Massive road trip, days 3-6 (oops)

Thomas and I and our trusty Honda Fit on our departure
The intrepid travelers depart!

Wow – lack of internet and the busy-ness of college visits and GECCO in Portland have once again put me behind on this. Enough so that my wonderful mother commented on it.



It’s day 11, and I’ll try to get us up to day 6 today :-).

So, a quick recap, but generally no pictures because I’m even more behind on those.

View across Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park
View across Two Medicine Lake

On Day 3 we drove from Great Falls to Glacier Park Lodge on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park. This lodge is one of those great railway lodges in the park built about 100 years ago using enormous timbers brought by rail from the west coast forests. We’d booked ourselves on the Red Bus Secret Valley Tour, which drives you to Two Medicine Lake, takes you across the lake and back on a boat, and then swings by Running Eagle Falls on the way back. The weather was pretty cloudy and occasionally rainy, so the views weren’t those stunning clear shots you get on postcards, but still quite impressive in its own way (see the photo above). Running Eagle Falls was back out of the mountains a bit, and it was clear and sunny there, which gave us some nice views there. The photo below is from the river there, and illustrates the three main colors of rock that form the mountains of Glacier: Red, green, and yellowish-brown.

Stones in the river at Running Eagle Falls, Glacier National Park
Stones in the river at Running Eagle Falls

We had a really nice dinner that night in the lodge, looking out on the mountains, and then played cards and hung out in the grand lobby the rest of the evening. There are, indeed, worse things.

A panorama of the mountains of Glacier National Park as we approached from the east
Approaching Glacier

The highlight of Day 4 was the drive through (over really) the park on the Going-to-the-sun road. I drove us to the park entrance, (the panorama above is as we approached the park from the east) but Tom drove the entire Going-to-the-sun road. If you’ve never been to Glacier, the Going-to-the-sun road is a little 2 lane job winding through very high mountains — definitely not like driving in Morris — and Tom did an excellent job. It was again overcast so the views were less than steller, but it’s still an amazing and awe inspiring place. Logan’s Pass (the high point at over 6K feet as you cross the continental divide) was cold, probably in the 30’s (F) with wind chills well below freezing. The road had only opened two weeks before we crossed, and we stood there on July 4th freezing and surrounded by big snow banks. There are two main trails that leave from the ranger’s station at Logan; one was closed due to “unsafe snow” and the other still had several feet of snow on it. The latter is apparently wheelchair accessible when clear, but people were using cross country skis on it when we were there.

The driving ended with our arrival at Lake McDonald Lodge, where we stayed in a nice if simple little cabin accommodation. After lunch Tom decided to hang in the lodge, and I went out and hiked and took pictures for about two hours, mostly along a muddy horse trail up parallel to the lake from the lodge from the Sperry trailhead towards John’s Lake. We then had dinner, and spent another fine evening playing cards in the lodge. The Lake McDonald Lodge is a smaller affair, and we played on a table on the second floor with a view of the grand fireplace and an audience for the various guests that shared their musical talents on the piano and banjo. I could totally manage to spend many an evening there.

Day 5 was the big push from Glacier to Portland. That was a long drive so we swapped quite a bit, but I think Tom drove over half of the day. Tons of beautiful mountain views at the beginning, and we ended with several hours in the amazing Columbia Gorge. We also had some nasty traffic in Coeur d’Alene, which turned out to be because of a light aircraft that crashed in the median between the two sides of our interstate the night before! They had cranes out and were still cleaning things up, and that plus rubbernecking was wreaking havoc with traffic.

We were pretty pooped after all that driving, so we got checked into the PSU dorms (the student housing for GECCO, and a hell of a deal compared to downtown hotels), ate dinner at Hot Lips pizza :-), wandered a little, and crashed.

