Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Exploring Yellowstone National Park Day 1

It was going to be a low key day...First, we were going to go see the Visitor's Center in the town of West Yellowstone, which is the gateway to the west entrance of the park. We did that--got our piles of brochures and fliers to read. Then, Eldo says, "Let's go check out Old Faithful and that will probably be enough for today, whaddya think?" Sounded good to me, so off we went.....

First thing we saw after coming into the park within 10 minutes
WELL! You can't just go straight to the Old Faithful brand new multi-million dollar visitor center, bypass all the geysers and wildlife that you start to see once you are in the park, just to see one of the coolest and oldest tourist attractions in the park---NOPE!  The minute we drove inside the park, we started seeing stuff, starting with the lone bison by the side of the road (that's the ONLY one we saw all day), chewing his cud (They DO do that, right? asks Sparky) blowing the dust off himself occasionally with great big SNORTS! and SNUFFS! and HUFFS! and PUFFS! causing clouds of dust to roll off his hide and head.....Two coyotes, tons of geysers and roiling, boiling waterfalls cascading down river banks, hitting the icy water with steamy hiss, all kinds of fantastic and surreal pools of water with the most incredible colors, mud pots, fumeroles and colorful bacterial mats, one cascading waterfall, three elk "jams" and one bear "jam", two movies in the new Old Faithful visitor center later, we were REALLY tripping into the park!
Coyote hunting for grasshoppers
Sign Sparky saw when she ventured down closer to the river to get the coyote shot: (Geez, I gotta watch this woman all the time on these photo opps! worries E.) Eldy was waiting in the car, so I figured just a little bit further past the sign and I can get this coyote.....and I did!

Unbelievable what we saw! We've never seen such a strange and wonderful environment of all different landscapes in one place. Fascinating! Thanks to Sherry who gave us all her literature that she paid for, those .50 a booklet information packets which tell you all about what you are seeing when you come across these amazing sights. They are available at the information centers and are a huge help to understanding what you are seeing in the way of geological stuff....The booklets are wonderful for explaining why the colors are the way they are (bacteria!), how the geysers make their way to the surface of the earth, the differences between various formations and when and how often you might expect to see the geysers erupt, and lots of other cool stuff!
A River Runs Through It (the park) This is where we saw the two coyotes hunting
Did you know Yellowstone sits on an active volcano and hot, molten magma lies just a few miles underground? And "Old Faithful" is NOT the largest or the most regular geyser in the park? However, it does expel 3,700-8400 gallons of boiling water in 1 1/2-5 minutes. If you visit Yellowstone, be sure to watch the movies inside the brand spankin' new Old Faithful Visitor Center.
One of the first pools we saw around a bend coming into the geyser area, we just had to stop!
And this was only day 1...........We've got so many beautiful photos from our first day in the park, we're going to take several days to show you and tell you what we saw in one day. For now, just know there is LOTS to see!  Stay tuned for our elk jam, bear jam, and the most incredible pool views of a different kind.....See you later!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Buffalo Campground, ID --NOT for the Faint of Heart

Remember when I said we would see you at the Buffalo, Idaho campground in the Targhee National Forest? Well, you would have, except we couldn't make ourselves fit in there, no matter how we tried! After a really long drive yesterday to get there, we arrived at the campground and pulled in. The car battery was DOA after five hours of driving, no surprise there. Get out the battery charger, give it a boost and on to the campsite only to find that a supposedly 60 foot pull through site was a CURVED one, with lots of close pine trees and branches overhanging both sides. Eldy didn't think we could fit in there, BUT--Sparky insisted we could. (Maybe SOME day, she'll learn Eldo Knows Best)

So he pulls the MH around to come into the site and we start the signals---Sparky is out in back behind the coach, Eldo is doing everything he can to do what Sparky tells him to do.."Turn this way, no not THAT much, now the other way"...I'm gesturing like crazy, trying to demonstrate with pinching my fingers just a little bit that I mean TURN JUST A LITTLE THIS WAY, and TURN JUST A LITTLE TO THE RIGHT and pretty soon Sparky looks like a deaf  person doing all kinds of conversation with her hands and fingers and Eldy is about to throw in the towel because he has no idea what Sparky wants him to do!

He starts to realize that if Sparky gets him situated on one side of the curve, the slides are going to go smack dab into the pine tree branches on the other side. Sparky is trying to watch both sides of the coach at the same time by holding up the "WAIT" finger (you DO know which one that is, right?) while she dashes to the other side to look to see if the branches are scraping the sides....uh-oh! Gotta move forward a little bit, now move the coach back a bit. We went back and forth and side to side, and the neighbors were starting to pay attention as our voices were getting a little louder...Finally, Eldy gets out of the coach, and says, "THAT'S IT!--We're moving on to the next park!" And he said it very nicely to his credit....No swearing, no bad words, no dirty looks, but he almost cried when he saw the tree branches multiple scrapes on the side of the motorhome. Luckily, the coach was so dirty and dusty, that the branches scraped the inch of dust off and not the paint....Sparky had to keep reassuring him that it was just dust marks and not scratches....She'd be a FOOL to try and take photos of the efforts it took to try and get in this site, so she didn't! (E. says, wise woman!)

