Mabel and I started the day around 7:15 and exited a 60-degree camper to a chilly 49-degree morning. I am glad that I thought to bring my Marmot sleeping bag. I have written in an earlier post how I like the room it offers and its great not to feel like Harry Houdini while sleeping. It is an extra-large mummy bag, big enough that I can cross my arms over my chest. So far, I haven’t had a bad night’s sleep while using it.
The morning sunshine lights up our site revealing its wonderful view of the lake. It sits at the bottom of a sloping hill that starts at my camper’s door. I can see now why I was able to hear waves last night. Or at least what I thought were waves. We are surrounded by trees with a distance between us and the other sites. Privacy isn’t a problem as there are only two other camping groups in the almost deserted campground. And from where I am standing I can’t see either.
After breakfast, we walk down the hill to the lakeshore. The descent is steeper than expected and the shoreline is protected by high banks that prevent us from getting close. I see a path that takes us to a swimming beach, the buoys and swim ropes reaching out from the sand. If it wasn’t so chilly I would have jumped in and I thought of it but quickly brushed the craziness aside.
The mountains to our right seemed to kiss the lake, their slope ending at the water’s edge. The last moments of a red sunrise reflected off the morning clouds onto the lake’s clear water. The light doesn’t last long, and you need act fast if you want to catch the magnificence. The water is an aqua blue and reminds me of the aftershave or a watered-down version of a Blue Hawaiian at Arena on Austin’s Sixth Street, circa 1988. All I can say is its “BEAUTIFUL” and a “BARGAIN” at twice the price I paid.
We loiter for a while, but I get anxious for today’s stop at Glacier National Park. I have heard of Glacier but have never been, so there is an anxious anticipation for what I might find. We pull out of the campground, last night’s backing-in made for an easy exit. But full disclosure requires me to tell you that we had a long and wide parking spot to deal with. My backing-up skills have advanced only marginally since leaving home.
HWY 93 takes us southeast to Whitefish and I stop to find internet service. I want to upload a blog post and am surprisingly frenzied about it. For some reason, I feel the need to stay relevant through a social media post. I liked Whitefish. It is a tourist town, the Amtrak Empire Builder has a stop here, and there’s a sophistication to it. I walk down the main street and see restaurants closed for the morning that show wear from evening revelry. Multiple coffee shops were open, and all looked to serve dynamite breakfasts. Retail stores covered every need and I feel a western superiority in the shop windows.
After finding a small breakfast place I had to use my phone’s hot spot for the post, but it was done, and I can relax. I am relevant again. The breakfast was good, and I listen to locals talk about local things. I realize once again the transient nature of my being and what it means to be detached from community. For a minute I feel like joining the conversation but think better and sink back into my anonymity.
Mabel gets some exercise with a quick jaunt around town. And then we are off, back on HWY 93 with a course towards Glacier.
This part of Montana is absolutely gorgeous. I say “this part” because I haven’t been to the other parts yet. I am in constant awe at the scenery as we head southeastish and stop a few different times for pictures. There is no growing tired of the view.
Just east of Columbia Falls I stop at the Hungry Horse Reservoir and walk around the dam. It’s another amazing feat of mankind’s ingenuity and I leave this dam with the same feelings as I had at Libby Dam. They build big dams in Montana, ones that hold back lots of water and generate electricity when some of the water is allowed to pass. Dams this big aren’t built in Minnesota. We build dams just big enough for the job. But we do own the headwaters of the Mississippi. Something to be proud of!
Mabel and I visit a recreation area on the way out of the reservoir and watch people fishing in the lake. It is very peaceful, really peaceful, and I don’t think I would do well with a cube job while living in Montana. I would always want to be outside. Are there even cube jobs in Montana?
We enter the park in early afternoon at the west entrance just off HWY 2 and the unincorporated community of West Glacier. Following the signs, we find the Apgar Visitor Center and receive instruction that one campground, (APGAR) is open and the Going-to-the-Sun road is closed because of a forest fire.
Th campground sits just across from the southern end of Lake McDonald, a logging road the only barrier to the shore. It’s a quick drive and we pass through a small tourist area that is closed for the season. I can imagine the business it must experience during the height of the summer. The ice cream shop is closed, and the small grocery store advertising beer sales isn’t far behind.
There’s a loop around the campground and I do the slow drive like I have so many times before on this trip. Sometimes a snap decision is required as the person behind might take the spot you pull past, and then you are out of luck. A spot is selected on the first pass and I like the drive-through which has some privacy from the road. The camping sites are close and without leaves so you get a good view of your neighbor. But, I have enough space to feel like I am camping.
With our limited amount of time, the Ranger at the visitor center suggested we visit Bowman lake. It will give us a good view of what the park has to offer. She plots an unconventional route because of the lateness of the season and we will have to travel partway outside the park. After unhitching the trailer and finishing a preliminary camp set up, we start out for the northern part of Glacier.
