Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Taking on new roles

For the sake of our own Corps of Discovery, we've each taken on a character. E read aloud information about each and every member of the original Corps (we've had a lot of car time, you know) and we each selected a part. E is, of course, Sacagawea. V is Seaman, Lewis's dog. I'm Capt. Patrick Gass, the carpenter.

Today I enjoyed a hot shower at the incredibly well priced and family friendly Sacagawea Park in Stanton, ND (what a find!) before we headed out for the day. First stop: Fort Mandan, the first winter home of the Corps of Discovery. The girls greatly enjoyed the kids' area, the first we've seen at any L & C Interpretive site.

We all dressed up, worked together in the canoe and roughed it in the hide tent.
The girls were quick to point out lots of design differences between Fort Clatsop and Fort Mandan. V was particularly enamored with the statue of Seaman, her own character, at the Seaman Overlook of the Missouri River.

From there we headed in to Bismarck for a bit of civilization. We found a room mid-afternoon, and opted to make the best of it, including laundry (inexpensive washer and dryer on our floor), swimming and HOT showers of our VERY OWN! I'm charging up all our various batteries.
On the recommendation of three out of three hotel employees, we had dinner at nearby Space Aliens - think Chuck E. Cheese with an alien theme, and better food plus full bar. The girls and I all had a heyday, and the ribs were delish (as were the girls free pizzas, from the looks of it). To round out the evening, and stick to theme, we walked across the NEXT block to take in a showing of "Wall-E." Yes, we've seen it before. But it's just so darned CUTE! fit the theme of the evening, and gave us all a greatly needed break from anything educational or historic. :)
Tomorrow we'll kick around town before heading back into the woods! :)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sometimes spelling IS everything...

August 25, 2008

Woke to the beautiful sound of easterly winds blowing through the cottonwoods and tall grasses, clear sunny morning, wonderful! I don't think the wind has stopped blowing since we hit North Dakota! Still managed to pull ourselves away from camp in favor of heading for Lake Sakagawea (Garrison Dam on Missouri River) and Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (one of the villages is where Lewis & Clark picked up Sakagawea and Charboneau on their journey west). This was a particularly exciting fact for E who's big on the journey, and particularly Sacagawea.

Stopped for lunch and ice cream in Garrison, the Wall-eye Capitol of the World where E did her best not to get hooked. It's hot here in North Dakota, but there is a constant wind that provides some relief. There are long straight roads that dip along the hills...I included photos for my friend, Kevin, who particularly enjoys these scenes.

We now know where sunflower seeds and oil come from...we've never seen such enormous sunflower fields. They go on for miles and miles and miles. And it's harvest time for wheat. We're coming into corn country, but haven't yet come across a corn stand.

We're in a funny tiny little cafe in Stanton, ND - Cafe Lamond. Good local food. Friendly people and internet access! WOO HOO!

On to the capital - Bismarck!

Who Forted?

August 24

We did...a LOT today! Two forts and a confluence, a few miles and a great free campground. Good day.

We started out SUPER early today. I woke up just before dawn due to too much water before bedtime, but it worked out well. I asked the girls if they wanted to get up early and beat the mosquitoes. V jumped at the opportunity. E was close behind. We drove about 15 miles before we stopped to use a rest stop, change into daytime clothes and eat breakfast. While I was pumping gas, a guy who looked like a high school teacher/coach was filling up right next to us. I said something like, "You sure do have some mosquitoes around here!" He asked where we'd camped. When I told him, he laughed like he hadn't laughed in a thousand years! No local would be caught up there this time of year. Those mosquitoes make for those big fish the areas known for. Glad we could make his day! :)

A good thing about a 5:30 a.m. start is the jump on the rest of the day. We were able to visit Fort Peck Dam (the largest earthen dam), saw lots of early morning wildlife (including our first HERD of deer, also there near the dam), and made it to Fort Union Trading Post well before lunchtime.

We toured the post (docents there particularly enjoyed E's choice of period clothing for the day), parlayed with the trader in the trade office,the girls earned their Junior Trader badges and we had lunch with the cottonwoods.

