Back to Civilization

We said goodbye to Glacier on Wednesday morning and drove to Helena, MT, which is roughly halfway between Glacier and Yellowstone, our next major destination. We said goodbye to the towering Rocky mountains and drove mostly south. In the middle of nowhere, we stopped at a really nice grocery store that would have fit in nicely in SE Portland and ordered some deli sandwiches that we ate on the road. That was pretty much our only stop on the four hour drive.

Upon reaching Helena, we had a couple of goals. (1) We wanted to fix the kids bikes or get them replacement bikes, (2) We needed to do some laundry, (3) I needed to get a charger for the battery of my camera, which I had foolishly left in Portland, and it was on its last bar of power on the indicator, (4) Aaron wanted to get a crimper in case anything happened to the wiring on the trailer.

When I had first figured out our itinerary, almost nine months ago, I had looked for a campground midway between Glacier and Yellowstone, but I couldn’t find a decent one in the right area that accepted reservations. I eventually found a rustic cabin, but then I totally failed to book it in time. I was a few hours late when I tried to make the reservation, and someone had already snagged it for the day I needed it.

So I figured that this might be a good time to regroup away from the camp scene, so I booked a room at a Holiday Inn Express, which turned out to be a great idea, considering everything we needed to get done.

My first task was to find a battery charger. I first tried at Target, which was in walking distance of our hotel. Unfortunately, while they carry Nikon cameras, they didn’t stock the battery chargers separately. Next stop was Walmart, which was a couple of miles away. Luckily, they had a single universal DSLR charger in stock, which I snagged. I also took the time to go over to the bike section and found they had kids bikes for the remarkable price of $54 each. Totally crazy. Basically kids bikes are considered disposable.

I went back to the hotel and explained our situation to the manager. He recommended a used sports equipment store, which was really close to the Target. He figured they would either have bicycle wheels for the kids bikes or be able to take our bikes as trade ins, so we wouldn’t have to dumpster them. Which was the last thing I wanted to do, but I also didn’t have the space to lug two useless bikes around the country.

Unfortunately, while this place sympathized with our situation, they didn’t have the parts we needed in stock, and the only kids’ bikes they stocked were way more fancy than what our kids needed, who are only learning how to ride bikes. So we went back to Walmart and put down $108 for two kids bikes. And then Aaron took the kids back to the hotel while I found a local laundromat.

The floor at the laundromat partially flooded while I was there because apparently too many machines were using the “rinse” cycle at the same time. (As far as I can tell, that meant just my two loads since there weren’t that many people there), but otherwise everything went smoothly.

The manager at the hotel confirmed that we could use their dumpster to trash our old bikes, which killed us to even think about, but we just didn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter, given the circumstances. However, the next morning, Aaron talked to the maintenance guy who was the one with the keys to the dumpster. It turns out that he volunteers for a place that just happens to fix up bikes for local kids who can’t afford their own. Which, if we couldn’t fix our bikes, is EXACTLY what we hoped would happen to them. So he was happy to take them off our hands, and the kids were happy to have new, cheap Walmart bikes, and we left Helena having gotten everything on our list accomplished.

I didn’t take any pictures that day, so here’s one of the Two Medicines trail at Glacier. Goodbye, Glacier! We hope to come back someday for a much longer trip!

East Glacier

Tuesday morning, we took a bit of a break since we’d been going nonstop since we left Portland, and this trip is a marathon, not a sprint. The boys slept in, and I wrote my blog posts for the past couple of days. Aaron got the wireless up, and I was able to post a few things, although the connection was pretty horrific. We had a leisurely breakfast and then got ready to leave for a day trip to East Glacier. After finally washing all the dishes, putting everything away, and then getting all three kids in the car, we were finally ready to go. And then there was just an awful clicking sound when Aaron turned the keys in the ignition.

Between the battery being old and probably in need of replacement, me charging my laptop the night before, and the kids playing nonstop around the van, closing and opening the electric doors constantly, it just didn’t have the charge to start the engine. Luckily, a neighbor was around and able to give us a jump, but it wasn’t a great start to our adventure.

The ranger at the visitor’s center had recommended a stop called Goat Lick Overlook on the way to Two Medicine. We almost missed the turn; it looked like there may have been a sign there at one point, but it had fallen down or something, and the parking lot isn’t visible from the road. We just knew that the turn was somewhere near where we were, and there’s not a whole lot out there anyway, so we decided to take a look and discovered that it really was the place.

Apparently there are often a lot of goats around, licking the rocks for salt. Unfortunately there we didn’t see any goats, but the view was amazing, and it was a good place to stretch our legs in any case. Plus… it was almost totally empty of people due to the lack of signage.

