I know; we have been waxing philosophic all summer about this spectacular place or that magnificent view. We need to agree to a moratorium on exclamatory terms such as these, or risk losing our reader (all one of you). Please forgive us ONE MORE TRANSGRESSION – because, well, Glacier National Park is ALL OF THAT, for sure!
We felt like RV WHERE YET’s mighty mighty 210HP Cat Diesel engine could use a break!
Our path southwards offered a couple of routing options, and we chose the one that passes down the length of the east side of Glacier National Park. This seemed ideal – a seconday road down the backbone of the Rockies but not so much OVER the Rockies…we felt like RV WHERE YET’s mighty mighty 210HP Cat Diesel engine could use a break! And, there were several places where we could enter the park, and a variety of camping options. Seemed like an ideal option, so EASTWARD HO!
This began with another completely NON-EVENTFUL border crossing. I am pretty sure that the Border Folks have lists of people that they need to hassle, or at least a “type” that they are on the lookout for. That ain’t us! They ask us a few questions about produce, which we always try to have none of when we cross, and liquor. And Weed.
With regard to liquor, it does not seem to matter how much we have as long as I add, “For Personal Consumption.” Apparently, no one is concerned about smugglers who have ½ bottle of this, 1/3 bottle of that, even if the total exceeds the theoretical limit. And, with regard to Weed – even in places where it is legal on both sides of the border, it is NOT legal to bring across the border. WE KNOW ALL THIS from long experience, now, so we are prepared!
As we started down the length of the park, I looked for a camping option as a base for several days of hiking. There are a variety of places inside the park, but further investigation showed most could not accomodate vehicles over 27’ (for reasons that became apparent later!). The few that could were full, even after Labor Day…unless we wanted to try for “first-come-first-served” spots. Unsolicited (more like out of the blue (bird?), actually!), a fellow Bluebirdbrain, Shane Fedeli, who must have too much time on his hands because it seems he reads these pages regularily, made some specific recommendations. These included an RV Spot immediately adjacent to the entrance to the Park.
I looked into it – there were 2 in the same basic area. One was a KOA, the other a long-time family-owned park. We chose the latter with affirmation from Shane. In our experience KOAs are often very nice, but heavily family-oriented (i.e. playgrounds and amenities for kids) and often quite a bit more expensive than non-franchise options in the same area. JOHNSON’s RV Park, Restaurant and Motel, on the other hand, merited 5 Fedeli-stars, and was $25/nite less expensive than the KOA. Making the choice pretty easy…and a GREAT ONE it was!!!
We were parked up on a hill, overlooking the entrance to the park, the mountains and an alpine lake. We were BARELY close enuf to the campgound’s main building, so we could get just a whiff of WiFi – enuf to get the newspaper and email. And a walking path lead directly to the laundry AND to Johnson Family Restaurant.
I don’t need to elaborate much on the former, but the latter deserves some description. It’s a family place – most meals are served family style. There is always a “special” as well as a full menu. And a really nice Brekkie on weekends. Walls had all sorts of memorabilia and photos, while tables had the restaurant’s sign-in sheets for the past 50 years under the glass tops – interesting to read! WE THOROUGHLY ENJOYED the place.
Comfortable as the campground was, we needed to devote some attention to the Park. Easiest way to do this is to drive into the park’s visitor center (less than a mile from RV WHERE YET’s landing zone), and ask a Ranger for recommendations. First we took care of BIDNEZ – renewing our annual Park Pass. It’s $80/year for unlimited Nat’l Park, BLM, National Forest, National Monument access. A GREAT DEAL – we do this every year; both because it is such a great deal, AND because we know the money goes directly to the Parks.
The ranger at the gate pointed out that NEXT YEAR will be the last that I will need to purchase such a pass. YIKES – was he aware of an impending meteor strike or super-volcano eruption that would end the human race? Or, did I look THAT OLD?
It turns out that the latter is true…and not necessarily because of how I looked! He noticed from my Driver’s License that I would be 62 next year – and eligible for the LIFETIME PASS available to seniors. One more $80 purchase and we can access National Parks for free for the rest of our days! AND, half price on camping, too! WHO SEZ it’s a bitch growing old!!!
Anyway, the ranger in the Visitor Center gave us several recommendations. One, the Apgar Overlook was a fairly long hike with some challenging elevation changes, at the end of which we’d have a spectacular view, weather permitting, into the Park down the valley and over huge Lake MacDonald. We felt like we were up for it – our last longish hike was exhausting but exhilirating, and we were better acclimated to the altitude by this point.
And, it had the added benefit of requiring a drive through the entire width of the park to the west side – across the GOING-TO-THE-SUN HIGHWAY. This highway had also earned 5-Fedeli Points, and our summer travelling companions, Steve and Kathy had waxed philosopic about it. Steve said: “If you drive, have Liz Take Pics of the SPECTACULAR VIEWS to show you later – you will need to keep your eyes glued to the road if you want to survive!!” They had taken a tour bus, which he said was “OK.”
