Sunday, June 20 is Father’s Day. We stay snuggled in our sleeping bag until 8 a.m. We have no where to be. Because it is supposed to rain today, we left the car last evening out at the end of the ½ mile trail to the yurt. I was able to walk back in ten minutes – not bad. That should be a doable hike on Monday morning carrying the rest of our belongings.
The day breaks with the sun shining before slowly sliding into cloudiness. After a light breakfast, we decide to go for a slow meander along the prairie path and down another track that ends at a stagnant marsh. Budding spring flowers line our path and stopping to photograph them is required. Mosquitos swarm us every time we stop moving. A wet splop lands on my nose. What was that?
“I just felt a rain drop,” I report, “Time to start back.”
We spy some moose tracks in the beaten path close to the yurt. That is probably as close to a moose as we will get. One last visit to the lakeshore and we head indoors.
A steady pitter patter on the canvas roof and sides of our abode meets our ears not more than fifteen minutes after getting back from our journey.
“It’s chilly in here. Can you see if you can start a fire in the stove?” is my next proposal.
Soon the fire is slowly burning emanating a toasty warmth. It has become a day for me to write and to read and for Dave to play solitaire while the rain pounds a steady rhythm of song on the canvas roof.
The wind howls in waves throughout the night while the rain continues its steady drumming. Just after midnight, I am awakened by an “Oh, no!” by Dave. His portable CPAP machine which I have bought for trips like this has died. I had bought a lithium battery to power it here due to no electricity but really had no idea how long it would last. We tried to do some recharging using the car cigarette lighter during the day on Saturday when we were driving around but apparently, it was not enough. The whole concept has worked beautifully up until now. But now I spend the rest of the night dozing off and on listening to my hubby stop breathing and then wake himself up over and over gasping.
By 6 a.m. on Monday, we decide it is time to get up and get ourselves together since we aren’t sleeping anyway. The temperature on the thermometer on the pole outside is 42 degrees. Time to hustle if one does not want to freeze while dressing. As I pack up our stuff and put away the rest of the food in the cooler, I notice that the trail mix bag has a semi-circular cut out of it and the mix is scattered all over the metal cart top. I think we had a visitor during the night.
The sleeping bag is rolled up and tied with rope so Dave can sling it over his shoulders while also carrying a small leather bag and a medium sized duffel bag. I throw a small backpack on my back and hoist up the cooler. We are ready. The ground is soggy with puddles which require skirting. My hands are freezing so I call for a stop to roll down the sleeves on Dave’s quilted shirt which I am wearing. Fifteen minutes of strolling through the cool morning sunshine brings us to our car. We are soon headed homeward. That planning ahead managed to work out splendidly for us. We have survived one more daring trip into the wilderness.
As daylight filters into the globe of the yurt on Saturday morning, the sky is heavy with clouds. Snuggled into our sleeping bag against the 52-degree chill, anxious thoughts flit though my mind. Is it going to rain today? How are we going to get out of here if it does? What about our plans for today? With my stomach all in a tizzy, we finally roll out. We can’t sleep anymore anyway. A quick visit to the car at 7 a.m. allows for listening to the weather forecast. It is the only way we have of knowing what is being predicted.
“Cloudy today,” says the announcer, “with a high of 65 and 90% chance of steady rain tomorrow, Sunday, with a high in the fifties.”
Ugh! That means today is probably going to be OK but what are we going to do about tomorrow. Will we be able to get out of here after it rains for a full day? Hubby and I make a decision to rearrange all of our belongings so that we are keeping only the bare essentials. The rest we will load in the car this evening and leave it at the beginning of this bumpy, rut and rock filled path so when it rains, we are not stranded in mud. I think I could probably mud my way out but don’t really want to do that to my car. What is left of our belongings we will hike the .5 mile with on Monday morning. As we begin reallocation of our belongings, it begins to rain. But it’s not supposed to rain today!! So should we go on our BWCA daytrip or forget it?
The plan for today has been to go pick up a Kevlar canoe from the yurt proprietor and haul it to the Duncan Lake BWCA entry put in site. Our car does not have a canoe rack, but our original plan was to pay the outfitter to haul it for us to the site entrance. But she was very hesitant when we requested this.
“You will have to help me lift the canoe and tie it on my car,” she said, “I don’t have any help this summer and my husband recently had a stroke.”
