I love Lolo Pass. I’ve only driven over it once before, but I just love the lazy, sweeping curves along the river on the Idaho side. Hence the swooping [g].
I headed west then south into what passes for Missoula, Montana’s morning rush hour, then west again up the thirty or so miles to the top of Lolo Pass. This is where Lewis and Clark finally made it over the Rockies back in 1804. It’s also where the Nez Perce fled across the mountains in the other direction on their way to Yellowstone to encounter the tourists before they (the Nez Perce) almost made it to Canada. So, a lot of history here, and a nice visitor center staffed by a fellow who apparently didn’t have enough tourists to talk to, because he all but followed me into the exhibit room and kept talking when all I really wanted to do was look at the exhibits. Oh, well. I know I’ve done more than my share of talking the ears off of people when I’ve been on my own for too long, too.
The road down the west side of the pass into Idaho (the border between Idaho and Montana runs along the ridge line, and so does the line between Mountain and Pacific time) swoops down next to the Clearwater River through a deep canyon, curving gently back and forth and back and forth, for almost a hundred miles. It’s just so much fun to drive, almost like some sort of carnival ride or something. I’m not doing it justice at all, but that’s life.
About seventy miles on from the pass, I stopped in the tiny hamlet of Lowell, Idaho, for lunch in a cute little café. Those were the first buildings I saw after the border, so this is seriously wild country.
When the canyon finally opens out, it’s into a lot of warm brown hills (at least they’re brown this time of year) and then out into what I thought would be the southeastern edge of the Palouse, but the road cuts show basalt, not deep soil, so no, not Palouse.
I crossed a big chunk of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation to get to the Washington state line, then stopped for the night in the town of Clarkston, which is directly across the Snake River from the Idaho town of Lewiston. Gee, I wonder where those names came from [g].
Tomorrow night I’ll be back in Tacoma. Sigh.
I need to quit showing up at Yellowstone for a couple of days at the end of trips, and devote a whole trip there again one of these days. With adequate advance planning so that where I’ll stay isn’t an issue. Because if I could have found a place to stay for less than $100 a night in West tonight I probably would have stayed there before camping some more, but oh, well. I was thinking about it on my way out of the park this afternoon, and the last time I spent more than three days here at a time by myself was in 2005. I’ve spent a whole week at a time here several times since then, but always with a friend. I want to spend more time wandering around geyser basins waiting for things to erupt.
Anyway. At least I got to do that today. I got up at the crack of dawn this morning (it wasn’t even good light when I pulled out of my campsite) and drove into the park. One advantage of doing that is that there is no line at the entrance station, very little traffic, and I get my choice of spots in the ginormous parking lot at Old Faithful. Yes, it’s still pretty crowded here, even in late September.
I packed up my day pack with all the stuff I might need for the day – water, lunch, camera, Kindle (for the inevitable waits), etc., etc., etc. – doused myself in sunscreen, and went to the visitor center to check on predicted eruption times.
Two strokes of luck later – Riverside was due around 11:30 and Grand somewhere between 11:45 and 3:45 so not too late in the afternoon – I headed over to the lodge to get some hot tea, then watched an eruption of Old Faithful before I headed out. And an eruption of Lion, off in the distance. A good start to the morning.
I strolled slowly down to Morning Glory Pool (about a mile and a half), stopping to see several more geysers along the way. Castle wasn’t due till about suppertime, alas, so I didn’t get to see it erupt, but I saw Sawmill, which is one of my favorite little (as in about 25 feet high max) geysers, as well as Tardy, which is sort of Sawmill’s little brother.
On down a piece, I saw that Grotto, aka the phallic geyser (look at the photo and tell me I’m wrong) was erupting, as was its neighbor Grotto Fountain, the latter of which, to the best of my knowledge, I’d never seen erupt before. Any day is a great day when I see a geyser I’ve never seen before. Trust me.
Then it was on to Riverside Geyser, which is pretty much the most regular geyser in the park (yes, more regular than Old Faithful), and by far one of the most graceful. I took video of it – the first time I’ve ever taken video of a geyser (I didn’t know how to do video until last year, and I haven’t been to the park since year before last). By the time Riverside’s half hour eruption was over, it was time to head over to Grand.
Oh, Grand. It has a four hour eruption window (that is, 90% of the eruptions happen within that window), and today was one of the 10% of times it was late. While I was waiting, out there in the sun (thank goodness it was only in the low 70s today and breezy), I read, and chatted with my fellow geyser gazers (yes, that’s what we’re called – go check out the Geyser Observation and Study Association – gosa.org – website, if you don’t believe me) and helped explain the Grand’s logic puzzle of a prediction cycle to the newbies (more in a bit), and ate my lunch, and was patient along with everybody else [g].
