Saturday, August 31, 2013

A day in Libby, Montana

Late this afternoon the camp host drove his ATV to the rig next to us and told a guy to “get the hell out of here.”  At first I thought there was an emergency and the campground was being evacuated.  Then I realized if that's the case, we're being left out of the evacuation plan.

Jim and I pieced together what each of us heard. It appears that the camper next door was being returned to his rig by a fishing tour guide, and that said fishing tour guide drove his truck at a faster-than-allowed-in-the campground speed.

We will continue to drive very slowly during the short time we have left in Libby, Montana.

As far as what we did today:  This morning I took our Honda to a nearby Les Schwab.  For the last several weeks we've been adding air to the front passenger side tire every couple of days, which did not seem like a good long-term strategy. The Les Schwab guys found a screw in the tire and fixed it for free in about 20 minutes. If you ever have tires issues, we highly recommend Les Schwab.  They've been great for us.

After we got the tire fixed, we drove to Kootenai Falls, 8 miles west of Libby.  The falls is a series of what looks like rock shelves; water from the Kootenai River cascades down the shelves in a big swirling mass.   Powerful.  Beautiful.  We also walked across the nearby suspended or "swinging" bridge that crosses the Kootenai River. Scary. Bouncy.
Later today we got groceries and explored Libby.  We also watched a few minutes of my OSU's game against Buffalo and Jim listened to his OSU play Eastern Washington State.  Then I took a four-mile walk, because as much as I like kayaking I don't thinks it's working enough major muscle groups.

A note about LIbby, Montana:  It was once the site of a huge vermiculite mine found to be tainted with asbestos. Four hundred people who lived or worked in LIbby died from asbestos-related disease and 1750 others were sickened. An EPA website says in its FAQs  “Although there is much less asbestos in Libby than there was 10 years ago, there are still potential health risks because it will never be possible to remove all the asbestos from the Libby area...” and that the EPA will continue active clean up. 

Bev makes a friend at a picnic area near Kootenai Falls.
A guy and his St. Bernard look at one side of the Kootenai Falls.   According to, the Kootenai Indians view the falls as the center of the world. 
Jim takes a photo of the falls.  He's standing just left of the guy/St. Bernard in the photo above.  About 25 miles north east of the falls is the Libby Dam.  When the Kootenai River was dammed, a large lake was created that crosses into Canada. The lake was named via a contest and the word "Koocanusa" selected.  That name was created with the first three letters of the word "Kootenai," the first three letters of the word "Canada," and the initials "USA."
If you click on the photo you can get a better view of Bev walking on the swinging suspension bridge. A big sign said "No more than five people allowed on the bridge at one time."
A local artist and teacher created 40 eagle sculptures that were purchased by local businesses and placed around Libby.  This one is called “Gateway Eagle.” 

August 28 storm at Glacier National Park and a drive to Libby, MT

We didn't realize until this morning how many nearby trees toppled in yesterday's storm at Glacier National Park.  Two empty campsites near us had big downed trees. At another site a fifth wheel had a tarp on its roof and big branches next to the rig, so we assumed they took a direct hit. I'm sure there was more damage in the park, but we also heard no one was hurt.  

Despite that crazy storm, we love Glacier. It has so many opportunities for hiking and kayaking and is amazingly beautiful. This trip had to be short, however, so we want to go back and spend at least a week. Or longer.   (Note to self:  Campsite 17 in Loop A of Fish Creek worked out great.)

This morning we had breakfast at a restaurant near the visitors center called Eddies and then drove 125 miles west to Libby, Montana.  Don't have any real plans for Libby yet. At the very least those plans will include buying some groceries because we're now eating Kraft mac and cheese (although Jim loved it).
This is a Glacier National Park campsite just two spaces away from our rig (which you can see in the background). Luckily it was empty when the storm hit and the tree fell. 
And behind these downed trees is the restroom at Glacier's Fish Creek Campground where we stayed.
The drive on US-2 from Glacier National Park to Libby, Montana was beautiful. We saw a sign on the highway that said US-2 was open 12 miles east of Libby -- which indicated to us that not all that long ago it was closed.  As we approached Libby there were  gravel detours and a lot of construction.  I later read a story on a local TV station web site that called the construction a "massive road moving project" that included  "stream relocation." But at least it was open.
More pretty scenery on US 2, which we've been on since we left Michigan.
And now we're at Woodland RV Park in Libby, Montana.  The trees here are huge and there's a small creek right behind our campsite; it almost looks more like a state park than a private RV park.  It costs more than we like to pay -- $35 a night including taxes -- plus the showers are 50 cents, which seems like a niggling charge.  However, the price includes fast wifi and cable TV.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A triad of stories from Glacier Park