Feeling sorry for this lady and her unfortunate set of circumstances, our objective is to figure out a way to haul the canoe ourselves rather than burden her with our need. We wrack our brains for ideas. We have front to back bars on my Subaru but no crossbars to take the weight of the canoe. How do we prevent damage to the sunroof? By Friday evening, we still had no real good answer. Then after arriving back at the yurt on Friday, I glanced at the front tire on the driver’s side of the car. The tire appeared low. We do not need a flat tire out here in the middle of nowhere. I wondered if we have any kind of a spare. To calm my apprehensions, I decided to check the trunk to see if we had an acceptable spare should that become necessary. As I pulled up the carpet board covering the “trunk” and spare tire, I discovered a treasure. The “trunk” is fitted with three pieces of molded foam. Wow! Just what is needed to place on each side of the canoe and support it. We had brought along ratchet straps, so we are all set. It struck me as amazing how one potential problem has led to the solution to another.
By 9:30 a.m. on this Saturday, it has stopped raining and we set out for the home of the outfitter to pick up our canoe. Our devised plan for canoe transport works like a charm and by 10:30 a.m., we have set our canoe in the water at the Duncan and Daniel’s Lake entry portage. I have also come up with a plan to wear sandals for launching the canoe and then change to tennis shoes and socks for hiking and portaging. That way, I can wade out into the water without worrying about getting my shoes and socks wet. Getting into the canoe without capsizing is always the first struggle for Dave and I as we age. Canoes are notoriously tippy anyway and we are stiff and not very nimble anymore. Dave struggles to get his feet up and over the side when entering the canoe and even more so when exiting.
Finally, we make it safely into the canoe and we are off and paddling across Bearskin Lake toward the Duncan Lake BWCA entry point. The wind is steady making slightly rolling waves that are at an angle to our direction of travel. This makes for a vessel that wants to rock back and forth. Maybe it is the operators and not the conditions. It has been a long time since we last paddled a canoe. It is still cloudy but not an unpleasant day. The personal flotation devices add just the right amount of warmth to a mildly chilly day. Before we know it, we have paddled across the lake and glided into a shallow smooth rock-covered-bottom portage. There are quite a few people backed up at the portage, so we move our canoe off to the side to rest and catch our breath. Because of neck and back issues for Dave, we agree that I will carry the canoe and Dave will bring the rest of our gear. After a few minutes, Dave helps me hoist the 17.5-foot Kevlar canoe to my shoulders and I am off. The trail begins with a steep upward climb before heading back down onto a more level area. I am puffing with the exertion, but the load is easy to handle. Watching my stumbling feet is the challenge with roots and rocks and gullies to traverse. Slow and steady I trod the 81 rods or about ¼ mile. The last portion of the trail heads steeply downhill again to Duncan Lake. It is not that far of a distance, but it seems like miles. I need a breather and a drink before putting into the water again. Our final destination is Staircase Portage that leads to Rose Lake. Along this portage is a spectacular fall, Staircase Falls, that we wish to see.
All of the portage landings today have been what I call “nice” landings. They all have a fairly shallow water level with a rock or hard sand base. There is no need to worry about disappearing into the mud or drowning if one falls in.
Paddling is a little tricky in Duncan Lake but once we adjust our direction to face the swells, the canoe is more stable. Methodically we make our way over the lake. Three or four canoes are ahead of us making it easy to spot the portage opening. As we glide into the small cove leading to the portage, two swans glide silently along just a few feet from us. Paddling behind the leading swan are two little signets. They seem unperturbed by our presence. I count four or five canoes stacked side by side at various locations around the portage opening. We plan to do the same thing as all these other people – leave our canoe and hike the portage only to see the falls.
We decide to first spread out the lunch we have brought along on a large rock. We will relax and eat until some of the people return to lessen the congestion in the area at the falls. Bread, a salmon spread, chips and trail mix make up our luncheon while we wait.
It is a fairly short trek to the falls once we get started. Staircase Falls tumbles and turns several times on its way to Rose Lake. We descend a set of fifty or so steps to the base of the main falls and then decide to explore the portage a little further. Soon we come to another set of steps that disappears into the foliage on its way down to the lake shore. It is time to turn back. I can see why one would not want to portage this particular crossing. It looks like the portage from hell especially carrying a canoe.