The Grand finally went off just before 4 pm, two lovely, fantastic, beautiful bursts, and it was, as always, worth every minute of the wait, and every bit of the, okay, the pool’s overflowing, are there waves yet? there goes Turban (Grand only goes off just before or after Turban starts), oh, ptui, there goes West Triplet again (if West Triplet goes off while Turban’s doing one of its every twenty minute eruptions, then Grand won’t go off until at least the next Turban cycle), etc., etc., etc.
It always reminds me of those kinds of puzzles where Mr. Smith lives in the blue house and Mr. Gray is the plumber, but the green house is next to Mr. Jones, so who lives in the yellow house sort of thing.
Oh, and I got video footage of Grand, which makes me very happy (my comments on the audio portion of the thing are kind of embarrassing, I was so excited, but that’s okay).
After that I needed to hit the road, because the only relatively reasonably priced place I could find to stay tonight (I needed a place with a shower) was 25 miles outside of West Yellowstone, which in turn is 30 miles from Old Faithful, through animal jams and so forth.
I’m in a cute little cabin (with no wifi and no TV, alas, but that’s okay) up by Hebgen Lake, which is rather nice, and it’s on my way home (I still can’t believe I’ll probably be home the day after tomorrow), so that’s worked out for the best. But I do need to plan a whole vacation around the park again soon. I will. Maybe next year.
Back to Red Lodge’s information center this morning, where I was informed that the pass was open today! According to the lady at the desk, there wasn’t even any ice up there. So off I went.
Dear godlings. I will never drive over Beartooth Pass again. Ever. It wasn’t bad at first, and the scenery was lovely, but that didn’t last long. Oh, the scenery did, what I saw of it while I was hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life, but I am not fond of narrow roads climbing up the sides of 11,000 foot mountains with 1000+ feet straight up on one side and 2000+ feet straight down on the other, with a multitude of hairpin switchbacks and no guard rails! Well above tree line for miles, so there was nothing to stop the howling wind that caught Merlin like a sail, to the point where I was scared to pull over in the turnouts hanging over the edges of the cliffs to take photos for fear he’d get blown down the mountain. Or that I would if I opened the car door.
At least it wasn’t snowing since it was in the forties at the top (10,979 feet), not counting windchill. But criminy. That was terrifying. And I don’t scare easily when it comes to that sort of thing.
But that’s the main reason I don’t have a lot of photos. There was just no way.
Once I got down on the other side of the pass, back below the tree line, I did manage some good photos, but I’ll be honest. Yes, the Beartooth Highway is beautiful, but give me U.S. 12 between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef in Utah any day. It was much prettier, and a lot less scary.
I entered Yellowstone National Park at the northeast entrance, to discover that this was actually a really good thing because the road between Mammoth and Norris is closed early for the season for construction, so I would have had to go way out of my way to get to West Yellowstone. Which was really my only choice at this point. The first thing I saw after I entered the park was a sign listing all the campgrounds and their status for the day. Half of them are already closed for the season, and the rest were already full for the night.
It’s always difficult to do Yellowstone as a last-minute thing, and I knew that going in. The lodging in the park gets reserved well over a year in advance (the reservations for each year open on May 1st of the previous year, and they’re usually all taken by June, although I have been lucky to get a cancellation with a couple of weeks’ notice in the past). I didn’t think the campgrounds would be such an issue, though – I’ve arrived in the park and gotten a campsite on the spot before. But not this time.
So it was on the 90 miles (Yellowstone is a big park – over 3000 square miles) to the town of West Yellowstone. I didn’t stop much along the way because I figured the earlier I got to West, as the locals call it, the more likely I was to find a place for the night. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to West until about three, and when I stopped at the tourist office, I was told it would be almost impossible to find a motel (also that the average room in West goes for $250 a night – eep! – that’s gone way up in the last few years). So I said what about campgrounds? And she said, there’s a nice forest service campground about three miles north of town, and they have some sites left. So I drove up, and here I am.
Tomorrow I will get up early and go wander around the geyser basins and hopefully catch an eruption of Grand Geyser, then drive on out of the park late in the afternoon. I have a reservation for tomorrow night for a cabin at Hebgen Lake, about 25 miles northwest of West, in the direction I’d have been heading, anyway. I wish I could spend more time here, but logistically it’s just not going to work. It’s time to head home. I’ve probably got two more nights on the road after this one, if all goes according to plan. The cabin at Hebgen Lake, and probably the campground about ten miles west of Missoula where I’ve stayed before. That’s a day’s drive from home.
