Thursday, September 9, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation - Montana 2010 Edition!

Day 0-1:
We left home on Friday night after work - about 4pm - and collectively drove into late Saturday morning. Got into the neighborhood of the Little Missouri National Grasslands/Roosevelt National park near the western border of North Dakota before we got off the interstate to do any real exploring.

Little Missouri National Grasslands - ND

We drove along dirt farm/back roads out to the Initial Rock Interpetive Area...


And beyond...

Greeting the herds of free-range cattle as we went.

We eventually came to a 'no trespassing' sign and were made to come back the way we came in.


We ended up in the town of Medora, ND. We stopped for bunch, and then found the normal entrance to Roosevelt Nat'l Park to do the normal touristy loop. We were greeted by some of these guys...


And a bunch of these guys too.



We got out of the jeep a few times to stretch our legs...

And have a look around at the sights that can't be seen from the road.


About mid-afternoon, we finally made it into Montana, and decided that Glendive, MT would be the last time we would see the interstate until the trip home. We drove to Circle, MT... stopped at an ATM, got some off-the-beaten-path directions to a campground from one of the locals, and off we went. By way of the directions we were given, and by the mapping program on Aaron's laptop, it wasn't long before we experienced what I had been hoping for all along:

We traveled miles and miles of dirt farm roads to the campground that we were told about - it was in the Russell Nat'l Wildlife Refuge. Despite protest, I preferred not to stay there as it was less of a campground than it was a private peninsula with a lot of seasonal RV-type guests and no real sign of a primitive camping area.

So, we moved along and found a marked campground just off the highway miles north of the first 'campground.' We got here just before dark, and just before the rain/wind came in. We hadn't had dinner at this point, so we opted to stay in the tent and graze on the munchies that we already had packed in the jeep, and turn in early. We'd been driving almost non-stop for 28 hours.


Day 2:
We were woken up the next morning by the excessive wind and rain outside. The wind had already unearthed the tent stakes securing the front vestibule part of our tent. The upside is that we were still dry - the tent was doing it's job. As the rain lightened up, we methodically packed the rainfly, tent, and tarp underneath in garbage bags because it would have been useless in the wind and wet to try to roll up the tent normally. We packed the tent and bedding in the jeep, and we were on our way.

We discovered that we were awfully close to the Ft. Peck Dam, so we stopped to take a look.


The weather improved. We moved on down the road through small towns, with interesting things to see...




Until we stopped in Glascow, MT for breakfast. After food, gas, and consultation of the maps, we were off again!




After the day's drive, we arrived in Ft. Benton, MT. Ft. Benton is neat, historic little town (http://www.fortbenton.com) - if you ever happen to be in the neighborhood, it's definitely worth spending some time here. We initially stopped here for fuel, but ended up staying until the next morning.






We enjoyed this fella's sense of humor when we saw what his RV was towing...


 
Day 3:
We woke up the next morning, got showers (YES! The campground had hot showers!), and were prepping to leave. These were definitely an inquisitive pair...


We got onto a Montana state highway... they certainly don't look like this at home...


We ran across a route that took us by Tiber Dam.



And back out to the "highway"...



We were certainly able to tell when we got closer and closer to Glacier National Park in NW Montana... the landscape was phenomenal... even in the gloomy weather.


Who knew they grew on trees?!


We arrived inside the park and had a look around at the Visitor's Center.

They had a live webcam showing a nest on a powerline pole in the parking lot - ospreys.


We checked out a couple of campgrounds, and opted to stay at the Rising Sun campground just off Going To The Sun Road in the park. We set camp, and grabbed a bite to eat. Once done, we decided it would be fun just to cruise part way up the road and have a look around.


We picked up some firewood for the evening. I sat next to the fire until I fell asleep in my chair, and then it was off to the tent for me.


Day 4:
This night was interrupted by the cold, cold weather. I'd guess it to be somewhere around 30-degrees. Before we left, I'd checked the weather on 2 seperate websites for multiple areas and altitudes in and around the places that I thought we eould be staying. Daytime highs were to be in the low-to-mid 70's, and the overnights down in the mid-40's. So, I packed for that weather. The weather guys were WAY wrong, and we didn't have the correct colder weather gear with us. We spent the vast majority of this night/morning sleeping in the KJ where the heat was accessible, with the intention to find other gear later in the day.

