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North America » United States » Montana » Helena
June 19th 2013
Published: June 25th 2017
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Geo: 46.5897, -112.021

We are not having much luck with the weather up here in the northwest. We spent most of the day under a low ceiling, black billowing monsters in the sky which did prove menacing at times. Check out my photos. And the sky did open up on us for about an hour in the early afternoon. But we didn't allow it to dampen our plans. We had a good day.

We left Kalispell, MT at 8:20 AM, 63 degrees and headed for Glacier National Park. It took us about 45 minutes to get to the park entrance. We drove through small towns, one of which is called Flattop, where the billboards say they make Flattop Vodka. I thought, there must be a Flattop Mt. around here somewhere. I guess there is, but given the low ceilings, I was not able to see it, since the tops of the mountains were all obscured by the clouds.

When we checked into Glacier Park, we were told that Logan Pass was closed. It is about the mid-point of Going-to-the-Sun Road, the road that allows you to drive from one side of the park to the other, over the mountain where, apparently, the glacier viewing areas are. We were on the west side and that part of the road was only open for 16 miles, up to Avalanche. We thought it might be due to snow, however the park's web site says there is construction up above Avalanche. We were disappointed to hear this, but we have seem glaciers before, in Alaska. So we took the 16 mile drive and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Going-to-the-Sun Rd weaves through the forest along Lake McDonald and the McDonald River that feeds into it. The lake was still and calm and peaceful with a backdrop of snow-covered mountains. We stopped many times to take photos. At one point along the river there is a waterfall of minimal rise, but which causes strong white water to rush down the river resulting in significant rapids. I wondered what it would be like to ride through in a kayak or on a raft. Than I though…are you crazy? It was that violent.

We drove up to Avalanche then turned around and drove back. And the view in one direction is always different than the other. On the way back we found wooden walkways and sand pebble paths down to the river and to the lake where we could get a closer view of the water and more photo ops. We never saw these on the way up.

By the time we got back to the gate, the sun was peeking through the thick overcast skies allowing the temperature to rise a bit and giving us a feeling of optimism for the rest of the day. We retraced our drive another 15 miles to the highway that would take us to Helena.

We drove over a two lane highway the entire way, where the speed limit was primarily 70 MPH. And Steve said "are they crazy?" Yep, I guess they are. The road took us through back country where few people live and towns were almost not there…blink and you will miss them. Where you drive for miles and miles through unpopulated areas. Why anyone would want to live so far from civilization is a mystery to me…where the only grocery store for miles around is a tiny general store, where gas stations do not exist, where your nearest neighbor is beyond reach, and where your best friend is probably a horse. It seems like most everyone had at least one horse. Perhaps they need to have them to get to the general store when they run out of gas? I don't know.

We were always surrounded by tall pines and small mountains. A few had snow on the top, but most were green with trees and grass, and gray stone faces breaking the monotony. We drove into a lush green valley protected on all sides by hills and mountains, where farmers tilled the soil and grew various crops, one of which Steve identified as mustard, a sea of bright yellow blooms on dark green plants. And we saw ranches with cows and horses. And I wondered why I never see them both in the same field together. Don't they get along?

We eventually found Swan Lake, a cool calm body of water where camps were spaced along the roadway and few inhabited the land of the other side. Lakefront property available in the middle of nowhere, for probably a reasonable price…something you don't find in Maine anymore. And we drove through a town where you could shop at Bison and Bear Mercantile, eat at Grizzly Claw or Chicken Cook Restaurant, and stay at the Wilderness Gateway Inn.

Finally we got to Helena, the capital of Montana. We drove into it on Euclid St. and were confronted by little more than casinos and pawn shops…I guess where you can go sell your soul to play a few more games at the casino. It didn't give me a good feeling about Helena. They are everywhere, on corners and in strip malls. Not the face I would want on my State Capital.

We checked into our hotel at 4:30 PM. Montana…check.


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20th June 2013

I would love to go back to GNP and do some hiking / backpacking, but would carry pepper spray this time around. We drove the opposite way - from Helena to GNP and were struck, as were you, by how "empty" the terrain was. Huge farms but no
gas stations or stores, and very few buildlings. Where to people buy food or gasoline?
21st June 2013

Make a date with the park.

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