I can’t believe the trip’s almost over. I’ve got some seriously ambivalent feelings about it. Part of me wants to keep on going, even though it’s getting late in the season and if I did I’d have to head south again, and part of me knows I really do need to settle back down again. At least for now.
Sigh. I guess there’s always next year…
I got a fairly early start this morning, mostly because the sun came over the horizon and hit Merlin square in the windshield [g]. Today was an Interstate day, mostly because there’s really no alternative to I-94 in southeastern Montana without going way out of the way.
I’ve driven this stretch before, and there’s not a whole lot to say about it. I stopped for lunch in Miles City (named after one of the generals who finally caught up with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce back in 1877), and didn’t stop again until I arrived at Pompey’s Pillar. I know I’ve posted about Pompey’s Pillar here before, in 2012, which was the last time I was in this neck of the woods, but I do find it fascinating, and it was interesting to see it this time of year (the last time I was here it was June, and all the early summer flowers were in bloom). The other thing I didn’t realize from when I was here before is that modern-day travelers approach the pillar from the opposite side that Clark and company did (this was during the part where he and Lewis split up on the way back to Missouri so as to explore more territory). It hadn’t even occurred to me where the river was [wry g]. So that was interesting to me.
From there on it was just plowing on to Billings, the largest city in Montana, where I planned to get a motel room, get Merlin’s oil changed (for the third time), and go to the grocery store. Also to do laundry, but due to the fact that the motel’s laundry facilities weren’t available, that didn’t happen. I got to Billings about three in the afternoon, spent the rest of the afternoon getting stuff done, and that was my day, I’m afraid.
I did check when I went online this evening to see if the Beartooth Highway, which among other things was Charles Kuralt’s choice for the most beautiful highway in America, is still open for the season (it goes over an almost 11,000 foot pass, so it’s only open in the summer). The Montana DOT website said it is, and since I’d planned to drop down into Yellowstone for a day or two (pass that close to the park and not go? Inconceivable! [g]) and it’s actually the most direct route coming from this direction, I thought, why not? I’ve never driven it before.
I don’t know what time the rain quit hammering on Merlin’s roof last night, because it was still going strong when I fell asleep. But I woke to bright sunshine and only a few fair-weather clouds, which made me very happy. It was cold, though. Not quite as cold as that night in the Colorado Rockies where it frosted on me at 9600 feet, but I’m pretty sure it got down into the forties last night after the clouds cleared off. Thank goodness for warm sleeping bags.
I got to do something this morning that I didn’t think I’d ever get back here to do. I drove the entire fourteen miles of the scenic drive at the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I think I mentioned that the last (and only, or so I thought at the time – I mean, how often does one go to North Dakota?) time I was here, the road was closed about six miles in due to slumping. Well, this morning it was open, and I drove all the way to the end. Lots of pretty scenery, and the CCC made its presence known again, and bison! A couple of lone bulls, and a small herd of females and half-grown youngsters. So that was fun.
By the time I left the north unit and drove the sixty miles back down to I-94, it was getting on towards lunchtime, so after I strolled along the walk at the Painted Hills overlook, which is the only cross between an Interstate rest area and a national park visitor center that I’m aware of, I stopped in the rather self-consciously Old West town of Medora and ate lunch in the saloon (the second saloon I’ve eaten in on this trip, the first one having been in Virginia City, Nevada, way back in early June).
Then I headed into the south unit of TRNP, and took its scenic drive. The last time I was here, in June, 2012, it was 100dF, and blowing about 70 mph. Which is why I didn’t camp in the park the last time I was here. Today it’s been in the mid-60s, and the breeze has never been higher than pleasant. So I had a much better time than last time. I saw more bison (actually, where I saw more bison was at the Painted Hills rest stop, right along the freeway, which was kind of bizarre). I saw several prairie dog shows [g]. There are three huge prairie dog towns in the park – watching them scuttle around and make their incredibly loud chirps (I can hear them inside Merlin with all the windows closed and the engine running) is great fun. And for the first time in my life, I saw wild horses! Two different groups of them (are they herds if there’s only half a dozen or so individuals?), one of which crossed the road directly in front of me. Such absolutely gorgeous animals. I’ve seen wild burros before, in South Dakota’s Black Hills, but never wild horses. It was amazing.
I’d been sort of debating about whether to camp here or drive on to Glendive or Miles City, Montana (I’m only about 25 miles east of the Montana state line, and Glendive’s about thirty or forty miles on beyond that), for the night, but the Cottonwood campground here in the south unit looked so pleasant that I decided to stay here.
