Sunday, July 23, 2006

Yellowstone/Glacier Trip, Part VI

July 5, continued...

This morning I got up at 7am, got ready, then walked 100 feet to a little diner owned by a Blackfeet Indian family. I had biscuits with sausage gravy, hashbrowns, sausage, and a vanilla latte. The breakfast tasted off, probably because the sausage gravy on the biscuits had onions and mushrooms in it. Huh? It didn't taste very good.

After breakfast I returned to the motel to grab my backpack for the 8 hour circle tour red bus ride. I packed my camera, lots of bottled water, and some other things I thought I might need. I then drove over to the lodge where we all eventually got on bus 102 with our tour guide Heather Holly.

From this point on I'll let the pictures do most of the work of illustrating what the tour was like.

The red buses seat 17 people plus the driver. Ours was mostly empty when we left Glacier Park Lodge, as we were going to pick up a large number of people at Sir Isaak Walton Inn, which is located along US Hwy 2. From the lodge we ventured down the highway, stopped at a monument commemorating the man who found the pass through the mountains (named Marias pass). The monument is not at all striking, so I didn't take a picture.

From there we picked up a couple at an RV park along the highway, then traveled to Sir Isaak Walton Inn, where some of the cabins outside the inn are in old cabooses.

We picked up two families at the Inn and made a couple of stops on the way to Lake McDonald Lodge. Here we broke for lunch, and I had a good amount of time to investigate old tree stumps, snow melt runoff streams, rocks on the beach, and other things. The view of the mountains was a bit misty, but the lake water was a brilliant azure/turquoise/aquamarine color that our guide has dubbed 'turazmarine'.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Yellowstone/Glacier Trip, Part V

Wednesday, July 5, 8pm

Yesterday morning I slept in, well I laid in. When I got up and at 'em I drove to West Glacier along US Hwy 2. The drive takes a little over an hour, depending on how many vehicles are in front of yours. I learned today that US Hwy 2 runs for 4,060 miles from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon and beyond -- all the way to Seattle. It even goes into Canada at one point. It is also called Theodore Roosevelt International Highway. The drive is mountainous, twisty curvy, and absolutely beautiful. The road follows the path of the Great Northern Railway line, and I saw a couple of trains going along.

Upon arriving at West Glacier, there is a little cluster of shops. These shops all sell pretty much the same things. I was able to find an appropriate T-shirt for my nephew. There is no sales tax in Montana, which is refreshing, so a $9.95 shirt costs just that - $9.95.

I then went down the road through the west entrance to the park to the town of Apgar which is situated on Lake McDonald. There is a souvenir shop located in the old Apgar one-room school house that was built in 1915. I regret I didn't take a picture of it. I should also pause to make a note that many of the buildings in and around the park are so old that the floors slant and very little appears plumb or level. This is especially true of the structures in East Glacier which is actually located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and may or may not be subject to state and federal building codes. I looked in a couple more shops then grabbed a quick lunch at the only restaurant in Apgar. Afterwards I had huckleberry ice cream in a waffle cone. Huckleberry is BIG around here. All the shops sell a ton of different huckleberry products from salad vinaigrette to hand lotion.

I then walked down to the edge of Lake McDonald, took a few pictures, then walked back to my super dented car. It was very evident yesterday morning that the hail did some real damage to my hood and roof.

I needed to get back to East Glacier to get to my horseback ride by 3. My friend wanted to go back to a shop called The Spiral Spoon at which she had purchased 3 gorgeous hand carved spoons. These spoons were works of art - truly, so I dropped her off there, parked at the Lodge, and walked to the horseback riding concession place.

