Technically, it’s Day 12. I’m sitting in SEA-TAC, waiting for my flight. It will be a long day of planes, trains, and automobiles, and I’m very much looking forward to picking up my doggy and sleeping in my own bed tonight (assuming the house hasn’t blown away while I’ve been gone).

Thursday we spent kind of a quiet day, in part because I wasn’t feeling too well. We did laundry and played a couple of games of cribbage. Dad won both (unusual), while I narrowly avoided getting skunked each time (also unusual). It was sort of a dreary day, compared to the rest of the trip’s weather.

In the afternoon, we went for a boat ride on Lake McDonald. It was cool and cloudy — not the prettiest boat weather. But we were rewarded with the sight of a bald eagle and a young black bear eating their respective lunches along shore. The eagle was ripping something apart on a bare tree limb. The bear was making its way along a berry bush buffet on its hind legs. On our drive back to the motel, we realized just how close the bear was to a picnic area. Hmmm…

Inuksut

There were a bunch of cairns built along the shore of Lake McDonald.

Dinghies

The tour boat was called De Smet, but I liked these dinghies, too, especially The Cutthroat!

There’s still a lot of evidence of wildfire damage from a big 2003 fire — lots of dead trees, lots of places where the forest hasn’t filled in yet. But there are signs of new growth.

We started on a scenic drive up the Camas Road, but motion sickness (mine) turned us back. Fortunately, I got past that, and we drove into Columbia Falls to dinner. Once again we got lucky with our choice of dining establishments, eating at Los Caporales, another Mexican restaurant with delicious food in huge portions. Dad’s special combination covered a platter 15″ in diameter. (He drank a Dos Equis. Boring.) After dinner, we strolled up the hill our motel was on as the sun was setting.

And after that, since it was clear at last, it was time to do some star-watching. Where to go? Why, back to the Camas Road, of course! We found an isolated pull-out and got out to stare at the sky. It was absolutely breath-taking. Thousands of thousands of suns, burning out there in the darkness, millions of miles away — some big and bright (the ones I might even see at home), some no more than grains of brilliant dust. Along the highest part of the dome was smeared the Milky Way. We recognized the Big Dipper, but none of us knew any other constellation. I saw a couple of satellites in orbit, and at one point I even thought I saw a shooting star from the corner of my eye.

Friday morning dawned clear and cold — in the mid-30s! We bundled up and headed back to the Going-to-the-Sun Road. We wanted to hike a bit in some of the areas we’d driven by in the Red Bus tour as well as visit some new spots. Our first stop was a brief hike on the Trail of the Cedars.

Next, we wound our way up to Logan Pass, where we took a 3 mile hike on the Hidden Lake Trail. What with the steep, often uneven trail, our leisurely pace, and the frequent stops for photographs, it took us almost 3 hours round trip. But the trip was well worth it, as you’ll see.

Peace Park

“Peace Park” flags at Logan Pass

Marmot 1

A marmot! I think.

Glacial Stream

Along the trail were dozens of streams flowing down from the glacier.

Goat Family 1

GOATS!!!

Hidden Lake

The infamous Hidden Lake

Ground Squirrel

Columbian ground squirrel. I think.

Powdered Sugar

There was snow Wednesday night, leaving many of the peaks dusted with snow. It looked like they’d been sprinkled with powdered sugar.

So, about the goats. We saw some mountain goats while on the Red Bus tour, mostly with our binoculars. So it was quite delightful to run into a goat family while on the Hidden Lake Trail, up close and personal! (But not too close. Of course.) While we were admiring the first goat family (pictured above), we could see another adult goat up on a promontory.

We hiked a bit further, and the adult came down from the promontory. Two kids emerged from the rocks, but they seemed at a loss as to how to follow. Finally, one gingerly made its way down the cliff, but the other stayed up there, bleating piteously, “Maa, maa, maa!” Mom (?) paid no attention and kept walking. Finally, the little one scrambled down, still bleating. So pathetic! So cute!

Now, because there can never be too many pictures of goats, here are more pictures of the goat families:

We spotted another marmot on our way back, too, sunning itself on a rock:

Marmot 2 Headon

Chubby cheeks!

Having worked up quite an appetite, we headed down from the pass to St. Mary, where a fellow park visitor recommended the Park Cafe (“Pie for strength!”). All three of us were intrigued by the “Gypsy Burrito,” a curry of sweet potatoes, parsnips, onions, pineapple, cashews, and… some other stuff, served in tortillas.

