North Cascades National Park

August 20 – September 3, 2018

Before we fled from the smoke on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, we called ahead to make sure our North Cascades campground could take us three days early.  They could, but couldn’t guarantee that the smoke would be gone.  If only.  Fortunately it was better and we were happy to be stationary after the long travel day.

Glacier Peak Resort & Winery

We landed at Glacier Peak Resort & Winery (we use that resort term loosely), a place we’d booked quite a while ago  to make sure we were set for the Labor Day Holiday.  Odd little campground, but it worked for us.  They had a no frills laundry, decent restaurant on site and practically a barnyard of animals.

Jackson got acquainted with five black pigs just a little smaller than him.  They poked their juicy snouts through the chain links and grunted up a storm.

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We also strolled every morning on the Slug Trail.  Not the official name of course, but you had to be careful of the slugs or take a slippery step.  Ick.

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Cows in the haze at the end of the slug trail.

The resident momma goat had a baby while we were there and didn’t like me looking in the barn window at said baby.  She gave me quite the look.  I believe glare is the correct term.  Rabbits were literally everywhere along with the evidence of rabbits which Jackson tried to eat.

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And lots and lots of blackberry bushes, mainly on the slug trail.  I remember blackberry picking as a child during our Alabama family reunions.  I also remember the wicked thorns.  Those bushes don’t give up their prizes without a fight.  I still like the taste of the berries, but don’t like all the seeds.  I made Pat try one and he just shrugged.

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On the other side of the road from the campground was this cute little chapel, complete with tiny pews.  This was on the way to the riverside tent camping spots.  I kept saying I was going to take pictures but never did.  Lots of old growth forest by the Skagit River with big trees growing out of even bigger stumps.  The stumps were covered with moss flowing down like melted candle wax.  Very lush and easy to tell that we’re in rainforest country here.

Backpacking – Will He or Won’t He

Pat’s plan for this stop was to try out a short backpacking trip and  break in all his gear.  With all the smoke the first week, we weren’t so sure it would be possible.  By this time the smoke was not only irritating eyes and throats, but also caused him to break out in a rash.  With rain in the forecast, we were cautiously optimistic that the skies would clear for him, so we made a reconnaissance trip to the trail head.

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Beyond those flowers is a narrow trail and marker in the distance.  Although the smoke was better on our side of Rainy Pass, it was still smokey here.  Still not sure he’s going to go.

Pacific Crest Trail

 

Pat decides to make the three day trip after two days of nice soaking rains.  If that didn’t clear the skies, nothing would.  He had to get a back country pass and bear canister for all his smellables (that’s a real technical backpacking term and not a Judy-ism).

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Here’s his canister crammed with three day’s worth of food and anything else a bear might be able to smell.

 

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There’s my happy man ready to hit it.  And here he is demonstrating his shoot-from-the-hip technique for the bear spray.

The Pacific Crest Trail has been in his sights for a while, and we’re in the perfect spot for him to hike a small portion of it on the North Cascades Bridge Creek Trail.  What’s that blue cooler doing there you ask?  Well, that’s ‘trail magic’.  Locals leave treats for through hikers on longer trails such as the PCT and AT as a little surprise.  This particular cooler had an assortment of beers and sodas ready for weary hikers.  It was Pat’s starting point, but many were ending here due to the fires foiling their final leg to Canada.

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Three nights, 25 miles, a few pack adjustments, and 5000 feet of elevation change later, he’s back!  Dirtier and limping, but happy with his hike.  There’s new trail magic in that cooler (wine and different beers), but his eyes lit up with my offering – a 20 ounce diet pepsi and two mini Snicker bars.

Backpacking Tales

Pat won’t write in this blog, so I have to tell the tales for him.  One campsite had a privy requiring a hike up two switchbacks to an open expanse with sweeping views.  And just to be clear, a privy in the back country is an outhouse without the house.  Hopefully no one is watching him sit upon his “throne”. He didn’t take a camera so we’ll just have to imagine – the views, not him sitting up there.  One night he heard what he thought was ear-flapping.  Do bears flap their ears?  What is that?!  And finally, it’s all good until a young whipper-snapper passed him on a hill about 2 hours away from the end. He overdid it on one of his knees trying to keep up appearances.  Just a strain and he’s healed up nicely.

Pat loved it and is ordering a few things to make the next trip better – camp shoes, a hydration tube for water, and his very own bear canister.  And it lowered his blood pressure.  Was that the hiking or being away from me and Jackson?

North Cascades Highway

A bit about North Cascades National Park.  It has mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes, lush forests, and just about as much beauty as Glacier National Park in my opinion.  The drive through is not as hairy as Glacier and you’re still rewarded with spectacular views.  A hiker and backpacker’s dream.

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Of course if you can’t get out on the trails, the drive on the North Cascades Highway will do.  This shot of Diablo Lake was taken on our reconnaissance drive.  Still smokey.

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And here it is again after I dropped Pat off at the trail head.

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It’s so windy at the lake overlook that the trees have their branches blown permanently to one side.

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Rainy Pass trail head before and after that cleansing rain.