1) Last night Jim went outside the rig to look at the stars.  He heard a snuffling noise.  He also heard our tent-camping neighbor tell his wife that there was a bear near their tent.  The neighbors got in the car and this morning they and the car were gone.  Turns out they went to a hotel, and will be there again tonight.  Also turns out that this is their honeymoon.

2) A ranger told us Bowman Lake  -- 7 miles long, about a half mile wide, and  in a remote northwest portion of Glacier National Park -- is a great place to kayak. Late this morning we started the supposed 33-mile drive on a part paved, part gravel road. Forty-three miles later we were thinking "Where in the heck is Bowman Lake?"  When we saw a sign that read “Canada -- 10 mile" we knew enough to stop.

Jim turned around on a lane that just happened to have a two people standing near a car -- the first people we’d seen out of cars/trucks the entire drive.  The woman knew exactly how to get to Bowman Lake.  It was beautiful. (And Jim blames bad signage.)

3) After kayaking, we wanted to get our National Parks Passports stamped at Glacier Park’s visitors center and pick up a loaf of bread at the park market.  But first we made a quick stop at the rig for Jim's wallet and my purse.  About one mile into the two-mile drive from the rig to the visitors center, a huge windstorm suddenly hit.  Pine trees swayed and branches fell on the road.  When we got to the visitors center, their electricity was out, as was the electric for all nearby shops, including the market.  People huddled in front of stores, watching the storm.

We decided to get back to the rig as fast as we could, and saw even more downed branches on the return trip.  Just before the turn into the campground -- on the very same road we’d been on just minutes before -- a big tree was across the road.  

Jim and I got out of the car, as did the folks approaching from the other side and people who stopped behind us.  In the pouring rain, Jim and the guys dragged the main part of the tree as far as they could while I picked up limbs and threw them off the road.  We were able to get our car around the mess; some folks with large trucks were about to use a bow saw on the tree trunk when we left.

Now it’s calm and clear and it doesn’t look like any branches fell on our rig.  That was one fast, dramatic storm. 
Click on the photo for a better view of Jim on Bowman Lake.

The water at Bowman Lake was so clear you could see the rocks under the surface many feet out from the shore.
These female "merganser" ducks  let me get close. A "Ducks Unlimited" website said they like to nest near clear water in forested regions and on mountainous terrain, which is a great description of Bowman Lake.
Another photo of Jim in his kayak.
The last six miles to Bowman Lake was via a very small dirt road. When we met an oncoming vehicle, one of us had to pull way over to the side of the road and stop.  I'm glad we were off this road when the storm hit.  The road is probably still full of downed trees.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Camping at Glacier National Park

We got to our beautiful camping spot with a view of Lake McDonald at Glacier National Park about noon today.  We're at Fish Creek, a big (168 spaces) and quiet (at least tonight) campground   No electric hook ups here, but we have solar so that's OK with us. The park only lets people run generators for two hours around each meal time, which helps keep down the noise in places without electric hook ups. 

It rained most of the morning and during our entire drive here from the private RV park where we stayed for the last two days.  But within an hour of arriving at Glacier it was sunny and warm. 

We took a short walk on the the pebbly beach of Lake McDonald, found a spot where we could put in the kayaks, and then paddled for a couple of hours. 