On we go to Valley View Campground, which was ten miles further up the road, and YAY! They had plenty of room, AND it was a Passport America Park. We're staying for four days at this park, and although it's not as pretty as the forest campground was, THERE ARE NO BRANCHES TO THREATEN THE MOTORHOME! Easy in, easy out, full hookups, 17.00 a night for the first two nights, then 27.00 a night for the next two days. Big laundry facilities and VERY nice people running the office. WE WILL TAKE IT! say both Sparky and Eldo at the same time, heaving a huge sigh of relief........AND we are closer to the West Yellowstone entrance with this park than with the Buffalo Campground.....
Eldy's on his hands and knees praying and giving thanks that we arrived at a campground where we didn't scratch up the motorhome.  (Sparky is just kidding! I'm trying to figure out a different hookup for the water so I can finally wash the coach! explains E.)  Here is a view to the rear of the park...We've seen LOTS of nice log cabin homes in this area... All along the rivers and hillsides....Now THAT is the location for a log home! In Montana!  We LOVE's very beautiful in this part of the state.....
Well, tomorrow we are heading to Yellowstone for our first day. Valley View Park is just about ten miles from the west entrance to Yellowstone, and we're going to see what we can see.....See you at the park!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bye Bye Missoula, MT

It was sad to say goodbye to our blogging friends, Sherry and David of In the Direction of Our Dreams. We had a great time going to the 6th Annual River City Roots Festival in Missoula this past weekend. Sherry and I hung out together while the guys had a beer. We haven't run across very many bloggers or RVer friends in our travels as we haven't been fulltiming long enough to cross paths with them.

First band of the afternoon, the Lil' Smokies
I love trying to get closeups of the band when they play their instruments...These guys were GREAT!
I used my Canon Powershot SX20-IS for these shots of the festival today....I like the way they turned out! It's really fun to people watch and see who shows up for events like this...Not sure why the stilts man is there, but he gets attention, that's for sure!
And this daddy/daughter duo were really enjoying the music...look at that red hair! You don't see that very often!

The festival was small, but some great live music. We were there long enough to hear just the first band...the Lil' Smokies played some great bluegrass music! Sherry and I compared camera notes, she was trying out a new Fuji digital camera. Together, we decided you gotta read the manual to know what you are doing! After the festival we went out to dinner at a GREAT restaurant in downtown Missoula--the Ironhorse Brew Pub on Higgins Street. Man, was the food GREAT! and the company was terrfic! Sherry and David are really great people to hang out with. Eldy learned a lot about solenoids this weekend, as David had to replace one. Eldy learned that it's important to check the little things as well as the more major things, like fuses before replacing stuff. That one was sorta like which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Did a bad solenoid cause the fuse to blow or was it the other way around? (HUNH?  Sparky, best to leave the electronics explanations to the more knowledgable. Sometimes Sparky gets a little mixed up in her thinking) Yes, indeedy, I sure do.......

We chatted about lots of different things on different occasions with these two. Sherry and David had just come from Yellowstone, where we are going, and they are heading to Glacier from whence we had just come. (WHENCE? Good grief, woman--speak English! says E.) Oh, I just had to throw that in there, I thought it sounded good, rolls right off the tongue, ya know? (Maybe yours, but not mine, laughs E.)

At any rate, here are our recommendations for Missoula in the short time we stayed there--four days:
1. Check out the Smokejumpers Training Center by the airport---it was interesting in our opinion and it's free!

2. Downtown Missoula has more brew pubs/bars/taverns than you can shake a stick at---fun looking places and bet they're fun on the weekends!

3. Jim and Mary's RV park---wonderful place to stay but not too family friendly--no pool, not much for kids to do, but full hookups, shady, big rig friendly, spacious, grassy green lawns, lots of pretty garden flowers and sculptures in contrast to the stark, dusty, dry landscape outside the park and just a really great atmosphere for a reasonable price, and great place for folks to stop by and stay for a few days while exploring the area.

4. Iron Horse Brew Pub--best food in town, a truly terrific meal, everybody loved their food choices--I had black and bleu steak with a blue cheese cream sauce, Eldy had great fish and chips and sweet potato fries, and they had great salads...McKenzie's Pizza (think I spelled that right) is another restaurant we checked out--good sandwiches and really cool atmosphere although we didn't try their pizza. Big, varied menu, reasonable prices, lots to choose from.....