Day 6 was devoted to Reed College, both as a visit to a prospective school for Tom and as a major nostalgia trip for his father. We had an excellent day there, starting the information session and tour (and me mumbling about how things were 25+ years ago). After lunch we went to the library, where I gave them a couple of signed copies of the Field Guide and Tom and I got to look at yearbooks and student newspapers from my time there. The weirdest bit of that was Tom’s discovery of a front page piece I wrote about the campus nuclear reactor receiving some minor regulatory thwaps; I have absolutely no memory of writing the piece, but it’s pretty clearly my name and my writing style, so I must have :-). We then had long visits with Irena Swanson and Jim Fix in the Math/CS department, and Walter Englert in Classics. Walter was my first year Humanities prof, and a huge influence even though I only had him for one course. Irena and I overlapped as students and took at least one class together, and Jim is the sole computing faculty at Reed and it was cool to meet him and learn what and how he’s managing the computational side of the curriculum at Reed. I think Tom was pretty bored listening to me talk show with the Math/CS folks, but he really enjoyed meeting Walter and talking about Reed, colleges in general, and courses like Humanities. We went up the hill with Irena, her husband Steven (who also overlapped with me at Reed), and son Simon (who didn’t, since he’s 17) and had beers and conversation, and then Tom and I came back, wandered around a bit and collapsed!

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Massive road trip, day 2 – with pictures!

Another fine day! Bison and breakfast and Roosevelt National Park, a long drive across Montana, and a great dinner in Great Falls.

Tom standing under "Salem Sue", a giant statue of a cow
How exactly do I milk this thing?

I forgot to mention that yesterday we got to visit “Salem Sue”, a ginormous statue of a holstein cow just off of I-94. Here’s hoping that wasn’t the highlight of the trip :-).

Sunset from Buck Hill in Roosevelt National Park
The end to a good first day

After dinner last night in Medora, we drove along part of the loop road in the park, ending out at Buck Hill, the highest point in Roosevelt National Park, where we got to watch the sun set. On the drive there and back we saw gobs of prairie dogs (a given around here), numerous bison, wild horses, and some deer.

That night a bison wandered through our campground around 11:30pm, even pausing to drink from the water faucet right across from our camp site. Reminded me of camping trips to the Wichita Mountains 30 years ago, where bison and cattle were regular night time visitors.

Morning sun in Cottonwood Campground, Roosevelt National Park
And it begins again

Sunrise was at 5:03am, and we were up and moving before 7 as a result. After some fruit and conversation, Tom decided to hang in the campground while I went off to take pictures and hike around some.

Bison rolling in the dust at Roosevelt National Park
Oh, that's it - right there!

I went down to the Lower Paddock Creek trailhead, where I encountered two large male bison who weren’t much interested in getting off the (one lane gravel) road for me. One in particularly clearly felt that our little Honda Fit wouldn’t stand a chance in a fair fight, and I was inclined to agree. I started backing down this little road, and halfway down encountered a big SUV heading the other way. I explained the situation to them, and they asked me to pull over a bit, and they’d just pass me and go have a look. Once they’d gone past, I decided to follow them in case they had better luck intimidating bison with their much bigger vehicle.

When we got there, the really stubborn fellow had already moved off the road, and the new folks were able to use their SUV to bully the other guy off as well. I took full advantage and swung into the trailhead parking area and headed out to get at least a little hiking in. When I came back out some 45 minutes later, they’d ambled down a bit, but had happily (for me) remained off the road. The photo above is the cranky one taking a bit of a dust bath – here’s hoping it improved his spirits!

After my safe return, we had a somewhat comical bought of tent folding and packing, and then an excellent breakfast at the Elkhorn Cafe in Medora. From there we began the drive across the great expanses of eastern Montana. I’d forgotten (or never realized?) how much “badland” landscape there is there – I’d always thought of it as much more flat prairie. The only other time I’ve driven across that part of the state it was farther north on US 2; perhaps the landscape is quite different up there?

We travelled most of the day on Montana 200, which large stretches of very little in the way of people or buildings. Towns like Lindsay are really just 8 or a dozen families at a crossroads a heck of a long way from anywhere. Tom did a lot of excellent driving, not all of it in the best of conditions (rain, a detour, semis passing in the rain on narrow roads, etc.), which was really nice.

The nice folks at the Days Inn where we’re staying in Great Falls recommended Bert and Ernie’s for dinner, and they were spot on. The food was wonderful, and our waiter was easily among the best I’ve ever had.

And, on that happy note, to bed. Tomorrow we drive to Glacier National Park. The weather looks wet and gurpy, so I’m not sure how things will play out. Fingers crossed!

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