Glacier National Park, hiking, Montana, Montana/PNW trip, National Parks and Monuments

Glacier National Park, May 17, 2016, Part I

We decided to explore the east side of the park on Tuesday, sticking fairly close to the East Glacier depot since we didn’t want a repeat of nearly missing the train. After a visit to the Spiral Spoon and Brownies next door, we headed to Two Medicine Lake.

On the way, we stopped for a small herd of horses in the highway.

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A young couple equipped with bear spray let us tag along with them on an easy trail to Running Eagle Falls. Part of the waterfall seemed to pour out from inside the cliff. We saw moose scat on the trail and later we saw a female moose back in the trees, as well as a big-horned ram running along the road.

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Then at Two Medicine Lake, there was a spot on the shore that must have had a special meaning for Native Americans.

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I wonder what the story was behind these two sites. I told Sandy that this was a place that I would like for my ashes to be scattered. I’d like to think that I might end up in a rocky stream headed for an ocean. Traveling after life.

Glacier National Park, Montana, Montana/PNW trip, National Parks and Monuments, Wonderfulness

Glacier National Park, May 16, 2016

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This was our 29th anniversary. We started by heading east to Browning, Montana, to see the Museum of the Plains Indian, operated by members of the Blackfeet Nation. It is a very unassuming building on the outside and we wondered if it was even open. I’m glad that it was, because the exhibits were excellent. I wish that I could have taken photos but it was not allowed. If you are interested in Native American clothing, needlework, art, and culture, I highly recommend it.

Then we decided to head over to the western side of the park, where the little town of West Glacier was pretty much closed. We were able to find some good food down the road at a bar called Packer’s Roost in Coram. The only park facility that was open was the visitor’s center on that side of Going-to-the-Sun Road, so I was able to buy my all-important magnets and get that coveted stamp for my National Parks Passport book. We found out that this road was closed through the highest part of the park due to massive amounts of snow. However, we were able to see some of the most beautiful parts of the park along the part that was still open.

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Even though I griped about us getting to the park a week early, it turned out that a week later they had a big storm with major flooding and we couldn’t have seen even these parts if we had waited, so the lesson is to shut up and enjoy what’s there to be enjoyed. And we did. Lake McDonald is famous for its clear waters, reflections of the mountains around it, a picturesque old lodge, which, of course, was not open…and oh my God, I could have just sat down on its shore for hours just playing with the rocks.

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There was some impressive whitewater coming down McDonald Creek. It would have been nice to hang a hammock and listen to the falls. The water was glacial green where it roared through narrow passes.

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Hard to believe all that empties into this:

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Lake MacDonald, Glacier National Park

Then, just when we felt like we were sated with beauty, the day ended with a rainbow.

Rainbow near East Glacier, Montana

Montana, Montana/PNW trip, North Dakota

On the Empire Builder, May 15, 2016

North Dakota

On Sunday morning, we headed to the dining car for a full breakfast. Part of the reason I decided to spring for the sleeping room was that our meals came with the room, and I thought that we’d probably sleep better than in coach. We had always wanted to travel on a train with sleeping berths, so now that’s done. The upper sleeping berth was not a good option for either of us and the tiny room was stuffy and hot with the door closed. However, the meals were good and it was nice to have some privacy. It was a long ride so I guess that I’m glad we chose this option. I’d give it a 5 on a scale of 1-10 for the experience.

Sandy watching from our room in the sleeper car

We slept through Minnesota and most of North Dakota, but the rest of the day was spent gazing out the windows of our room or the observation car. I had planned to weave on my travel loom, but I quickly figured out that my choices were needlework/reading/nausea, Dramamine/naps, or watching the scenery of a part of the country I have never been. We enjoyed meeting people in the dining and observation cars.

The North Dakota and Montana plains were greener and more beautiful than I expected. Much of the route followed a river that snaked and back and forth on either side. I’ve learned in the past few years that mostly treeless hills appeal to me very much because I love to see the way the earth is shaped and cut. The small towns that we moved through showed their backsides to the railroad. It was almost voyeuristic. I loved the geometry. Maybe I am destined for the high plains.

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Williston, North Dakota

North Dakota

We stopped long enough in a couple of towns that we were able to get off and stretch our legs. In Shelby, Montana we were there long enough for me to take some photos around the depot.