I've ridden numerous times in my life, everywhere from the mountains in Breckenridge, Co, to the desert in Phoenix, AZ, and of course the crappy nose/tail rides as a kid at camp. This ride was wonderful. We had three guides. One's name was Freddie. Freddie is a Sioux Indian who has been in several movies as a stunt man - Dances with Wolves and Hidalgo are the two I remember his saying. Another guide was Mouse, a Blackfeet Indian who won the national rodeo in 1977, I think. The third was a younger kid from the area named Brandon. The ride was a serious climb for the horses, and mine was definitely up to the task. His name was Gigi, which I think is a girl's name, but I don't think the horse cares. There was a guy in the group who was from somewhere in Florida. He was a talker...a geek talker. He was always just on the cusp of annoying me so much that I might have reigned my horse around and punched the geek talker in the face. I learned a great deal about the land during that ride, and even got to trot several times which is way more fun than just walking along.

After the ride I went to eat dinner at a little Mexican restaurant behind the motel called Serrano's. The food wasn't terrible, but it did reinforce the idea that while traveling you should only eat food native to the area. Mexican food in Montana doesn't work out too well. Elk or bison or trout at the lodge would have been a better choice. After dinner I returned to the motel, played numerous games of cards, then listened to and watched people across the street set off fireworks. The sound of fireworks continued well after I went to bed, but I had no trouble falling asleep.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Yellowstone/Glacier Trip, Part IV

Monday, July 3 10:50pm-ish

I just finished playing card games -- gin, go fish, and war. War took forever for me to finally lose.

This evening we experienced a hailstorm. It lasted a good 30 minutes or so, maybe less. I took several pictures of the highway, which is right below the hotel, and my car, which suffered some minor dents on the hood (about which I am really unhappy). I also took a short video of the hailstorm with my digital camera. I'll see if the dents are anything my car dealer can take out when I take the car in for its 10k mile service at the next opportunity. It's not serious enough to call my insurance agent about, but I do want it fixed if at all possible. ****Note about the hail damage: I didn't realize when I was writing this in the motel room exactly how extensive the hail damage was to my Element. See a couple of posts below for more details and the claim amount.**** I'm glad none of the glass was broken. I'm sure it would have been impossible to find replacements for the skylight glass, as I don't think there is a Honda dealer in the entire state of Montana.

The bus tour was quite enjoyable. We rode along US Highway 2 to the Continental Divide at Marias Pass. Then we returned near the starting point where we rolled the top back. Up to Double Eagle Falls we went, and we hiked from the parking lot up to the falls and back...again. Then we continued on to Two Medicine Lake, where the other 5 passengers decided to take the boat tour on the lake.

That meant we had the entire bus to ourselves. The driver then took us along Looking Glass Road which I had driven yesterday. It was nice to be able to watch the scenery instead of the road. The sun was bright and the wind was whipping. We finally returned to the lodge and decided to book a place on the 8-hour Circle Tour for Wednesday. The Circle Tour goes from East Glacier to West Glacier then crosses the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road to St. Mary before returning to Glacier Park Lodge. Our driver (Steve from Gainesville, Florida) today told us it is a beautiful drive, and the best way to see the park. He also assured me that the bus makes numerous stops where we get out and hike to little places along the way, so it's not as though you're sitting on a bus for 8 hours. The tour is $70.

My lithium camera batteries are really performing well. I hope they last for the entire journey on Wednesday.

I drove over to the horseback riding outfitters place again this afternoon. They had a spot open at 3pm tomorrow for a 2-hour ride, so I made a reservation. The rafting option isn't going to happen, as there isn't enough time between the end of the rafting and the beginning of horseback riding to get from West Glacier to East Glacier. Oh well.

So that leaves me with some leisure time tomorrow morning. I'll probably get up early again and then drive to the West Entrance to take a look around and search for souvenirs for my nephew.

Tomorrow is the 4th of July.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Yellowstone/Glacier Trip, Part III

Day 2

We were up at 6am and on the road at 7am. We continued on US Highways through the skinny panhandle of Oklahoma and up into Kansas. We took a Kansas state highway for a little while to jog us more westerly. Our goal for the second day was to make it as near to Yellowstone as possible and still be able to find a motel room.