Mom & Jackson Pass The Time

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What did Jackson and I do with ourselves while the mountain man was away?  Well, I got a cut & color that I desperately needed, did laundry, bought groceries, made a wedding card, and puttered around the RV.  Jackson and I also took a sight-seeing drive.  Here’s Jackson posing so nicely by the Skagit River with majestic Glacier Peak in the background.  He’s sniffing that nice, clean air and trying not to lose his footing on the river rocks.

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My favorite mountain and river shot.

A few flower pics from Jackson’s car ride.  These are from the Cascadian Farms garden right off the North Cascades Highway.

Sauk Mountain

The lady that cut my hair suggested we take a drive up Sauk Mountain.  That’d be seven miles of steep gravel switchbacks in first gear.  Another episode of where the pavement ends, but a great idea from a local.

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I know, my eyes are closed, but it’s the best picture of me with my delightful patch of snow.  I was like a little kid when we rounded the corner and found this spot.  I’m guessing it never melts on this side of the mountain since it made it to August 31st and the temp has nowhere to go but down.  As this point, the driving part was over and we were on foot due to potholes the size of Bitsy.  We found car parts scattered about and didn’t want to risk it.

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So gorgeous looking down at the Skagit River Valley below.

Felt like we were walking around in the clouds up here.

Seattle Wedding

I mentioned making a wedding card during my down time.  Well, that was for a wedding we were invited to in Seattle – our friends Steve & Ann’s daughter-in-law’s sister’s wedding.  Say that three times fast.  Anyway, we were acquainted with the bride and it was a chance to hang out with our friends and enjoy beautiful views.

 

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They couldn’t have picked a lovelier spot for a wedding, right on the Seattle waterfront.

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Here we are with Steve & Ann.  This gave us a chance to dust off our dress clothes, too.  (Sorry for the heater growing out of your head, Steve!)  The ceremony was beautiful and we enjoyed a fabulous lunch reception.

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I’ll leave you with this one.  Pat’s first morning back from the wilds and I make cinnamon rolls.  He looks guilty, right?  Guilty of not sharing with that poor begging dog.

Next Up – Whidbey Island!  See you on the way.

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Runner Up…Spokane

August 14-19, 2018

Spokane, Washington was our next stop to try the town on for size.  We did our best to enjoy the big city amenities and ignore the continuing smokey conditions.  This was a lot like our stop in Banff last year.  We gave up on doing a lot of outdoorsy stuff and enjoyed indoorsy stuff where the breathing was easier.

Riverside State Park – Bowl & Pitcher Campground

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Our campground for this stop was a state park “in town”.  The Spokane River runs through town with the park running alongside, making it a more urban experience.  And made for some tricky in town driving to get there.  We did manage to get out some, and this is the view from the park suspension bridge with all the odd rocks popping out of the water.

 

Our bridge, a look round the bend and a close up of those rocks.

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Then there’s these green berry clusters.  We wondered what they turned into until Pat found the light blue berry clusters.  They must be good eating since there’s a lot less of them.

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Jackson liked to drink from the calm wading area made by someone with a lot of time and a lot of rocks.  And there’s Pat with the prize.  Sometimes it’s a toss up as to which is the better deal – holding the dog or holding the poop bag.  As you can tell, lots of haze and not a lot of blue sky.

Downtown Spokane

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The river front area downtown is quite nice with lots of walking paths and green space.  While we were strolling the indoor mall one day, we ventured out since the skies were a little better.  A view of the downtown clock tower on the Spokane River.

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Downtown sculpture with running people in all shapes and sizes.

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The coolest kid slide ever in Riverside Park.

We rounded out that adventure with a nice long browse in a very hip bookstore.  Pat and I can lose ourselves in book stores, and we’re almost as bad with office supply places.  We texted each other the book titles and authors we found so we couldn’t forget.  We did buy something since we breathed quite a lot of their nice fresh air.  Dinner was at PF Chang’s.  Love me some salt and pepper prawns, and a town big enough to have one of our favorite restaurants!

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We also ventured downtown to eat at one of the restaurants in the restored Steam Plant.  This placed served as a functioning steam plant for 70 years before being shut down in the 80s.  In the 90s, it was transformed from an industrial eyesore into a National Historic Landmark.  As much of the machinery as possible was kept and, in fact, we dined in what used to be the boiler room.  The plant now houses shops and dining establishments, while offices occupy the former coal bunker.

More indoor activity was in order so we went to the downtown REI.  Pat picked up the rest of his backpacking wish list.  Really the only downside getting to all the cool stuff downtown was between there and our campground.  It was, shall we say, the seedier part of town.  But, every town has it’s rough side, and unfortunately we just saw that side first.

Final verdict on Spokane as our Winter “home”? We liked it, but it felt too big for us.  Pair this with Coeur d’Alene and we’d have it all.  The runner-up award goes to Spokane.

Canceling Reservations

People ask what places we’ve liked best so far and I immediately tell them Steamboat Rock near the Grand Coulee Dam.  Some of my favorite pictures were taken there last year and I really was ok if we never went any farther.  We had 3 days booked there again, but due to a fire in the area, we cancelled our stay.  Sad to see it go, but I didn’t want the awful smoke to ruin it for me.  We did decide to keep our weekend stay at Sun Lakes State Park since it was a spot we missed last year.

