Sunday, July 20, 2014

Many Glacier area in GNP and we saw a Grizzly Bear!!!

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After a great start to our visit in Glacier National Park (GNP) we were still hoping to get the third of the Big Three sightings, a Grizzly Bear. Glacier is a really huge park with 1,583 square miles of wilderness and very few roads for access. However, our plan was to see all the park we could so we headed over to the Many Glacier part of the park since we had heard the scenery was great and that it was an area with better odds of seeing a Grizzly Bear.

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We drove back into West Glacier as we decided it best to drive back over Logan Pass and over to Saint Mary which means we would drive the complete Going to the Sun road which is just under 60 miles. It always is a slow drive but chocked full of beautiful scenery, amazing waterfalls and bluest water I have seen since I last visited Antarctica. As we made it to Logan Pass I thought I saw some Mountain Goats again so we stopped and hiked over to where I saw them. Sure enough we found a nice family of them and another one with a radio collar. It is amazing how human tolerant these majestic animals are at Logan Pass.

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From Logan Pass there was a lot of road construction so we had several delays but when we finally saw Saint Mary Lake we knew we were getting close to Saint Mary. We stopped at a pullout and had our packed lunch while dipping our toes in the blue waters of Saint Mary Lake.

From Saint Mary we headed north to the Many Glacier part of Glacier National Park. Another beautiful lake, Lake Sherburn, was to our south as we drove in and the peaks in the distance were simply stunning… We decided to stop at yet another stunning lake, Swiftcurrent Lake, where we took the Swiftwater Trail for a few miles to snap photo after photo. What a beautiful area Many Glacier is… although we didn’t see any bears must less the elusive Grizzly!

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We had planned to go back a different way but we decided one more trip over Logan’s Pass would be fun. At the final switchback right before the straightway to Logan's Pass we saw a few people looking up the hill to our right.  Before I knew it Sharon was yelling for me to park as there was a Grizzly Bear making its way along the slope parallel to us.  Sharon handed me our binoculars and I dashed out to see if he was continuing our way.  Sharon ran behind with the camera and we were able to watch him amble across the mountainside and I fired off a few zoomed in (slightly blurry) photos.

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The bear was in the open intermittently while moving through some brush. We watched for about 5 full minutes.  At one point he paused while I had him in view with the binoculars and he turned his head and seemingly stared right at me... seeing that large and wide head looking my way gave me the chills as I felt like the main course for dinner. So glad was I that the car was nearby even though it seemed as if I was only of passing interest to him. What a lifetime thrill to see one of these magnificent bears that represent true wilderness…

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We stopped at the top to and got to watch the Bighorn Sheep again which gave us time to reflect on our amazing luck in changing our minds to return home this way after all!. To complete the trip we stopped at Lake McDonald where we unpacked some snacks and a cold frosty beverage while dipping our toes in the lake and savoring yet another splendid day here in Glacier…

Friday, July 18, 2014

Logan Pass and the First Two of our Big Three…

Glacier First Day 061Armed with all the info given to us at the Apgar Ranger Station  we decided  first to simply take in the drive to Logan Pass on the Highway to the Sun. As we drove along the cobalt blue Lake McDonald we enjoyed all the magnificent scenery Glacier has to offer. They had a lot of snow here this past winter and as a result we are now being rewarded with hundreds of gushing waterfalls adorning many of the craggy mountainsides.

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Driving along the green forests of  Western Hemlock , Black Cottonwood and Western Cedar we followed a rushing and frothing river until we started ascending the climb to Logan Pass. Numerous switchback each with their own breathtaking views were encountered until we finally made it to what appeared more like winter than summer, Logan Pass, adorned with brilliant white snow.

