Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park

 This is Part 3 in our Montana Adventure. (Part 1 and Part 2) I woke up the kids really early so we could get on the Going-to-the-Sun road early in Glacier National Park. It was a Sunday in July and I knew it would be packed. But our early start let us have some pull-offs to ourselves.

 We joined a lot of people at the Wizard Island pull off to enjoy the first rays on the surrounding peaks.

Then we pulled over to look at a cool canyon. The stairs also went under the bridge, which made a nice frame.

The creek looked so pretty.

And Desert Girl was delighted to snack on ripe raspberries.

We continued up to the Jackson Glacier overlook. Finally, a glacier! Even if it was many miles away.

This sign was really interesting about how much the glaciers have shrunk.

Then we got up to Logan Pass and found one of the last parking spots at 8:30 a.m. The visitor center didn't even open until 9 a.m. People were heading off in big packs along the trails. The kids didn't want to hike after the previous day's big hike, so we just looked at some signs near the visitor center. They were done in comic-book style, so they liked them a lot.

I couldn't resist going on some kind of hike, but I didn't want to be with a lot of people. So we went back to a pullout and started hiking up along a stream. The flowers were terrific. Even Desert Girl took some photos.

Ferns!!! We don't see many of those in the desert!

We just went a short distance, then kept driving on the very scenic road. I was surprised by all the bicyclists. And how some people weren't really giving them much room when they passed them. I like bike riding, but I don't know if I'd be brave enough to test the drivers on that steep and narrow road.

My optometrist had recommended some hikes when he heard we were going to Glacier, and one was Avalanche Lake. The kids weren't too keen on the idea, but it was a relatively short hike and we managed to find a parking spot.

There was more whining than I liked until we found this log that Desert Boy could crawl through. Suddenly the hike became a lot more exciting.


The lake wasn't much further. And you can guess what we had to do!

It was a very shallow lake on our end. We had to find something adventurous to do, and this log beckoned to us.

They made it to the end! We enjoyed a bunch of snacks and the beautiful day.

On the way down, Desert Girl had to try going through the log. It wasn't so comfortable.

In fact, it twisted her up and stretched her out! Ha!

Desert Boy had fun saying "G'day mate" in an Australian accent to practically everyone on the way back down. It was fun watching the reactions--or in most cases, lack of reactions. We probably passed over a hundred people.

We drove out of the park without stopping anymore. We never made it inside a visitor center, the two we stopped at were closed, and we didn't want to battle for parking to get to another one. On the way out the east side, the line to get in was over a mile long. So glad we started early!

Then it was time to drive to Helena for the big event--the National Speleological Society Convention!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Hike to Crypt Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada

This is the second installment of our Idaho-Montana 2018 Summer trip. For Part 1, click here. 

We woke up early at the Belly River campground and packed up. The kids were good at packing by now. We headed down the highway and spotted a dark spot along the side of the road. It was a black bear!

We had so much fun watching it forage. And it totally ignored us, which was nice. So was being in a vehicle!

Already feeling great about the day, we continued on. The night before, I had realized that we had a full day we could spend in Waterton and/or Glacier. We could deal with crowded parking lots and do short hikes. Or we could sign up for the Crypt Lake hike, which included a boat ride across the lake and a 5.5-mile hike to a mountain lake, with a tunnel to traverse along the way. The kids weren't super sure of so much hiking, but a few sweet snacks convinced them it might be okay.

The boat ride was uneventful, but we were surprised by just how many hikers were with us! It turned out a lot of people wanted to do this hike on this July Saturday.

We hung around the dock and let the crowds take off, then entered the very green forest.

Before long, we realized that we could forage, too, just like the bear. This made us all so happy. And we had most of the forest hike to ourselves.

Eventually we got to some very rocky sections.

We had been warned that we might see bears and were carrying the requisite bear spray, but all we saw was this little ground squirrel.

We also saw lots of waterfalls. Here's the second one along the way.

A bit further on and we saw the third one. The lake wasn't much above that! But how were we going to get up past that big cliff?

The answer lies in a tunnel. I'm not sure when the tunnel was made, but it was impressive to see people disappearing into the dark.

After walking on a narrow ledge, you climb up a steel ladder bolted into the cliff.

Then it's time to go into the dark.

The kids were right at home.

It was a little scramble coming out the other side.

The ledge got narrower.

And then we hung onto a cable as climbed higher along the cliff face. I had total confidence in these kids, they had done much harder stuff before.

Soon we were back in the forest for a short hike...

...and then we arrived at the lake! It was beautiful--but crowded.

The kids were happy to skip stones and eat more food while I walked around the lake. I even went into the U.S. at the far end of it, but thankfully there are no signs.

Here's Crypt Lake from the U.S. side.

We had to keep an eye on the time so we could catch our boat ride back. The return hike had more spectacular views.

Going back through the tunnel and down the ladder was easy.

And then we continued the rest of the way down to the lake, about 2,300 feet in elevation.

When we got to the dock, there was quite a crowd and we prepared ourselves for a long wait. But it turned out we had tickets for the first boat, and they went by ticket time. So we were able to board right away.

That meant we had time for dinner out in Waterton. The kids were into carbo loading--pizza and burgers! I didn't disagree.