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The spot is just a little bit south of Steamboat Rock and boasts similar cliff views.  It’s just hard to enjoy the view when your eyes are burning.  Amazingly enough, the campground was jam packed despite the nearby wildfires.  We ended up with a less than stellar un-level spot right next to the bathrooms.  So close we could hear the flush.

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Walked the first night and it was smokey, but bearable.

The only fun we had here was watching the covey of quail. Scads of babies, and they ran all helter-skelter when we even looked in their direction.  We also saw bat condos on the lake.  I think even they were staying in.

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The next morning it was chokingly smokey and we packed up and left as fast as we could.  The cliffs directly behind us were invisible and the air had gone from blue to brown.  (There should be cliffs in that photo, but they’re completely hidden by the smoke.  And that’s the sun at 9am.) Burning eyes and throats and people were still sitting around roaring campfires when we left.  Crazy people.  Official sources called it “Hazardous” air quality, and they said no one should be outside breathing it.

Fleeing the Scene

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Out of our way!  We can’t stand it and leave this un-favorite campground a day early and head straight for our next spot.

That sounds good, but here’s how it really went down.  Pat and I did our first “hot swap” in Lucy, and I drove in the stop-and-go traffic for over an hour.  Then we found out the road we needed was closed.  So we pulled off to regroup and I got us into a spot where we couldn’t turn around…sigh.  We decided to walk to the nearby yogurt shop and rest.  Yogurt and/or ice cream always works.  It did, but while re-hooking up Bitsy, the auxilliary brake wouldn’t work.  Forget it – we’re going without it for the rest of the day since Lucy is perfectly capable of stopping the whole boogie train and our mountain driving is done.  After over 8 hours we finally got to our spot outside North Cascades National Park.  Whew!  We were whooped considering we only like to drive for 3 hours or so on a normal travel day.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.   And no, the smoke was’t gone, but was so much better.

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Our reward for making it through the day was ripe blackberries!  More about those at the next locale.

Next up – North Cascades National Park.  See you on the way!

And The Winner Is, Idaho!

August 9-13, 2018

We call ourselves “interviewing” places for extended winter stays and had high hopes for Spokane, Washington based on recommendations from locals.  So we set our sights there, but had to pass through Idaho on the way.  That’s no longer a pass-through state for us and likely THE place!

The Heat Wave

We last left you in Libby, MT with some smoky skies and 90+ temps.  Fast forward to our next interim stop for two days in Moyie Springs, Idaho.  The forecast for those fateful two days was 104 degrees for the high with extreme fire danger and smoky skies.  Yuck.

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We’ve never been so grateful for towering trees and shade in our lives.  This spot in Twin Rivers Canyon Resort was just the ticket.  Getting there involved a very steep narrow gravel road with four hairpin turns, but we knew this from online reviews and disconnected Bitsy first.  I led the way in the Bits and boy was it a stunning view looking down over the huge dropoff.  The place is at the confluence of the Moyie and Kootenai Rivers and really is beautiful.  Since we only lazed around in the AC, I have no other pictures to show for our stop except this one.  Trust me, it’s pretty there.

Coeur d’Alene

Our next stop was Farragut State Park, only a short drive away from Coeur d’Alene and the reason we chose it.  Unfortunately it’s still smoky and we almost stayed cloistered there, too.  Almost.  A little cabin fever and a reasonably clear day got us out the door to our goal.  We must figure out why people love this town.  I’ve read several blogs and articles touting the wonders of CDA – yeah that’s the short name – and we wondered what all the fuss was about.  In addition, Cecil & Eloise (my parents) mentioned this as one of the places they loved when they explored the area.  Other than a quilt store Mom frequented, I had no idea what they saw in the place.  They never said and I never thought to ask.

 

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Now we know, or at least we think we do.  Beautiful, friendly, and easy to navigate are just a few of the reasons.  CDA has a great downtime vibe with a long beachfront right on Lake Coeur d’Alene.  Check off one of our wants – a body of water in or near town with a nice place to stroll.  We had a dynamite meal overlooking the water so check off good dining options.  It may not have some of the chains we’re used to, but appears to have all the cuisines we enjoy.  And with a population of about 45,000 people, it’s not too big and not too small.  In Three Bears terms, it’s just right.

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The waterfront with the floating dock walkway.  Lot of boats in the marina including sailboats.  Pat misses his sailing, so this is a true plus.

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Lots of people of all ages were enjoying this gorgeous city park and they were in the middle of a weekly free concert when we strolled by.  Oh yes, there’s a college here, too, so you get the added “young” feel and all the amenities that colleges bring like trendy restaurants and cultural activities.

Sailboats, seagulls, and more red geraniums than I could imagine.

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And the largest dandelions I’ve ever seen decorating even more green space.  We even had a person waiting on a bench help us score a nice free parking spot.  Add friendly people to the mix.

We were pleased to read about mild winters here (relatively speaking), but they do have all four seasons.  In my whole life, I’ve never lived anywhere with four seasons.  Florida and Texas have two at best.  And not too far away are ski slopes.  Pat could even get his downhill skiing fix and I could, well, not.  I mean I’d like to try cross-country skiing, but I find anything bigger than the bunny hill stressful.  Add hiking and biking to the list and this place has all the outdoor boxes checked.