And that's it for Missoula, folks! If we had stayed longer, we would have more to tell ya! We are heading today to Island Park, Idaho to the Buffalo Campground for four days....It's in the Targhee National's about a 300 mile drive.  See you there!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fighting Forest Fires in Montana

Naw, we didn't fight any fires, however, there are a couple of them raging in Montana right now. But thankfully, not near us. We did hear about the Smokejumpers Training facility, the largest forest fire training facility in the country being located here in Missoula. So Sparky (always interested in fires and stuff) wanted to go see it. It's located on Broadway, in Missoula, and it's about 10 minutes from the RV park where we are staying... just past the Missoula International Airport on the same side.
This was a very interesting place! The FREE tour is about a 45 minutes. You get to see a film (aged but still relevant), the latest equipment used, the latest in firefighter suit technology, and a tour of the areas where the firefighters pack their chutes, what their supplies look like, and we happened to get a bonus on our tour--more about that in a moment.

The firefighters MAKE their own suits and in they SEW them themselves. I had a hard time believing that until I saw all the industrial sewing machines and then when the guide told us that a couple of the smokejumpers (Montana talk for the Missoula Training facility's trainees) have started their own clothing and bag lines to sell, I was a believer! They custom make their own tote bags and they were really really cool! Cooler than any backpacks out there on the market....

Women are part of the smokejumping trainees team, which was great to hear....(Sparky is a feminist, dontcha know) It was cool to see all the equipment that they pack with the precision needed, interesting to see the documentation required for safety checks and double checks, and the room where all chutes hang as they dry. I was really interested in the fire tent/shelter that they use. It's a little on man tent with foil completely covering the outside. The smokejumper lays face down inside the tent, face as close to the ground as they can get. While the temperatures of the inferno over the tent get to be around 1600 degrees, inside the foil wrapped tent, the temps are only around 115 degrees--amazing! The smokejumpers have special flame retardant clothing they use nowadays...When they jump, they wear special suits with all their gear weighing over a hundred pounds. When they land, they take off the suit and unpack their gear. They wear Nomex (sp?) clothing which is flame retardant.  You should have seen the macrame knotted rope they have to learn to knot as part of their training! I had a fascination for that as I use to do macrame many years ago.

Foil tent gets set up and firefighter inside in less than 25 seconds
The smoke jumpers range in age from the early twenties to late fifties! You have to have previous years of firefighting experience before becoming a member of this team. They work out a couple of hours a day to stay in shape for this rigorous, physically demanding job....
one of the transport planes for carrying the jumpers
The bonus on the tour---not sure if this happens for everyone or not---we went out on the tarmac to look at the planes, and one of the smokejumpers, a handsome veteran of 20 plus years was loading one of the planes. He was 45, and didn't look a day over 30, nor did he have an ounce of fat on him.  He proceeded to let us get inside the plane, sit where the jumpers sit and then he sat and informally talked and answered questions from the group. It was great! Sparky asked if he liked to play with fire as a kid, and he answered with a big grin, "Oh, YEAH!" He almost got sent to military school, he was so ornery about that, he said. The group asked if he ever saw bears, and the interesting thing about that was, when he first started over 20 years ago, he seldom saw a bear, now he sees them all the time--which is a problem for the firefighters. They can't pack out their garbage, so bears are attracted to their camp. They carry bear spray.....Another thing he shared was how rough it was to land when parachuting in--rocks everywhere, trees---they wear head masks like hockey players to prevent them from being hurt and gouged by tree branches. It's a rough job, but he LOVES it, that was obvious to see. Someone asked if the firefighters ever get lost, and he said that it's possible, but in his case, he once had to walk out 23 miles carrying 122 pounds on his back...guess that meant he could have gotten "misplaced" for a bit!

Eldy asked about the pay...get this--for every six months fighting forest fires, they get 4 1/2 YEARS of retirement benefits!!!!!!! Wow! Talk about great hazardous pay benefits!  Apparently, navy SEALS and other highly qualified military guys and gals are applying for forest service fire fighting duties because the pay is so good. In my humble opinion, that's a really really tough, dirty, hazardous job and they deserve it. They  had something like 6 openings this year and over 200 applicants applied.

We really enjoyed the tour today and appreciate the forest service working so hard and training the firefighters with the latest and best equipment.  We recommend this tour if you are in the Missoula area....Tomorrow, we leave for the Yellowstone area. Not sure if we will be able to use our air card, so if "Where's Eldo?" drops off the face of the blogging world, you'll know that we are too isolated to blog! Rest assured, we WILL be back!  See you later!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Route of the Hiawatha

YOU WANT TO DO WHAT???/!!!!! was Eldo's reaction when I said I wanted to do a 15 mile bike trail ride...Now hang on, folks! Before you start accusing me of driving Eldy to a premature death at the ripe young age of 63, know that this particular bike trail is described as one of the most scenic sections of rail-trail in the country. The part of the trail I wanted Eldy to do has a 15 mile gentle 2% grade DESCENT all the way. You should be glad I didn't tell him I wanted to do it the OTHER way! You ride through seven trestle bridges and TEN tunnels with shuttle buses that bring you back to the top "in comfort" says a local magazine. (More about that later.) Then, I show Eldo the photos.......check out these trail photos from the website....Route of the Hiawatha. and their main web page...OK, he's in....Helmets required? check.  Lights on the bike? check.  Snacks and enough food to feed an army because Sparky always forgets to bring enough of SOMETHING on a trail ride, like water? check. Buy tickets at 9.00 a person? check. Buy shuttle tickets at 9.00 each to ride back to the top? check.

