Sunday, August 29, 2010

Montana Memories

For the last 9 days we have been exploring the beauty and bounty of western Montana. We've primarily been staying with some of George's cousins who have been wonderful hosts and tour guides. It's such a treat to get out of the van for awhile, have a chance to clean up, and get the insider's input to the area.

After a coolant flush disaster at the Missoula Jiffy Lube, where both the van and George overheated repeatedly, we limped out to the refreshingly beautiful homestead of George's cousin, Lucas, and his sweet wife Chelsea (and baby McIver who's still under wraps).

They are both great cooks and made delicious meals (and desserts) from their garden veggies. We have been deprived of fresh garden veggies lately (the last farm stand we saw was back in Canada over a month ago), so I was thrilled at the sight of a garden basket filled with beets, garlic, carrots, and zucchini. While we were there, George fixed the overheating problem on the van, I got some work and laundry done, Lucas got some help putting tin on the roof of his new shop, and Adalaya made a new friend - their puppy, Shelby.

Next we headed to Cousin Rod's (Lucas' dad) house in Kalispell. Our timing was impeccable, as Rod and some of his smoke-jumping buddies were going on a 3-day boat trip down the Flathead River. Rod is an accomplished mountain-man and has lots of gear, so we packed up coolers and dry bags, loaded 2 canoes, and headed to the Flathead Indian Reservation. All together we made quite the flotilla: 18 people in 3 canoes, 2 rafts, and 7 kayaks.

Adalaya paddled with Rod who is a great teacher and full of knowledge. She learned how to surf in the eddies behind rocks and other canoeing secrets.

She even got to try her hand at kayaking. She loves it!

Meanwhile, George took his paddling very seriously. Shhh . . . rapids up ahead.

My favorite memory from the trip occurred around the campfire on the 2nd night. George was sitting in the folding chair that we found abandoned at the campsite. A bottle of "Let'er Buck" whiskey was being passed around the circle, and George indulged (being new to the sport of drinking he likes to do a lot of taste testings). Right after his swig, the folding chair collapsed and all I saw were feet flying into the air and his arm shoot straight up with the bottle of whiskey - saved! He got to his feet and declared, "Let'er Buck!" It could have been a commercial! I wish I could upload my mental picture of the event to share with you all.

It was a great float trip: fun folks, great food, good weather, a deep turquoise river with stunning views, and bald eagles too! Thanks to all the folks who organized the trip and let us tag along.

Our next stop was Glacier National Park. Rod took us to a few of his favorite spots in the west side of the park. Here is Avalance Creek, a turquoise glacier-fed stream, as is sculpts a smooth path through the iron-rich rock.

He also took us to Logan Pass at the top of the "Going to the Sun Road." I love the glacially formed U-shaped valleys and the "hanging valleys" with the huge waterfalls draining them.

From there, we hiked the Hidden Lake Trail and saw some amazing wildlife. A herd of big horn sheep.

And mountain goats right by the trail. It doesn't get any more scenic than this! I feel like Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music" (or maybe the Grizwald "Vacation" version).

The next day we bid farewell to Rod and headed to the east side of Glacier Park. Unfortunately the wind came and brought continually colder temperatures. They were predicting extremely unsummerlike conditions (down to 17 degrees one night this week!), so we decided to get in one good hike on the east side, then boogie on down the road. Here we are around St. Mary's Lake.

And St. Mary's Falls.

Here is Jackson Glacier, one of the 25 glaciers remaining in the park. The rangers estimate that all the glaciers will have melted by 2030!

On our way west, we stopped into Whitefish, MT for some provisions and stumbled upon the "Big Mountain Beer Fest", an annual fundraiser where you can sample beer from local breweries. Always eager to support local causes (especially when local food and drink is served) we sampled a large range of brews: some of my favorites were the Huckleberry Honey Ale, Moose Drool, and Trout Slayer - tasty and creatively named! Here's George sampling a porter and Adalaya brown-bagging her beverage of choice.