Any big city stuff we’re missing is only about 30 miles away in Spokane, Washington.  This place felt like living in DeLand with the option of popping over to Daytona Beach or Orlando for shopping, eating out, or catching a plane.

Anyway, I know this post is short on photos and long on feelings, but it’s hard to capture a “vibe” on film.  Just know that Coeur d’Alene felt right to us both, plus I learned to spell it.  Pat says Idaho is a hidden gem of a state and we’ve barely scratched the surface exploring it.

Our next step in the “extended stay” plan is to get a place in CDA for the winter of 2020-2021.  Apartment, condo, small caretaker shack.  We don’t know what exactly, but we’ll plop ourselves down for December through March or April and see how we really like it.  Why so long in the future you ask?  Well, we already have our reservations in Arizona this winter.  Ugh, I know.  More desert, but somehow we’ll manage.  Then the following winter is back to our home state of Florida for a round of family and doctor visits.

So there you have it.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner!  Idaho is the place.

Next up  – Spokane, Washington.  See you on the way!

Sasquatch Lives in Libby

August 6-8, 2018

One more stop in Montana after spectacular Glacier, and it’s in Libby.  We made these reservations months ahead and couldn’t really remember why we chose this spot.  Turns out there are some pretty great things to see in the area, so we had a whirlwind three day visit.

Airstream On A Stick

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The RV park was charming and I started calling it the Airstream-On-A-Stick.  Well, ok.  Two sticks actually.  It was really easy to find the place and I didn’t miss the turn even once.  (Yes, that does happen other places.)  And you can own that vintage Southwind in the background for a mere $6500.  Bet there’s some burnt orange shag carpet in that baby.

Sasquatch Lives Here

Our first Libby Sasquatch sighting was in the RV park.  Pat and Jackson spied him lurking just on the other side of the creek that ran behind us.

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Pat said it needed to be a blurry Sasquatch photo to be authentic, but try as I might, my camera refused to take a blurry shot.  Now mind you, I get LOTS of blurry shots when I’m not trying to.

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The local bank has a bandit that looks suspiciously like Sasquatch, and he’s getting away with the loot, too.  We slowed down but didn’t stop.  Just didn’t want to get involved.

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There you go.  An authentic blurry Sasquatch shot taken on my phone in a moving car.  Pat thinks this one is more like it and I think it proves Sasquatch really lives in Libby.

Ross Creek Cedars

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Our first outing from Libby was to the Ross Creek Giant Cedars Natural Area.  I’m sure you’ve guessed that some pretty big trees live there.  We’re warming up for Redwoods and Sequoias later in the year.  Even on a hot day (90+), it’s so much cooler underneath the cedar canopy.

These cedars are truly enormous with some as tall as 175 feet, and many at least 1,000 years old.  You don’t fully appreciate the size until you come across a fallen tree.  The decaying ones are like natural dugout canoes.

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There was one tree with a hole big enough to stand inside.  I just wasn’t totally comfortable sharing that space with whatever might be lurking in there, so I picked this tree for my photo op.

Cedar fronds, lush ferns and rock pillars along the dry creek bed.

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I could not get enough of these things.  Inside out pomegranates perhaps?  Nope.  These are called Devil’s Club and are covered with very sharp thorns.  Signs warned you not to touch, and you can just see some of those pricklies underneath the leaves.

Kootenai Falls

We tried to visit Kootenai Falls when we first arrived, but we made the mistake of taking Jackson.  We got as far as the overhead walkway that takes you over the railroad tracks, but were stopped by open metal stairs with sharp edges.  Not paw friendly, so we had to turn around.  Our plan was to catch it on the way back from the Cedars without the J Dog.

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There’s nothing like the roar or rushing water and this stretch of the Kootenai River has falls and rapids for quite a ways.  Crystal clear and ice cold.

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My favorite photo is this one with the two trees hanging in the balance.

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We made it across the swinging bridge, too.  Only five people allowed on at any one time, so you have to wait your turn.

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The bridge in the distance and the look while we waited for our chance to cross.

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This spot reminded us of the canyon in White Horse, Yukon Territory.  Same emerald green water, but the rocks were different.  Here the colored layers jut up to make the flow exciting.

Libby Dam

Waterways in this part of the country have dams for irrigation, hydroelectric power or just plain recreation.  Water itself is such a precious commodity and I think out East we take it for granted since it seems to be in endless supply.  Out West, it all revolves around the water, and there never seems to be enough.

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Libby’s dam does generate power and created the Lake Koocanusa Reservoir.  A little hazy this day due to distant fires.

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The reservoir at the top of the dam.  I was being chased by a hornet at this point and yes, there was screeching.  I made it over to Pat where he promptly got bit.  Problem solved.

River Road Wildlife Drive

There’s really no such thing as the Wildlife Drive, but there is a River Road and our camping neighbor told us if we drove it at about 7pm, we’d see lots of wildlife.  She didn’t steer us wrong.

