There was light frost on the field near our site when we woke up at 7:45 and the temperature in the camper was 42 degrees. It’s funny what becomes normal behavior when one camps. I had to bundle up for the walk to the pit toilet and the trip left me wondering if hand sanitizer is the official cologne of camping. Today’s breakfast was eaten at the picnic table in 34-degree weather, something I wouldn’t think of doing under normal conditions.
Allen, the man I met at Dickey Lake, meets me in the field and we talk about his past. He spent three years in the Navy and then went back to Kaiser Aluminum for forty years. He survived strikes and lockouts before the company was bought by an anti-labor owner. The company eventually went bankrupt, but he did ok and received a pension while others didn’t. He summed up the majority of his working career in less than 15 minutes. Forty years of getting up every day to feed his family were told to a total stranger in a quarter of an hour. No way to understand the effort every day took as we talked in that field. A retiree enjoying the fruits of his labor stood before me. Would I be that guy someday? What would my story be? This trip is supposed to change the story or at least provide an interesting bookmark. Will it?
We walk around the campground and I see spots filled with car campers. They heeded the board’s bear warning and spent the night twisted in the seats of their cars. I don’t think they enjoyed the comfort of a good night’s sleep like I did. Thank you, Arabella.
Mabel and I jumped in the car to head west on the Going-to-the-Sun road to see the eastern part of the park. We can drive as far as Logan Pass; the road is closed to further travel. The views are spectacular as we travel north of the Saint Mary Lake. Tall mountains line the road while others stretch out in the distance creating a 3-D postcard-like landscape of rocky outcroppings. In the distance, snow-covered peaks stand tall over bright blue lakes.
We pass areas of forest that look like deformed ship masts, their foliage stripped from a past fire. It is sad to see the extent of the damage and I can’t fathom the destruction’s immensity. Acre after acre after acre is destroyed and who knows when it will return to its original beauty. Who is responsible for the fire, man or nature? For some reason, I feel guilty about the destruction even though I have no knowledge of the cause. I learned from visits to other parks that fire is an essential part of nature and does provide benefits. All I see is the result of its destruction and I wish the ghostly forest could be as it was before.
We stop at the Logan Pass Visitor Center; the road is blocked so our advance is stymied. I leave Mabel in the car and start on the Hidden Lake Nature Trail, a wooden walkway that winds up to the foothills. It provides a view of Mount Oberlin and Clements Mountain, both rising triumphantly against a blue sky. Others are on the path and it seems like we are all on a pilgrimage to a desired holy spot. I walk just about halfway before turning around, Hidden Lake too far a journey for the time I have. The ranger at the visitor center tells me it will be closing in another week or so but she will stay in the area to see the park’s winter offerings.
We stop often at the side of the road, taking more pictures and enjoying the splendor. Glacier offers so many opportunities to hike and see nature’s brilliance. Someday I’ll be back to enjoy more of the park.
Lunch is spent outside the camper, and I am thankful the day has warmed up. I sit for a while just enjoying the mountains and trees that surround me. This view isn’t owned by anyone. We just rent it through the fees paid to the park. In my case ten dollars for the campsite and a year park pass granting admission. I am not naïve enough to think the park will stay as it is without protection. It will take a nation of caring individuals to defend Glacier from greed.
I leave the campsite with Arabella in tow, its height blocking the rearview mirror from reflecting the mountains. I am sad to leave as Glacier was one of the spots I most wanted to see. We head south on HWY 89 at Saint Mary and our scenery changes quickly. Gone are the mountains, replaced with wide open plains as far as you can see. The road is mostly straight and flat, welcomed after the high, curvy roads of the mountains. Private property is distinctly delineated by the parallel traveling wire fencing intended to keep livestock in and me out. It is a very different feel from the past few days when I could look up into Glacier’s mountains with no prohibition to my wandering.
There are mountains to my left, westward of our route, but it is too hazy to see their distinction. There are small pockets of trees lining streams, their fall colors in full bloom. The day has become hot from an intense sun and the small groups of cows and horses are content to move sparingly. They are the only sign of life I encounter among the hills that appear like sand dunes stretching to an imaginary ocean.
I stop at a historical marker for the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis camped here with a group of Indians that in the morning attempted to steal his horses. A fight resulted and two of the Indians were killed, the only hostile encounter on the Corps of Discovery Expedition. Sadly, the area is full of trash, the fence catching the refuse before it travels across the plains.
A few dwellings, trailers mostly can be seen in the distance as I travel south on HWY 89 towards Choteau. I pass a large field of black sunflowers, they are short and uniform size, not the tall ones I have seen in Minnesota. Their petals curled around bowed heads look like small defeated soldiers on their way to death. I’ve never seen a field like this and wonder if the flowers have been burned. If that’s the case, then why?
The miles add up as I pass through alternating areas of mountains and plains. It is interesting country and the light plays off the hills. Not a lot of trees though, you can tell this is farming country. I consult the map for a place to spend the night and no little green triangles jump out as inviting. My dog-eared copy of the KOA directory shows a campground south of Helena at Townsend.
We continue down 287 and pass through Helena, the easterly route to the KOA taking us away from HWY 15. More flatness on the east as the GPS directs us to turn towards Canyon Ferry Lake nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains. A well-worn road pulls us to the lake with the Townsend KOA parking lot midway down on the left.
The large welcome center sits with a view of the lake. It was a combination of retail/service/living and currently getting ready to close. I was moved ahead of the line, to the annoyance of the fisherman waiting to purchase bait, but their mood didn’t affect my host. She quickly assigned me a spot close to the bathhouse, and we were on our way for the night.
The campground reminded me of a KOA I used in the deep Southwest. Both contained few trees and much open space covered in gravel. Across from our spot and seeming to keep watch over the bathhouse was a long-term rig with two fishermen sitting outside. They drank beer and waved nicely as I set up. A quick look around and a large number of the sites seemed to be occupied for the long-term with permanent outdoor living structures affixed to the campers. I bet their owners consider the dwellings as “Lake Homes” to be used on weekends and special occasions.
Mabel and I walk the grounds after setting up camp. She is always so enthusiastic on her walks. Ears perked, tail high, and a general air of curious superiority. Our travels take us towards the lake which is surrounded by fields of low scrubby bushes. A municipal campground sits on its shores and I would have rather camped there for the night as I could have secured a spot on the water. But I need to do laundry and was tired of dirty clothes. There was also a desire to enjoy the general accommodations of civilization, a heated camper being one of them. Over the course of the trip, my choice of campgrounds varied between a desire of the austere and a need for the comfortable. Its hard to pinpoint what drove the decision for a campground type, but once decided the search would not deviate. There were times when an extended stay at a primitive campground was welcome. While just a few nights prior, the call for a hot shower was stronger than anything nature could muster. Tonight’s spot would have to do, and the sunset made up for the flatness of scenery. A brilliant orange ranged over the mountains settling a calm over the lake, the open fields, and the campground.
Mabel and I didn’t dally hitting the sack soon after dinner. I started calculating the needed per day miles to reach home by October 2nd. Sheri keeps telling me not to hurry and there are places I still want to see but the longing to get home is getting stronger.
Thankful tonight for a long, hot shower and a short wait for the washing machines.