We also indulged in some other kid-friendly tastings while in the town. Strawberry & chocolate crepe - a new favorite!

Cherries have been another favorite food of mine since we've been in Montana! The Flathead Lake region is full of cherry orchards and roadside cherry stands.

These divine fruits have been a staple in my diet this week. Ooh la la!

We are heading west from here, but I want to say a big THANK YOU to the McIvers for showing us such a good time in Montana. It's good to have family in high places!

A beautiful sunset from our last Montana campsite.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hot Springing in Idaho!

We've been in Idaho for nearly a week now and haven't seen one potato patch! We journeyed through the central part of Idaho, in and around the largest contiguous wilderness area in the lower 48 states; not potato territory evidently. I keep looking for a good place to get a loaded Idaho spud, but the only hot potatoes I've seen around these parts have been us! We've been touring the hot springs of the area, soaking our spuds in a variety of pools. We've hit road-side hot springs, river-side hot springs, hike-in-to hot springs, and commercial hot springs. So good! Here's a few of our favorite spots.

We hiked three miles to reach Gold Bug Hot Springs.

A long, steep three miles in!

But it was well worth the effort!

And we got warm waterfall massages too!

This one was nice too, Gold Fork Hot Springs. A commercial spot, but the pools were nestled into the rocks.

Burgdorf Hot Springs had a large hot pool with great floaties. It was surrounded by old ghost town cabins, with the original cabin from 1865.

And it had this bathtub with a great view!

We had a few other adventures besides hot springs during our journey through Idaho. We took an amazing 10 mile hike in the aptly named Sawtooth Mountains.

We made it to Sawtooth Lake.

And Adalaya made a friend.

We camped nearby and expanded our dinner menu to stick-meat and bread-sticks. . . hunter gatherer meets food science. Fun and yummy!

On the night of the 12th we found a remote, treeless place to camp in the national forest among lots of sagebrush. We slept out under the stars so we could watch the breathtaking display of the Pleides Meteor Shower. It was an amazingly clear, moonless night with no light pollution, and the stars and the Milky Way were brighter than I've ever seen. We saw so many meteors that Adalaya lost count.

Our last day in Idaho was very hot! We drove down 35 miles of switchbacks on a one lane dirt road (which was very trying for the van's brakes). When we reached the Salmon River, we had to take a dip to cool off!

Later, the van needed to cool off too. Here we are midway out of Hells Canyon; again, aptly named. We just barely escaped!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Bison and Geysers and Bears, Oh My!

Yellowstone . . . what a place - the world's first National Park. We've been in this incredibly diverse park for about 5 days, and it's been a mixture of magic and madness for us. We are merely 3 of the one million people that are estimated to visit Yellowstone this August! We had been warned that the camping scene was predatory, and one of the rangers laughed at me when I asked about making camping reservations for the next few nights - evidently they were already reserved at the beginning of the season. So we figured we'd guerrilla camp as usual. The first night we popped-up in the back corner of a boat launch parking area. Not yet understanding the full extent of stealth that was required to camp outside of the campgrounds in Yellowstone, we carelessly had the interior light on as we read after dark. In short order we were evicted by a law abiding ranger - our first derailed attempt at guerrilla camping. Stressful as it was at first, we were not going to be intimidated into leaving the park every night to camp. So we went into full-stealth mode for the next 3 nights: parking behind the fancy lodges in the employee housing areas, not popping the top (thus having Adalaya sleep on the floor of the van), closing all the shades, and having all lights out by dark. Having figured out this system we were better able to explore the park as we wished, although it didn’t make for the best sleep. I don’t know if it was because we were more cramped, more paranoid about being told to move, or because we were camping within the caldera of the largest active supervolcano in the world, but we all had restless nights while we were in the park.

Rested or not, this volcanic basin makes for some amazing landscapes and thermal features. The first area we explored was the Upper Geyser Basin, home of Old Faithful and hundreds of other geysers and hot springs. We walked miles of boardwalks and trails, then biked to other geyser basins and saw many dramatic eruptions and colorful pools. Here are a few of our favorites….