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Mountain sheep were in abundance and they weren’t about to vacate the road on our account.  They even stared us down!  In addition to these ladies and gentlemen, we saw a bunch of wild turkeys and their little babies.  At the beginning of the drive, I’m hollering not to run over the babies as they ran in front of the car, while Pat is trying not to be rear-ended by some local throwing up his hands.  I’m sorry, but we can’t flatten the baby animals on our wildlife drive.  We also saw some deer and possibly goats, too.  Since our car didn’t end up getting hit, it was a very satisfying drive.

Other Things of Note

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Serious fire danger here.  It’s approaching triple digits and aside from the river itself, the place is dry as a bone.  No idling your car on top of grass, which is really just straw at this point.  No wood or charcoal fires either in the campground.

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This is how Jackson deals with the situation.  Halfway back from our walk he just completely flops down in the shaded campground grass.

That’s all folks from Montana.  Next up: the great state of Idaho.  And wait until you hear what we think!  See you on the way…

 

Glacier National Park

August 1 – 5

We’re finally visiting a place that’s been on the list for two years now.  Last year we didn’t make it here due to our whimsical route changes and the area forest fires, so this year we’re determined.  Glacier National Park certainly lives up to its reputation, and if you can’t make it to Alaska, this place will do!

West Glacier KOA Resort

The top rated KOA in the nation.  I have to say, of all the KOAs we’ve visited, this one is tops.  Roomier sites, immaculate & beautiful grounds, and great service.  They fixed our electrical issue on our first night when it was over 90 degrees out.  That earned big points for me since the heat was making me right cranky.  And only two miles-ish to the Glacier National Park entrance makes it darn near perfect.

Of course we had to  figure out our strategy for seeing the sights.  Finally got Pat well only to have a sick dog on our hands.  Chicken & rice and immodium are the cure-alls we are trying.  It took a whole week, but he finally did recover.  We think letting him drink from the lake at West Shore was our mistake.  They had “possible swimmer’s itch” warnings posted, but it never occurred to us that the dog would be effected.

Our Paths Cross Again!

Our friend Chris (Jeep Girl On The Move) and her faithful pooch Wash made it to Kalispell and decided to make a day trip to Glacier.  What fun to see a friendly face again.

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Jackson enjoyed seeing his friend, too.  They get along quite well.  Now we’ve seen them a total of four times in three different states.

After a fun lunch at the Wandering Gringo food truck, we bid them farewell.  She’s ultimately headed to North Carolina when her big adventure ends, so hopefully we’ll see Chris again when we head down the East coast in 2019.  The Gringo had lots of beautiful flowers and I couldn’t resist a shot of them in a wooden canoe and a claw-footed bathtub.  They even had a old-fashioned hand crank clothes washer overflowing with blooms.

Lake McDonald

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Lake McDonald is one of the major stops on the west side of Glacier National Park and our first stop.  They have a boat ride, so you know we’re on it.  Crystal clear water and colorful smooth stones on the lake bottom.

We had just a little bit of haze from distant fires, but a pretty nice day for tooling around the lake.  The park ranger narrated and pointed out the peaks and ridges.  Sadly as I’m writing this post, a lot of the views in the photos are completely engulfed in flames and this part of Glacier is closed.

Going To The Sun

Going to the Sun Road is the spectacular 50 mile drive that winds its way through the stunning terrain in Glacier National Park and the top “must-do” on our list.  It’s probably top of the pile for everyone since it’s only open mid-June to mid-October, weather permitting.  In fact, this year it didn’t open fully until June 23rd due to a heavy winter snowfall.  We still saw patches of snow around Logan Pass, the highest point on the road.

Our first waterfall stop and a look at that sparkling emerald water.

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Here’s the view as you drive.  I drove and Pat took some shots with my phone.  I had my eyes on the road since it’s pretty narrow and the drop-off makes your heart pound.

I found a tiny pull out for Bitsy for a few more views with the real camera.

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The view from Big Bend.  That stripe in the middle of the mountain is the Going to the Sun Road and oh, how tiny you feel beneath those peaks.

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The mountain goats were perched up high watching the tourist show.  Best view in the house.

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The Red Bus tour will take you along the road and stop at all the good places.  We considered riding in one of these cute cars, but the tour length and our sick dog didn’t go together.  Instead we did our own tour in Bitsy to see the highlights, eat dinner and complete the full 100 mile drive there and back.

Favorite shots from Logan Pass.  One of the Red Busses, peak & the trees, ground squirrel sampling berries, and plenty of wildflowers.

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Our favorite “flowers” of the day were the ones that looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.  I’m sure there are eyes underneath that “hair-do”.

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Here’s Pat at Lunch Creek, a pullout just after the pass heading east.  Probably my favorite shot of the day.

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Lunch Creek from the other direction looking up at what is clearly a glacier valley from long ago.  At this point, we’ve decided to hoof it for the end of the road and the east park entrance for dinner with a plan to pull off of at a few spots on the return trip.

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If I had to pick a runner-up photo for the day, this one of Wild Goose Island would be it.  Sunset is on its way and the haze is beginning to settle in as we make our way back to West Glacier.  According to National Park Service info, this is one of the most photographed spots in the world.