Back in the car and off to East Glacier. When we first got to Glacier on Sunday, it had been drizzling, and it had lightly sprinkled on and off on Monday, but we had mostly missed the thunderstorm that the weather service was predicting. On our East Glacier trip, we discovered that the storm had got stuck over there. The whole area was flooded. It didn’t affect the roads or anything, but there was water everywhere and the streams were overflowing.

The east side of Glacier is absolutely, mindblowingly gorgeous. The west side, where we were staying, is really beautiful as well, but all the classic pictures of the towering, stark mountains behind beautiful blue lakes that you see in guide books seem to be mostly from the east side. Here’s a quick stop me made at the monument to the continental divide. The picture below does little  justice to the actual scene. Imagine these types of mountains completely filling your entire vision from left to right, and you will have a better idea of what this looked like. Really amazing.

We went as far as Two Medicines, but I wish we had had enough time to go further north to Many Glaciers, which is supposed to be even more staggeringly gorgeous.

The ranger had recommended a nature walk at Two Medicines, and we were puzzled when the parking lot at the trail head was empty. Maybe just not as many people make it over to the east side since it’s a longer drive? But it turned out that the trail was closed due to the flooding conditions. So we went further into the park up to Two Medicines lake.

Wow. I couldn’t put my camera down in a fruitless attempt to try to picture the beauty that my eyes could see but came out imperfectly on the limited dynamic range and flatness of the camera image. We heard that parts of the trail around the lake was also flooded out, and we didn’t want to do the entire 7 mile hike in any case, but we decided to go as far as we could. It was an amazing hike.

It was, however, just as wet as other hikers had warned. Parts of the trail were covered with water. Other parts were just really muddy. And the mosquitos were awful. Every time I stopped to take a picture, I felt like I was sacrificing myself to my camera; the mosquitos started swarming instantly, and I had to take a picture before they covered my hands. We were certainly rewarded, though. The landscape was beautiful, and the trail was relatively empty of people.

Gigi managed to step wrong somewhere and got a wet foot, which she then complained about loudly and incessantly. We made her keep going for a few more minutes, but then the trail got a bit too wet, and it was getting a bit too late to keep going. Just after we turned around, we ran into another hiker who told us about a moose visible just off the trail. We took a small goat trail where we joined a bunch of people looking at the moose, which was off in the distance, visible, but only just. (I made Gigi stop whining while we watched the moose.) This shot was taken with my camera zoomed all the way in on him (her?). He was nowhere near this visible to the naked eye. Or at least my somewhat nearsighted naked eye.

And then it was back to the main trail, avoiding getting our feet wet while swatting mosquitos, surrounded by majestic mountains and gorgeous greenery. We made it back to the car and decided to head back to West Glacier, especially in light of Gigi’s wet feet. On the way back, we stopped at a waterfall that Aaron had spotted on the way in.

We went back to campsite, ate some yummy potatoes and cauliflower for dinner, and then I took Gigi and Des to the amphitheater where we learned all about the wolves in Glacier NP. It was a fine ending to our short Glacier adventure.

Trail of the Cedars

Between the timezone change, the slight drizzle outside, and my comfortable warm bed, I had the hardest time getting up. I mean… Glacier! But Warm Bed! I’d been running on about 5 hours of sleep for the past few nights, so this argument was more difficult than you’d think. But I eventually got up and then, one by one, convinced the other members of my family to do the same. We didn’t get out of the campground until after 10.

We hit the Apgar Visitor’s Center and asked for recommendations on what to do while we were here, given the slight drizzly weather and the three small children with me. Unfortunately, the iconic Road-to-the-Sun was closed after 16 miles. We decided to go ahead and take it as long as we could, and stopped by McDonald Falls when a parking spot opened up while we were driving by.

Auggie had a good time going up and down the stairs (his favorite thing). Gigi had a good time using her new binoculars, a gift from her birthday party a couple of weeks ago. And Des started figuring out how to use his camera, one of Aaron’s old ones.

Afterwards, we loaded back into the van towards Avalanche Creek, the last stop before the road was closed. Ominously, a posted sign warned us that parking at Avalanche Creek was full. We ignored it and hoped for the best, continuing on our journey along with a line of cars both in front of us and behind us, apparently all doing the same.

Avalanche Creek has a campground that was currently closed, so they were letting everyone park their cars in the campsites. We circled unsuccessfully around Loop A, pausing hopefully in front of some sites where it looked like people might be leaving, but getting waved off each time as they shook their heads and pointed towards the ground. At the end of Loop B, we miraculously found an empty spot. I kept looking around for the catch since it really was fantastic luck, but it was, indeed, a legal parking spot.

