Glacier.

Getting There

US Highway 2 leaves Whitefish, MT and winds through Columbia Falls (a cool tourist burb), Coram (home of Glacier Distilling and their tasty North Fork Rye) and past West Glacier (Gateway to the Park). And I went past the entrance to the park because vehicle combinations longer than 21 feet are prohibited on Going to the Sun Road. As the crow files, it’s 49 miles from my campground in Whitefish to my campground in St Mary, on the east side of the park. So I had to roll down the longer 122 mile route—which was just fine because the route was fine (mostly!).

Winding along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and through a couple towns/outposts was awesome! I love how clear the rivers are! As you approach Marias Pass stunning views of Glacier National Park’s peaks appear. So hard to keep my eyes on the road.

On the east side of Marias Pass I passed by East Glacier (another route to the park) because the railroad bridge wouldn’t let Synko pass under (and because long loads aren’t permitted on MT 49 either). So I continued to Browning and then headed back westward to St Mary, the real eastside entrance to the Park.

US Highway 89 to St Mary
US Highway 89 to St Mary

That highway, US 89 was also under severe construction and I ended up shifting into four-wheel-drive to gain traction over the loose dirt and steep grade. I would not have wanted to drive that road in a half-ton truck or without 4WD. Anyway, I arrived at the nice KOA in the junction town of St. Mary and grilled up some wings for dinner, also mapping out my itinerary into the park on Saturday.

Glacier.

I bought the GNP t-shirt that just said “Glacier.” on a background of Montana because I though it was simple & solid. The national park is anything but simple & solid. It’s stunning & spectacular! I’ve wanted to visit here since high school (you know, for the past 20 years!) and my dream was coming true.

Jackson Glacier
Jackson Glacier

Going to the Sun Road is phenomenal. From the lower land meadows and large lakes on each side through craggy peaks and sheer cliff faces the road winds 52 miles across the Continental Divide and between the Park’s western and eastern portals. Exhibits in the visitor centers pique your interest in the incredible geology of the mountains. The power at work, through an awesome Creator’s hand never ceases to amaze and humble me. God, I love the mountains!

Crowds were fairly heavy but not overwhelming. I took advantage of the park’s shuttles a couple times to avoid parking hassles but I wanted the experience of driving Going to the Sun myself. It. Is. An. Experience. For the most part, the road is good and provides outstanding views of peaks, waterfalls, meadows, creeks, lakes, trees. The rivers simply amazed me in how the sparkling water rushes over colored rocks, so clear and pristine. In slower-moving pools, the glacier water reflects beautiful turquoise colors. It’s unreal beauty.

In other sections the road narrows considerably along the sheer cliff face and I knew I wasn’t being too cautious by folding my mirrors in when I saw other F250s with their ears tucked in too! There were a couple spots where I slowly snuck by oncoming traffic. On the east side of Logan Pass I passed an oncoming rig towing a 25-30 foot Airstream. What a fool. Back in camp later I was chatting with my neighbors who had advised the Park Service of this errant dude. The rangers said they’d intercept him but by that time, he’d have significant damage to his trailer. Yeah, the tunnels and cliff overhangs are real. I dunno how he missed the restriction signs, or if he was just “special.” Wasn’t my problem…

When I reached the west side (where I’d been with Synko in tow the day before) I fueled up to save $1.00 a gallon vs. the price in St. Mary and headed back across the Continental Divide. I enjoyed a quick stop at 1913-era Lake McDonald Lodge for a TwoSki Brewski Pilsner from Kalispell Brewing and then headed back up the hill. About three hours later I was back in St Mary and chatted with a cool lady from Hawaii by way of Calgary. We enjoyed a couple drinks at the local pub and then I headed back to camp (alas, alone, lol). My first visit to Glacier was so great; I’d be returning in a week to take in the “Many Glacier” section of the park.

Leaving There

But until then, in the morning I stowed my good wines and shotgun at the KOA since Canada is averse to such evils. Clearing customs 20 miles from St Mary was a breeze this time, quite different than last year when I tried to take my gun with me. The customs official asked if I had any firearms and when I said, “no” he replied, “you’re from Texas and don’t have a gun?!” I told him I’d left them at the campground in St. Mary and he waved me on through.

The drive through southern Alberta’s green and yellow farmland was easy and in a couple hours I arrived in Calgary and checked into the biggest hole of a campground I’ve found. But it was just for the one night to position me close to Banff and my next destination in Golden, BC. I was headed toward a couple more national parks (this time in Canada) that I’ve wanted to visit in the 20 years since high school!

People I’ve talked with tell of wonderful sights in Banff and Jasper. I can’t wait to get there!

Glaciers to Badlands

Glaciers

The drive from Cranbrook back toward Montana through the Kootenay mountains was very nice. Small towns, rivers, hills, and Fernie Brewing. I stopped in there to spend my remaining loonies, toonies and the rest of my Canadian money. A quick flight of tasters and then a 12-pack and a bomber of sour for Julie, to go.