After spending fifteen minutes or so photographing this hidden beauty and enjoying its splendor of cascading water, it is time to head back. By now, it is around 2:30 in the afternoon and the sun has appeared to add its warmth to the day. We wonder aloud if this trek might be our last canoe adventure into the BWCAW. Our stiffness and waning balance have become a safety hazard. Not only that, rowing and portaging is physical torture for these aging bodies.
“It starts to get more fun,” declares Dave, “after I have forgotten all the pain.”
Friday morning, June 18, dawns with the sun shining brightly throwing rays of daylight through our clear dome on the yurt. Last evening in the light of the ½ moon, the dome threw out the impression of being a round bubble with domes extending down as well as up. We peer at it intently in the morning light. No, it only extends up. I wonder what gives it that illusion.
Our plan is to launch the canoe onto Hooker Lake this morning and tootle around. But I am extremely anxious and struggling with our plan. The lake is a dying lake; it is not very big, and it is shallow. One can see the algae and lake grass growing just below the surface across most of the lake.
“Don’t try to swim in it,” voiced our proprietor, “or you could get stuck in the mud.”
When asked about moose using this lake, she responded, “If a moose goes in there, he won’t come out.” To this she added, “But it’s fine to canoe in.”
By now, I am doubtful about the “fine to canoe in” part of that statement and I am totally freaked out about even trying to canoe. I can see us getting stuck in the mud and disappearing forever. One such experience occurred for us on a prior BWCA trip and probably has scarred me forever. It was a year in which the water was low, leaving many of the portages with receding landing areas. As we approached this one particular portage, the water had receded approximately 100 feet from it’s original, leaving an extremely muddy landing. Previous travelers had placed a series of tree trunks through the mud out to the water to hop out upon. We came in further to the right with the idea of getting our canoe as close as possible to shore and then dragging it over the rest of the wet muddy spot. This technique resulted in us becoming hopelessly mired in sucking mud. There was only one choice. Someone had to get out and make their way to dry land and that someone was me as I was in the front of the canoe. I took rope with me and jumped as far as I could. Of course, that was when I could still jump. Down into the mud I sank to a level above my knees. I knew I had to keep the momentum going or I was in real trouble. I pushed off with my right leg followed by the left, leaving my shoes in a miry grave. Fear of being sucked to China filled my soul and provided the energy for the onward plunge. Thirty seconds later, I was safely on dry land but covered in dark goo as high as my thighs.
An hour of exhausting pulling and slowly inching the canoe forward finally resulted in Kaitlyn being able to reach over the side of the stuck vessel and retrieve my shoes. Finally, the rest of my family was able to make their way safely to shore and we finished retrieving the canoe. Our daughter has never wanted to go BWCA canoeing again, and I now realize I have a permanent fear as a result.
Instead of canoeing this lake, we decide to go hiking. I have found a pamphlet titled, “Hiking On The Gunflint Trail Scenic Bypass.” There are twenty different hikes to choose from along the 56.6-mile Gunflint Trail from Grand Marias to the Canadian border. We decide to start on the Moose Viewing Trail. It is listed as “easy” in difficulty and is only a mile round trip. The path ascends at a thirty-degree angle. If this is easy, what is difficult? I guess it all depends on your perspective. Butterflies of various colors flitter around, and the way is bordered by little yellow flowers and white petaled ones backdropped by green leaves. A few stops are made for photographic opportunities and then we trudge onward. Soon we veer off onto a narrow trail that leads down to the viewing platform. The air is warm, but the wind is chilly here in the canopy of trees. One hundred yards through the pines is the perfect spot for moose to feed. A small pond is visible with cattails and lily pads scattered about. It is a tranquil scene, but no one has put out the moose today. Soon we make our way back to the car and plan for our next stop.
Daniel’s Lake looks like a good option for hiking as well. It is actually in the BWCAW and requires a permit. It is also listed as “easy” and is a 3.75-mile trip along an old railroad grade which was once used to acquire white pine lumber on Rose and Clearwater Lakes. This looks promising. We follow the directions without a problem down Clearwater Road to the West Bearskin Lake boat landing where the trail is supposed to begin. There is a self-permitting station to pick up a permit, but we can find no entrance or head to any trail. OK, this is frustrating. We drive several miles further on this road before we give up and turn around.