And we're off....the first problem....going through a 1.7 mile tunnel that is your VERY first tunnel right at the entrance to the trail. And it's a cold, pitch black tunnel..forty-four degrees inside year round. Lots of water running down the sides and you feel the panic start. What if the tunnel collapses? What if there's a flash flood?..The trip through pitch blackness wouldn't be a problem if you had a super duper halogen headlight/flashlight taped to your bike or attached to your helmet. We did not...we had cheapy little Bell lights from Walmart, and Eldy's would dim at the slightest little bounce. This is an OLD rail bed tunnel and not very well graded which = Eldy's light seldom working. He was behind me because mine was the better light. And I had my blinking rear reflector blinking. Here's the other problem...water runs through the tunnels on both sides in troughs. Once you get past the entrance, it becomes completely and totally pitch black dark. You can't see your handlebars, you can't see the person in front of you unless your bike has the super duper, halogen (I know, I know...says E. Tell me about it! Mine wasn't working!) OK, in the mean time, you are freaked out by the pitch black darkness and the normal tendency is to feel out of balance, so you are jerking your bike handlebars back and forth, trying to keep your balance, worrying about hitting the troughs on both sides, (they're not really deep but you could do tire damage and halfway kill yourself if you ran into one, that's why you need helmets, haha). And also in case you go over the edge of the mountain while gawking at the gorgeous scenery...In theory, if you remember how to ride a bike, you wouldn't be jerking the bars back and forth. Sparky had three people in front of her and a little girl who was riding so steady straight, it put us to shame. But they had one good headlight /helmet light that was helping me to see where I was going.
See the little trail winding through the wilderness?
In reality, Eldy couldn't see, so he was in panic mode. We weren't going fast enough in front of him so that caused him to go so slow, he was having to twist the handlebars to keep from falling over sideways! I could hear the shaky panic in his voice, he was afraid he was going to run into me or the troughs and God only knew where THEY were, so I kept asking, "Eldy, are you there? Are you still there? Doing ok?" Sometimes he wouldn't answer because he couldn't hear me and then I'd panic! I was trying to turn around and look at him, which was trying to look through a black velvet hood totally covering your head tied snugly around your neck-- which caused ME to waver on the handlebars. You have a tendency to keep looking for light, a shaft of light, ANY light. Finally, he would answer kinda shortly, "Yeah! PEDAL FASTER! I'M ABOUT TO RUN INTO YOU!" and I couldn't because I was going to run into the people in front of me! Finally, we see light at the end of the tunnel...hardy har har.....and there's a waterfall waiting for you at the other end just as you come out....

And that was the worst of it and the longest as far as the tunnels go. After that one, many of them you could see the other side or at least a tiny shaft of light to give you hope. All the trestles and tunnels gave the height and/or length of the trestles so you wouldn't panic at seeing at another long one in front of you. The trestles weren't any problem unless you 1) have a fear of heights,  or 2) look down at the crumbling cement blocks that hold the metal beams in place (actually, there were just a couple of tiny spots, and probably not important to the technological soundness of the trestle bridges. But looking at these very old structures, I did wonder how often they are inspected! And one more thing that has me puzzled--Not sure why they made those trestles so doggone high! Unless it was because of forest fires so they would burn underneath them or something...

This was an amazing trail, IF they'd take better care of trestle bridges with outstanding views of the Idaho scenery, and ten tunnels. Well, after about five bridges and about five tunnels, you've had enough of those. If the trail was paved, that would be a spectacular trail ride. As it was, the trail hadn't been graded in awhile, and it was railroad sized rocks and pebbles and rough sharp stone for 3/4 of the way. So we rode with our eyes more on the road than on the scenery, worrying about our tires and we have hybrid tires.  My teeth were rattling so hard inside my head, I thought I was going to lose a filling! I would like to be able to say that's how Eldy lost his crown today, but actually, it loosened up yesterday and fell out. It's a good thing it didn't fall out on the trail or Sparky would be suing the state of Idaho for damages! (She's just kidding, everyone! Right, Sparky? asks E.) Yes, dear, that's right, unless Sparky feels that we've been genuinely wronged in some way. That was one of the roughest trails we have been on, and we have Trek bikes with great suspension forks on them, Eldy has a padded seat with extra padding (Sparky bought him that so he wouldn't complain about the family jewels when bike riding) And he STILL complained a LOT, so you know it was a ROUGH trail! Washboard rough 3/4 of the way down....I'd like to know what they are doing with all that money they are collecting for the trail!

Last Saturday, they had over 700 riders in one day! At 9.00 a person, that's a LOT of moolah for this trail! C'mon, guys, get the grader out and get busy!  And while you're at it, put some more park benches in for people to sit and stop and have lunch! We saw only TWO benches in the entire trip down the 15 mile trail to be able to sit and stop and relax. There were quite a few people on the trail today, at least 30-40, so that's some comfort as you enter that first tunnel--you are not alone!