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This impressive rock face resembles Prudential’s rock to Pat.  Also a good look at one of the burned out sections from fires in the past few years.

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My little sunset chipmunk.  He’s not a bit concerned about us.

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Our final shot of the day.  Pat gets credit for this one using my phone pointed out the car window.  He’s capturing the smoke that’s settled into the valley and we’re concerned that a new fire might be brewing.  Fortunately not, just smoke moving in from afar.  I now understand the song lyrics “the mist of the smoke of a distant fire”.  Perfect description.

And a fun fact from one of the rangers.  Rock plows patrol the road daily.  We saw one and they look a lot like a snow plow mounted on the front of a truck for pushing the fallen rocks off the roadway.  Who knew?

Two Medicine Lake

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After our scenic drive, we picked out a hike on the East Glacier side of the park at Two Medicine Lake.  Finally I get my iconic photo.  A fisherman in waders fly fishing.  When I think Montana, I think of this view.

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Pat on the path around Two Medicine Lake.  We were headed to the falls, but knew the trail was too long to actually make it with the time we had.

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Flower of the day – Mountain Paintbrush.  Reminds me of the Texas Indian Paintbrush.

A few more views.  Big booming thunder got our attention after we turned around.  The weather changes so fast coming over the mountains.

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Backward glance at Two Medicine Lake with the storm coming over the peaks.

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One last photo.  Guess what comes back first after a wildfire?  Beautiful Fireweed.

That’s some of the best of Montana.  And it’s the land of elk repellent, public lands and the big question.  Do you have a defensible position?  Meaning, can you defend your property against wildfires?  And that is so very important in this area.  Western Montana is a little slice of heaven, though, and we’ll be back.

Next Up:  One more stop in Montana.  See you on the way!

More Montana

July 8 – July 31

Here’s my Montana-for-a-month post complete with stories, state parks and photos.  This is simply a beautiful state with all the things we like best – lakes, rivers, TALL trees and mountains – not too big, not too small, just right.

Black Sandy State Park

For this stop, we’re right outside Helena, the capitol of Montana.  Needless to say, we made the most of the dining options and retail.  We even managed to sort through our “stuff” and donate a laundry basket full of it to the local Goodwill.  Now Pat’s backpacking gear has a permanent storage spot and my crafty things are better organized and easier to get to.  Probably not the lead-in you expected for the state park, but trust me when I say, the town was better.  There was, however, one single solitary site that was good at Black Sandy, and it was OURS!

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Our view was quite nice and we sat up on the hill overlooking the rest of the crammed in sites.  This state park rivaled some of the cramped quarters we’ve seen in private RV parks and if we’d had any other site, we’d have left.

There were some positives here, though.  Jackson was popular with the children and a large group swarmed him multiple times asking all about his breed, age, name, etc.  He loved it.

Then there was the dead fish girl.  We were walking Jackson near the swimming area, and a lady and two kids were wading along the shoreline.  “Ewwww, it’s DISGUSTING!”, we hear one of the girls exclaim.  She then proceeds to pick up no less than six gutted fish carcasses that were resting on the bottom of the shallows.  She’s got them hanging from her fingers like streamers and we can’t help but laugh.  The girl didn’t belong to the lady with her, so she thought it was pretty funny, too.  Little girl was headed back to her campsite to “show” her Dad the fish.

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My first painted rock find!  These Kindness Rocks are all the rage and people are painting and hiding them everywhere.  This particular guy is part of the Cowlicks County Rocks FB group.  I posted his picture and found his artist.  I promised her I’d re-hide soon, just not in a National Park.  Apparently the painted rocks violate the “leave no trace” policy and will be discarded if found by a ranger.

Gates of the Mountains

We did manage to get out and sightsee while we were at Black Sandy.  Just a few miles up the road is the Gates of the Mountains wilderness area featuring a boat ride.  If there’s a boat ride, we generally take it.

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This spot was dubbed Gates of the Rocky Mountains by Lewis and Clark.

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Normally this tour doesn’t dock anywhere, but we were ahead of schedule and got to explore a picnic area for a few minutes.

The view from each direction.

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It was a hot one and this deer regarded us warily while getting a drink from the mighty Missouri.

A gal was perched on the edge of this rock ready to jump to the water below.  No amount of coaxing from her boat or from us hecklers in the tour boat could get her to jump.  Our tour guide assured us that it looks way higher when you’re standing there than it does from our vantage point.

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Wouldn’t you love a little cabin like this one?  We looked at real estate magazines and for 52 million we can have a grand cattle ranch and spectacular log home.  There are cheaper ones, but why settle?

A few more shots from the scenic drive.  The one on the left is from the Devil’s Elbow overlook featuring Hauser Lake.  Top right is the Sleeping Giant.  Can you see him? Bottom right is the York Bridge over the Missouri.

Salmon Lake State Park

Salmon Lake State park was more like it.  Heavily treed sites right on the shores of another beautiful lake.  The drive on Montana 83 wasn’t bad either and it’s reminding us of our Alaska drives.  The mountains are a little lower, but we’re oohing and aahing just the same.