Then it was on to the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence.

It was sort of confusing because the Yellowstone comes in from the south and seems to run a bit westerly. It's difficult to remember just how far north we are (though the days are QUICKLY getting shorter - last week sunset was at 9:19 in western Montana. Last night: 8:15 in western North Dakota), and I just don't think of rivers running north, for whatever reason. While E and I stuck our feet in the river (no way was I getting in...unlike Western rivers, this was certainly muddy and there was no way to tell how deep it was, where the holes were or what the current was like), V caught lots of frogs on the bank.

We toured neighboring Fort Buford which has an impressive collection of original stoves (wood stoves and cook stoves) and other artifacts, then spent some time dipping our toes in the Missouri before settling in the free campground at Fort Buford. The water was fairly swift and murky due to the storms we experienced in the west. It seems that, with the dams, turns and other river obstacles, it took the water about the same amount of time to get here as it had taken us to drive. V and E caught several river toads, two of which V played with until shortly before sunset when we finally headed up to camp.

The camp was marvelous! Maybe it's because we've had rain or bugs or other challenges the past several nights, but the evening was warm and breezy (keeping away most of the flying insects), the camp is little used so was spotless and situated in shin-high green grass under cottonwood trees. I cooked our store-bought salmon on the BBQ and we enjoyed it with fresh vegies and applesauce before relaxing for an evening of journal writing, reading, map reading, planning and grasshopper catching. We took out our glow-in-the-dark star map and checked out the constellations in the HUGE, dark sky here. The only problem: there were SO many stars it was tough to pick out some of the constellations we don't know as well.

Aced out by Chuckwagons.

August 23, 2008

Today was a driving day...lots of driving. We started our morning with breakfast in the park before heading back to the U.S. and driving, driving, driving east in hopes of getting somewhat back "on schedule" since we managed to dilly dally pretty well this past week.

After a trucker's dinner in a tiny Eastern Montana roadside town (if there's not a grain elevator, there's not a town) we found our way to Nelson Reservoir - mosquito capital of the world! I've seen a lot of mosquitoes in my day, but they SWARMED the van before we'd even pulled in. The windows were (thankfully) rolled up.
Still, we opted to stay. It had been a long day in the car and sunset was approaching. We got out, sprayed ourselves down with the good stuff, and headed to the bathrooms and the lake where, I'm told, they catch monstrous Walleyes. (No wonder! Plenty of food here for THEIR food.) Though the spray kept them off of us, they still swarmed and we inhaled a few. No way a runner would make it around here!

Finally we gave up and piled into the trailer where we murdered every mosquito that had followed us in. Journal writing, reading and viewing stars (BIG SKY) through the window. We hope for stars tomorrow night in a more friendly spot.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Smashed Tomato

August 22, 2008

It was warmer this morning than last evening, but still much colder than any other morning we’ve experienced this trip. Our campground is clean and quiet, though pricey at $21.50 per night. The campground features a neat facility - a 3 ½ sided cook “house” available for anyone staying in the campground. There’s a large wood-burning “stove,” a steel barrel cut in half and laid on its side with a flat top sheet of steel and a chimney as well as cooling rails/safety rails along both sides. We warmed our hands there last night on our way to and from the bathrooms.

The campground is a far sight from the Prince of Wales Hotel, a spectacular lodge with an even more wonderful view.

On this blustery day we explored the park including a drive to Cameron Lake at the end of the road. The girls and I decided to rent a canoe to take a paddle which was such a fun, beautiful experience. None of us was ready to return the canoe when our hour was up.

We continued on into the little town of Cardston, Alberta to visit North America’s largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles at the Remington Carriage Museum. The sheer number was astonishing and the quality and care taken of these vehicles was amazing. They were displayed on the floor as usual, but also on shelves, if you will. They must use cranes or forklifts to put them all in place.

