Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend, Part 2 (finally!)

Ok, Ok, OK.... Yeah, I know Memorial Day weekend was almost two weeks ago, but I have been pretty busy and my laptop has been possessed by a demon! It only works good when it wants to, then on other days it takes me forever to just log onto the net. I shouldn't be surprised... it is almost in it's Teen Years! LOL
For a re-cap... Joe and I picked up Joe's mother from Pocatello, Idaho; driving from Great Falls, MT to Dillion, MT on Friday night then on Saturday we drove from Dillion to Pocatello, ID; visited with Joe's aunts for about an hour, back on the road heading for home with a stop in Idaho Falls for lunch and a side trip to Bannack State Park.
Sunday morning dawn arrived early, but greeted us with a spectacular sunrise over the Helena valley. Joe's mom, Gretchen, was surprised that Montana has casinos so we had to show her one of the local Helena favorites. Last Chance Casino is a great place for a hearty breakfast for only a few dollars. The restaurant was lively with the chatter of the locals and a few travellers. Our food was served fast and hot, as is the norm there. Once breakfast was finished, we hit the road heading North once again.
Since Joe had the long weekend off from work, we wanted to try and show Gretchen as many of our favorite places that we could before returning to Great Falls. We drove from Helena to Kalispell (200 miles) via the Seeley-Swan highway (MT HWY 83). I think this is one of the most beautiful drives the state of Montana has to offer. The 90 mile stretch between the mountain towns of Seeley Lake and Swan Lake passes through a valley with the spectacular Swan Mountains to the right and the majestic Mission Mountains to the left and a chain of 6 lakes (Seeley, Inez, Alva, Rainey, Summit, and Swan) along the highway. All this, and pine forests with the occasional high mountain meadows full of wildflowers, too!
Once in Kalispell, we claimed a couple of motel rooms for the night, then after a small rest and a quick lunch at the local KFC, we drove the 31 miles to the town of West Glacier (formerly known as Belton in it's early years) and the west entrance into Glacier National Park.
The Glacier Park Logo as seen on the door of a Red Bus, or Jammer. The Jammers are open topped buses that the park uses for informative excursions through Glacier.

The main road through Glacier is known as The Going to the Sun Highway. This narrow mountain road is never fully opened until mid-June, and when we arrived the road was opened 18 miles. We drove past Lake McDonald after stopping in the Tourist Trap town of Apgar. This is the only "town" within the borders of Glacier Park. It consists of cafes, restaurants, hotels, and gift shops. There is no gas station. Fuel is only available outside of Glacier Park.
McDonald Creek flows through the narrow valley, eventually emptying into Lake McDonald. There are many pull-outs along the road to stop and see it's many cascades between the lake and Avalanche Creek, where the road begins gaining altitude to cross over Logan Pass.
Sacred Dancing Cascades, McDonald Creek, running fast and milky with spring run off. In the fall, the river is clear and contains only half this much water.
On this trip, the road was closed right at Avalanche Creek. There is a nice picnic area, campground, nature trail, and day hike trails all at this spot.
The confluence of Avalanche Creek and McDonald Creek as seen from the Avalanche Picnic Area.
We chose to take the nature trail, known as The Trail Of The Cedars. It is a short (.25 of a mile) walk that winds it's way through 500 year old cedar trees. The damp environment at this location has kept it safe from the wildfires that have burned many acres of Glacier over the past few decades. The path is peppered with information signs that teach the readers everything from what the local birds are named to what type of trees, insects, animals, and prehistoric peoples have lived in the area over the eons. The highlight of the trail is Avalanche Gorge:
This is one of the most photographed places in Glacier. I have never seen a book or set of post cards on Glacier Park without a picture of Avalanche Gorge. I have taken many photos of this area, and no two are the same. The water and lighting are always different. It is a beautiful place.

Lake McDonald and the Livingston Mountain Range, Glacier National Park. As seen from the boat dock at McDonald Lodge.

After spending the afternoon soaking up the mountain air, we headed back out of Glacier, passing Lake McDonald once again. We stopped at the Lake McDonald Lodge to take a last walk along the lake shore.

We returned to Kalispell about 7pm, but we were so tired from driving over the past few days we just sat in our hotel rooms watching TV until heading to bed fairly early.

On Monday, we woke early, breakfasted from the motel's Continental Breakfast Bar, and headed out of Kalispell towards Great Falls. We had one stop to make before leaving the area... Glacier Park, once again, but the East side this time. We wanted to show Gretchen the Two Medicine area, and Running Eagle Falls before leaving the mountains for the Great Plains of central Montana. (The photos of this part of our trip are on my digital camera, which I don't have with me at work today!... so shoot me! LOL) After spending a few hours driving around the southern tip of Glacier, and about an hour in the Two Medicine area, we stopped in the town of East Glacier (constant readers will remember our alternator went out here a few months ago!). We chose a cute cafe to eat our lunch at, and it was really good!

We arrived back in Great Falls about 4pm on Memorial Day Monday. It was good to be able to just sit on the couch in familiar surroundings and just visit with Joe's mother. We went to a local restaurant (4 B's for all you Montana Folk-- yes, there still IS one Great Falls!!) for a light supper of soup and salads.

We drove many, many miles, but it was tons of fun and Gretchen was able to see SO much of our beautiful state in those few days.


Chief Rock Chef said...

Spectacular! Thanks for sharing!

Now I want to go and see it for myself!

Michele said...

CRC- If you are ever in the area, I'll be happy to be your personal guide!