“How about Crab Lake Trail then?” mentions Dave, “It says it is ‘easy’ too. It’s eight miles to Crab Lake but we don’t have to go that far.”
It’s decided. We return to the Gunflint Trail and head north another eleven miles. “Turn right on the road to Loon Lake Lodge and drive .9 mile. The trail head is just past the lodge,” says the brochure. As we drive past the lodge, there is a small parking lot for “guests.” We assume that means lodge guests but no trailhead to be seen.
“Let’s go on just a little further,” Dave suggests.
Soon, I am creeping down a narrow rocky road. Still no trail head. We are having terrible luck today finding our targets.
“Water crossing ahead,” flashes the yellow sign on the side of the road. Ugh, I am not doing any water crossing. I think it is time to turn around. On this small one lane path, I do just that.
We decide to make one more attempt at finding another trail before throwing in the towel for today. Topper Lake Trail head is just four miles south from here on the Gunflint on our way back to the yurt. It is also listed as “easy” and only 1 ½ mile round trip to the lake and back. The directions actually lead us to a trailhead. Hurrah! Uphill we saunter for ten minutes until we are puffing mightily and then back down again. Finally, the lake comes into view. Ah, an actual BWCA lake. The sky has clouded over, and the wind causes one to shiver.
“We are going to get wet before we get back,” announces Dave.
“I hope not.”
I look around for a couple of rocks to sit upon and hoist a flat rock into place to spread our picnic lunch upon. Tuna salad is mixed for sandwiches and some chips and trail mix are thrown in for our dining by the lake. Soon it is time to head back before we do get wet. A stop at the store for some ice on the return trip is in order. Thankfully, it never does rain on us.
We build a roaring fire in the fire pit at the yurt on our arrival to our home away from home. The smoke chases away the swarming mosquitos and allows us to treasure a few smores while listening to the repeating songs of the various birds.
I arise at 6:30 a.m. to start the day. We are headed off today for a vacation of camping in a yurt by Hooker Lake in far northern Minnesota. The yurt is located right on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) so our hope is to also make a day trip by canoe into the BWCA. My hubby loves the solitude of the wilderness.
“Moo, moo” is the sound that reaches my ears as I exit the house. “Why, little one, are you standing in that pasture all by yourself?” I question the wayward bovine out loud. I sigh! I am in my pajamas, and this is how the day begins. I scan the fence line but do not see any wire on the ground – just a calf stuck on the wrong side. I shuffle out into the pasture, drop down the fence opening and shoo the wayward animal back to the others. I call to Claire, the dog, to get her to continue on with me to the barn to feed the cattle but she just sits on the sidewalk and gazes after me. Oh well, she will have to do her business at the kennel.
A ping and a plunk echoes through the air as we pull away from the garage, on time, no less. What was that? I step out to investigate. The tennis ball that dangles from a cord and descends when the garage door opens has caught on the bike rack on the back of the car. It has been catapulted across the garage as the cord popped with the tension. This is not the first time this has happened, but all is well otherwise and we are off.
Our drive to Grand Marias up Hwy 52, then I35, and State 61 goes without incident. We arrive around 3 p.m. We turn north on the Gunflint Trail and wind our way 28 miles until we arrive at Lime Grade Drive, a narrow gravel road through the forest. After a couple of miles, the GPS tells us to turn right on Little Ollie Drive. I thought we were already on it. After wandering onward for a few more miles down this shale path, we arrive at Little Ollie Bed & Breakfast tucked back in a pine and birch forest. It reminds me of the enchanted forest with trails coursing through the yard. We approach an enclosed porch that seems unoccupied, and our knock goes unanswered. Since silence is the only response we receive, the front door of the Bed & Breakfast seems like it might be a better choice. At least it has a doorbell. I push the button a couple of times before I hear a soft sound of footsteps.
A slightly bowed elderly lady pushes open the door, “If you had come around to the back it would have been so much easier,” she says.
There wasn’t any sign directing customers to the back and I would never have guessed that I was supposed to go down the hill and around the back of the house but OK. She leads us through the first level of the house and slowly down the basement stairs into the company office.
“I have no help this year,” she shares, “and I can’t afford to hire anyone with Covid shutting us down last year. We have no money, and my husband had a stroke recently. But you don’t need to know all that,” she finishes.