Another US Hwy continued us through Kansas, into Colorado, inside the very edge of Nebraska, and finally into Wyoming. I learned on this trip that most towns along US and State Highways have no motels and maybe one gas station if you're lucky. And the 'cities' on the map in Wyoming are really just small towns with few hotel rooms available. At dark, after about 15 hours of driving, listening to Harry Potter 6 along the way, we arrived at Thermopolis, Wyoming, where fortune smiled on us and we found a room at a mom and pop placed called the Rainbow Motel.

Day 3, July 1st (Saturday)

I began realizing that the sun was coming up earlier and setting later as we traveled north. Obvious, I know, but I hadn't thought about it much until then. The sun was up in Thermopolis before 6am. We were on the road and at Yellowstone's east entrance by 9am. I decided to get the one-year national park pass for $50 instead of paying the $25 for Yellowstone plus paying again at Glacier.

Driving around Yellowstone takes hours, literally hours and hours. This is Yellowstone Lodge, which is right next to Old Faithful.

We stopped at Old Faithful, and I took many great pictures of the various hot pools as well as the eruption of Old Faithful. This is a boiling hot spring. The stench of sulphur is very strong in the air in this area. Not at all pleasant.

We eventually made our way to the north entrance at Mammoth, where I was tickled at a sign that read "Mammoth Restroom" as though it were a very large bathroom. I bought a t-shirt and cup for my nephew.

After this we hurried to Helena, eager to find a hotel room before dark. Helena, Montana was all booked up--for a baseball game was in town. Um...ok. When we asked the lady at the Holiday Inn Express if she knew how long it took to drive to Great Falls, she answered, "I don't know where that is." Hmmm, you have just a handful of towns in the state that are actually in bold on the map, and you don't know where they are? Good grief. So we got back in the car and drove toward Great Falls, keeping our fingers crossed that there would be a hotel room somewhere.

I pulled into the first hotel we saw -- another Holiday Inn, and they had one room left. It was right next to their 'convention' area where a wedding party was going on rather loudly. I didn't care about the noise, and we got a really good rate plus my AAA discount. I had just spent another long day driving, and I knew I'd be able to get to sleep just fine.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hail Damage Estimate

I went to the State Farm claims office today to have my car hail damage estimated.

The total: $2,336.98

I'll basically have a brand new outside-of-my-car when it's all fixed, as the hood, roof, all the doors, and the back will need to be replaced. The fenders are plastic and can be fixed using a method called PDR.

There are several body shops around here that I can take it to. I'll take it tomorrow on my day off and also get a rental car.

Such fun is mine.

But...thank goodness for insurance.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Yellowstone/Glacier Trip, Part II

July 3 11:15am

I went to go horseback riding this morning, but therewereno openings. I'll stop by again this afternoon to reserve a time for Wednesday. I just had a spot of lunch and will probably grab a snack before headingover to Glacier Park Lodge for the red jammer bus tour that sets out at 1pm.

This morning I walked the length of Main Street in East Glacier,which is about a couple hundred yards long, and looked in the 2 shops thatwere open. I found a bottle of local beer for my boss, huckleberry coffeefor my family, and some postcards. The post office is at the opposite endof town, so I walked there to buy 3 postcard stamps and to mail the postcards.I didn't write messages on the ones I sent to my store and family. Postcardmessages always sound so contrived. I just wrote the address.

It'srather cloudy right now which will help keep things cool on the bus trip.I saw a Mexican restaurant on a side street here in town. The sign saidit is open 5-10pm. This ain't the big city, cowgirl.

I think I'll now back up and tell the events from the very beginning of the trip. --

Day1 was Thursday, June 29. I took Gracie to the vet first thing then returnedhome to pack the final few freshly laundered items, loaded all the preparedfood and bottles of frozen water into the ice chest, made sure the fish hadtheir feeding block in place, and left to pick up my friend.

We got on the road exactly when I planned which is a minor miracle when you have more than one person involved.