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We parked at the pass and hiked around a bit on the Hidden Lake Trail where we saw the first of our big three wildlife sightings shortly after arriving. Sharon saw her first Mountain Goats as we found a pair of them, mother and baby. Interestingly the mother was donned with a radio collar as we found out later that scientists are studying the Mountain Goats in the Logan Pass area. What a cool sighting we had on our very first day…

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No sooner than we had scored the first of the big three we noticed a group of large mammals moving across the snow on the mountain across the road from where we parked. After looking though our binoculars we had scored the second of the big three… A large group of seventeen Big Horn Sheep were ambling across a snow bank en route up the mountainside. They were so nimble as they scrambled up the talus slopes. Super cool…

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We spent the rest of the day looking at numerous waterfalls as the snow melt is still in full force all the while keeping our eyes out for the signs of bear. Before leaving  the park we stopped at one of the pullouts near Lake McDonald and spent time relaxing and gazing out over the still blue waters… what a beautiful park this is…

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Finally! Glacier National Park, Montana…

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Glacier First Day 016Every year we choose a goal to reach for the our summer travels and this year we selected Glacier National Park as our goal. Our plan was to arrive near our mid point summer timeline to allow plenty of time to visit one of the gems in the National Park system and one of our bucket list places at Glacier National Park. We are based for a week in Columbia Falls, Montana (we have been here four days now) and we will stay for two more weeks in nearby Kalispell, Montana.

Our plan was to visit Glacier extensively while staying in Columbia Falls and while in Kalispell perhaps revisit the park if we want to or simply relax and enjoy some Montana summertime. We are also excited to see Glacier First Day 027Bernie and Dodo, friends we made while staying at Betty's RV park, who recommended the park and will be staying there for several months as Kalispell is their former home.  It will be great to see them.

Needless to say we hit the ground running as we visited the National Park the first afternoon we arrived in Columbia Falls. We of course had to stop at the main entrance sign near West Glacier for the obligatory touristy photo op since of course without a photo these days you simply can’t prove you were there!!!

Glacier First Day 030We have been using our America the Beautiful Access Card that we invest $80 each year in order to receive free access in all National Parks as well as use of most other National Lands such as the many US Forest Service pay facilities. We feel it easily pays for itself  and even if it doesn’t  we enjoy supporting our beautiful National Park system as justification enough to purchase it. We stopped by the Apgar visitor center and spoke with a ranger about the hiking we would like to do and we also bought our bear spray here for about $45.00 (cheap insurance in lieu of being mauled by a bear).

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Our main objectives for our visit to this park were to see all that we can visit easily by road, hike several of the scenic trails and hopefully to see the big three animals on our list. I have already seen two of the big three but Sharon has not seen any of them. The big three that we hope to see while visiting Glacier are the Mountain Goat, Bighorn Sheep and the icon of the northern wilderness the Grizzly Bear, of course at a very safe distance… As luck would have it we able to see one of the big three on our list the very first day at the park. Since this blog is long enough I will continue about our first sighting in our next blog…

Monday, July 14, 2014

Missoula Montana and on to Glacier National Park…

Glacier First Day 002We left Drummond Montana City Park and drove north to the Gray Wolf Peak Casino just outside Missoula Montana. I checked with this small casino about overnight parking and allow space for RVers in a gravel lot near their security building. We enjoyed a great view of the mountains out our front window and felt we certainly couldn’t beat the price of this nice boondocking site. This location had us now just about 100 miles south of Columbia Falls, Montana where we will spend a week exploring Glacier National Park, our summer goal.

After setting up camp we drove back south into Missoula Montana to explore this city. Our first stop was to check out the University of Montana. This moderate sized mountainside university was pleasant to walk around. Like Brigham Young University they have a trail up to a letter representing their school. With limited time we decided we would have tol save this hike for a future date.

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Next up was a trip into the downtown area where we checked out the shops along the older part of town. We also had to make a grocery store stop and when we pulled into the Safeway Grocery it was fitting for Montana that an Osprey was hunting fish in the adjacent river. With groceries in hand we thought we would head over to a local brewery to check out the crafted beer scene in Missoula. It turned out to be a challenge as we first went to Big Sky Brewery which was closed for an event. So we headed back into town and landed at the KettleHouse Brewery which as I found out later was the number one rated brewery in the area by the locals.