Jim taking a photo of the mountains at the north end of Lake McDonald, Glacier Park's largest lake. The mountains look a little foggy because of the rain from earlier in the day.
Our camping spot at Glacier's Fish Creek Campground.  Lake McDonald is down a hill to the right of our rig.
Our previous camping spot at Glacier Meadows Campground, a private RV park,  was about 40 miles from Glacier National Park.  We had a good spot at the far end of a line of about 40 RVs. 
The first day at the private campground, we drove to Glacier to check things out and discovered we needed to give our kayaks a thorough washing before we could use them at Glacier -- so we did just that.   Of special concern is the quagga mussel, an invasive fresh water mussel that severely damages native species.  Quagga mussels also clog what they touch (harbors,  beaches, boats, water pipes, etc.) wherever they colonize. The ranger we talked with told us we were in a "gray area" because even though we clean our boats after each use and met the park's other boating requirements, we'd kayaked in some quagga-mussel-infected states and the kayaks each had a small amount of sand in them.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Glacier National Park. Wow.

We're at Glacier National Park and all is well.  Actually, we're near Glacier National Park and sans internet or cell coverage, but we drove up the road a bit and found a few bars of the Verizon type.

Yesterday we went to Glacier, scoped it out, and got reservations there beginning tomorrow.  We hope to do some kayaking on Lake McDonald and generally explore.

Lots to talk about, but will need to save it for another day when the internet gods are more benevolent.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On our way to somewhere else

Today was a "we're on our way somewhere else" day. That somewhere else is Glacier National Park.  We hope to be there tomorrow.

This morning we got up, hooked up the tow car, dumped the tanks and took off west on US 2, the northernmost US highway in the United States and the road we've been following almost the entire time since we left Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Today's destination:  Havre, Montana, a town of about 10,000 people, and Montana's eighth largest city, says the city web site.  It was an180 mile drive from Fort Peck Dam and Lake Downstream Campground, where we stayed for two nights.

Following along with us on Route 2 were the Milk River, a tributary of the Missouri River (named by Meriwether Lewis who said it was the color of tea with milk), and the BSNF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) Railroad.

We got a camping spot at the Great Northern Fairgrounds campground.  Wedged between currently unused county fair buildings and US 2, it's not the most scenic campgrounds.  But this is a one-night stop and like I said, we're on our way to somewhere else.  After we got settled in we had dinner at a good pub just down the road called Murphys, and explored Havre.

Havre was settled as a railroad town, and is a nice surprise, especially in contrast to other eastern Montana towns we've seen.  Lots of big trees, well-kept homes, and a seemingly stable community not getting blown away by the prairie winds.   We kind of like it.

This display of dinosaurs can be see along US 2 as we left Fort Peck, Montana. Fort Peck, Havre and 12 other Montana towns have dinosaur-themed museums and other attractions along what's called The Montana Dinosaur Trail.
On our way to Havre we saw more amber waves of baled straw, lots of farms, and yes, lots of big sky.
One of the pretty buildings in downtown Havre.
Havre is only 45 miles south of Canada.
The not-so-scenic view out the back of our rig looking right at US 2 over a chain link fence.  To the left and behind a shopping mall is the "Too Close for Comfort" buffalo jump site, also known as Wahkpa Chu'gn.  It's an archaeological site on the National Register of Historic Places.  A buffalo jump is  place where Native Americans drove buffalo over a cliff as a way to hunt them.   Per Wikipedia "Buffalo jump sites yield significant archaeological evidence because processing sites and camps were always nearby."  (The site was closed today, so I have no pics.)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Kayaking at Fort Peck, MT plus visiting Glasgow

This morning we kayaked on the Missouri River, just below the Fort Peck Lake Dam and Fort Peck Lake, about 20 miles southeast of Glasgow, Montana.  The dam and lake are named for a former trading post built in1867 as a landing for steamboats traveling up the Missouri River.  At 21,000 feet in length and 250 feet high, it is the largest hydraulically filled dam in the world, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.  "Hydraulically filled" means the earth was moved into place by flowing streams of water.

The paddle was pretty calm, except when a boater at the end of our trip kept speeding back and forth in front of the boat dock.  That caused a wake that went on and on.  It didn't bother Jim and I need to get used to wakes.  I did what I am supposed to do (pointed the front of my boat right at the oncoming wake) and all was well.  