Iwould rather have taken this trip by myself, as I enjoy being alone on mylong drives and vacations, but it made much more economical sense to be ableto split the cost of gas and lodging. We have a third friend who wants togo on a trip with us sometime, but I don't know about that. Three peoplein my Element would be fine, but 3 people in a motel room that only has 2beds wouldn't be the height of comfort. My friends are dear people, butI'm not sharing a bed with them as though we were kids at a sleepover.

Thehusband of one of my friend's friends was a truck driver for many years,sohe gave us a few route options. I usually travel interstates as much aspossible, as they are the most efficient routes, but we were in no hurryto get up to Glacier, so we took a lot of U.S. Highways and State Highwaysinstead.

From Dallas we took I-35 north to Denton where we took380 west to US Hwy 287 north. At Childress, TX we took US Hwy 83 north. Afteran unusual detour which we happened to make because we were talking too muchand didn't see the left turnoff to continue on 83, we stopped in the verynorthern part of the Texas panhandle at dark.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Yellowstone/Glacier National Park, Part I

I took a 9-day trip to Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park from June 29, 2006 to July 7, 2006. I kept a journal of most of the days' happenings. I didn't have time every day to write in it, especially on the travel days, as I was driving 14-17 hours on those days and didn't do anything else. In all I covered over 4,000 miles, traveled through 7 states, and saw enough beautiful landscape to last me a long while.

I'll probably jump around quite a bit in the re-telling of my journeys, as I sometimes backtracked in the journal to describe events of previous days. And I'll have to remember the last day and the 2-day journey home as best as I can since I didn't write anything at all about them yet. I traveled with one of my good friends, but I noticed that sometimes I say 'we' and sometimes I say 'I' when referring to things I/we did while on the trip. I'm not going to worry about editing all of that.

I will also place photos and mini-movies throughout the posts when they are relevant. ...and we're off...

July 2, 2006 1:30 mountain daylight time (is that MDT?)

Well here we are finally at Glacier. After 3 days of traveling, a couple of rain showers, and a side trip through Yellowstone, we have arrived.
Our motel, the Circle R Motel, is right across the street from the Amtrak station where a train is currently passing by. The funny thing is that I can't even hear the train...well, barely can hear it.

We're unpacking now, then we'll rest a bit before returning to the car to drive into the park. We've already been to Glacier Park Lodge and had lunch and looked at the gift shop. The lodge is beautiful -- everything made of wood, with brilliant architecture. I had a bison burger for lunch. It was overcooked.

Same Day

It is now about 3:15 pm. I had laid down to rest a bit and drifted off to a short nap. We listened to the 6th Harry Potter book on audio on the drive up here, only just finishing this morning. Jim Dale is a brilliant narrator. There is one guy on the platform over at the train station. I've only seen a multitude of freight trains pass by, not yet a passenger train.

Earlier we made reservations for the 1pm red 'jammer' 3-hour bus tour for tomorrow. That should be lots of fun. We're also looking at the rafting pamphlets, the boat tours, and I'm looking at the horseback riding information. I can't decide between a 2-hour ride and a 3-hour ride. I'll probably end up doing the longer one...perhaps tomorrow morning. I'm going now to check exactly where to go for the rides.

Same Day 10pm

It is still light outside. I love it. A couple of days ago in Thermopolis, Wyoming, it was light at 5:30am. I wonder what time the sun rises around here, even further north.

I've decided to take a 2 hour horseback ride that starts at 9:30am tomorrow. That'll give me enough time to get all situated for the 1pm red 'jammer' bus tour. I really only have 3 full days in Glacier, and I want to be sure that I get to do everything I want to.

The Empire Builder train pulled into the station a few hours ago. Empire Builder is an Amtrak train that has been servicing East Glacier since Louis Hill, then president of the Great Northern Railway, had the Glacier Park Lodge built in the early part of the last century. I took a couple of pictures of the train.