Glacier First Day 015We tried a few crafted beers and enjoyed their number one seller the Cold Smoke Scotch Ale. As it was dinner time we sought out some advice of the locals and settled on getting a to go pizza at the MacKenzie River Pizza Pub and Grill. A pretty darned good thin crust pizza…

We enjoyed a relaxing evening at our site at the relatively quiet little casino and to repay our hosts we filled up with both diesel for the RV and gas for our Honda. As morning broke we headed toward our northernmost point for our summer travels into Montana, Columbia Falls. A few hours later after we took the scenic drive north on Highway 35 out of Polson Montana. A sign warned of narrow roads and construction but the drive was  a great choice heading north as we traveled alongside the banks of beautiful blue Flathead Lake.  We pulled into Columbia Falls RV Park about noon leaving us a half a warm, sunny day to explore Glacier National Park…

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Couple of Overnight stays in Montana…

Dillon and Drummond MT 002With about 450 miles to go before we make it to Columbia River where we have a week booked we thought about driving half way for a three day stay but decided instead that we could see more of Montana by driving 150 miles each day and staying one night at each location.  This plan would allow time each afternoon to explore at each stop.

Our first stop in Montana was Countryside RV Park in Dillon where we received a reduced rate for me having served in the Air Force. This park was just the opposite of our last stop as the people here were really friendly and the park was very nice. It was a perfect place for our one night stay near DIllon, Montana. After we set up and had lunch we made our way up into the mountains to see Bannack State Park.

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Bannack is a cool little ghost town in Beaverhead County, Montana It is located on scenic Grasshopper Creek and even offers some nice camping spots for these that are interested. We paid our five bucks to get in and an additional two bucks for an informative booklet about the buildings and the colorful history of Bannack. As we walked around exploring each of the old buildings we noticed some lively old time music permeating the street. As we neared the end of our tour we discovered a pianist playing in one of the houses. We chatted with the pianist and upon pausing to donate some cash to the tip jar we were treated to Ernest Tubb's "Waltz Across Texas" before leaving. 

Traveling back into town we enjoyed the old downtown area and found a nice brewery that had only been opened a few weeks called Beaverhead Brewery. The Beaverhead River flows through here and offers up some world class fishing. Next up was dinner back at the campground and a night's sleep before heading out again in the morning…

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Our next one night stand was a Drummond Montana where we spent the night at Drummond City Park. This is a rustic stay in a city park where we were assigned a site we barely fit into but at a price of $15 cash a night we can live with it for our one night stay.

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After setting up and having some lunch we drove most of the Pintler Scenic Route and we spent some time at Georgetown Lake where the scenery was magnificent. Flint Creek followed much of this route and we stopped a few times to enjoy the water and watch the trout working their way against the currents looking for supper. We stopped around happy hour in the town of Phillipsburg only to discover a nice brewery there called Phillipsburg Brewery Company LLC. We enjoyed some nice crafted beverages and some complimentary snacks while watching the townspeople mill about the downtown area.

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After enjoying Phillipsburg we made our way back to camp where we had dinner and I built a nice fire with the complimentary firewood from the park. It had been a while since I have been able to watch a nice burning fire and it was a perfect ending for the day…

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thompson RV Park, Rexburg, Idaho, Review or Rant?

Idaho Falls ID 018Well it was time to leave Rexburg and Thompson RV Park. I must rant a bit about the camp hosts at this park. When we first pulled into Thompson RV Park we had second thoughts about the place since it was right behind a warehouse area. But we booked here to have a place for the July 4th Weekend. The place reminded me of no frills camping in the backyard of, say grandpa's house, and as it turned out this was indeed a campground behind someone's home. Idaho Falls ID 035We found it peculiar that when we checked in the park we were asked, “Are you sure you want to stay a week because often when people arrive here they change their minds”?  This was our first hint of what was to come.

The camp host then issued us only a cash receipt…..no other information.  This was unfortunate because the park has several rules of which we inadvertently broke resulting in a not-so friendly knock on the door encounter  by the camp host. I apparently drove faster than 5 mph to my campsite. I told the host it would be no problem I would watch my speed from now on.

The next morning Sharon decided to wash the cash and as she was about to do so the husband host who was mowing admonished her for thinking she could wash the car and became somewhat confrontational telling he would give us our money back if we would just leave… and to send out her husband to get the refund. I went outside and waited for him to finish mowing when I walked over to chat with him I too found him quite confrontational and told him to go ahead and refund us our money for our remaining unused days and we would gladly leave.

