nibble. Like the lodges we visited in Yellowstone, this historic building had some of the same interesting log details but was more intimate. It would have been great to stay a night or three here.

The lake is beautiful and one can take sightseeing cruises along the shore or swim in the clear (COLD) water.

At the lodge and throughout the park we saw the red (Yellowstone has yellow ones) open topped historic “buses” that were the initial way to take the road. Now in addition to these which cost a bit, there are free shuttles or one can at least at the moment drive your personal vehicle.

From the lodge we started the road to the sun which would take us up the mountain Vanna is showing you below.

The sights along the road are incredible but the civil engineering of the major portion is what is truly incredible. Rather than a series of switchbacks that would have resulted in a significant harm to the views of the mountain, there is only one switchback near the base and then a long, long, long continuous grade up the side which follows the curves of the hillside. This single slope allows the road to be camouflaged making for a more natural scene. Though it was significantly more expensive than the switchbacks, $2.5 million in 1933 dollars or $50 million today.

Through out our stay in Montana, Gail had been showing is small patches of white blooms of “Bear Grass” but she said she hated we arrived too late to see it in full bloom. Little did she know that at the higher elevation it was just starting to do so. Such an interesting and beautiful flower.

After the long and beautiful drive up the side of the mountain we reached Logan Pass. From here one could see mountain goats on the hillsides above.

Unfortunately, couldn’t get a photo zoomed enough to show you the goats, but we did see (and hear!) marmots which are a big species of squirrel.

Below Vanna is pointing out the same peak as shown in the original Vanna picture closer to the top of this post.

Since it was getting late, rather than driving down the other side of the pass, we retraced our drive stopping at several places including a jumping rock where we watched some fools.

We had a wonderful supper at the old train station at the park entrance that included delicious bison meatloaf-unfortunately we were so hongry that I forgot to take a picture.

Poor Rick, he then had to drive the 2 hours back home where we arrived about 9. It was a long but wonderful day seeing another part of our beautiful country.

Condon Montana

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

After 8 nights on the road in some less than palatial hotels, we were thrilled when we got to our friend Gail’s house in Condon, Montana and the beautiful view from her front porch above. The view from the back isn’t so bad either!

And the house looks exactly as one would expect for a log home in Montana including the many animals hunted by her husband Rick.

Gail and I met years ago in Raleigh and she even lived with me for a month so in my first house when she was between an apartment and her first house. So that’s right, she predates Mike!

Gail happened to pull out some pictures of the trip she took with us and Mike’s Mom, Lois to New York just before a Christmas in the nineties. It’s not fair that Lois and Gail look the same while Mike and I have aged so poorly!

We surprised Lois with a horse drawl carriage ride ( yeah I know, but back then we thought the horses enjoyed it!) and even took along champagne and flutes! We was fancy!

Gail left NC several years ago and ended staying in Montana and shortly thereafter she met and married Rick-in fact they got married just before Mike and I in 2014. I found out when I called to invite her to Raleigh! LOL

We had a great visit with them both. Getting to know Rick and picking up with Gail like we had seen her yesterday…rather than the seven or eight years it had been!

They were great hosts sharing both their home and their love is Montana. Stay tuned to see some of the places we toured with them, including Glacier National Park.

Oops, almost forgot our third host, Poppy!

Yellowstone Day 2

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

We awoke to another beautiful day and the view from our cabin door was incredible. Much better than the view of the cabin!

After driving back up those windy switchback roads we found ourselves back in the park and reached the lake seen in the title picture. Just a bit further along we came to Yellowstone Lake where Mike got his feet wet!After a quick comfort stop at Lake Yellowstone Hotel we headed north to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Along the drive we saw more bison! Including two males butting heads over a female bison. Apparently in late summer, all the bison (thousands) gather in this valley for rutting season and similar battles take place for all the ladies.

Further along our drive we came across more elk.

We made two stops in the canyon, the first at one of the waterfalls that you can get close to.

On the way to and from the waterfall look out above, we came across prairie dogs or some other rodent. They were fun to watch.

The final stop in the canyon was for the iconic Artist Point view of the lower Yellowstone Falls. This view was made famous by the painting done to publicize the park back before color photography was available. It was a beautiful spot.

From the canyon we headed due west using the Norris parkway to leave the park from its western gate. We left the park about noon before heading north towards Montana and our stay with our friend Gail. We spent the night in Butte at a lovely Howard Johnson’s-who knew they were still around? They are now part of the Wyndam family and our stay was only $32 as we used our first “free” night from hotels.com.

In the past we have usually tried to stay at Hilton properties (Clay’s points) or Hyatt (Mike’s) to collect or redeem points. However, on this roadtrip which has included so many stops at small towns, we have determined that hotels.com is providing us with a good value. With a couple of exceptions, the hotels have been fine (well clean anyway) and the 10th night free (they credit you the average price you have paid towards your “free” night) is much easier to gain and use than hotel points, especially when staying at different brands. Anyway, we had a huge suite in Butte, so we went to the store, bought some prepared foods for supper and Mike hooked up the appleTV and we pretended we were in our place having dinner in front of the TV!