We all had fun playing with the interactive displays, most notably a horsepower gauge where it was determined V's pushing power was akin to one kitty power.
We splashed off a lot of dirt at the city pool before heading to camp where we were aced out of the last spot in town by a mere 10 seconds. It seems the International Miniature Chuck Wagon Championships (who knew?) were in town for the weekend, and all the official lodging spots were taken. While trying to decide precisely what we'd do about our situation (we always have the trailer, but where to park it safely for the night?), we found our way to The Smashed Tomato – fantastic pizza, friendly people (they even let us use their internet…thanks Smashed Tomato).

After we wandered down the street to pick up an after-dark ice cream treat, we found ourselves passing by the restaurant again just as the owner was locking up. He saw our trailer and asked where we were staying. I told him our situation and he kindly directed us to a nearby safe spot where travelers and truckers passing through regularly parked for the night. No facilities, but with a late-night, last stop at a public restroom, we found ourselves cozy in Junior on the outskirts of a wonderful, welcoming community.


August 21, 2008
Unfortunately, we didn’t have 2 weeks or more to spend here in Glacier. The park is vast, with virtually unlimited backcountry potential, particularly for those keen on lakes and mountains, streams and waterfalls.
All of our clothes were soaked. We’ve been hand-laundering our clothes as we go along ala Steinbeck (see Travels with Charlie), and hanging them out to dry in camp. SOME of our very light clothes managed to dry before the rain set in, but all of our warm clothes are wet. So, this morning we headed to West Glacier for laundry and breakfast before driving AROUND the park; with the trailer we weren’t allowed to drive the Going to the Sun Road through the park.

It took a LOT longer to drive around than we’d been told. So we found some stops along the way including the Museum of the Plains Indians in Browning, MT. featuring wonderful displays of regalia and goods. Uncle Jerry in particular would have enjoyed it.

We finally found our way across the Canadian border (good-bye pepper spray, potatoes and firewood if you have any left) and into Waterton National Park. It’s incredibly cold and windy here. I wouldn’t be surprised if it snowed tonight, though we’d never know it since the snow probably wouldn’t land until Lethbridge!

We're h-i-i-i-king in the rain...

August 20, 2008
So much for the lake! It’s POURING down rain today and has been, off and on, since we woke up this morning. The trailer has a minor leak near the vent that I removed to install bug mesh before we took off. When it’s dry again, I’ll remove it again and put silicone in the screw holes as well as around the entire vent cover. Otherwise, we stayed remarkably dry.

During a break in the rain, we opted to head up the Avalanche Lake trail for a hike. We packed our lunches, Camelbaks and donned our rain gear, then headed out. Good thing we brought rain coats! It only drizzled a bit the first mile, as far as we could tell from the protection of the cedar grove. And once up at the lake (2.5 miles or so) there was a break in the rain and the clouds lifted so we could see the entire cirque and four waterfalls feeding the lake.

We opted to hike another half-mile or so to the lake inlet, built a dam bridge across one of the creeks, generally enjoyed ourselves for about an hour. Then the heavens opened!

It DUMPED for our entire hike back. The girls did remarkably well on the hike down, trying to race the rivulets that ran down the trail, poking puddles with their walking sticks, singing “99 bottles of milk on the wall” ad nauseum. Good times.

We holed up in the trailer for the evening, enjoying various noodles, hot spiced cider, books, dry clothes and sleeping bags. When the rain subsided, we ventured out of the trailer again to enjoy a campfire with our neighbors, Canadians Jason & Shannon. We’d given them some of our firewood last night when we found out our plentiful supply would NOT be allowed to join us through Canada later this week. We’ve been spreading the cedar & pine love ever since – we’re well liked here in camp!

When civil engineers drink too much...

August 19, 2008

Here’s where the rain comes in. So, we opted to take the park shuttle rather than the van today for a change of pace. We headed up to Logan Pass on the Going to the Sun Road – talk about a nailbiter! This road, certainly dreamed up by drunken men, was built in the 1920s-30s for narrower vehicles. For much of the route, we were on the cliff side of a narrow road where they’re currently doing construction. Our driver liked to talk with one hand – I would like him to have held the wheel with both hands and focus, but this was just a daily drive for him.

The views from the top were spectacular despite a quickly moving storm blowing our way.