It was mighty tasty! And, of course, we had to try the pie. I had raspberry-cherry, Mom and Dad had “razzleberry.” Yum!

Our final stop for the day was Running Eagle Falls, where the Blackfoot warrior woman of the same name went on her vision quest (unusual for women, at least in her time). You can see how the water emerges from under a rock ledge. I’m not sure if it’s fed by an underground stream or what, but it’s really cool!

Last night we packed up and went to bed early, since my flight out of Kalispell was at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. Mom and Dad dropped me off at the airport this morning, and today they’ll start making their way back home by car. It’s been a good trip, but a long trip, and I’m ready to go back and maybe see some of y’all in person.

Thanks for traveling with me!


No, I haven’t been eaten by a grizzly bear. But I did reach a point where the motel room doesn’t have Internet service. Or phone service. Or a refrigerator. It does, however, have a TV and Dish network, broadcasting all the usual junk.

Wednesday morning we woke up to haze in the air and the smell of woodsmoke from a wildfire outside of Livingston. That day, we had our longest day of driving, without much in the way of sightseeing. However, we did pause in the Montana state capital, Helena, for a delicious snack from Montana Wheat.

That night, we rolled up to West Glacier. For those of you who have been asking, I’ll just tell you: yes, our “final” destination on this trip is Glacier National Park.

Yesterday we went on an all-day Red Bus tour that covered much of the navigable-by-car byways, including the Going to the Sun Road. At first, I was like, “Trees, lake, hills, river, niceā€¦ but what’s the big deal?” Then we started climbing into the mountains and Holy heck.

Most of the mountains I’ve seen in America were all kind of lumped on each other; as Mom put it, you can’t tell where one ends and the next begins. But the mountains in Glacier you can see from (what seems, anyway) the very bottom to the very top. And they are steep and pointy. They begin lush and green down in the glacial riverbeds, then transition to evergreens, then to bare rock, and then — some of them — snow fields and small glaciers near the top. Waterfalls spring from the rock, some in huge sprays, other in trickles.

Add some emerald green rivers (due to crushed iron-rich rock from the glacial melt) and sapphire blue lakes, and it all looks like something from a fantasy movie. I seriously would not have been surprised to see Gandalf leading a band of hobbits along the trails.

The immense scale of the scenery makes photographing it very difficult, not to mention that the sun was very bright most of the time we were out (lots of glare), not to mention that I’m not a skilled photographer to begin with. So my pictures in no way do Glacier justice. Just the same, here’s a taste.

Avalanche Wildfire

There’s actually a wildfire in Glacier right now. Here’s the haze.

Meanwhile, Dad’s beer tour continues.

Moose Drool Brown Ale

Moose Drool Brown Ale. Dad got it in draft, so no fun bottle.

Harvest Moon Pigs Ass Beer

Harvest Moon Pigs Ass Beer

Wild Huckleberry Beer

Wild Huckleberry Beer

I’m about out of time on my pay-for Internet ticket, so that’s all for now!


Today we left Cody and headed straight for Yellowstone through the Wapiti Valley along the Shoshone River, that route Teddy Roosevelt once called “the fifty most beautiful miles in America.” There sure were plenty of impressive rock formations. Here’s one called the Holy City, because someone thought it looked like Old Jerusalem.

Holy City

One of the most interesting things we encountered in Yellowstone had nothing to do with wildlife, geology, or geothermal features. Rather it was a couple from France who have been driving their camper from Buenos Aires up through the Americas for the past 11 months. Dad was excited to speak French, then Spanish, with the man and get the whole scoop. Apparently they and their camper rode on an Italian freighter to get over here, can you imagine? And they’re planning to travel another four months, all the way up to Alaska, if the snow doesn’t interfere.

We mainly traveled the more populated byways of the park today, so we didn’t see as much in the way of wildlife as in our previous trip five years ago. However, we did get some glimpses of elk, osprey, bighorn sheep, and gray jays, among other things. And we saw some of these fellas beyond Indian Pond and along the road.