We both were so pleased with how our visit to Yellowstone worked out. I was discouraged when we arrived at our accommodations both nights when I realized I had been fooled by googlemaps into thinking we were right at the park, when instead we were right by the National Forest next to Yellowstone. But in the end it worked out fine…we got to exoeriencnebthe Beartooth Highway which I didn’t know about until we had checked into the hotel. This also meant we used the least used NE gate and and we went counterclockwise through the park we saved Old Faithful until last so we rarely had any traffic jams (bear/bison/moose jams as they are known in the park). Everyone had told us to be prepared to sit for much of the day in traffic, thankfully the only time that happened was at a place where someone had put their RV in a ditch and another where construction had narrowed the road to a single lane. Otherwise we were able to park relatively close (once or twice we had to go around the lot a second time) to the sights and with the exception of the waterfalls in the canyon never had to deal with huge crowds.

If you haven’t been to Yellowstone, go! It was so much more than I imagined it could be.

Bob Ross wasn’t just imagining his paintings!

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

I always thought Bob Ross was just making up the images he painted on his show back in the day. After visiting Yellowstone and the other national parks both in the US and Canada, it became clear that while the configuration of his images might be made up, he was at least in some way painting from memory too. His painting below could have certainly existed in one of the parks!

I mean compare it to what we saw in real life!

Up next, day two at Yellowstone!

Yellowstone Day 1

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

So finally made it to Yellowstone on July 10th. After our (very) early morning drive over Beartooth Pass we got to the east gate about 8 am. And within minutes we saw our first animals-Bear! Yes I know they are hard to see in the picture above but trust me, they were two bear cubs lazing in the tall grass just off the road. We kept waiting for Mama to show up but no luck. It was so exciting to see them relatively close up (wouldn’t have wanted to see them much closer!) and so quickly after entering the park. Both of us were so glad we had set the alarm for 6 am and actually ended up waking up before it and got on the road so early.

After the two cubs wandered further into the woods, we continued on our way and soon reached the valley where we saw Bison! These amazing animals also know as Buffalo graze throughout the park and we (and you) will see more throughout our visit to Yellowstone but as they say your first is always memorable!

I happened upon an App that used gps to tell you about the park. For $6 it was great, like having our own tour guide in the car. One of the spots it suggested we take a detour to see was the beautiful waterfall below.

We made a stop near the north gate to visit the National Park Service’s Visitor Center. Had trouble getting to our parking space due to the Elk! Once parked, I got out of the car to take a picture and one of the rangers suggested I get back in a the car, as sometimes these peaceful looking animals become less so. We loved watching the one enjoying its reflection in the window.

After our comfort stop at the Visitor’s Center, we headed to the Norris Geyser basin for our first look (and smell!) of Yellowstone’s famous Springs and geysers.

It was so wild to see the formations that they had made and to see the earth bubbling. If you want to do some reading this link will take you to an article about the various types and how they are formed. We saw more than enough during our two days and for those of you who know us, Mike doesn’t let me boil eggs due to his disgust over the smell so trust me when I tell you that he really didn’t like their smell!

It was interesting to see the colors around some of the springs. This isn’t from the deposits of the Springs. Rather, it is algae that has evolved to survive the high temperatures.

Further along the north loop drive, we saw another beautiful waterfall.

But soon it was time to see more hot springs.

From that geyser basin we then went to another, the “Paint Pots” which I remember my Grandmother taking about from her visit back in the late sixties. This area requires quite the hike, and in one of the videos below you can hear me breathing hard. It was really fun to see the kids waiting for the bubbles to burst and in some cases splash them with the hot mud.

We saved the most famous geyser for last. Old Faithful is so named because it erupts fairly on schedule. And because of this we got to watch and wait for it with just a few hundreds of our friends including the two interesting dressed and masked Asian ladies who squoze onto the bench with me.

Old Faithful looks like this most of the time…

and every so often it puts off more steam and everyone gets excited but then it dies down again….

Even the bison lounging nearby got bored and decided to get up and move on…

But finally your patience pays off and you get to see what all the excitement is about! Below the picture is a video of the full 4 minute eruption… if you want to experience it a little more what it was like!

After Old Faithful blew it’s top, we wandered into the lodge. It’s an amazing log building and has a great patio where one can watch Old Faithful from the comfort of shade and with a drink! Next time I plan on seeing it from up there!

After a slight meltdown (we had been up for over 13 hours and walked over 15,000 steps and nine floors according to our phones) we headed out of the park and to our accommodations (note I didn’t say hotel) for the evening. I had booked this room as it was the closest to the park (based on the google map) without being one of the high price ($600) or unavailable rooms at the lodges in the park. Turns out, there is a National forest adjacent to Yellowstone so our hotel was actually about an hour drive from the east gate. And the road had construction so suddenly we got worried if we were gonna make it before the reception desk closed at 10. After a quick stop for a burger (our only food other than the subway sandwich lunch we ate in the car during a previous construction delay) we hightailed it down windy roads and reached the Trail Shop Inn about 9:30.

Needless to say after getting up at 5:30 and having an exciting first day in the park and planning to get up early again to spend our second day there, we went almost immediately to bed happy to rest but having had a really great day of incredible sights!