Idaho Falls ID 033We pointed out that it would be much easier to follow their rules if they like all the other campgrounds we have visited simply presented us with a list upon arrival.  Their answer was that this was too much trouble. I requested that he get me the owners name and phone number as I would like to talk with them. He said he couldn’t give me that information but the owner lived on premises and he would go get her.

 

Instead he got his wife to come over and knock on our door again and Sharon really didn’t want to get into it with her again so she asked her to take her over to the owners house. Sharon spoke with the owner about what is good customer service and the lady apologized for the Yellowstone NP and Teton NP 014actions of the hosts but said she stood by her hosts. We were satisfied the owner had understood our concerns and hoped that she would in the future take heed of our advice. We opted to stay our last few days and never saw the hosts again. Even more alarming about these hosts was what the lady host said when she and Sharon walked over to the owners house… She said the two of them didn’t really like people since they all break the rules!!!

She even pointed out to Sharon that other campers (there were only ten here during our stay) had to be scolded for breaking the “unwritten” rules.. Sounds like to me these two folks should not be in the people business and if I were you I would avoid this otherwise peaceful park until these two hosts are gone! I would have rated this park a 6 or a 7 without these hosts but with them I give it a 2…

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Yellowstone and Teton NP Loop Drive…

Yellowstone NP and Teton NP 028With a few days left here in Rexburg, Idaho we decided that we should make a trip over to Yellowstone National Park or Teton National Park. When I looked at the mileage it looked like the thing to do was to go see both parks. This would be our largest one day loop trip ever but  the allure of seeing two spectacular National Parks in the same day convinced us to think, why not?

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I woke Sharon way earlier than she would prefer and we hit the road going north to West Yellowstone. We entered Yellowstone and the visual extravaganza began with one scenic vista after another. We have visited both of these parks in the past prior to buying our motorhome so we were delighted to have the opportunity to revisit such grand places.

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Needless to say we didn’t do any extensive hiking and we mostly stopped to see things we missed the last time we visited these parks. Therefore we completely avoided Old Faithful and enjoyed mostly the outer reaches of the parks. As a result we were treated with eye dropping Mammoth Hot Springs as well as gorgeous valleys and a splendid array of wildlife. We even saw what appeared to be a young adolescent black bear wandering and munching his way through a flower filled meadow. It appeared to us that he/she was eating the flower heads off all the plants that were blooming. Indeed fun to watch…

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With over 300 miles of a long and extended loop we saw a lot of National Parkland and it was interesting to see how the landscape was responding to the over 700,000 acres burned back in 1988. The park looked pretty good and it appears as if the vegetation is filling in rather nicely.We also saw deer, elk and buffalo as well as one lone Bald Eagle and lots of Geese and Swans. After our lengthy drive through Yellowstone and through the eastern part of the Tetons we decided it best to visit Jackson Hole where we stopped at the Q Roadhouse & Brewing Co.  We sat at the bar enjoying their complimentary roasted peanuts and we could hear live music drifting in from the patio.

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As we still had over 100 miles to get back home we had one beer with our tasty peanuts. We met a really nice couple from Florida and really wanted to stay to chat with them some more but it was time to head west… As we made it over Teton Pass we stopped at a turnout to enjoy the view of the Jackson Valley below. We pulled out our chairs to  pause and enjoy the  magnificent vista .

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As we were driving through Victor, Idaho I saw a sign for the Grand Teton Brewery so I figured we could grab dinner there… We pulled into the place and noticed all the patrons lounging in Adirondack chairs near a food truck vendor. After all the driving we did we decided to have one more tasty beverage and ordered up some really good tacos with quinoa salad as a side. We relaxed in our chairs outside on he grassy lawn for about an hour enjoying the views of the mountains and watching the locals enjoy the day…

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We made the drive back without any issues and after our 13 hour day we slept like babies that night. We left Rexburg this morning and are heading to a park near Dillon, Montana where we will only spend one night…