What a bummer! I am perplexed. Why is this elderly woman trying to run a Boundary Waters Canoe outfitting company in this situation especially when the internet advertising seems to indicate a host of services available? It just seems rather sad. It is a good thing we didn’t plan on hiring a guide to accompany us on our adventure into the Boundary Waters. Oh well! Our primary goal is to rent her yurt in the woods by Hooker Lake and we were hoping, maybe, to have her haul a canoe for us – not guide or supply us for a BWCA venture.
After we settle our bill, discuss weather, and plans, we climb back into our Subaru and head out to the yurt. A yurt is a round canvas structure much like a tent but large enough to stand up in and move around comfortably. It was often used as a primary residence by nomads in Mongolia, Russia, and Turkey.
“I don’t know if you can drive to the yurt,” she informs us. “It’s really rocky and muddy since we had lots of rain.”
Hmmm… I really don’t want to walk in and out a ½ mile every time we want to leave.
“I will take you and your things with the pickup, and you can see what you think,” she continues.
We follow the diminutive lady who can hardly see over the steering wheel in her pickup with our car as we turn down a beaten path. It doesn’t look so bad to me – a little rough, a few rocks to dodge – that’s all. Finally, she pulls over at a bend in the path.
“I think we should stop here and see what you think.” As she and I stroll along the barren wheel track path with foot high grass growing in the middle, she points out the mud puddles, the rocks and the rough terrain. It only looks like a normal farm field drive to me, but we agree to ride in with her to test it out. She seems so worried for us. The old battered pickup bounces over the obstacles and we are jerked this way and that. Soon through the trees, we spy a small wood shack that is identified as the sauna. Just a little farther in tucked into the birch and pines is the yurt. And to the southwest just visible in the distance is Hooker Lake.
Our guide gives Dave some instructions on firing the woodstove for heat, lighting the gas cooking stove, and the use of the water and then she roars away in her pickup that has seen better days. I am getting the very distinct feeling that she is not really prepared for us to be using the facilities.
“I’m going to walk out and get the car,” I holler to hubby. My walk provides a chance to survey the rocky route up close. I am pretty confident that I can traverse this with limited difficulty. My car has a smaller wheelbase than her truck allowing for sneaking between some of the rocks that she has been bouncing over. I think I maybe have some better springs and shocks as well as the road is not nearly as rough in my vehicle and soon, I am back at the yurt. That was a piece of cake!
Our temporary home has two sets of bunk beds and a futon with a bunk over it along one circular side. There is a table and chairs in the middle of the structure. The wood cast iron stove, the gas cook stove, and a stainless-steel cart for holding water containers and dishes lines the other ½ circular side. The center top sports a clear dome through which the sky is visible, and the lighting always seems to give the impression that the light is on.
Soon, it is time for supper. The menu is brats and mashed potatoes rehydrated from dry flakes. Neither one of us is into making a fire outside tonight so we decide to heat things on the stove. Dave turns on the gas to the burner marked RF and holds a match over the circle. Several matches burn themselves out or try to burn his fingers without the burner lighting. All of a sudden, there is a huge whoosh and a ball of flame shoots up. Both of us jump back startled.
“Are you OK? The back burner just lit,” I repeat several times to Dave.
“It couldn’t have,” he keeps reiterating.
Finally, he decides to test my theory and turns the handle marked RF but holds the match over the back burner. It lights instantly. He does the reverse with the RR and the front burner lights. Well, that’s a wee bit of a safety hazard.
The wind dies down to a perfect calm by 9 p.m. A loon’s call echoes in the distance. In the stillness, we read by the light of the lantern.
Today is the last day of the conference. They decide to start 15 minutes early so one of the presenters can catch an early flight. We are done by 12 noon. Since I am not expecting Hubby until 1, I lay down for a nap. I never get to sleep before he arrives. We decide to take off at 1 pm for the Big Mountain Resort just north of our hotel in Whitefish. We plan to ride the gondola to the top of the mountain and have lunch at the restaurant there. We choose the enclosed gondola as Hubby is not sure he is able to ride in the open one. It is a little dizzying as we climb higher and higher up the mountainside and hang above the treetops. What a view out over the Whitefish valley below. To the north, once we get to the top, are the majestic peaks of the Glacier Park mountains. We have a leisurely lunch at the restaurant. My meal consists of a Portabella mushroom sandwich and a huckleberry shake. Huckleberries seem to be a local delicacy in Montana. After spending a few minutes drinking in the spectacular scenery, we head back to the chair lift for the ride down.