Grand Geyser and Vent Geyser to it’s left. We waited here for about an hour to watch it erupt, and we were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow and a sulphur shower.

Here’s a cool one . . . Riverside Geyser.

Grotto Geyser. There’s George off to the right.

This was George’s favorite – Beehive Geyser. It only erupts every few days, but when it does it is immensely powerful.

Morning Glory Pool. The colors are created from different thermophiles (heat-loving microbes) and represent different temperature gradients. I don’t know if you can see it or not, but there’s a red dragonfly that was guarding this hot spring.

Here's Adalaya's favorite hot spring - Saphire Pool.

And I love the color contrast of it's drain-off stream.

Did you know that there are over 10,000 thermal features (geysers, hot springs, fumeroles, & mudpots) in Yellowstone – more than in the rest of the world combined. A very witchy landscape! Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble!

Once we were thoroughly geysered out, we headed to “The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”. The yellow rock of this canyon is where Yellowstone gets its name.

It is amazingly beautiful with 2 big waterfalls, one of which is over 300 feet high – twice as tall as Niagra.

While we were hiking around the canyon area we got caught in a storm and crouched under the overhang of a nearby restroom. The rain turned to hail and we had a front row seat for the show, as well as the changing smells and temperatures. Soon after our hike, this black bear (who was also rain soaked) crossed our path.

We continued our journey north across a 10,000 foot pass. The scenery was grand and we were all very silent in awe. We also had a typical Yellowstone moment when we got stuck in a bison jam. At least we had front-row seats! (Yes, we carry our bikes on the front of the van.)

Our last morning in the park, we explored the Mammoth Hot Springs area. Mammoth indeed! These hot springs have formed a mountain from layer upon layer of mineral deposits. They are incredibly beautiful with their earthy colored tiers of pools.

We also saw elk everywhere around the village. Evidently they love manicured lawns!

Except for the tourist madness and restless sleeping conditions, I really enjoyed the park’s beauty and diversity. Adalaya agrees, but George described the experience as “horrid” and declared that he “is NOT a tourist!” So now we are heading west to the largest contiguous tract of wilderness area in the lower 48 states so George can decompress from the Disney-goes-Wilderness experience.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tackling the Tetons

We have been exploring the gorgeous Grand Teton Range for the past couple of days, and last night we successfully guerrilla camped for the first time in a National Park. All of the official campgrounds were full, so we found a nice trail-head down a dirt road and parked there for the night in anticipation of getting an early start for a long hike today. Here's George eating breakfast in our trail-head campsite. A great view and no noisy neighbors with generators makes for a happy camper!

Our hike was a grueling 10 mile round-trip hike up, up, up (3100 feet up) to two glacial-fed alpine lakes at 9700 feet. As usual, I was the slowpoke of the family as my long-legged cohorts bounded ahead of me like mountain goats.

Adalaya even wore her mountain goat shirt!

We made it to the lakes in time for lunch - wonderful ambiance for our veggie wraps!

The wildflowers were blooming . . . I love the Indian Paintbrushes!

Then we found a nice napping rock, and Adalaya discovered that someone else claimed this rock for sleeping purposes. Our first of several marmot sightings on this hike.

And this sneaky mountain goat kid had lots of fun hitting her parents with snowballs in August! What fun!

Adalaya was quite the wildlife spotter today. On the hike back down she spotted a pika - our new favorite rodent - collecting food for the winter. Too cute!

After successfully completing our first 10 mile hike of our trip, we figured we should celebrate by going to Jackson Hole for dinner.

Little did we realize how busy Jackson would be, and every restaurant we went into had at least a one hour wait. Exhausted and hungry, we found a spot at the bar of the "Merry Piglets" Mexican Cantina and had chips and salsa, margaritas and root-beer while we waited for a table.

Stuffed and exhausted, now I'm going to take an asprin and go to bed!