Enough is a little more information. Even though it was a hot day, the trail had a lot of sections with shade and being up higher in the mountains, it was cooler. This trail is the former railroad journey for the Milwaukee Railroad out of Chicago. The history behind this railroad is provided as you bike along the trail on placards placed at the side of the trail and it's a very interesting favorite was about a woman whose job was to derail runaway train cars..she had one where they didn't tell her it was a runaway so she couldn't stop it at her normal post. She managed to derail it and all its contents at another junction in the rail track, only later to discover it was a load of pig slop, sheep sh**t or something like that!  You read about the construction of the bridges, the history of the Pullman porters, the history about carrying silk across the country, the history behind the workers and the huge forest fires that occurred, all kinds of things about the Milwaukee Railroad back in the day....

It was a beautiful day and we really enjoyed this ride, even if it was rough....oh, a couple more things. The ride in the shuttle bus taking you back "in comfort"? Those were old, old school buses that take you on a dusty narrow side road where the driver said sometimes he encounters a moose. That would be cool IF there was room for the moose AND the bus, but it's a one lane road with LOTS of blind curves...that and it was HOT, HOT, HOT in the not working, I guess. That, and you don't get taken back to your car at the parking lot. You have to go BACK through that same first 1.7 mile tunnel that you came through at the beginning...Ah-h-h-h, but the second time was a piece of cake. Some guy behind us had a REALLY BIG SUPER DUPER HALOGEN HEADLIGHT/FLASHLIGHT that illuminated the entire tunnel.....Thanks, saved my man from probably having cardiac arrest!  Yay, we did it!!!!!!  Hey, Eldo...did you see that OTHER trail, the paved one from the side of the road as we came off the highway?  (Trail? What trail? Nope, didn't see any trail, none, nada, zero.....)

And now, you are dying to ride this trail, right? Where the heck is it? Well, it was 100 miles from Jim and Mary's RV Park. That's right, folks, Eldy knew I had my heart set on riding it, and this was the closest we were going to be to it before we left the area and headed towards Yellowstone. So Eldy drove us there....I'm a little confused about where it exactly is, but it's in Idaho, near Wallace at the border of Idaho and Montana. Exit 5 on interstate 90 in Montana, the Taft exit. The drive to the parking lot to get on the trail is a trip in itself, dirt road to nowhere, but the whole thing was cool, and isn't Eldy quite the guy for keeping his woman happy!?

See you at a calmer, slower pace tomorrow......We're resting up for our trip to the Yellowstone area on Sunday, but first----a festival in downtown Missoula this weekend, and Sparky wants to check out a cool knit shop she found on the internet. (Uh-oh! says- guess who?)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Old Friends, New Friends

Many full time RVers have left friends of many years, established neighborhoods, habits, work, and family behind to pursue their dreams of traveling and seeing the country. There are the momentary pangs of wistfulness that happen when you wish you might be a little closer to them, but there are so many positive things about traveling full time, I couldn't begin to list them all. I guess it helps that Eldy and I have family all over the country. Well, I do more than he does, but we are heading back to Indiana to see his family and friends soon. He needs to get the "grandkid" fix and to see his adult kids, who are wonderful adults, by the way!

BUT, when we look at all our photos, our blogs about where we've been and what we've done, it's been a fabulous 15 months and we can't wait to do more traveling! We are learning so much about the U.S. We love to share this stuff in our blogging and with our families. It's a wonderful time to do it with technology helping us all the way--to share, to savor....This country is an amazingly beautiful place, and to see it for real, and not in front of the TV is a fantastic experience. We wish everyone who has the desire to travel full time could!

And we are making new friends all the time......Some parks are not as friendly as others and we don't know what the deciding factor is that determines that. Sometimes I think it's the layout of the park, sometimes I think it's the management's attitude about their guests. Sometimes I think it's the people themselves that are staying in the park. We have noticed that RVers are a really friendly bunch for the most part. They say hi when they walk by, walking their dogs. They see you out, sitting in your chairs and they stop by to talk---"I like your rig. Where are you guys from?" is a frequent topic starter. It doesn't take much to get Sparky or Eldo talking, and pretty soon we are sharing life stories, or travel experiences, or the beginnings of a new friendship. We do the same thing when we are out and about in the places we stay, although we tend to be a little more shy and wait for someone with an opening to get us going. (Sparky, shy????? HA! exclaims E.)  And RVers blog...and they blog, and they blog...and they read blogs, LOTS of them!

We start reading blogs and pretty soon, we're having regular "conversations" with fellow bloggers, leaving comments, encouragement, and sometimes advice. (Sparky LOVES to give advice, says E). And since we tell it like it is, (general rule of thumb for bloggers) depending on how "open" you are, our blogger friends respond in kind. Friendships that develop online are very important to us as we are gypsies on the road and on the move. But you'd be surprised at how often RVers paths cross and you get to meet your blogging friends. Friendships develop more quickly with bloggers exchanging health updates, pet updates, losses, joys, births of grandbabies, success stories and horror stories with our rigs and of course, travel bloopers. (E. says, "And we DON'T have any of those to share lately!") Friendships develop quickly because we know we won't be able to stay in the same spot very long before it's time to "hit the road".