This afternoon we drove in to Glasgow.  Not much I can say about Glasgow, other than it looks a little downtrodden.  We needed groceries and found an Albertsons, then looked for a place to eat.  We decided on Dairy Queen, so that kind of says it all.  It was a pretty drive to and from Glasgow, however, with lots of golden grain fields.  One thing I read about Glasgow that I thought was cool, is that their boy's high school football team has won the state championship 45 times.  Go Scotties!
Gulls fly by Fort Peck Dam. Construction of the dam started in 1932 when FDR authorized it as part of his Great Depression-era New Deal.  The Army Corp of Engineer's brochure actually says that more than 40,000 people "flooded" to the area looking for work.  
Jim watching a pelican float by his kayak.
More pelicans on the Missouri River.  They (and we) picked a great spot to float.  We saw a least 20 fish jump into the air, including two fish that jumped up side by side like synchronized swimmers.
As we were putting our kayaks back on our car, a guy came down to the boat launch with three German short haired pointers.  They are hunting dogs, and the owner was throwing a dummy mallard into the water so the dogs could practice retrieving.  Above you see a doggy named Indiana springing off the pier to get the fake duck.  He was much more graceful than the photo indicates. 
Golden waves of grain near Glasgow, Montana.  Or golden waves of about-to-be-baled straw, as the crop had been harvested.
Near downtown Glasgow we saw a huge line of oil tanker railway cars.  We counted the cars and the tally was 107.
And, making us feel like we were back in Salt Lake City, were Mormon missionaries near the DQ.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Crazy people with guns

Someone shot a gun at us tonight.  Or maybe it was just near us.  But at the very least they were trying to scare us.  

Jim and I are at the Fort Peck Dam and Lake Downstream Campground, about 20 miles south east of Glasgow, Montana.  We got here this afternoon.

Earlier this evening we decided to look at some of the nearby boat  launch areas for our kayaks.  We saw a sign that said something like “Boy Scout Bay” that indicated it included a boat launch.   I was driving, so I turned our 2004 Honda CRV onto what turned out to be a curvy, rutted, dirt road that went by a not-used-in-a-while scout camp.  After about a half a mile, a big white pick up truck appeared in the rear view mirror.  Almost as soon as I noticed the truck, we heard a gun shot.  The truck immediately started to back up fast.

At that point we weren’t sure what was going on, but we decided Jim had better drive.  I turned the car around and Jim got in the driver’s seat.  He then flew us over those ruts while I said several times “Don’t be chasing some crazy people with guns.”  We saw the truck get back on the main road, followed it for a while, and then watched it turn onto a gravel road trailed by a big dust cloud. 

Jim checked the car and the boats and they were not hit.  Once again, they were just crazy people with guns.  

Below are some photos from earlier today.    
Before we left Theodore Roosevelt National Park this morning, we decided we'd hook our tow car up to our rig in the picnic area.  Then we saw these guys having breakfast there and found another spot. 
Another photo of the bison.   A lone bison was also right next to the pay station where you enter the park.  The ranger there called him "the welcoming committee."
Like two days ago, we saw a lot of traffic on ND 85 including one oil tanker after another.  Northwestern North Dakota is really booming because of oil exploration/extraction.  
Jim and Cooper  between images of Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea near a stop we made at the Culbertson, Montana, visitors' center on US 2 in western Montana.
Also like two days ago, we saw a lot of road construction.  This photo was taken on US 2, just west of Culbertson.  The asphalt was gone and for about five miles US 2 was a dirt road.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

As I’m posting this, I’m sitting at the Bentonitic Clay Overlook at Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRJP) in western-almost-Montana North Dakota.  We have no cell or internet coverage at our campground, so we've been off line for a bit. But now we have five bars as we look at hills streaked with blue/black clay that flows when wet.

Earlier this morning we took the 4.3 mile Caprock Coulee hike at TRNP.  The hike was recommended to us by the ranger, who happens to be a senior in parks and recreation at Ohio State  

At the beginning of the trail was a sign warning hikers of an “aggressive” bull bison known to charge.  That made me nervous, as we once saw a bison flip someone and it’s not a pretty sight.  Admittedly, the flipped guy walked right in front of the bison and made eye contact.  Our plan if we saw one was to give him wide berth.

