FIRE AND ICE
For this year’s trip, Christy and I decided to visit Glacier National Park, in Montana, and the North Cascades, in Washington. Our motivation was to visit the largest concentration of glaciers remaining in the contiguous United States. As you probably know, our glaciers are melting rapidly. Scientists predict that Glacier National Park’s glaciers will completely disappear in the next 20 years. Each year, the ones that remain dwindle. Our intention was to see them while we still could.
Ironically, the first part of our trip had more to do with fire than ice. When we arrived in Glacier, there were 14 major wildfires burning in western Montana. Although there weren’t any fires inside the park, smoke drifting in from other areas created difficulties. We were lucky though, as we spent most of our time on the east side of the park. Most of the smoke stayed on the west side, blocked by the high peaks of the continental divide. Although we were able to avoid the worst of the smoke, the tragedy of the fires still impacted our memories from the trip. I’ll never forget driving within 200 yards of a raging fire, seeing it race through dry grass towards a handful of homes.
We started our trip by flying from Charlotte to Seattle. I guess we took a roundabout approach, as Seattle isn’t exactly on the way to Montana. Flying into Seattle is a lot cheaper than any of the towns in western Montana though. Plus, going to Seattle gave us the opportunity to visit our friends, Brian and Jill, and their children, Kaitlyn and Izzy. Although I had visited them a couple of times since they moved to Bainbridge Island, Christy hadn’t seen them since our wedding. Visiting with them turned out to be one of the best parts of our trip.
We flew into Seattle on Saturday. We picked up our rental car from Thrifty, who gave us a free upgrade from a compact to a Jeep Liberty. This was a pleasant surprise, and best of all, it came with Sirius satellite radio. After a brief stop at REI for supplies, we headed for the ferry, which we just missed. Missing ferries turned out to be another theme for the trip. We were forced to kill an hour at the dock, which we spent enjoying Mac and Jack’s draft beer. It was a nice afternoon, so I guess missing that ferry wasn’t so bad after all.
We spent the next day and a half enjoying Brian and Jill’s hospitality. On Sunday, we abandoned our plans to drive out to the coast. After one day of travel, and with another coming up, we were dissuaded by the 7 hour round-trip drive. Instead, we joined Brian, Jill, and the family for an afternoon cookout at Matt’s place. I’d met Matt a few weeks earlier, when I was in town on a business trip. That Saturday, Matt joined Brian and I for a hike to Marmot Pass and Buckhorn Mountain, in the Olympic National Forest. It was a great hike, and I was looking forward to spending the afternoon with Matt and his family.
We had a great time, eating burgers, drinking beer, and playing croquet. The afternoon festivities helped us forget about our morning misery at Albertsons. We’d stopped there to pick up the majority of the groceries we’d need for our month-long trip. We rang up a tab of $318, which I’m pretty sure is some kind of a record.
GOING TO THE SUN
We were up early the next morning for the long drive to Montana. We caught the 6:20 ferry (one of the few we didn’t miss) across Puget Sound. Unfortunately, morning fog eliminated any views of Mount Rainier and the Cascades. It also obscured the sun rising in the east, which probably made the beginning of the drive more pleasant. The low clouds continued all the way to the crest of the Cascades. Once we crossed the pass, the change was almost instantaneous. Suddenly the sun was out, and the sky was a cloudless blue.
The drive from there was long, but at least it was occasionally entertaining. First, we stopped at what must be the worst rest area in the country. Not far beyond the pass, we saw a car in the median, completely flipped over. How did that happen? A few miles later, we passed a truck lying on its side. Later, while eating lunch at Perkins in Spokane, we watched a large RV pull out of a shopping center parking lot. The driver took a bad angle, and took out a whole row of shrubbery. Who was driving that thing, Robin Williams?
Other highlights of the drive included an impressive bridge spanning the Columbia River. Just beyond, we passed through the town of George, Washington. I guess somebody had to name their town that. It was along this stretch that we caught a chip in the windshield of the rental car. Luckily, Thrifty failed to notice it when we turned the car back in.
After Spokane, we drove through a narrow stretch of Idaho, passing a beautiful lake along the way. A few minutes later, we reached Montana. We stopped at the welcome center (which is 30 minutes down the road), and chatted with the friendly folks there. We picked up a free highway map, and got updated on the latest fire information. From there, we headed north, past Flathead Lake, towards Kalispell. I was looking forward to checking out the scenery along the lake, which is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, smoke from the Brush Creek fire filled the valley, and we could barely see the lake, never mind the mountains to the east. We did spot a Coyote along this stretch of highway though.
The smoke accompanied us all the way to the west entrance to Glacier National Park. We stopped at the visitor center there, and paid a brief visit to Lake McDonald. Unfortunately, the ever-present smoke continued to limit the view. We continued up Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass. Just beyond, we spotted several Bighorn Sheep. We pulled off a respectful distance to watch them. Then, a touron whipped over to the side of the road, very nearly hitting one of them. The sheep scattered, and our first wildlife sighting in the park ended abruptly.
We followed the road down into the east side of the park, which was largely free of smoke. This was a huge relief, as we were worried that it might ruin our trip. We reached the St. Mary campground, where we had reservations for the night. The campground was almost full, but we still found a decent site in a meadow complete with a few aspen trees. It was getting late, so we drove into “town” for dinner. A few miles up highway 89 we found the Two Sisters restaurant. We each had chicken sandwiches, which were quite good. Afterwards, we headed back to camp, where we relaxed after a long day in the car.
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Please remember to Leave No Trace!