After clearing US customs at the border of Canada’s Waterton National Park I again encountered wildlife on the road. Cows on the free range, lol. The day’s cloudy, rainy, cold drive ended back at familiar St. Mary KOA. My spirits were kinda sorta crushed when the NFL network, which I was so happy to receive on Dish, blacked out the Cowboys pre-season game. (Prolly a liberal made that stupid decision.)

After camp church Sunday morning I headed over to the Many Glacier region of the national park. Pretty area, pretty congested. I did sight a golden eagle soaring above the canyon probably on the hunt—or perhaps just enjoying the view God set before him. Back at camp I slow-smoked a rack in the afternoon (seasoned only with freshly ground pink Himalayan sea salt & coarse Malabar black pepper, also freshly ground), making sure to keep an eye open for any hungry bears enticed by the smoker. Paired the ribs with red skin potato salad and a Fernie IPA.

Plains

Monday brought a 10½ hour drive from St Mary, MT to Williston, ND. I took the campground’s suggestion and avoided US 89 south of St Mary, taking a state highway a few miles north to avoid the construction zone I’d tolerated a week or so before. Good call because it was a pretty drive to Browning.

There’s hellauvalotta Montana east of the Rockies! I breezed along US 2, dubbed the Lewis & Clark Trail, with a steady tail wind and occasional rain showers. I don’t know that it increased my fuel economy any but it didn’t impair it and wasn’t an annoying side wind. I’ll take tail winds any day, and I could see the heavy rain stayed a few miles north of me on the Canadian border. As I finally crossed into North Dakota, adding the 48th state I’ve visited to my resume, I decided to check into a nearby motel and avoid having to search for a campsite so late in the day. Good call, I was tired and went to sleep without dinner, even though I hadn’t been bad all day.

Badlands

I know why they call ’em badlands but from my vantage point they ain’t bad at all. These lands are extremely pretty in their own way. It’s easy to love mountains; they’re so impressive in their grandeur. But prairie lands and canyonlands offer their own style of beauty.

At Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit I dragged Synko up and down the scenic drive, impressed by the sights of the grasses, rocks, rivers, vistas and buffalo. While probably not as well know as the big-name parks, this refuge is absolutely stunning. I chatted with a couple about this and we all agreed our pictures don’t capture the immenseness, depth or scope of the scenery. For me, the pics will always remind me of just how grand, how intense, how intricate, how beautiful God’s creation is.  You cannot truly experience and appreciate this and not believe.

Next up: The Black Hills of Wyoming and South Dakota.

 

The Black Hills

Devils Tower

After leaving Teddy Roosevelt National Park I rolled south, following the North Dakota/Montana border into South Dakota and then Wyoming to arrive at Devils Tower. Pretty cool looking piece of rock! The trail around the dome is interesting and has great views of the tower. Sighted lots of climbers and one guy looking over the side from the top. Have never had any desire whatsoever to climb rocks but respect the skills and strength of those who do.

Deadwood & Lead

A quick 89 mile drive to Deadwood, SD wound through eastern Wyoming’s farmlands and through the Black Hills National Forest. I checked into the cool, cozy and cramped KOA. Nice place tucked into the side of the mountain but the terraced sites leave little room for maneuvering or parking. Regardless, I got one of the better sites and was good with that. Once settled I headed into the historic mining and brawling town.

Deadwood is cool, kinda touristy. I hit a couple of the historic saloons and left the cemetery and other historic sites until Brad & Julie arrived. Back at camp I grilled a pork loin and just chilled.

Friday was laundry day. I’d rather have my teeth drilled. It had been a couple weeks so I filled all four washers at the campground and at least killed the miserable chore in an hour or so. Rewarded myself with a visit to Dakota Shivers Brewery in Lead (leed). Ubercool place. Yes, it’s my latest favorite brewery! Bought their stainless mug and a t-shirt. I only get shirts from breweries I really like, and then the shirt needs to be cool. Theirs are.

Hill City & More

En route to Hill City to meet up with Julie and Brad I rolled through Rapid City and got a haircut and a much needed bath for Synko. Nearly an hour later I was set up in our adjoining campsites, put a hoodie on to battle this chill and waited for Julie & Brad to arrive. Kay & Dave came over and we all headed out for a brew at Miner Brewing Company in town, followed by pretty decent buffalo/elk burger at Slate Creek Grill.

Needles Highway (7539)
Needles Highway (7539)

In the morning we headed out, got a check in the box at Mount Rushmore and then drove through Custer State Park and onto the Needles Highway. Needles Highway is yet another wonderful road that winds through trees, across a couple ridges and through very narrow and low tunnels among outcroppings of wind chiseled rock. The Eye of the Needle had us folding in side mirrors and ducking low. Extremely cool! A couple videos of the tunnels: A Fairly Wide Tunnel and Eye of the Needle.

From Needles Highway we made the couple hour drive back over to Devils Tower so Julie & Brad and Dave & Kay could enjoy that pretty cool site. Then we headed back to camp but this time through Spearfish Canyon. Another wonderful road. This part of the country is full of ’em! Our day culminated around a campfire enjoying a couple cocktails in the chilly evening. ‘Twas a perfect way to wrap up a week in the beautiful Black Hills.

Next, on to Yellowstone!