Aaron loaded up Auggie in the baby backpack. I distributed hats and gloves. It was drizzling but nothing we weren’t used to in a normal Spring/early Summer day in Portland. And so we started our first hike in Glacier. Trail of the Cedars is beautiful, lined, not unsurprisingly, with a number of large old cedar trees and huge stumps from giants long gone.

A good portion of the path consists of a wooden walkway, and there are periodic signs with short, beautiful poems describing the area. The loops is only about a mile long, and it’s very flat, so it was really more of a stroll than a hike, but it was lovely and relaxing and totally worth the stress of finding a parking spot.

There is, of course, a creek near the Avalanche Creek campground with an amazing waterfall.

Afterwards, we loaded back into the van and went back to Fish Creek for a late lunch. Aaron made some kind of warm, mushy dal while the kids and I played Mille Bournes. (Gigi won, although her path to victory was delayed by a Speed Limit card that she was never able to get rid of.)

After lunch, we explored the Rocky Point Nature Trail located just outside our campground. It was really beautiful; it went over to the nearby lake and up a hill, giving us a great view of the water.

The name of the trail obviously gets its name from a section overlooking the lake with these great rock formations. The older kids and I spent some time scrambling over them while Aaron and Auggie talked to an older couple who were there with their grandkids (although scrambling over rocks).

The trail went uphill fast for a short duration (pant, pant, pant) and over the hill to show us the results of a fire from 2003. The landscape is still full of dead trees that were burnt to their tops as well as living trees that were only charred on the bottom of their trunks. In between them were young, short trees, growing and remaking the landscape.

The only bad part about the hike were the mosquitos. Although we got some at our campsite, they were a million times worse near the lake. The only remedy we found was to keep walking; they tend to swarm whenever you stand still, but are mostly manageable if you keep moving. Des, in particular, was not pleased. There was, in fact, quite a bit of whining to break the lake’s tranquility. Afterwards, he complained that it was the hardest hike he’d ever been on (totally not true), but then later amended his statement to mostly complain about the mosquitos, which were pretty bad and did really loved him.

No amplitheater show that night. Instead, the kids made friends with a girl from a few campsites over, who complained to them that she hadn’t yet managed to make friends with anyone here, and could she please play with them? They had a lot of fun drawing on the pavement with chalk and pretending to manage the mostly non-existent traffic.

No major hiccups this day; we were worried about being rained out with reports of periodic thunderstorms, but the storms were apparently mostly contained to East Glacier, which we found overflowing with water the next day. But we just had some light drizzle off and on. It was a lovely day, and we got lots of great pictures.

Glacier Day 1

Check out time at Camp Coeur d’Alene was 11am. So we packed up and, just before we were ready to go, we walked up the hill at the campground to the bathrooms for a final bathroom break before we left. As we were walking up, a lady complemented us on our teardrop (everyone loves teardrops… we get complements on ours all the time). She said that her family had used one until just recently with an attached galley tent. Since then they had upgraded to a cute small RV with California plates. They had just traveled from Glacier and Yellowstone before that, so it seemed they were doing our route in reverse.

After rounding everyone up, we rolled out at 11:15 and headed for Glacier National Park. We had originally planned to stop somewhere for lunch, but Gigi started complaining about being hungry, so I grabbed extremely nutricious travel food when we stopped for lunch consisting of: a chicken sandwich, 2 tubs of yogurt, a cheese stick, a package of cheese curds, and a bag of pretzels. The dairy industry loves us.

Amazingly, we rolled into Glacier at the perfectly respectable time of 4:30ish. In contrast to the last two nights of RV parks, Fish Creek campground is quiet and tranquil, full of Lodgepole Pines and Western Hemlock trees. Our campsite was at the end of B-loop, far enough from the creek so that the mosquitos weren’t terrible (although there were still plenty), but close enough that you could hear it softly babbling. There are certainly plenty of RVs around, but it’s a totally different feel and culture than the RV parks. I did miss the communal kitchen from Camp CDA; running hot water for doing dishes is a luxury that almost makes the whole RV camp thing worth it.

And that’s pretty much it. We went to a talk at the campground amphitheater where the ranger told us all about the Whitebark Pine tree and all the animals that depend on it. Afterwards, we went back to our camp site, roasted some marshmallows, picked up the camp, and went to bed, thus concluding our first day without a particularly interesting story such as swarming bugs or destroyed bicycles.