Monday, August 5, 2013

How the West was Won

Aside from a business trip to Orlando in late April to attend the 2012 SAS Global Forum, all my travels after Amsterdam in April, May and June of 2012 were to the west coast.

I did a quick solo mile run to San Diego in early May – literally an out and back same day trip to earn some cheap frequent flier miles on a mistake fare – and then Jon and I enjoyed a weekend excursion to Portland mid May. It was our first trip to Portland and we both had an amazing time. We got in late Friday night and transferred to the hotel downtown to get a good night’s sleep before we got up Saturday morning and tackled the city. Our first stop was the farmer’s market downtown which is absolutely amazing. Everything is so fresh and delicious (best farmer’s market I’ve experienced outside of San Francisco) and the market is held in a park downtown that is composed of very tall trees. Literally a forest in the middle of downtown Portland, which is awesome. I fell in love with the city as soon as I saw those trees. We took in the rose gardens after that and sadly found that there were no flowers of any kind in bloom, much less roses. Bummer. Apparently one has to visit the city later in the summer to see the roses in bloom. I hear they are lovely. We rounded out our weekend with a trip to the famous VooDoo Donuts where the gimmick is exotic donuts (meh, a bit overrated and we had to wait at least 45 minutes in line with sketchy people milling about), a half day at Powell’s bookstore (my nirvana; largest bookstore on earth; dwarves the Strand in NYC), and a fantastic dinner at Café Mingo (best sausage ziti casserole I’ve ever had). We really enjoyed our time in Portland and plan to head back again anytime there is an excellent airfare sale.

Our last trip before the end of the second quarter in 2012 was to Montana with our friend Suzanne to take in Glacier National Park. We had stumbled upon a heavily discounted fare to Billings, Montana and so I put together a nice little extended weekend itinerary to squeeze the most scenery and joy out of the park that we could in just a few days. The most stressful part of this trip was that due to unusually heavy snowfall that year, the legendary scenic route through the park that climbs high over a high mountain peak was still closed the day before our departure. I had originally planned our itinerary, including where we would stay each night, around that scenic route so this unfortunate news meant I had to restructure our entire itinerary because it isn’t feasible to tour both the southern and eastern park areas in one day without traversing that route (“Going to the Sun Road”). Hotels had to be cancelled and rebooked and it was a bit of a last minute panic situation. Lesson learned: always have a plan B and be ready to change your plans when the circumstances dictate it is necessary.

Revised schedule in hand, the first day of our Glacier National Park trip was consumed entirely by the actions required just to get to the park’s Eastern entrance (first the flights across the country, then the 6 hour drive to East Glacier, MT). Suzanne planned to meet Jon and I at the park in the afternoon of the second day as she was following in her rental car and taking a slightly different route that us. We spent our first night in East Glacier at a Motel 6 kind of place called Mountain Pine Motel. It’s about a mile north of the Junction between U.S. Highway 2 and Montana Highway 49. Nothing fancy for sure (televisions straight outta the 70s!) but for less than $60 a night who can complain? And it did live up to it’s name – our little rooms were nestled deep in the mountain pines and the view was beautiful.

The next morning Jon and I were ready to tackle the park. Started the morning with a leisurely breakfast at The Park Café, which turned out to be a great decision. They have affordable prices, excellent food, and generous portions. The area of the park called Many Glacier was our morning destination. This section of the park is in the upper northeast corner and brimming with active glaciers and wildlife with exhibitionist tendencies. Or so the ad copy reads. We’ve been a bit spoiled by the jaw dropping glaciers of Iceland, so the tiny tiny glaciers that have recessed to the point of near extinction at Glacier NP were not doing their part to impress us. Still, the lake, forest, and mountain scenery more than compensated for the deficiency in glaciers. Once in the Many Glacier area, Jon and I hiked along Swiftcurrent Lake. It’s a relaxing 2.5 mile loop and serves as a great warm up to get the blood flowing before attempting more strenuous hikes.

A landscape of St. Mary’s Lake, approaching Many Glacier area – this scenic view is so beautiful in person that all I could do was cry and praise God over and and over

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Wild horses

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Later in the day, we met up with Suzanne and continued our hiking, this time along the Going to the Sun Road. We visited the Jackson Glacier Overlook and traversed the Sunpoint Nature Trail. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the afternoon….

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After a good night’s sleep in Kalispell, our little travel troupe spent the third day in Montana driving, driving, driving to take in the beauty and vistas of the scenic roads. Here and there we stopped along them to snap some pictures, grab some good food (huckleberry ice cream! huckleberry jam! huckleberry pie!), and enjoy our time in nature with one another. We stopped at the historic Whitefish Train Depot (Amtrak still serves this station so any of you with a hankering for a trip to Glacier can get on a train wherever you are and make your way here), Horse Hungry Dam (where we learned that every large dam has a gigantic protective circular spillover drain called the “gloryhole”), another drive on the Going to the Sun Road (this time from the west entrance of the park heading eastward and stopping at one of the great historic park lodges along the way), and a drive along Flathead lake in the late afternoon (where we spotted a bear running across the road and up into a lady’s yard as she stood frozen a few feet away hanging her laundry on the line).

 

River view along the Going to the Sun Road

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The original Glacier National Park transportation shuttle

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Montana and harvest 232

Jon and I bid Suzanne adieu that evening before bedding down for the night in Kalispell. The next morning he and I were back on the road, headed for Great Falls where we arrived just in time to do a bit of sightseeing at the Giant Springs Heritage State Park and Fish Hatchery before checking into a Hilton for the evening. Suzanne’s plan was to drive an alternative route back to Billings, going through Butte and some other scenic areas along the way. The final morning of our Montana vacation was spent just as the first – traveling via air to make our way across the country. With bellies full of huckleberry pie and memories of the beautiful western landscape still fresh on our minds we didn’t mind the long journey a bit. 

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