“Can we ride in the open chair lift?” I beg my spouse.
“I don’t know if I can do it,” is his response but he goes along with my plan.
“We want the bar down,” we tell the chair lift operator. Sometimes, they don’t even put the bar down and one sits there swinging freely in space. With the bar down, we begin our ascent high above the world below. The things I drag my hubby into.
At the bottom, we realize that the Alpine slide begins where we get off and goes down to the main building. We also realize that the main building is where I need to be in about 1 ½ hours to begin the zip-line tour that I have signed up for. The package I bought also contains 2 rides on the Alpine slide. I really have not had any interest in going down the Alpine slide but there it is, right in front of me and it takes me right where I need to go next. So, I get in line for a shot at the slide. One sits on a little car, something like the bobsled racers, and careens down a long twisting tube. There is a stick in the middle of the car that slows it down or allows it to go faster. I look around at the other people. There are old people and young people and no one has been issued any protective gear – no helmets, no knee pads, or elbow pads. How dangerous could this be? I decide to give it a try. It turns out to be a rather mellow controlled slide down the mountain. Perfect! Now I am where I need to be.
The next adventure of the day is to go zip-lining. I am starting to have second thoughts about this venture but I am not one to chicken out so I head on in and sign my name. I sign the standard “you could be killed but we are not liable” form and then I am issued a safety harness and a helmet. None of this is making me feel exactly secure about what I have contracted to do. Once everyone has assembled we head out for some practice runs on some shorter runs of cable.
We are to line up by twos and I quickly realize that I am the lone man out so I wait until everyone else has gone. I get to go at the same time as our guide/instructor. She throws a set of trolley wheels over the cable and snaps me onto it with some large carabiners that are attached at each hipbone. Then it is time to push off. We are supposed to start out by leaning back in a “pencil point” position, transition to a spread-eagle position, and then draw our feet up in front of us for landing. I, personally, like to hang on but during the two smaller practice runs, I am able to do the first two. Being able to tip back and get my feet up for landing is a bit more of a challenge. When coming in for a landing, one first hits a gymnastics type mattress backed up by a spring. The landing is somewhat of a shock.
Our third run, we are told is 2000 feet long. As I look at the cable stretching off into nowhere, I can feel the panic rising. Can I do this? I make a conscious effort to slow down my breathing and talk to myself. You can do this. Just take nice deep breaths and take it one step at a time. Soon it is time to make the leap. I hold on for dear life as I step off the platform into the nothingness that runs 200 feet above the trees. I think I am holding my breath. By the time I am approaching the platform, I am able to relax enough to look around. Then I am hitting the stop. I made it.
Each run is similar. There are seven runs. In between each run, we hike uphill in the heat to the next one. I am puffing and can hardly keep up. But there are two children who are overweight that keep lagging behind the group. I guess I am not doing too bad if I, as the old woman of the group, can out hike the young things. I am ready to be done by the time we sail down the last and fastest section of cable. Maybe God did not intend for me to be a bird.
Our evening is spent in our hotel room eating the last of our food, packing, and getting showers in preparation for our early morning departure the next day.
The day starts out with the conference occupying the morning. We don’t have big plans for today so we leisurely make our sandwiches and eat when I get back at 1:15 pm. We decide then to check out the gift shop here at the hotel and then the beach on Whitefish Lake. It is sunny and scorching hot so I really have no desire to sit on the beach. Behind the hotel, there is a 30-acre wildlife preserve that sports a walking trail through it. At least the trees there shade the sun some. As we wander through the preserve, we feel water drops hitting our head. At first, we think it is sap off the trees. “But it is not sticky,” I proclaim. “Well, it can’t be raining. The sun is shining. Maybe they are shooting water up over the trees from that truck we hear,” is one of our differential conclusions. As we walk along, though, more huge drops hit our heads and the ground. “It IS raining.” The clouds above us are slightly darkened but not at all like we would expect rain clouds to look. It is very dry here, having not rained for most of the month so we are shocked by the wetness coming from the sunny sky.