I’ll drive on to Billings (about 300 miles) tomorrow, and then we’ll see what we’ll see. It did occur to me that, coming from the northeast as I am, I could approach Yellowstone over the Beartooth Highway, which I’ve never driven the entire length of. That is if it’s still open for the season. It goes up over 10,000 feet, and is closed most of the year due to snow. It’s supposed to be one of the most spectacular drives in the U.S., though, and if it’s still open I’ll probably do it. I’ll check online tomorrow night in Billings.
It rained a bit during the night, but had cleared up by this morning. The weather prediction was for it to be overcast most of the day, with a few scattered showers, and I believed it. More fool me.
To be fair, it didn’t do much more than spit as I drove north from Bismarck towards Fort Mandan, where Lewis and Clark built their home for the winter of 1804-05. There they stayed from October till April, waiting for the temperatures to warm up from the minus forty it hit several times that winter, and for the ice to melt on the Missouri River before they headed on upriver to the Pacific Coast – eventually.
It was funny how much the reproduction (the original is under the shifted Missouri River somewhere) fort looks like the reproduction Fort Clatsop in Oregon, where the Corps of Discovery spent their second winter. Or maybe not. Anyway, it reminded me of home, in an odd way, hence the subject header of today’s post. Not that I’ve ever lived in a hand-built log fort or anything…
It had started raining again by the time I left Fort Mandan, and was coming down fairly well by the time I got to the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center a few miles back down the road. It’s a very nice museum, dealing with both L&C as well as North Dakota agricultural history, which is more interesting than it sounds, especially as the first farmers in what later became North Dakota were the Mandan Indians. Apparently a fair number of our commercial corn and bean varieties are descended from those the Mandans grew, including my favorite dry bean, the Great Northern. I’ll never look at taco soup the same way again [g].
The rain did not stop. Oh, it slowed down a little, but when I arrived at the Knife River Villages National Historic Site a few miles to the west, it was too wet to go hiking out to see more earth lodges. But there was a fellow in the visitor center who played a wicked Native American flute (I wish I could have recorded him – he was that good), and a very helpful ranger who gave me the phone number of the ranger station at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit.
See, the last time I was in this part of the world, in 2012, the road into the North Unit had been closed because the land underneath it had slumped. Slumping is the primary way the badlands of the western Dakotas are formed, so it’s nothing unusual, but I had been rather disappointed at the time. So I wanted to see if the road was open again before I drove out of my way to go see it. And yes, it is. And the campground is still open this late in the season, too.
So on westward I went, through the rain and about twenty miles of unpaved road construction (dear godlings, was that not fun), and finally made it here to TRNP’s north unit, where I’m ensconced in a campsite, listening to the rain pound down on Merlin’s metal roof (I’m always glad I’m not tent camping, but I’m really glad tonight).
It’s supposed to clear up tomorrow, and it darned well better. I have a drive I want to make [g].
Otherwise known as a national park named after a Shakespeare quote (it’s from The Tempest), which has got to be one of the coolest things ever. Unlike the weather. The whole time I was at the Forbers’, the weather was relatively cool and dry and lovely. Today we’re back to heat and humidity, but not nearly as bad as some of what I’ve been through on this trip, at least.
This morning I drove down to the Bruce Peninsula/ Full Fathom Five National Parks visitor center, which had one of the best national park visitor center museums I’ve seen in a while. Too bad I wasn’t here in June to see the forty different kinds of orchids that grow here, but I did get to learn more about the Niagara Escarpment, which is a huge land formation that runs from Wisconsin way up into Ontario and then back down to New York State. Niagara Falls is a result of that escarpment. Also, the Bruce Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in Canada, follows the top of it from that visitor center to within a few miles of Niagara Falls, almost 600 miles long.
I also learned that the fisher is the only real predator of porcupines, and that the way they catch them is to bite them in the face and flip them over so that they can eat from the spineless stomach and avoid a mouthful of quills.
After that I went into the tiny town of Tobermory on the very tip of the peninsula to find lunch – which was basically a choice between fish and chips or fish and chips, but that was okay. Then I went back to the visitor center and walked a trail to the water’s edge, which was lovely. Heavily wooded all the way to the end, and a nice little deck above the water with the obligatory Adirondack/Muskoka chairs (Ross, I was told in the Maritimes that calling them Muskoka chairs is an Ontario-centric thing).
I also went to a place called the Singing Sands, which was a lovely little beach, but the sand didn’t sing today, at least not so that I could hear it.
Then I came back to the campground and kicked back for the evening, and here I am.
Tomorrow is a two-hour ferry ride! And the biggest freshwater island in the world, apparently, with at least one lake on the island that has islands of its own.