And then, sometimes, you get really lucky, and you cross paths with your blogging friends, like Sherry and David, and their blog--In the Direction of Our Dreams.....We finally met up with them. We are traveling in opposite directions heading towards the same destinations at different times, but--we are in the same spot for four days and are they neat people! Just like we thought they'd be...

Sherry and Sparky have LOTS in common, we are former teachers, we have daughters with similar names and ages, we love kayaking, hiking, have an interest in native American flutes, and lots lots more....Eldy and David talked each other's ears off while Sparky and Sherry did the same yesterday, when we met them for the first time. It was a great chat, and we look forward to seeing them some more in the couple of days that we have left here at Jim and Mary's RV Park....WHICH, by the way, is a wonderful, cozy, beautifully landscaped park with a cottage flower beds, cute metal garden sculptures sprinkled through the park, and good wi-fi, cable TV and 50 amp spacious hookups for about 31.00 a night. Our Verizon air card works great!.....They also have a GREAT weekly rate of 190.00, but we can't stay that long, because we are going to Yellowstone soon......Here's our site....

Here are some of the views at Jim and Mary's RV Park...

Very pretty, very friendly park...we've had more people stop by and chat than any other place we've stayed in.....

This place seems more like a neighborhood backyard than an RV park, we love it! We'll be here for two more days, then we head to our first park 25 miles from West Yellowstone, in Island Park, Idaho. Tomorrow, we're going to investigate a smoke jumper school and take a tour. Very appropriate topic for this area as there was/is a forest fire not that far from Missoula this week.....should be interesting, see you there!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bye-bye Glacier National Park

Going to miss the beautiful sea green/blue waters of the rivers
We are really sad to say goodbye to this area....this has been one of the most beautiful parks we have ever seen. Even with just one road going thru the park, the fifty-three mile long Going To the Sun Road was an exceptional driving experience. And even with the slowdowns in construction, it's still a National Historical monument to be treasured. The beautiful stonework, the arches, the bridges, and the scenery and the beautiful color of the streams and rivers are something to see. Did I mention that the color of the rivers comes from a stone or mineral called argillite, actually a sedimentary rock?

Glacier N.P. really seems to have it together in how they manage the traffic in the very short season for tourists. The new shuttle bus system that has a few kinks to be worked out, but it seemed to be quite efficient and a very popular way of getting around the park. That is a good thing for the environment in the park! We didn't see any bears, so of course, we're going to have to return on our next trip out west. Sparky almost went to the little Bear Park down the street but decided not to. See reference down below for more information. (She wouldn't have gone through the park with the windows closed as instructed, you can be sure of that, E. says, with a sigh of relief that she didn't go)...

Going to leave you with some tips and interesting tidbits in case you haven't read the previous blogs about our Glacier any regular readers, sorry for any repeated information!

1. Best time to see wildlife in the park and where--Logan Pass around dusk....lots of bighorn sheep and some mountain goats were there every time we visited Logan Pass at dusk (between 6:00-8:00 PM) on three different locations...they come into the parking lot to lick the antifreeze from the cars--ugh! BUT you get to see them...

2. Best tour--Red Jammer Bus Tour--awesome 1930's original buses with knowledgeable guides, well worth it and the best time of day, again, the later in the day tour, that leaves at 4:00 PM or 4:30 PM, a five hour trip at dusk through the park....

3. Take the shuttles to get around the park, you can get to the east side as well with a transfer. Beats sitting in your car waiting to get through hot, dusty construction...shuttles are new and VERY comfortable. These are not guided tours, just a way to get around. Leave your car at the Apgar Transit  Center, St. Mary's Visitor Center (on the east side), leave it at the campground or lodge and enjoy yourself!

4. Bear spray is #1 recommended deterrent if you are an avid hiker, but it's VERY expensive. Check around for possible rental of the spray canisters instead of buying one. You can rent them at Yellowstone, but we didn't check to see if we could at Glacier.  Bear bells are not enough, according to the rangers at the park, but they are better than nothing. Make noise on a trail, sing, talk loudly, clap now and then. Some of the most popular park trails are surrounded by excellent bear habitat. Be extra careful around streams, dense vegetation, around corners and going up a rise.

5. North American RV Park was one of the best parks, although it might be more expensive than some of the other RV parks in the area. We were comfortable and not jammed up against neighbors and it's a very nice park with a fairly big general store on the premises. The park is five miles from the west entrance of the park! It had the fastest free wifi anywhere in the west that we've experienced!