Town of Polebridge – just south of Canadian border
Not knowing what else to do in the heat, we decide to hop into the car and drive up along the west side of Glacier. This is an area that is not highly traveled by tourists and most of the road is gravel. It is still beautiful countryside and follows the North branch of the Flathead River. We have a leisurely drive to a little town called Polebridge. It is the last town before the Canadian border which is closed. Polebridge reminds me of an 1800s town. It has a café, a bar, a store, and some cabins and I notice some solar panels outback which is the only thing that doesn’t fit the 1800 motif. We buy some delicious homemade pastries there and some drinks for the road. We take a different road into Glacier Park from the west. The entrance is not even staffed due to the low number of tourists who enter from this direction.
Of course, I need a souvenir from this trip to Montana so we make a quick stop at a gift shop near the entrance to West Glacier. I soon spend almost $100 for a t-shirt, a sweater, and a book. Then it is back to the hotel to kill a couple of hours before we drive back to the Hungry Horse Dam where Hubby would like to take some night pictures.
I think somehow, we ended up renting a car with limited driving miles of 750. I didn’t think anyone did that anymore but I guess I will find out when we return the car. We crossed the 750-mile mark yesterday, Wednesday, already.
Sunset at Hungry Horse Dam
We leave around 8:30pm for our foray to the dam. We stop at McDonald for our supper with plans to eat on the way. The sun is just starting to slide towards the horizon as we begin our climb up the dam access road. A beautiful orange sunset extends up from behind the mountains. Hubby is looking for a good place to set up his camera equipment where he can take some night pictures of the road over the dam and then when it is dark enough, try to take some star pictures. I find a flat rock to lay on and absorb the warmth of the sun. Hubby is able to get some good pictures of the dam as night falls but the stars are slow to appear as the light seems reluctant to fade into total darkness.
Grrrrr! Grrrr! Reaches our ears. “What was that?” Grrr! Grrr! Again. “That sounds like a bear to me,” we both say at once. I am instantly on my feet and peer into the darkness. “Do you mind if I bring the car closer?”
“That’s OK. We’re leaving,” Hubby replies as he begins disassembling his camera equipment. I think our night time picture taking is over. It is time to head back to the hotel.
A brilliant sun greets us this morning. It is the first day of my anesthesia conference so I am off to breakfast at 7:30am. Hubby and I meet back up at 1 pm in our room. He has gone shopping and makes some sandwiches for lunch while I change clothes. We have another boat ride booked for 3pm – this time on Lake MacDonald. I think that if we leave by 1:30 pm, we should have no problem reaching our destination by 2:45. It is only about 35 miles and I am still in Minnesota mode when figuring drive times. What we have failed to consider is that this is a high tourist destination and traffic jams are quite normal. Our first hint of a problem is when we reach the entrance gate to West Glacier. There are three lines of traffic waiting to enter and the line is only creeping along. We already have our weekly ticket but there is no way to get around the line. I look at my watch as the minutes tick by. There is still hope-maybe. By 2:35pm, we are pulling away from the entrance. But we still have 10 miles to go and the speed limit is 40 mph. We can still do it if we keep moving. Then the last straw – “one lane road ahead” for road work. “Noooo!” We screech to a halt again. Another 10-minute wait. Hope is slipping away. On top of these obstacles, I need a bathroom before I get on any boat for an hour. Finally, by 2:47, we are moving again. We are both holding our breath as we strain to see the sign to MacDonald Lodge. “There it is,” I proclaim. We have 5 minutes left. But the parking lot is full, there are hordes of people everywhere, and it is a 500 foot walk to the lodge. I hand Hubby the ticket receipt. “Go ahead and see if you can pick up our boarding passes while I run to the bathroom.” I make a beeline for the bathroom only to be met by the usual waiting line outside the women’s bathroom. Could this get any worse? I impatiently wait my turn then speed out the door and down the steps to the still waiting boat. Hubby gets on when he sees me coming and they loosen the ropes and pull away as soon as my feet hit the deck. That’s cutting it close. Not my style at all. A relaxing ride on a cool blue glacial lake makes up for the stress preceding it.