Shelby, Montana depot

Shelby, Montana

Shelby, Montana

Finally we pulled up to the little town of East Glacier, Montana, at the eastern foot of Glacier National Park in the Blackfeet Reservation. Here we were met by Mark, who owned the Whistling Swan Motel, the rental car business, Two Medicine Grill, and the general store. In other words, he owned almost every business that was open that we needed. He was quite an entrepreneur. We soon learned that we had arrived about 1-2 weeks before businesses in the area opened for the season. Mark upgraded our room in honor of our 29th anniversary, and we caught up on the sleep that we’d missed the night before in a spacious clean room with cable, a new bathroom, and a much-needed high pressure massaging hot shower in a motel that most people wouldn’t even consider. I’ve reached the point where I couldn’t care less if I ever sleep in a chain motel again. (I found the Whistling Swan by exploring Google maps.)

There was still snow on the ground in places from the six inches they had gotten the day before, but the weather was perfect while we were there.

On the east side of Glacier National Park

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augggghhhh, Montana/PNW trip

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. May 14, 2016

Sandy and I spent most of the first day of our vacation getting to the Amtrak station in St. Paul, Minnesota by plane. We found a cheaper way to park near Raleigh Durham Airport through a service that contracts with nearby hotels to use their parking lots and airport shuttles. The one we used saved us about half of what we would have paid at the economy lot and it was a good hotel in a nice area: One Stop Parking. What a good idea for a business. Then we flew to Minneapolis by way of Atlanta, where our plane was delayed for an hour because someone broke a seat in the exit row and it had to be replaced. I thought that we were still okay on our schedule because I had planned on an extra hour to get something to eat before we got on the Empire Builder at 10:20 p.m. that night. I was wrong.

Mainly I was wrong about the quickest, easiest way from MSP airport to the Amtrak depot in St. Paul. I thought that it would take about 30 minutes by light rail. Don’t ask me how I got this information. I must have dreamed it. At 9:45 p.m. I looked at the number of stops before the depot and it began to dawn on me that there was a good possibility that we would miss the train. I decided to call the station from the Metro and was thwarted by a phone robot that did not understand my answers to its questions. This quickly got worse after two gangs of drunk young teenagers surrounded us in the car and started screaming accusations at each other about a stolen bike.

I watched the clock nervously as I waited 20 minutes for a station agent to answer, while the situation around us deteriorated. One group of kids got off the train and the other group got in a loud threatening argument with a grizzled old man sitting in front of us who kept saying things to escalate the tension and doing things like wiggling his fingers at the sides of his head yelling “BLEH!!!!”

Finally I got a human on the phone and I was nearly crying. I shouted into the phone that I couldn’t hear them for the yelling around me and that we were almost there and we’d be running with our luggage but we’d get there at probably exactly 10:20 and could they please, please, please hold the train for a few minutes? Miraculously, I barely heard the agent say that they would hold the train for eight minutes.

The old man slipped off the train suddenly and the teenager who had been yelling at him turned to Sandy. “What about you, do you think I’m a n—–r?” Sandy said that he didn’t know him and he didn’t know who he was. I sat behind Sandy mouthing, “No, no, no!”

This is not the way I envisioned beginning our vacation.

Suddenly the teenager said, “Hey, are you taking the train to North Dakota?”

I stammered, “No, Montana.”

The man behind us said he was going to North Dakota. The teenager told us to have a good trip and the whole group got off the Metro at the stop just before the depot. At this point we jumped up and started getting our luggage ready to run for the Empire Builder. I shrugged on my backpack and let go of the pole to adjust it. The train shifted and I fell backwards; the backpack and my elbow taking the brunt of the fall. North Dakota Man helped me up and pointed us in the right direction. The depot was huge and there was a high school prom going on in the middle of it. It was confusing to say the least.

But we did it. We made the train. And Amtrak helped.

We collapsed into our sleeping bunks, exhausted, in pain, and jacked up from the adrenaline. I got very little sleep that night. But at least neither of us would be driving the next day. We were passengers on the Amtrak Empire Builder.

More to come. The rest will involve way less drama and way more photos, trust me.