Jackson was the star of the show here, too, with a crowd of cuties named Riley, Isabel, Addie & Madeline hanging on him.  The boys could care less, but the little girls were in love!

The swimming was good here, too, for Jackson that is.  I find lakes to be ookey and don’t dip more than a toe in.  At least the lake bottoms here are smooth tumbled rocks of all shapes and colors.  Not the sticky mud that’ll suck your shoes right off your feet.

Our outing here was to visit the oldest Larch tree named Gus.  He’s 1,000 years old and pretty impressive.  Never even heard of this type of tree before.  Apparently the same as an eastern Tamarack?  That rings no bells either.

And that’s pretty much it for outings at this stop since Pat had what he thought was a raging tooth problem that turned out to be a sinus problem.

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Well, ok, we did go to the health clinic for the dentist visit.  They have a heli-port since big city medical care is not exactly around the corner.  In this neck of the woods, they have signs on the road indicating cell phone pull-outs.  After that you’ll have nothing for miles, and even then only one measly bar.

While Pat recuperated with decongestants and ibuprofen, I amused myself with reading and taking a watercolor card “class”.  The class consisted of videos I’d download while in “town” for meals or groceries, and then watch back at the motorhome.  It’s right about now when I realize that I made a great watercolor paper purchase in Helena, but have no water color paints.  Sounds like a job for Amazon Prime at our next location.

A few of my favorite things from this place.  Chippy-munk, an automated firewood dispenser (don’t stand too close!), teensy flowers that bloomed like little ground-level fireworks, and finally my bright blue Evinrude.  Jackson and I were hanging around the waterfront and the inch-long blue dragonflies were all abuzz around this one bush.  Finally one was still long enough for a picture.

Rollins RV Park

Next up, Rollins Restaurant & RV Park, complete with full hook-ups.  After a few state parks with no water connections (that’s the way Montana does it), and schlepping to the dump station every 3-4 days, we’re happy to be here.  Still in the Flathead area of Montana and another lake view.

 

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They have a surprisingly tasty restaurant serving a mix of Korean and American dishes, thanks to their Korean cook, and a fence made entirely of bicycles of all shapes and sizes.  Be honest.  You had a banana seat as a child too, right?

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From the campsite.  Flathead Lake, sailboats, and yes, very big trees.  Heaven.

This stop was a mixed bag of things.  We headed straight to the medical clinic in nearby Lakeside upon arrival.  Pat is still feeling bad.  This time we get antibiotics and hope for a complete recovery.  We also finally get rid of the awning that broke before we even left Florida in 2017.  It has started to cause a buckle in the roof, so it must go.  Pat says we could wrestle it off ourselves, but then what?  The thing is a 17 foot-long hunk of metal longer than Bitsy.  For a very reasonable fee, a mobile RV repair guys comes out, removes it, then lashes it to his van and drives off.

It’s an Amazon stop, too.  Let the online shopping begin!

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Meet our latest kitchen gadget – the Anova sous vide.  That’s French for cooking under vacuum.  What’s the advantage?  Well if Pat’s friend Greg, the chef, and countless online reviews are to be believed, this handy little thing will cook any meat to the perfect doneness.  It’ll then hold it there for a nice window of time, ready for you to sear it to final perfection.  We’re hoping for great steaks at a reasonable price.  So far mixed results, but we’re still learning how to use it.  I will say I had the best corn on the cob of my life from this thing.  Perfect doneness with the butter cooked right in.

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Since we had to drive up to the big city of Kalispell for Pat’s meds, we took advantage of the dining options recommended by the pharmacist.  Here’s my dinner of wild boar & waffles, Montana’s answer to chicken & waffles.  An “odd looking piece of meat” says my friend Barbara.  She’s oh so right about that!  Kinda grey, kinda chewy and more like brisket than pork in texture.  The best part?  That pepper bacon maple syrup.  I typically like my bacon as, well, bacon, but you could practically lap this stuff up with a spoon.  Pat ate normal food.

Also at Rollins we met new friends, Stacy, Taylor and their son John.  They had Florida plates and I inquired as to where they were from.   Turns out it’s Atlanta and the 45-foot motorhome, tow dolly, and car are all rentals for a 28 day whirlwind summer vacation.  And finally we round out this stop with the play “Into the Woods” at the Big Forks playhouse.  Extraordinary talent and was almost as good as a Broadway show.

West Shore State Park

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Back to the woods we go, a whole six miles up the road to West Shore State Park.  Good thing since Pat is still puny.  He’s determined to rest up and get well for our next stop in Glacier.  Our sunset walks on the lake shore were so peaceful.

More shots from our stroll

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Cherries and “hucks” are in season and for sale at a gillion roadside stands.  I’m currently eating my weight in fresh cherries.  And these berries are NOT huckleberries.  Fortunately a guy in Glacier set me straight before I mistakenly identified them in this post.  They are Oregon Grape berries and may be toxic in large quantities.  But isn’t that the color of Huckleberry Hound?

In Other News

 

The stairs died and we have them propped up with 2 x 4’s.  Pat is slowly but surely feeling better, but now Jackson has the runs.  And we’re binge-watching Downton Abbey.