This morning I left Christine’s, after a wonderful four days of visiting and sightseeing, (and a chance to catch up with practical stuff before heading on, which was also much appreciated). Thank you for a great time, all four Forbers. I hope that you, like the other folks who have been so hospitable towards me on this trip, get a chance to come out to Washington so I can show you around!
There are two ways to get to the top of the Great Lakes in order to continue west. Well, the third one is to duck down into the U.S., which would have been going through territory I covered pretty well on my last Long Trip, so that wasn’t going to happen. First, you can drive due north and go around the east side of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, or second, you can drive northwest to and up the Bruce Peninsula to the very tip, then take a ferry ride across the mouth of Georgian Bay (a bay that’s probably half the size of Lake Huron proper) to Manitoulin Island, from which there’s a bridge to the north shore of the lake. Having decided to do the latter several days ago, I’d gone online to make reservations for the ferry. They’re for Wednesday afternoon (today’s Monday) to give me plenty of time to explore on the way.
So I drove northwest across southern Ontario, and wound up in the town of Owen Sound, on the southern shore of Huron, at lunchtime. I like Owen Sound. Yes, there’s a body of water called Owen Sound, too, but it’s not very big. The town itself is small, used to be much bigger, and, according to the local historical museum (which was great fun), was once a hotbed of vice and iniquity [g]. Bootlegging and counterfeiting and prostitution, among other things. The museum also has a couple of nifty outdoor exhibits, and is right along a very pretty waterfront walking trail.
I decided, after I left Owen Sound, to drive north along the lakeshore rather than take the direct highway to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. This turned out to be a good idea, as there were quite a few water views, and the inland part was pretty, too. The drive met back up with the highway about halfway up the peninsula, and I drove on to the Bruce Peninsula and Full Fathom Five National Parks (they appear to be joint the way Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks in California are). The Bruce Peninsula sort of reminds me of Cape Cod, only without all the crowds, which was really nice, and the national park has a terrific (and reasonably priced, for once) campground. I’m settled in for the evening, knowing that I have all day tomorrow to explore the parks before I catch the ferry on Wednesday.
I knew I wasn’t going to leave PEI until late yesterday afternoon, and I was lucky that my last day on the island was such beautiful weather – bright sunshine and low 70s, like a perfect summer day at home.
I spent my morning driving along the north coast through the rest of PEI National Park, admiring more rust-colored beaches.
I gradually made my way to Charlottetown. I’d planned on going to Province House, where representatives from Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick (but ironically enough, not PEI) got together and decided to confederate themselves into Canada, back in the 1860s. Unfortunately, though, the building was closed for conservation work, so I basically walked around town for a bit, then drove out to Victoria Park, which is on a stubby peninsula sticking out into Charlottetown Harbor.
Victoria Park sort of reminded me of a miniature Stanley Park, with a waterfront promenade and lots of flowers and trees. But considering that I haven’t seen Stanley Park since I was a kid (in spite of the fact that Vancouver is only about four hours north of Tacoma), I could be wrong [g]. Anyway, it was lovely.
And so I started wending my way back towards the Confederation Bridge, with a detour to Fort Amherst/Fort LaJoye National Historic Site, across the harbor from Charlottetown. The double name is because the French settled it first, then the Brits took it over after the Treaty of Utrecht and renamed it. This was another site where the poor Acadians got booted out.
I was admiring the view when I got to talking with an older local couple, who I got to ask about the climate. I was astonished to learn that Charlottetown Harbor freezes over almost every year, just like Lake Erie does. I’m not sure why that astonished me, except that I guess it seems too far south for salt water to freeze over. Anyway, I find it very difficult to imagine this part of the world in the wintertime for some reason.
I drove on along the south coast of PEI, past fields and ocean and views, until I reached the bridge, where I paid my $46 Canadian to cross back to New Brunswick, and then turned west, looking for a provincial park that said it had campsites. It took me a while to reach Murray Beach Provincial Park, but it was well worth it, right on the water with a nice sandy beach and an incredible view, especially at sunset.
This morning I woke up to clouds, which, since I’d figured on a driving day across New Brunswick, didn’t seem like a bad deal. It was when I stopped for lunch and groceries about noon, and came back outside to a driving rain at least as heavy as the one on Cape Breton Island the other day that I thought maybe this wasn’t so great. I did make it to Woodstock, NB, about an hour west of Fredericton, this afternoon, but there was no way I was camping in this, so I found a motel, and I am taking full advantage of Real WiFI [tm] tonight.
Tomorrow I shall cross the border into Quebec. Here’s hoping it won’t be in a downpour.