We decide to take the rest of the afternoon at a slower pace and head back towards Whitefish. Along the way, there is a sign for Hungary Horse Dam. It is a 564-foot-high concrete dam across the south fork of the Flathead river. We decide to make a detour to see it. It is a marvel of human construction that fascinates the eye. At one end is a permanent crane designed to be moved out over the dam on a kind of railroad tracks that can lift 125 tons. The massive structure holds back a 23,000-acre reservoir. Below the dam is a power generating plant.
We head back towards Whitefish again around 6:15 pm. A stop at A&W for a root beer for me and a chocolate shake for Hubby along with sandwiches wraps up our day. Tonight will be a time for rest.
We decide to get up at 6:30 this am to get an early start to Glacier which we have been told gets very busy if you don’t get there early. I am expecting to be able to just walk up to the registration desk downstairs at the hotel and pick up my rental car. I approach the desk and ask, “How do I go about getting my rental car?”
The desk attendant looks at my strangely and says, “We don’t have any rental cars here. And the person who takes care of that won’t be here until 8 am.”
“But I was told when I called a couple of months ago, that I didn’t need to worry about a rental car. I could rent it at the hotel.” I respond, my frustration level rising.
“Well, she shouldn’t have told you that,” is the response fired back at me. “This is the busy time of year and you need to reserve a rental car ahead of time if you expect to get one.”
I bite my lip and try to push down my mounting anxiety. “So, what am I supposed to do?”
The desk attendant sends us to the valet attendant to see if he can help us. He promises to make some phone calls to see if he can find an available rental car. “No one is open until 8 am.” He tells us.
So much for our getting started early so we can get ahead of the crowds. We decide to get ourselves some breakfast while we wait. Soon I am working on downing my yogurt, fruit, and granola. The valet attendant checks back in with us and tells us he is pretty sure he has found a car for us at the Kalispell airport. “It will be ready by 9 am,” he informs us.
I want to cry. “But the day keeps getting later and we have an appointment at 2pm at St. Mary’s Lake for a boat ride,” I blurt out.
“Don’t worry,” he says. “We will get you the car and if you go around on the south side of the park on US 2, you will be able to get there on time.” There is not much else to do so I take a deep breath and try to make the best of the situation. This was my plan for Wednesday but I guess it will become Sunday’s plan. The valet attendant has us to the airport by 8:45am and we are on our way by 9. The road along the south side of the park offers beautiful views of the river and of the train track that we traveled the day before. We stop at an overlook and lo and behold, we spot a moose pulling up weeds for lunch out of the river below.
We stop in East Glacier for some quick lunch food bought at a grocery store and then enter Glacier. We make it to Rising Sun for our boat ride by 1pm. A short nap is in order while we wait. We board the boat right at 2pm and push off. A ½ hour ride on St Mary’s Lake follows. The wind is quite strong and the water keeps splashing back at us through the open window.
The boat is docked and we begin a 1.5-mile hike through the forest to St. Mary’s Falls. The sun is hot and beats down on us. The temperature is in the 90s. There is no tree cover due to a forest fire in 2015. We are told that we must be able to walk 2 miles/hour on this ranger led hike. Hubby is not sure that he can maintain that pace. The ranger instructs us to clap our hands and holler, “Hey, bear” periodically to scare away any Grizzlies that might be lurking about. Hubby and I and, I am sure a few others, feel a little self-conscious with this behavior. There are carpets of purple and blue flowers everywhere. After what seems like an eternity, the falls comes into view. The water is beautiful as it cascades over the rock.
But we cannot stay long as we are told we have 45 minutes to get back to the boat which leaves at 5 pm regardless of whether you are there or not. Hubby is dragging and the pain between his shoulders that he sometimes has is stabbing him by the time we trek back to the boat. We plunk down on the outside deck as I want to feel the cool breeze. As I look up at the mountain that towers above us, I see a white goat high up on the rock face. One of hubby’s desires is to see mountain goats.
It is 5:30 by the time we tie up at the dock and we are far from the hotel. We resume our drive west on the “going to the sun” road. The overwhelming majesty of these mountains takes one’s breath away. There are no words to describe the towering peaks with snow when looking up and the valleys that fall away into depths below just over the edge of the road. We make one last stop at Logan Pass which is located at the continental divide.
There we see two wild rams and one wild sheep just wandering about. After a long drive along a steep winding narrow road, we finally arrive weary back at our hotel.