We managed to meander outside for 20 minutes before the heavens opened and, not prepared for the rain, were forced inside the visitors center. We had our picnic lunch there and listened to a ranger’s talk in hopes that the storm would pass. An hour later, we were standing in the rain awaiting the next shuttle.

The drive down was no less stressful, particularly as I sat in the front passenger seat helping the driver learn to use the defroster and manually clear the front windshield until the defroster caught up. How he got UP the mountain with a window that foggy I’ll never know. Fortunately the construction hung us up long enough for the windshield to clear before we headed down.
When we reached the bottom, the skies cleared above camp (though not much at the peaks as far as we could tell), so we headed back down to Lake McDonald to play on a sandy promontory until dinnertime. The water at Lake McDonald is surprisingly warm, and the rocks here are so colorful! We all enjoyed the dip and hope to return tomorrow.

From World's Biggest Bull to Swan Lake

August 18, 2008

We wouldn’t have minded staying here and playing on the river for another day, or month, but we have other plans, don’t we? I confess we all envied the families who live at the ranches along the river just a short drive, really, from Missoula.

At the recommendation of a few locals, we opted to head toward Glacier via the Seeley/Swan valley rather than the more western route through Kalispell. I’ve heard great things about the towns along the lake near Kalispell, but we opted for the forested route and weren’t disappointed. The girls especially enjoyed our lunchtime stop and swim at Swan Lake; E tried dancing her version of the ballet of same name while in the water – very entertaining.

Then we found our way to camp in Glacier National Park at Avalanche Creek – just in time for dinner, then sunset (much earlier here at 8:15) back at McDonald Lake.

Random selection = perfect choice

August 17, 2008
When we last wrote, we were hoping for some relief from the heat. Well, we got it! More on that later. First, let me catch up.

Today (Aug. 17) we were at a random campground I selected merely because we stayed in Missoula so late playing on the carousel that it was getting pretty darn dark. After passing the second freshly killed deer along the side of the road in this forested area, I decided we’d be better off pulling off and making a temporary home than continuing on in deer/elk/bear country in the dark. There’s a plethora of fishing access sites along the rivers here, and I finally just picked one. Of course, no camping was allowed, but signs directed us to a campground 4 miles up a graded dirt road. It was PITCH black when we arrived, but I could hear the gentle river nearby.

In the morning, we found ourselves about 30 yards from the water down a fairly steep embankment with a good trail. There were only two other campsites here, both occupied, one with a family.

At the grocery store yesterday I discovered the source of the odd smell in the van: the water cooler had been leaking its water for a week, apparently – plug open! So, with high temperatures forecast, I figured we might as well empty the van, pull out the carpets, then enjoy a day on the Blackfoot River.

The girls had a great time with McCoy (7) and his dogs, Dozer and Keisha, on the sandy shore, digging for rocks, building sand castles and playing in the cool water. Mid-morning, a family walked through with their canoe. While their mom, Laurie, waited onshore, their dad, Bob, took all the kids for a canoe ride along shore in the eddies of several rocks that protected our side of the river from the current. Then Laurie, Bob, Ben and Max climbed in their canoe and disappeared downstream.

Two hours later, Bob showed up again. He asked if any of us wanted to take the 2½-mile float down to the next campground where Laurie and the kids were napping. Initially I balked, but I thought about it and the float would take a lot of effort on Bob’s behalf. He portaged that boat down the trail once, and wouldn’t take any help. It also meant somehow getting back up and down the road to get his truck back. I’d met his family and learned a bit about them, and locals had already assured us that this section of the river was a pleasure cruise. (Seeing the folks float by in party rafts and inner tubes all morning also helped assure me this was a safe float.) Plus, when would we get such a chance again?! So, an hour later with life jackets on the girls we were enjoying a pleasant cruise down the Blackfoot. We stopped along shore where Bob caught a water snake (non poisonous and only about 8” long) which E really enjoyed (she wants one for a pet now), and V caught a sizable frog.

Everything was dry by the time we returned to camp at sunset. Of course, sunset around here is at 9:15!

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