6. There is a Bear Park just south down the road from the NARV park if you need a bear fix. It's $8.00 a person to drive in and you are guaranteed to see some black bears. (You stay in your cars with the windows rolled up and moving at all times.) However, there are only 4 bears in the park, raised in captivity and the managers hide their food in the park for them to find besides providing a wooded, natural habitat. Closed Wed. and Thursdays, I believe. (We didn't go, but I just got some information out of curiosity.)

7. The two most popular hikes in the park are doable for all ages and family members--Trail of the Cedars on a wooden boardwalk (wheelchair accessible) and Avalanche Lake Trail--much harder but small children are capable of doing this hike despite the steep climb. A third hike that's wonderful, was the short hike to the St. Mary's Falls and then another short hike continued on the trail to Virginia Falls--don't miss any of these! No pets allowed on trails signs say....
one of our hiking views
8. Get to trailheads early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid big crowds on the can ride your bike in Glacier, but it's restricted during busy summer hours from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM and we saw only two bike trails listed in Glacier, one short one at the Apgar Visitor Center area, the bike trail is less than two miles.

9. There were tons of bear sightings on the Canadian side of Glacier National Park in the Waterton Park section--but you'll need your passport to go there....

10. Good pizza and good food reasonably priced at Glacier Grill down the road from the NARV Park heading south towards Columbia Falls. There is a big Super Foods Grocery Store in Columbia Falls as well.

11. When traveling Go to the Sun Road, you can expect traffic stopping anywhere from as short as five minutes, to up to thirty minutes at a time more than once while traveling to Logan Pass. If we remember right, it's about 40 miles from the west entrance of Glacier to Logan Pass. Forty m.p.h. speed limit on the road, and it's enforced! Some guy in a big SUV flew around our red Jammer bus while we were on tour and the cops got him right away. (The NERVE of that guy to pass a historical red Jammer bus! fusses Sparky) ....and NO RV'S longer than 21 feet in length and NO TOW cars from Avalanche Creek onward through the park. If you insist on driving your RV thru the park, count on getting stuck somewhere on the main road, and getting a $1,000.00 fine like Mr. Anonymous, that happened a week ago.

12. Apgar Campground is the only campground that accepts big rigs (up to 40 feet), and it's no hookups.

13. If you love wildflowers, this is the place! Glacier lilies (bears love to eat them), trillium, beargrass (bears DON'T like to eat them), Indian paintbrush, monkey flower, calypso orchids, blanket flowers and many more....

14. The glaciers that you do see on a tour or from afar or on a hike just look like snowpack on the mountains. Don't be too disappointed to see that they aren't major glacier ice sheets like in Alaska or other parts of the world. Just be glad you get to see what's left of them while they still remain at this park! Estimates are that they will be totally gone by 2020 or 2030.

15. Lodgepole pines are the first trees to grow after a forest fire. They are short, scrawny pines with very tight little pinecones. When there's a forest fire, the pinecones literally explode with the heat, like little bombs. As they start to grow and gain some height, they provide shade for other species of trees to grow.

16. More than 350 structures in the park are on the National Register of Historic Places. 

And if you want to know more about your national parks, check out the Oh, Ranger website for lots of fun facts about these parks. They also have an app for the iphone, but not for the Android phones. (I knew I shouldn't have replaced my iphone with a Droid! laments Sparky) But who wants to traipse all over the country for an Apple store when the phone goes kerput! I sure don't, so Droid is it for me for now......besides I have a better camera than the iphone on my there!  (Eldy and I are always comparing notes on signal strength, apps, etc. He has the iphone 3GS)

Thanks for visiting Glacier National Park with us! We are heading to Missoula, Montana to catch up with our friends from In the Direction of Our Dreams, Sherry and David at the Jim and Mary's RV Park in Missoula. We'll be there for about four days, then on to Yellowstone! See you in Missoula.......

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hiking Glacier National Park Part II

After 4 exploratory trips using our car on Going to the Sun Road, we decided to take the shuttle. Why we didn't take it sooner, I don't know, but it seems that the park got a lot busier this week after a couple of slow days. We were noticing that the trailhead parking lots were full by about ten, so we decided it was time to take the shuttle and we are so glad we did! The shuttle buses are convenient, stopping at all the main campgrounds and lodges, and they seem to be new and are very comfortable. The bigger ones (there are two sizes)  have racks for bikes although we have found only two trails in the park that are suitable for biking.
Avalanche Gorge at the beginning of the Avalanche Lake Trail
Today we went to the Avalanche Lake was a 45 minute shuttle ride (with stops along the way) but we were busy watching for wildlife along the road, so we didn't  mind. Avalanche Lake Trail is a 2.5  mile hike one way from the shuttle stop. The trail gains 500 feet in elevation, although it seemed like a LOT more when we did it. It's a steady, steep rocky climb almost all the way. We saw little toddlers with their moms and dads, and very old people doing the trail, so it's for everyone! Except are NOT allowed to have pets on the trails as dogs can be confrontational with bears. We saw two people with dogs on the trail today, I guess they couldn't read the signs, pictoral and written! The trailhead starts near Avalanche Gorge along Trail of the Cedars. 

