5/26/11 We pulled out of Yellowstone this morning. There were so many elk around the campsite, and campground, that it was almost impossible to get a walk in with Buddy. It was cold and breezy with snow flurries while we were packing up to go. A quick stop to dump the tanks at an RV park just north of Gardiner, MT and we were on our way to Bozeman to take care of city business. The dump station was down a steep, bumpy, gravel road that loomed as a challenge for many days, but we managed.
In Bozeman we were scheduled to get more dog food, fill prescriptions, drop off a return to UPS, then ship my hand guns off for safe keeping as we were about to enter Canada. The gun dealer, last on the list, was 16 blocks from our parking spot, so we decided to walk there and back. Downtown Bozeman is an interesting town and the walking and window-shopping was a nice break. Across the street from the gun dealer was a Mexican restaurant that was drawing a crowd so we decided to give ourselves a rare teat, lunch out. When we left the restaurant with our take-out order, the sky in the direction of the RV was black and there was a very cold gusty wind blowing. It looked like we could probably make it back, and we almost did. About four blocks from the RV it started to hail, but lightly. Then it started to hail a little heavier. Then it really started coming down. Two blocks from the RV it was pouring down bb sized hail and the wind was howling. The front of my body was a solid sheet of ice and I’m sure Donna wasn’t any better. Buddy didn’t seem to mind at all, aamof, he seem to delight in it. We raced into the RV, stripped off our wet clothes, sat down to a cold Mexican lunch.
By the time lunch was over it was 3:00 PM and time to push on. Our goal was the Walmart parking lot in Helena, MT, 100 more miles down the pike. We went a bit west from Bozeman on the interstate, and then took MT 287 NW to Helena. The drive on 287 was very nice and pretty much ran along the Missouri River. I spent a good bit of time thinking about Lewis and Clark making their way up the same river 200 years ago. Large patches of dying pines, apparently from pine beetles, were apparent on the hillsides along the route.
We found the Wal-Mart right where MapQuest said it would be and settled in on the far side of the parking lot. I took and extended dog walk and Donna did her shopping thing.
5/27 Bailing out of a Wal-Mart black top boon dock site is quick and simple as we don’t do any set up at all. A quick walk around to make sure we’re good to go and we’re off to Glacier. Wal-Mart is dumb like a fox on these free overnight RV sites. We get a free overnight and they get $300 spent in the store.
We get on I-15 and head north for 30 miles, exiting on 287 N. We were taking a bit of a chance, as we knew nothing of route 287, just that it was more direct than the interstate. From the interstate to the first town was a distance of 45 miles. The area was fairly steep, rolling, grass covered hills that seemed to go on forever. There was virtually no traffic, no farmhouses, no pull offs, and no shoulders. To go along with the steep climbs up the never-ending series of hills was a driving wind right on the nose. I’d guess the wind speed to be gusting to 50 mph and it kept our speed down to 45 mph along most of the route. What seems like a tense, nerve-wracking drive at the time is remembered as high adventure.
The last town before our target campground was Browning, MT, predominately occupied by Indians. Someone on an Internet message board had suggested taking the long route to the campground, 464, rather than a much shorter but steep and winding route 89. We opted for the bypass and would later know it was a wise move. The route was straight enough for the area, with plenty of steep climbs, but there’s not much you can do about that in this terrain. The weather front I’d been watching for the last 100 miles was now starting to dump sleet and snow. The forecast was for snow and there were questions about if we’d be able to get into the park.
Once again, we were heading to a campground with no facilities, and we needed to fill our water tanks. We were told there was one possible place to get water before pulling into the campground, Duck Creek Resort. There are two Duck Creeks along the route AND
as we skidded past the entrance to the first one. There was a very long winding road leading down towards a lake far off in the distance, with no easily discernable campground visible. After skidding past the entry, I was more than willing to move on and worry about water later. Donna had no problem taking off on that road to parts unknown, but then again, she wasn’t driving.