The first part of the hike was a very curvy trail with lots of trees and shrubs -- the perfect place for us to round a corner and surprise a relaxing bison.  We also saw some fairly fresh buffalo pies and a few hoof prints in the mud.  

Then the trail opened up to grasslands with views of the park’s bluffs.  I kept scanning the scenery and ... I saw him.  The bull was across a draw and on top of a bluff.  I told Jim that’s just how I like to see big wildlife -- far away.
Our campsite at TRNP.  TRNP has three separate units:  1) The south unit just off Interstate 94 and near Medora, ND, and known for grasslands, coal seams and badlands.  2) Elkhorn, an hour and fifteen minute drive north of the south unit, high-clearance vehicle recommended.  It’s the one-time home and ranch of Teddy Roosevelt.  3) The north unit, 20 miles north of the little town of Grassy Butte, ND, known for its buttes, coulees, and bluffs.  We’re in the north unit.
Sign at the trail head to the Caprock Coulee trail. Click on the photo to better  read it.
Jim on his way up a grassy hill on the TRNP North Unit's Caprock Coulee trail. It's windier today, which keeps the bugs at bay.  And it's a little cooler, so it was a nice day for a hike.
When we first saw the bison he was standing.
Then he decided to relax.  Both these photos were taken with a telephoto lens.  He was not that close to us.

Grasslands and bluffs at TRNP.

Bev at the the River Bend Overlook at TRNP with the Little Missouri River and bluffs behind her.

As for the last couple of days:

Yesterday we drove from Lake Sakakawea State Park in Pick City, ND to TRNP.  We saw cattle, more sunflower fields, and also expanses of purple/blue flowers we think were clover.  We saw hundreds and hundreds of those huge round bales of hay.  We experienced more road construction with flagmen and ten-foot width restrictions on our route (ND 200 and US 85) than we’ve had anywhere else.  And once we headed north of US 85, we saw more big trucks than we’ve seen in the biggest of towns.  The reason?  Per the TRNP park visitors guide, it’s hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a new and controversial oil extraction method that allows oil companies to more than quadruple oil production.  We did see lots of oil wells.

The day before that, we visited Minot, North Dakota, whose  economy depends on a near by air force base, agriculture and fracking for oil.

In Minot we looked for a park to walk Cooper.  First we went to Oak Park which was pretty and green.  A gentleman stopped and told us dogs weren't allowed in Oak Park and he wanted to give us a heads up before animal control gave us a ticket.  He was at the park releasing a squirrel.  He'd caught it live in his yard and told us it was the 29th one he'd caught and let go in the park.  He told us it only had a mile and a half to go to make it back to his home.

Then we went to Roosevelt Park, which has a river walk and allows dogs.  Reviews on Trip Advisor weren't good but, we knew we weren't in San Antonio.  Turned out to be a decent place for Cooper to stretch his legs, but the poor, untidy park needs some loving.
A note about Lake Sakakawea State Park.  Nice, nice park, but we hit it during  its prime bug season.  We picked up a free flyswatter at Lake Bemidgi in Minnesota and put it to good use at Lake Sakakawea.
The joys of mid week camping after summer vacation.   Here's the view from our rig of other camping sites at Lake Sakakawea.  There were  36 spots in our campground; our last night there only five were taken.
Jim and Cooper at Minot's Roosevelt Park in Minot, ND.
Part of the Riverwalk Trail in Minot took us by these propane tanks.  We could smell the propane near a "no smoking" sign. 

Downtown Minot, ND, is called the "Magic City" because in the late 1800s it sprang up as if by magic during construction of the Great Northern Railroad.

After exploring Minot we stopped at the city's Souris River Brewing for lunch.  I had a great sweet potato burger (really) and Jim had walleye and said it was very good.
Jim talking with the locals at the Soulis Brewery in Minot, ND.  Jim says the FFOK Imperial IPA was excellent.