You start a steady climb through heavy forest but the trail is nice and wide for the most part.....
The forest is carpeted with these plants and berries....

You pass by rushing Avalanche Creek......

You pass the evidence of why Avalanche Lake trail is caused "Avalanche"...there is some severe damage from more than one avalanche that can be seen as you hike the trail. And just when you think there is no end to the climbing and you are huffing and puffing (if you are not in the best shape like us,) then, you start to see a very different landscape around you and in the distance.....
approaching the end of the trail
And you come out in the clearing, and........VOILA! You are at Avalanche Lake which is fed by meltwater from Sperry Glacier......

There are logs to sit on and eat, and we just sat and pondered about the beauty of this lake, the setting, the five waterfalls cascading off the mountain, and it was just so peaceful. We sat for quite a while, giving thanks that we get to see such beautiful things, and then we set off for the downhill hike all the way back to the shuttle stop, a total of 4.8 miles today...and Eldo awaits his foot massage....gotta go! 
Two little boys admiring the view at Avalanche Lake
Tomorrow we head for Missoula, Montana for a few days, and we are going to get to catch up with some fellow blogging friends, Sherry and David, In the Direction of Our Dreams. We've been dogging their heels for awhile now, and for a bit we were headed in opposite directions, they are heading to Glacier soon. But we are going to end up in the same RV park in Missoula, MT for the next couple of days, which will be great! It's always wonderful to meet people you have befriended in the blogging world.  See everybody in Missoula!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hiking in Glacier National Park Part I

There are great publications that you can pick up at the visitors center when you come into the park. One of them is the newspaper they give you at the toll booth--Day Hikes in Glacier. Another one is picked up in various locations at other visitor's centers--it's called Visitor's Guide to Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountain Front-Glacier Gateway. Inside this last one among many other interesting sections, is a section titled 25 Favorite Hikes. The hikes are divided into park sections--Lake McDonald Valley, Logan Pass, St. Mary, and Many Glacier. With more than 700 miles of hiking trails, you can spend a LOT of time in the park hiking.

little details

So we decided to do one of the listed hikes under the St. Mary's section--St. Mary's Falls, a 0.8 mile trail from the trailhead.....The trailhead is located about 10.5 miles west of St. Mary, which is on the eastern side of the park, past Logan Pass. It took about an hour and a half by car to get to the trail from the western entrance of the park to the trailhead, with some construction delays on the Going to the Sun Road. The trail gradually descends 260 feet from the parking area to the falls. If you continue on the trail from St. Mary's Falls, it's only 0.7 mile more and a 285 foot climb to reach Virginia Falls. You pass lots of mini waterfalls and cascades on your way to Virginia Falls, like the ones in the above photo. There were the usual bear warning signs at the beginning of the trail, although there was so much foot traffic on the trail, I don't think we needed to worry about having bear spray today. Carrying bear spray is highly recommended by all the literature and the park rangers if you plan to do a lot of hiking, the spray recommended even on the most populated trails. We heard LOTS of bells by hikers (articles about the park say bells are not effective) and people clapping occasionally to make noise (good idea). Here are some of the beautiful views we saw on the way down to St. Mary's Falls today....
beautiful red rock and other colorful rocks on the river stream bed

And after hiking quite a while, of course I had to stick my feet in the river/creek and boy, was it cold! And even though it doesn't look like it, my feet ARE in the water! And they are starting to turn a nice shade of bluish red. (Uh, Sparky, these are glacier fed streams, rivers, and lakes, dear!) You're telling me!

We thought we might have seen a bear scrape, but not sure....

We looked for bear scat, but all we saw was horse poop! (Sparky, do you even know what bear poop looks like?) Nope! That would be a great question to ask the ranger the next time I see one. Anyway, we get to St. Mary's Falls, and here they are!
On to Virginia Falls......

When we got to Virginia Falls and hung around for a bit, we experienced an odd bout of coughing, both of us, along with another family with small children nearby. We think it's because the falls are glacier fed. When the glaciers melt, they pulverize the rocks and a very fine dust is swept down the rivers and over the falls. It actually has a name, glacier flour and it's what gives the rivers the beautiful deep aquamarine colors you see in the water all around the park. We think the waterfall mist had fine particles of dust in it and caused us all to cough.

And you might see some idiots like we did once we got to Virginia Falls...two guys decided it wasn't enough to hike a mile and a half one way to the beautiful falls, nope! They wanted to get up close and personal at the top of the falls. There is no trail to the top, but that's where they ended up, dangerously close to slippery rocks. One misstep and we'd be reading about them in the news. Here is a photo of them, but picture them at the TOP of our photo above and to the left of the falls. These guys are idiots!

Would you believe we're gonna do another hike tomorrow, two hikes two days in a row for our last day in North American RV Park? Yep, he wants to be able to say he hiked in grizzly country not once, but twice!  (Sparky promised him a heckuva foot massage after the second one as his legs bother him after hikes.) Yippee! We're gonna do the Avalanche Lake Trail hike.....see you there tomorrow.....