So, the “Going to the Sun Highway” was … can I use the word once more?? … “MAGNIFICENT!!!” We have been on some VERY scenic drives this summer. I would say three or 4 from this summer’s meanderings (there were several last summer in the Canadian Maritimes) rise to the top as far as “Scenic-to-the-max.” In no particular order, these are:
- The Park Road in Denali, which can only be traversed by Shuttle Bus
- The Icefield Parkway between Jasper and Banff
- The drive from the Alaska Highway to Valdez
- The Going to the Sun Highway
There is no point in ranking these – if you are within 500 miles, you MUST divert to experience any of them. There is also no point in taking Pics because no 2-D image, no matter how well composed, can even begin to convey the majesty all around.
In the case of the “Going to the Sun,” the signs were clear – NO VEHICLES OVER 21’ allowed. This was why most of the campgrounds inside the park were inaccessible to RV WHERE YET. So our transit of this would have to be by Jeep, and the Ranger-recommended Hike clear on the other side of the park was our chance! We set out in the morning for the 90-minute drive to the trailhead.
The Apgar Overlook hike itself WAS LONG – about 8 miles altogether. It had a listed elevation change of 2,200’, but that’s misleading because it is a TOTAL – there are several ups-and-downs along the way. But, compared to Jasper, it STARTED at 3,500ft, so altitude was not the same challenge. And, the weather was PERFECT – bright, sunny, warm (but not too warm) and excellent visibility! That’s not always possible, because “bright, sunny and warm” are often accompanied by fires and smoky haze. So we were pretty lucky to have such ideal conditions!
Since we were in the area for a few days, we also did some shorter hikes, and just some National Park Sightseeing. One day we took a free park shuttle (so I could enjoy the scenery!) to the visitor center at Logan Pass, part way on the Going-to-the-Sun Highway in the middle of the park. There we did a short alpine hike to “Hidden Lake Overlook”. Another day we drove to the “Many Glacier” lodge. This was one of the original lodges, built by the Great Northern Railroad as part of the infrastructure they created to lure tourists to the area in the early 1900’s. The lodge was beautiful, in a rustic way; its setting the main draw. And there was an easy hike from the back of the lodge, around the lake it overlooked. Even without elevation, the views were absolutely breathless.
the more I watched, the more I realized the ghostly streaks and flashing apparitions were NOT of terrestrial origin!
One unexpected happening, while RV WHERE YET was ensconced at Johnsons RV Park… We had our First Aurora Sighting! I stepped outside at about 11:00 (just after the moon set) to experience a “BIG SKY” moment. Being in a place FAR from the light pollution of a population center (there is basically NO population in Montana and certainly none near Glacier National Park), AND, having CRYSTAL CLEAR weather, it seemed like we’d get a good view of the dark sky. As I was sitting back and enjoying the myriad of stars and meteors and such, I noticed a flickering in the northern sky. I thought this might be car headlights reflecting like a mirage in the distance. But the more I watched, the more I realized the ghostly streaks and flashing apparitions were NOT of terrestrial origin!
I watched for about 30 minutes before I was absolutely CONVINCED this was the Aurora. I decided I had better wake Liz – not only for 3rd party verification, but because she’d be disappointed (not to mention pissed) if I let her sleep thru it! Naturally, once she got outside, the display had taken a break as the Aurora is wont to do. She was JUST ABOUT to go back to bed, certain that I was hallucinating, when the display started again!
FAR from crossing this OFF our list, it has elevated an Aurora Pilgrimage to near the top of our list of things to do!
Now this was NOT one of the spectacular displays that we’ve seen in movies and videos. This was a ghostly apparition – just enuf to whet our appetite. FAR from crossing this OFF our list, it has elevated an Aurora Pilgrimage to near the top of our list of things to do! And, fortunately, our travels this summer have exposed us to several places where we can tee up such an adventure in the near future. For example, CHENA HOT SPRINGS. This place is a mere 1 hour on a good road from Fairbanks, Ak. International Airport! Since an Aurora experience is HIGHLY dependent on clear skies, this is likely to be a last-minute booking, but Fairbanks is accessible by direct flight from several US cities, and you don’t even need a passport! Rent a car and BAM you are sitting decadently in a hot spring (snow all around in -30F in January) for the light show! We know where to go, now!
After our Glacier National Park experiences, we continued our path southwards. We decided to spend a few days hopscotching thru Montana – never having been in the state before. We consulted with several friends and/or fellow Bluebirdbrains who have been here and/or are from here to develop a list: Great Falls, Helena, Bozeman, Red Lodge seemed a good selection of stopping points. The first couple of stops would be cities of some magnitude – we had need of such infrastructure (such as Walmart and Home Depot and such) as the cupboards were VERY BARE and a couple of minor projects needed attending to.
One of the projects – we needed to replace the tires on the Jeep. We were on borrowed time, in my mind – the tires were old when we bought the car, and had just managed to survive Alaska (well, one DIDN’T survive Alaska, which is kinda the point). We made it back to the lower 48, tho, which would allow us to buy tires at a place where a warranty would be actually useful.
Giving that some thot, we decided that Walmart would be the place to purchase tires – their Lifetime Roadhazard warranty would be ideal for us – since we stay at or near a Walmart most of the time!!! And, if you think about it, this is EXACTLY why Walmart lets RVs park for free in their lots! We spent over $500 on tires (nevermind our ongoing grocery and supply purchases) BECAUSE they graciously allow their lot, which is pretty empty at the margins especially at night, to be used this way!
But of course, it is more complicated than “just” buying $500 worth of tires – as you will see in our next post!