As we proceed on towards our snowy campground I’m thinking of going into town, 35 miles, and buying jerry cans to haul water with. Then, on the left, appears the “other” Duck Creek. There is the sign, of course, and a dirt road to the left, and a dirt road to the right, but no apparent arrow telling which dirt road to take. We decide to take the road on the left. There is a posted 15 mph speed limit but due to the deep potholes everywhere, going over 5 mph wasn’t in the cards. About a ˝ mile back in the woods was a ramshackle collection of buildings, with one being the resort. I went in to inquire about filling our tanks. I suppose this place was typical of a lodge, great room downstairs with a communal living room, dining room, kitchen, front desk and library, bedrooms upstairs. I had to wonder around to find anyone to ask, but when I did make a connection everyone in the family became involved, along with the half dozen large dogs they kept around. I asked about filling my tank and offered to pay, but they would have nothing to do with taking money. These folks couldn’t have been any friendlier or any more helpful. They were escapees from Texas and had been running the place for seven years. We filled up and eased our way back out the pothole filled “road”, and headed for St Mary Campground in Glacier.
We found our way into a St. Mary Campground that was completely deserted. We had the luxury of making several loops around the park to pick a spot that would have the best view from our windows and also be best for solar charging of our batteries. I was so happy to be set up and established, no longer under the threat of getting stuck in a snowstorm on mountain roads, that I could have done back flips.
Glacier National Park appears to have four distinct weather patterns, cold and raining; cold and sleeting; cold and snowing; cold and hailing. Although Donna was pretty much confined to quarters, I rather enjoyed the weather. Buddy and I took many a long walk in the cold blowing rain and snow. Although it wasn’t really conducive to taking pictures, the clouds and storms gathering and passing through the mountain peaks were always fascinating to watch.
After about three days of being confined to camp, we got a brief break in the weather. Most of the park was closed, so we opted for a trip back into Browning to explore. The planned route to Browning was going on 89, south into the mountains and twisting roads we’d be warned not to attempt while towing the RV. When we left if was clear, about 45, with some clouds moving in. From our St. Mary base, 89 steadily climbed into the mountains. As we started up the rain began, and the temperature started to drop. About half way up the temperature had dropped into the low 30s and it was sleeting. About a mile farther up and the temperature had dropped to 30 and hail was raining down. From my windshield I could see a hood covered in ice, hail continuing to rain down, and a twisting ice covered two-lane mountain road that continued to rise up into the clouds. I did what any self-respecting Florida boy would do, I found the first pull out, turned around, and headed back to camp.
Compared to Yellowstone, the wildlife at Glacier was sparse to non-existent. We saw three deer pass through our campsite and I think that was the extent of our Glacier wildlife viewing. On a trip to an area out of the park we were treated to our first grizzly sightings. A road crew informed us that a couple of grizzlies had been sighted earlier so we decided to scout around and see if we could spot them. Donna did finally see them about 50 yards off the road cavorting. There were two of what appeared to be last years crop. Although we were able to observe them a great deal, getting photos was much more difficult. I just wasn’t real thrilled with the idea of getting out of the truck and chasing a couple of grizzlies up and down the road to get decent photos.
For the most part, Glacier was closed down during our visit. We were the first folks in the first campground that was opened. The snowfall had been 150% of average, with a good bit of it falling in April. The major attraction in Glacier, Going to the Sun Mountain, was closed for all but a few miles.
One of the results of the park opening slower than usual was that it was overstaffed to an extreme, especially with rangers. As there were never more than two or three campers in the campground, with most leaving at first light, we were under intense observations. No less than eight or ten times a day a ranger, or group of rangers, would stop by to inspect our site. The situation eventually led to me having a heated meeting with one of the rangers and her supervisor. I’m sure nothing came of the meeting, but it did give us a break from the intense scrutiny for our last day or two. I’m now in the “system” as a non-repentant trouble maker.
Photos: Glacier NP