25th June – 7th July – Jagged lightning and dark storm clouds bring torrential rain as we cross into Montana and a campsite where we can have a welcome shower after all our bucket washes in the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I need to catch up with laundry and Bill to check over Moby and fit new rear brake pads.
Huge, prairie grasslands (particularly in the east) and enormous skies, have given this state the nickname – Big Sky Country. The Rocky Mountains however and the Continental Divide, dominate the western side and gave rise to the name – montana, Spanish for mountains. The rain continues to Missoula, so we haven’t seen an awful lot of these vast, blue skies that Montana is famous for, but no wonder everywhere is so green!
From Missoula to Kalispell, having passed through Rattlesnake Wilderness and Hungry Horse Reservation…….wonderful names! As we are leaving our next campground between Kalispell and Whitehorse, we meet up with Kathy and Jim from Florida and their two girls Gabriel and Annie. As we all seem to be heading toward Glacier National Park, we take up their invitation and follow them to a campground that they know of at Columbia Falls, only 14 miles from the park’s western entrance at Apgar. At Polebridge we all stop for hot drinks and slices of huckleberry pie, full of this famous and delicious fruit. People are apparently, very protective of their huckleberry patches when they are ripe and ready for picking!
You can pack a lot into a day here, as it doesn’t get dark until nearly 10 p.m. but unfortunately we discover that the main Going-to-the-Sun Road that cuts through the centre of Glacier Park, is presently closed due to massive snow drifts and avalanches. This is disappointing, as this 50 mile road over Logan Pass, is said to be one of the world’s most spectacular highways. We share supper later in Kathy and Jim’s enormous and very luxurious trailer and wonder how we ever manage in our tiny and cramped space in the back of Moby! But he’s cosy and has taken us to many places that big vehicles are unable to tackle…….we can’t have everything!
Despite the low cloud hiding the mountains and lakes shrouded in mist, we all want to take at least one of Glacier’s hikes and decide on the 4 mile round trail to Avalanche Creek, that will take us through cedar forests to the very beautiful Avalanche Lake.
The sun comes out just for a brief spell when we arrive and it’s a beautiful and remote setting with surrounding snowy mountains reflected in the clear water and waterfalls pouring down the rocky faces from snow melt high above.
Long before the construction of The Going-to-the-Sun Road, the Kootenai people regularly travelled on foot or by horseback through this area toward Avalanche Lake, as it provided them with important food and medicinal resources. Today however, the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly evident in the park. Once home to 150 glaciers, the remaining 25 are expected to be gone in a couple of decades…..a sobering thought. Montana’s Glacier National Park and Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park, meet at the border between the US and Canada. The two governments linked both these parks, to create the world’s first International Peace Park, to commemorate the bonds of peace and friendship between the two nations. In 1995, this Waterton – Glacier International Peace Park was designated a joint World Heritage Site.
It’s goodbye to Kathy, JIm and the girls as our routes change. A great family and who knows, maybe we will meet up with them again later if our paths cross.
As the rain moves away, we at last see some of Montana’s big, blue skies and beautiful, wide, open spaces. This is cattle country, with ranches surrounded by fields of the greenest, rich grass, streams, rivers, lakes and thick pine forests climbing the hillsides. This is Kootenai country, where deer eat at the edge of the road and there’s a very good chance of seeing a bear. Meadows are full of white daisies and other wild flowers. We are close to the border with Idaho and not far from Canada and it’s now Pacific Time rather than Mountain Time, so we have to adjust everything one hour ahead.
From Columbia Falls we take Highway 2 to Libby and then south to where we meet the 200. At this intersection we see signs for The Two River RV Campground and investigate……. it turns out to be a real find. Set in a wonderful location amongst pine forests and close to the Clark Fork and Bull Rivers, there are a number of hiking trails, as long as we keep bear aware! There are also many nearby off-road tracks to explore up in the hills and mountains. Camp hosts Gary and Carol are really helpful and only too ready to make our stay a great one. Gary is full of suggestions on what tracks to take and we follow his suggestions to visit the look-out tower at Gem Peak and later, a drive up to the snow line of Chicago Peak.
The look-out at Gem Peak is set on top of a 30 foot tower. It was last used as a fire look-out in the 1970’s but for $35 a night, it is now possible to rent a small room at the top equipped with 2 beds, a table and chairs and an all important wood stove, firewood being stored at the base of the tower. As the tower is not presently occupied, we are able to climb to the top and have spectacular views of the western section of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness unfolding into the distance, the Idaho/Montana border and the Noxon Reservoir and Clark Fork River Delta. Imagine waking up to these views!
4th of July and it’s Independence Day, the Americans have been able to make this a long weekend holiday. We escape the local burgher breakfast and the Turtle and Chicken Poop races and head off up into the Montana hills to the quiet and fantastic views around Chicago Peak. Unfortunately getting to the very top is barred by a deep saddle of snow. The rock slides are also quite spectacular…..so many shapes and colours and we discover thimbleberries and huckleberries just starting to grow….they will be a tasty treat for the bears later! We are told later that a ‘nuisance’ grizzly from Yellowstone has recently been released up in the mountains here. It’s good he gets another chance!
We are lucky in having great camping neighbours, Ed and his wife Melinda who are looking after their two grandchildren, Finnigan and Quin….all from California but each year they spend their summers up here in Montana. Ed takes us in his truck along dirt roads to Vermillion Falls, shows us an old gold mine and we try our luck at panning for this precious metal. As you can see, Ed is not dressed without his guns! No telling who you might meet up here, Ed tells us, like the huckleberry patches, guys are very possessive about their claims to old gold mining areas and don’t tolerate intruders.
We met these little guys in various parts of Montana, enjoying the outdoor life as much as their owners!
Before we leave we make a visit to Ross Creek, known for the ancient, western red cedars that grow along its banks. The oldest of these huge trees is said to be well over 500 years old. Their pasts have seen floods and fires, attacks from insects and disease but still they reach for the sky. One of Montana’s spectacular sunsets sets the sky ablaze on our last evening as we return to the campground.
We have really enjoyed relaxing in Montana, with its beautiful scenery and welcoming people. It’s time to move on towards Canada however, but before we arrive at the border we pass through Idaho’s Panhandle. Our route takes us through Sandpoint and alongside enormous Lake Pend Oreille, a deep blue and with barely a ripple. The landscape is similar to that of Montana….cattle country, pine forests, rivers, streams and lakes.
The Wild Horse Trail crosses Idaho’s Panhandle from British Columbia in Canada to Lake Pend Oreille and was originally travelled by the Kootenai and other native tribes. Kootenai elders have only allowed some of their sacred stories of creation to be shared with outsiders. It has been told that the Kootenai people were created by Quilxka Nupika, the supreme being and placed on earth to keep the Creator-Spirit’s Covenant, which said: ‘I have created you Kootenai people to look after this beautiful land, to honour and guard and celebrate my creation here in this place. As long as you do that, this land will meet all your needs. Everything necessary for you and your children to live and be happy forever is here, as long as you keep this Covenant with me.’ And so for many years the Kootenai people lived in peace and life was good for them, until in 1860 a line was drawn……the USA – Canadian Border, and from then on their land was taken from them and they faced many hardships. The small number of remaining Kootenais, were finally given land near to Bonners Ferry and it is here that we stop……the last small town before the Canadian border.
And so it’s goodbye for now to America’s wonderful southwest and all its spectacular scenery and amazing National Parks. We look forward to seeing more after visiting Canada.