Once daylight came back around, we headed westward on Going To The Sun once again. We took our time, getting out to hike a bit now and then.

Within view of one of the few remaining glaciers...


Once back in the jeep, we continued on to Logan Pass (highest elevation road within the park). Construction was well underway, and there were a couple of stretches of road that were 1-lane only. So we had to wait our turn before we could actually reach the pass.




Once we reached Logan Pass, the view was sketchy due to the passing clouds, rain, and occasional snow. Sometimes we were unable to see past the windows at the visitors center. But when the clouds cleared a little, this is what we could see...


Tour bus!

We left Logan Pass and continued westward through the park, stopping for photo opportunities along the way.




The idea was to leave the park and head into Kalispell to find better winter camp gear. On our way, we found some of the forest service trails that I had been told about near the east side of Hungry Horse Reservoir. We couldn't help but to spend a few hours exploring.




After playing on the trails, we continued into Kalispell. On the way, we decided to wuss out and get a hotel room for the night... to get warm, to bring some of the wet gear inside to dry out. So before finding a room, we grabbed some cheap 15-degree bags at Kmart and some other supplies.

We spent the evening at Big Mountain Lodge in Whitefish, MT. Brought the rainfly in the room and let it drip dry in the shower while we wandered around downtown Whitefish, and took advantage of the hotel amenities.


Day 5:
On today's agenda was to visit the small town of Polebridge and get to the camp at Kintla Lake. The road to Polebridge is pretty narrow in places, and travels through some pretty country just within the western border of Glacier National Park.




On the road to Polebridge, the rear CV of the front driveshaft siezed - it was less than a year old. So we did an emergency roadside driveshaft removal, strapped it into the roof rack, and continued on our way in 2WD only.

Arrived in Polebridge!


This little town of about 40 people is another place that I suggest checking out if you're ever in the area. The Polebridge Mercantile (aka "The Merc") is the area general store, bakery, souviner location, and tempermental wi-fi hotspot. There's also a small restaurant next door that is only open between the hours of 4-9pm. We stopped in and enjoyed some coffee/hot chocolate and cookies while waiting on the rain before continuing an additional 15 miles north to Kintla Lake.

Lots of these guys on the way northward...



Stowaway...


Arrived at Kintla Lake! This place is now my favorite place ever to camp - the hiking is endless, and the scenery... I can never get tired of this.


Kintla Lake Ranger Station found along one of the hiking trails...




This was the night to test out the improved sleeping bags we got the day before, and eliminate the air mattress from the setup in order to improve sleeping conditions in the cold.


Day 6:
The night was much warmer with the improved bags (although we both agree that they were nothing near 15-degree sleeping bags - maybe 35 or 40 degrees, at best), but without the air mattress that we were accustomed to, a little more uncomfortable. I was willing to trade the comfort for the warmth, personally.

We considered spending a 2nd day at Kintla Lake to explore, but decided against it since we essentially lost a day in Whitefish at the hotel. But, we both agreed that this is definitely a place to return to... maybe to do a multi-day backpacking trip. So instead, we traveled back down the road back to Polebridge... stopping at the Bowman Lake area on the way.


Bowman Lake


We stopped one last time in Polebridge, and then took the road outside of Glacier NP that leads up to the Canadian border - a 22-mile trip one way. *note the driveshaft in the roof rack *

We knew ahead of time that the border was closed, but wanted to check it out anyway. I couldn't take the jeep across due to the gate...

But we walked across... so, I guess we were illegally in another country. My first time in Canada!
The monument marking the division of the countries...




We headed back south towards Polebridge...

On the way back, we ran across a couple in an Izusu with a flat tire and the incorrect equipment to change it. We took the time to help them out so they could continue their trek northward. (No pics though.)

It was at this point that we said our final goodbyes to Glacier National Park - I could have spent all week here. But part of the original plans was to do a loop through the western portion of the state... and we had to be moving on. So, we boogied all the way down to the southern shores of Flathead Lake before we stopped to camp that evening. The temperatures were a lot nicer, and we decided it was safe to use the air mattress again without fear of freezing. We got to the campground just at sunset and got things set up... and then had time to absorb our surroundings a little before bedtime.


Day 7:
Once on the road, we continued southward, driving throug various Indian reservation lands.