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Last but not least, you know you’re in bear country when everything down to toothpaste and deodorant must be locked up if not in a vehicle.  No bear sightings here, but I’m now qualified on two more kinds of bear-resistant garbage cans.

Next up: Glacier National Park!  See you on the way.

Big Sky Country

June 28 – July 7

I can’t tell you how enthralled I’ve been with just the IDEA of being in Montana.  As a native Florida girl, this seems like such an exotic locale, at least in my mind.  I’ve been dying to write about it since we’ve been in this great state for a few weeks now, but alas, with big sky country comes little cell service country.  I still can’t use my phone at our campsite, but fortunately our current RV park has decent wi-fi.  So here’s the first of my Montana posts.  I’m combining a few stops to catch up a bit.

First Stop – Tongue River State Park

Our first Montana state park is Tongue River and quite the boating mecca.  The sites are right by the water, and those with boats & jet skis pull them right up to the shoreline by their campsites.  Since we have no boat, our site that doesn’t have good access works just fine.

 

The first night I saw my first super cell cloud.  You’d think I would have seen one in my days in the South, but I’ve never spied a cloud quite like this one.  Perfect round edges resembling a huge mushroom in the sky.  We had wicked weather that first night and were listening hard to the local weather in case we needed to hoof it to the marina building.  I seriously thought we might have to with the winds thrashing us.  Picture one is the grumpy day and picture two is sunset the next night.

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My favorite – purple skies with mountains in the far distance.

Rosebud Battlefield State Park

We talked to the ranger and he gave us a lead on some hiking nearby at Rosebud Battlefield State Park.  Sounded just right to get the feel of the area.

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Wildflowers, trees, hills, and of course, sky.  Pretty much what we’ve seen during our whole visit.

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I couldn’t get enough of the views.

This state park is one of the many battle sites from the Plains Indian War that raged from 1854 to 1890.  Lots of history here, but I must confess it’s not a subject we’re particularly interested in, so we just enjoyed the site for the views.

 

I marvel when we’re in a place where we can turn 360 degrees and see no sign of civilization.  Not a house, road, or power line in sight.  Just wide open spaces as far as we can see.  Well, ok, there was the one rustic fence line.

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And the littles with lots of texture.  They look like huge dandelions about the size of a fist.

 

Flora and fauna from the hike.  I’m counting orange lichen in that mix.

 

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Another long view.  We enjoyed watching the shadows playing over the hills as the clouds lazily moved along.

Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park

Yes, another site with caverns.  This time we’re not compelled to visit since we are officially cavern-ed out.  Fortunately just the place itself was good enough for day trips and hiking.

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Waiting for mom.

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Hiking back to camp.  Those are tiny little RVs in the distance.

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I’ll let this one speak for itself.  Hopefully you can read around the bullet holes.  Made it seem that much more authentic.

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Our top of the rock view.

Missouri River Headwaters State Park

In this area it’s all about Lewis & Clark and their famous journey commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson.  The goal of their 28 month journey from St. Louis to the Pacific coast was to find “the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce”.  Practicable?  No.  But they mapped uncharted territory in the Louisiana Purchase, returned Sacajawea to her home area, and made scientific discoveries as well.  DSC00808

This spot is the convergence where the Jefferson, Madison and Gallitin Rivers come together.  Actually, only the Jefferson and Madison have joined at this point.  A little bit farther the Gallitin comes in.  In between is sort of a no man’s land.  Locals don’t consider it the Missouri until all three rivers meet up even though “official” documentation calls it a done deal here.  I tend to think the locals have it right.  How can the mighty ‘Mo’ be formed by the joining of 3 rivers if one hasn’t made it to the party yet?

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Here’s the Gallitin from a higher vantage point.

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Pat surveying the scene and a historic grave site.  This rough little patch of ground marks the spot where children were buried who died from black diphtheria.  Made me shudder.  And that’s Lewis’ Rock in the background.  On a happier note, the mighty Missouri is the longest river in North America and if you get on a inner tube right now, you can make it to the Gulf of Mexico in two and a half months.  That’s floating down the Mo and then emptying into the Mississippi, which is not the longest river as I had thought.

Virginia City “Ghost Town”

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Every drive is a scenic drive it seems.  One of the overlooks complete with cabins and mountain ranges.  And those cabins look like something from a life-sized Lincoln Log set.  This particular spot was on the way to the ghost towns we read about.

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Virginia City was founded by prospectors in 1863 during the gold rush and as you can tell, lawlessness was the order of the day.  I wonder about the High-handed Outrages.  Just what do you suppose those were?  Well as the story goes, a vigilance committee was formed and hangings commenced.

 

This town has at least 150 buildings original from the vigilance days, including the wagon shop & ox shoeing place.  A fun little town, but a ghost town no more.  People do live here again, and it’s a bustling tourist town.

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From a garden on main street.

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I’ll leave you with one more photo from our scenic drive.

Cecil and Eloise (Mom & Dad) just loved Montana, and Pat commented that he could understand why.  In fact, they threatened to move here when we became “those meddling kids” in their later years.  Glad we have the whole month to soak it in and follow in their footsteps.

Next Up: More Montana State Parks.  See you on the way!