Next up was a drive back into the U.S. (with a bear sighting at the boundary) and down to St. Mary's, where we found a private campground for the night. But I couldn't resist popping into Glacier, where we celebrated again with dessert. And if you're wondering why Desert Boy is making such weird faces, he thinks I'm just so millennial taking photos of what we're eating. The joke's on him--I'm too old to be a millennial. But whatever!
Here's more info on the Crypt Lake hike. It was a wonderful way to spend the day and get away from our vehicle for many hours. And when I ask the kids what was their favorite hike this year, they say Crypt Lake.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Idaho-Montana Trip 2018 Part 1

Our big trip this summer was to Montana to the National Speleological Society (NSS) Convention. I took some extra time off so we could sightsee along the way. My husband had to stay home and help run the ranch, but the kids and I were free to go explore. 

We headed north into Idaho. The skies were really hazy from all the nearby wildfires. 

I was awed by the Snake River as we got a little farther north in Idaho. So. Much. Water. I guess you can tell I'm from the desert! Our first stop was the Hagerman Fossils National Monument Visitor Center. And because it was so hot and late in the day and most of the national monument is not really open to public access, that's all we saw. They have a cool visitor center, though, showing off the skeleton of the Pliocene Hagerman horse. They've also found about 200 other species that lived in the area long ago, like saber-toothed cat, mastodon, and camels.

We continued on to Craters of the Moon National Monument. The lava was so cool! Actually it was blazing hot after a day close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

We pulled into the campground at 8 p.m., and I did not expect to find any campsites open. But there were several, including this awesome one up and over a little rise that made us feel like we had the lava field to ourselves. Sweet! We also did the loop and a short hike, but mostly just relaxed. It was still quite warm even after the sun set.

The next morning we got up early and did the loop drive again. This time we walked to the top of a cinder cone...

...and then headed to the lava tubes. Of course. I really wanted to see the one with ice in it. Lava Beds has a policy of not wearing any clothes or other soft goods into their lava tubes that have been in ANY cave before. So I had to get creative. The kids thought I was an eyesore.

From there, we went up to Salmon, Idaho and had lunch with friends (unfortunately I didn't think to get any photos!). We continued on to Montana. I'm guessing this sign is so high due to winter snows.

We made a very fast stop at Big Hole National Battlefield. I didn't know the story at all, about how the Nez Perce were ambushed and so many killed. We have some really ugly moments in our country's history, and this is one of them. And even though it's uncomfortable to remember these moments, it's important not to sweep them under the rug and forget them. We can learn from these incidents, and hopefully become better people.

Looking out at the battlefield. It looks peaceful today.

It was a longer drive than I thought to Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. Our friend was acting Superintendent there, and we were hoping to meet up with her. But with the longer driving times, we arrived just as she had to go to a meeting.

We had about fifteen minutes to look around the park, a beautifully preserved ranch that was donated to the NPS, before the park closed. But there was an evening program, and after a dinner out, I decided that I needed a break from driving, so we went to the program.

It turned out to be painting with watercolors. Sounds easy, right? Well, we all found it harder than we expected, but did our best. I don't think any of us are going to become award-winning painters. But it's good to step outside your comfort zone and give new things a try. Plus the ranch was so beautiful with the evening light.

We drove more that night, slept at a campground with showers, then got up the next morning and kept heading north towards Glacier along the east side. I loved seeing the Great Plains undulating until they got to the Rocky Mountains. Near here is a special paleontological site where they found the Maiasaura, or duck-billed dinosaur, state dinosaur of Montana.

I didn't really have a plan for Glacier. I looked a the map and thought the Many Glacier area sounded cool. So we headed there. The road was absolutely terrible, dirt in places, huge potholes, crumbly asphalt. I thought we were on a back road.

Imagine my surprise when we came to a huge hotel, packed parking lots, vehicles parked for miles along the roads. I obviously hadn't done my homework! We found a parking spot, but the kids really didn't want to hike. I talked them into a short one. We found a dock, and they wanted to go jump off it. Why not? It made them so happy! We hiked a bit further, then turned around and came back to the dock and jumped off some more. Even I did it, and it felt great. Eventually the tour boat came and we had to clear out.

Glacier was obviously crowded, so we decided to head north to Canada. Desert Girl had been asking repeatedly to do this, so I had brought my passport and the kids' birth certificates, plus a letter from my husband saying it was okay to take the kids across the border (I didn't think this letter was a big deal, but they did ask to see it.)

Woohoo, they let us in! The kids were so excited. Waterton Lakes National Park boundary was right there on the other side.

Since we were already in the habit of taking photos by signs, we jumped out by the Alberta Provincial sign.

We stopped at a campground and were extremely lucky to get the last campsite at 3 p.m. The views were great!

Then we headed into the heart of the national park, to the town of Waterton. Instead of having concessionaires, Waterton Lakes National Park has a small town that provides services. It seems rather free market to me, and I like it. Banff seems to be much the same way, with a national park surrounding the town of the same name. (I haven't researched all this, just my observations.)

About half of Waterton Lakes NP was closed due to a wildfire last year. That meant we couldn't do the scenic drives. So we opted for the water. The kids were glad to get wet, but said it was cold! We ate a picnic dinner near the water.

 Then we boarded a boat for a tour of Waterton Lake. It seemed a good way to see a lot (and the kids were very agreeable since it didn't involve hiking!).

We headed south, which meant we went back into the U.S. We were amazed at the International Boundary, a swath of greener vegetation among the trees.

We pulled up at the dock at the south end of the lake and were able to get out and wander around for 15 minutes. The backcountry was sure calling me, but this wasn't the time.

 We were hoping for some exciting wildlife sightings from the boat, but the most exciting we saw was this beautiful bald eagle.

 Here's a very happy Desert Girl, excited to be in Canada!
 After the boat ride, it was time to drive back to our campsite to spend the night in Canada. We needed a good night's sleep, as we had a big adventure planned for the next day...
To be continued
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