Mission Mountain Range



Aaron found more backroads and other dirt roads... of which we finally spotted our first bear of the week! Black bear, I believe. It was running away from us, so we did not have the opportunity to get a photo. Contiuning along the road of the bear sighting, we got a little... er, lost... a couple of times, and ended up driving a few of the dead end forest service roads. But, again, it was well worth the time to get lost.


"Which way do I go?"


We eventually found the road we were looking for.


Continuing southward, we entered into the Bitteroot Mountains and took Montana state road 38 into the Bitteroot National Forest.



Have I mentioned how much I love Montana State Highways?

Before exiting the park, we took a break near one of many mountain streams... and got our feet wet.



We located a couple of state campgrounds just west of Anaconda, MT and were driving through to investigate when we had our 2nd bear sighting:

And moose too!


We ended up staying at a campground just east of Anaconda along I-90 (a brief trip back onto the interstate ).


Day 8 and 9:
We had an unscheduled 7:30am wake-up call by the freindly neighborhood cattle in the pastures adjacent to our campsite... so we were up earlier on this morning. It ended up being a good thing as we had a lot we wanted to accomplish. This was the last official day to explore before heading towards home. We wanted to be well on our way by the evening time.

First order of business was to get to Beartooth Highway (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beartooth_Highway). We opted to do this by way of Yellowstone Park. This wasn't in the original plans, but because this offered the most direct route to the western end of Beartooth Highway, we revised the plan.

Travel to Yellowstone...


Inside Yellowstone... more moose!


And more bison...





The trip through Yellowstone took a lot longer than we had planned, no thanks to the holiday weekend. We didn't get into Cooke City until about 4pm. We stopped briefly for food and fuel, and started on Beartooth Highway.







We stopped at a rest area on the east side of the summit. It was here that we were approached by nearly 15 chipmunks who were very accustomed to people. They came right up to the end of your shoes, and if you offered your hand, they would inspected it for food before retreating. We were weak, and started feeding them tortilla chips that we had in the jeep. At one point, Aaron was sitting on the walkway with the bag of chips in his lap, and 2 chipmunks waiting for handouts sitting on his knee.


As we were leaving this rest area, somebody in a sexy XJ pulled in... and then proceeded to follow us down into the valley until he turned off into his campground at the bottom of the mountain.


Beartooth Highway was a super-fun road to drive, and the views were just short of breathtaking. I'm glad we made this part of our trip. But after reaching the eastern end of the highway, we knew it was now time to make the trip home.

Aaron directed us onto another highway that cut through Wyoming...



and eventually onto another scenic byway. I can only imagine it was similar to Beartooth, but I can't be sure since we traveled the expanse of it after dark. The only thing we saw aside from the oncoming traffic were the deer off to the sides of the road, and the one deer in the middle of the road that wouldn't move until I stopped. We took this highway until it met with Interstate 90 in Sheridan, WY.

The only noteworthy thing to report from the interstate was that at 3:30 in the morning, the KJ made an attempt to remove it's right front tire. Luckily, Aaron was with it enough to stop us before that happened. Kudos to him!

Sunrise in South Dakota...




We drove non-stop from 10am until 8pm the following day. Talk about marathon, tag-team driving. It was exhausting, and the night we got home we slept 12-1/2 hours.


The Aftermath:
Thank goodness for Labor Day Monday! I don't think either of us could have functioned at work without a one-day breather.

We unpacked the jeep, and started to get things cleaned up and put away. The driveshaft was removed from the roof basket, and Aaron put it in the van to take it back to the driveline shop that repaired it less than a year ago to see what they said.

I took the KJ to the local car wash to wash and vacuum it out. What it looked like before the cleaning (pictures don't do it justice)...






After an hour and $20+ in change at the car wash, it was an 'acceptable' degree of clean. It really needs a detail, but I'm thinking it'll have to wait until after the last couple of weekend trips this year.

Other carnage to note...
Broken left front turn signal lense... I'm guessing from a rock somewhere out on the interstate...

And a screw in my right rear tire...


Another KJ'er has generously offered me the turn signal lense from her old stock bumper, and I got the tire patched free at my local Discount Tire. After Aaron talked to the local driveline place about the front driveshaft, the are replacing the siezed end under warranty. We'll only be charged for the labor.

All in all, a great trip!


The remainder of the photos we took (whittled down from 450, or so) can be found here:

Montana Album #1
Montana Album #2