Heading north on Camus Road which is in the Park’s interior, we veer off and travel on the northern side of Lake McDonald. The map shows a campsite at the end of the road, but I decide not to travel that far and instead get out to explore the lake. A prominent sign states dogs are not allowed on the trail, but I decide to plead ignorance if we come across anyone with authority. Mabel and I were the only ones trekking this part of the park and we thoroughly enjoyed the view of the mountains at the far end of the lake.
We continued the remaining 9 miles of Camus Road before exiting the Park and starting the approximately 14 miles on Outside North Fork Road. The road names are imaginative in this part of the country as our other option, if open, is named Inside North Fork Road. In the end, it didn’t much matter as the route to Bowman Lake was full of beauty with a constant view of the mountains.
Polebridge, a tiny town with only a mercantile and a restaurant/bar marked the end of our journey on Outside North Fork Road and the return to Parkland. A second gate was occupied by a female ranger and I wondered how exciting her days were this far out from civilization. It is a six-mile road into Bowman Lake and the bumpiness threatened to loosen my fillings. It was a narrow road with little room for two cars to pass and did I mention the bumpiness? I felt like we were driving on a very aggressive cobblestone road in a historic, Revolutionary War-era town. Did I mention I almost lost my fillings?
The road followed the banks of Bowman Creek and we stopped a few times for pictures. Mabel skillfully traversed the large driftwood logs that lined the river’s banks. Some piles were so tangled they impeded the rivers’ progress.
Finally, we reached the lake and saw that the campsite was closed. I am thinking these spots are in high demand during the season, even with the bumpy road. There were cars in the parking lot and I decided to leave Mabel in the car. The path to the lake was short and the view after emerging from the woods was stunning. I have never, in real life, seen nature’s beauty like this. I stopped and stood, taking it all in, the clear blue lake, the mountain backdrop, it was sensory overload.
After walking along the beach, I met Peter & Hillary, travelers from England. We talked for almost 45 minutes on a wide variety of issues. They have traveled all over the world and I was impressed with what they have seen in the US. I think they have visited more American locations than most Americans. Hillary gets most of her travel advice from podcasts and blogs, it’s all she listens to or reads. Peter wants to see older/single people become more confident travelers and is thinking of his own blog. I mention my trip and Steinbeck’s work and they know The Grapes of Wrath. It is a little too heavy of a reading effort for them now, they would like to travel the route but only after they have determined the correct type of listening music. There must be music they tell me.
Peter was taking lots of photos and came prepared for the sunset with a tripod. Politics inevitably came up and Peter tells me our cousins across the pond aren’t as political as us. They don’t wear their political parties on their sleeves he continues. Hillary tells me when things get bad in England they have a royal wedding, or a royal baby, or the Queen goes for a visit. She laughs as she tells me this and then mentions that “the little flags come out.” We discuss the differences between our countries in restaurant tipping and then I move on, allowing them to enjoy and photograph the impending sunset.
After seeing other dogs walking with their owners, I bring Mabel down to the beach. Peter and Hillary enjoy meeting her and she loves walking on the beach. It is so beautiful here and I hate to leave but we must head back to camp.
As we are heading out a black Escape with Minnesota plates pulled into the parking lot and the driver unloaded a kayak from its roof. I stop to talk, more amazed than he was, to find another Minnesotan at Bowman Lake. He worked at an ad agency in Minnetonka before moving to Montana to work remote. He likes it here and said I would be surprised at the number of Minnesota expats in the area. After seeing Bowman Lake, I can totally understand the allure. He looked anxious to get into the water, so I end the conversation. This was the fourth Minnesota plate I have seen on the trip and he was the first driver I have spoken to though.
Six miles of bad bumpiness awaited us, and I took it slow on the way out. No need to test my luck with the car, it had been a while since I had to stop for repairs and there was no gas station way out here. We pass a car on the way out and I move as far to the left as possible, the close-hanging branches scraping the side of the car. It’s a horrible sound.
We reach the dirt road that takes us to the ranger’s gate, but they had gone home for the night. I saw the female ranger running along the road, their housing must be close. The dirt road continued past Polebridge, a few tourists hanging outside the restaurant, the mercantile was closed so I couldn’t buy beer.
On the Outside North Fork Road, a bear lumbered into the woods and I stopped to try and get a look, but it moved quicker than what its size suggested. The bear didn’t linger at the wood’s edge but made its way purposefully down the trail. The ride back to the campground passes quickly and we are in constant view of the mountains. The evening sun tints them purple and I try to sing what I remember of America the Beautiful but Mabel isn’t impressed.
It grows chilly as darkness falls at our campsite and I work on pictures after dinner and the usual clean up. Mabel is curled up in a ball and doesn’t hesitate when I ask if she wants to go inside the camper. After a while, I follow her, happy to have my sleeping bag.
Thankful tonight for the visit to Bowman Lake and the chance to view the beauty of Glacier.