Indian Pond

Bison Bull

Throughout the rest of the park, we revisited some old favorite sites and some new ones as well. It’s been a long day, so I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Continental Divide

Kepler Cascades

Kepler Cascades

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

Excelsior Geyser

Excelsior Geyser

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring

Opal Pool

Opal Pool

So weird to think that the amazing colors in those pools are caused not by minerals but rather by the presence of heat-loving bacteria called thermophiles.

We’re spending the night in Livingston, Montana. This is my first time in Montana, except for about 30 seconds back in 2007. So far, so good. And speaking of good, good night.


I’m at the point where days are blurring together. Where did I wake up this morning? What did I do today? As Mom says, thank goodness for the blog. Ah, yes: let us depart Ranchester and continue west.

This morning we wound our way up — and then down– through the Bighorn Mountains. Our flatlander ears popped repeatedly, and Mom swears her nose popped once, too. (No, I can’t explain that.) As promised, it was a very scenic drive, if a bit stressful for yours truly. Unlike certain people in my family, I can deal just fine with Chicago traffic. Hairpin turns are another story.

We stopped at several vista points along the way.

Shell Falls Parents

Mom and Dad at Shell Falls

Shell Falls

Shell Falls without parental obstruction

Copman's Tomb

Copman’s Tomb

Pyramid Peak

Pyramid Peak

Then it was on to Cody, named for William F. Cody, a.k.a. Buffalo Bill, another Western legend about whom I knew pretty much zip before this trip. This has been rectified since we spent the afternoon at the museum created in his honor, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, which some nice Wyomingites we met at the park called “a mini Smithsonian.”

Buffalo Bill

Buffalo Bill hisself

I especially enjoyed the Raptor Experience, which was basically a talk about four fostered raptors. Here are the birdies.

Isham

Isham the red-tailed hawk

Can you imagine Isham saying, “I’m a rootin’ tootin’ lasso-loopin’ popgun-shootin’ chickenhawk”? No, I thought not.

Suli

Suli the turkey vulture

Look at this beauty. Did you know that turkey vultures can digest just about anything except lead? And that they projectile vomit as a means of self-defense?

Teasdale

Teasdale the great horned owl

Teasdale has a crunching grip of 200 pounds, when he’s trying.

Hayabusa

Hayabusa the peregrine falcon

Apparently she’s got such lovely yellow coloring due to her diet of day-old chicks, which are still rich with yolk (and therefore carotenoids). Mmmm…

Speaking of yum, we ate dinner at Adriano’s Italian Restaurant and enjoyed their self-proclaimed “spaghetti western cuisine.” All three of us ordered an eggplant and ricotta dish which was quite tasty. And Dad got a taste of the local brew, Buffalo Bill Cody Beer.

Buffalo Bill Cody Beer

Dad enjoying the local brew

Verdict: “It’s not Bell’s… but it’s highly drinkable.”


Before we stopped in Deadwood, South Dakota, I had pretty no much idea who Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane were. They existed in a soup of other legendary Americans, from Billy the Kid to Doc Holliday. I had no idea who were the heroes and who were the villains. Now I have a slightly better idea. For example, I know what Wild Bill’s head would have looked like if it were five times normal size and made of bronze.

Wild Bill Hickok

That’s the bust from his tomb in Mt. Moriah Cemetery, which we visited as part of a tour around Deadwood. Calamity Jane and Potato Creek Johnny are buried in the next plots over. Lesson one of living in the wild west: git yerself a moniker that can’t be forgotten.

Obligatory photo of library (this vacation’s quota now fulfilled):

Deadwood Public Library

Next stop: Devils Tower. It seems appropriate that America’s first national landmark was Nature-made. Interestingly, I thought Devils Tower was more impressive from a distance. We approached it from the northeast, and it rose like a giant pile of Richard Dreyfuss-sculpted mashed potatoes behind the red cliffs and above the gently rolling plains. Up close, it was harder to see just how massive it was compared to the rest of the landscape. With our binoculars, we saw a few crazy souls scaling the face.

Devils Tower

Today’s main animal sightings were tons of horses, tons of cows, and a few pronghorn antelope and deer out the car window. And then there were these little fellas.

Prairie Dog Village

Prairie Dog Sentry

We’re spending tonight in Ranchester, Wyoming. I’m sorry, Ranchester (if that is your real name), but your name is ridiculous. “It’s like Manchester, England! Except in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by ranches!” It sounds fake.

Thus spake the person who grew up in the Kalamazoo area. What is that you’re saying about pots and kettles?