2015 Travels travel blog

Carpes at Kalispell (MT) Elks Lodge

Entering Idaho on U.S. 2

U.S. 2 goes right thru downtown Sandpoint

Thirty-some miles later we're in Montana

U.S. 2 in western Montana

U.S. 2 runs along the Kootenai River

Libby Montana is a City of Eagles

Smith Lake along U.S. 2

Carpe at a Smith Lake overlook

Kalispell is Flathead County Seat

McDonald Creek & rapids—Glacier NP

McDonald Creek & rapids—Glacier NP

Bob at McDonald Creek & rapids

McDonald Creek downstream of rapids

McDonald Lake
photo by Robert Swanson

McDonald Lake

Welcome to Glacier National Park

We saw this black bear in the distance
Bob grabbed this shot with...

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Sandi checking out the snow

Logan Pass, the highest point on the road

Glacier National Park: St. Mary's Lake

Glacier National Park: St. Mary's Lake

Traffic backed up from construction project

Eastern tunnel

Eastern tunnel

Eastern tunnel

One of many waterfalls along the road

Rock wall overhangs westbound lanes

Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake

Sun, 21 Jun: A nice Summer Solstice drive...

We figured we'd have plenty of daylite for today's drive. Summer Solstice is upon us and just shy of the 49th Parallel there is plenty of lite in the day.

We awoke of our own accord a bit before six and enjoyed a few extra minutes snogging before getting up. We love these "get up when ready" days.

By the time we got everything ready to go, relocate the coach to the dump site, dump the holding tanks and connect the car, and roll wheels it was around half past eight. We weren't in any big hurry, but it felt good to get rolling again.

Bob got us back on U.S. 2 without hitting any trees, deer, or wayward campers. A short drive north thru Newport and into the Idaho panhandle. Priest Lake and then Sandpoint, a not very big-rig friendly place as the truck route is right thru downtown. On a Sunday morning it wasn't too bad so we got out without any problem.

We stopped for fuel north of Sandpoint in Ponderay. Diesel is roughly 20¢/gallon less than in Washington. We didn't fill the tank tho, as we'll save an additional 10¢/gallon in Montana. Gotta love Gas Buddy.

Back on the road we continued north on U.S. 2 thru Bonner's Ferry and then east into Montana. We've never been in northern Montana so this'll be a whole new experience for us. We also moved into the Mountain Time Zone at the border so all of a sudden it's noon and time to eat.

A few miles east of the border we pulled into a chain-up area and used our inverter & microwave to heat up lunch. We were back on the road in less than a half hour and continued east.

The town of Libby is big on eagles. They're everywhere (statues and sculptures), including a huge one with a wingspan similar to a small aircraft. The road alternated between narrow, hilly, rough, and curvey to wide, straight, and smooth. Traffic was lite so there were few backups behind us.

About half past one (Pacific) we arrived at the western outskirts of Kalispell and drove thru town to the U.S. 93 intersection, which we took south. About 1½ miles south of U.S. 2 is the Kalispell Elks Lodge with ten water and electric sites. We found a vacant one and got ourselves parked. Today's run was 213 miles via U.S. 2 almost the entire distance. Carpe delivered 7.8 mpg.

Tue, 23 Jun: What a nice place...

This is our third day in Kalispell, and thus far we're enjoying our visit. Kalispell is a far busier town than we anticipated and even has a Costco! You know you've arrived when the big boxes are in town.

Yesterday, Monday, was a lazy day for us. We took our time in the morning and didn't get moving out of the coach till well after ten. We loaded our camera gear into the car and headed for Glacier National Park, some 35 miles northeast of Kalispell. It entailed a drive thru town before U.S. 2 opened up again and the speed increased to 70 mph.

We arrived at the park and found a traffic backup from the entrance booths. There were four booths open, but even then it took us 15 minutes to reach a booth. Once thru the entrance gate we made a beeline for the Visitor's Center. We got the requisite maps, park guide, and other relevant information from the ranger.

The scenic highway, "Going-to-the-sun-road", is a 3½ hour drive each way, and the only way to return other than on the Going-to-the-sun-road is to exit the park at the east entrance and return via U.S. 2. We opted to make that drive when we can get an earlier start.

So, we took the Going-to-the-sun-road for the first fifteen miles to the McDonald Falls view area. McDonald Creek, which feeds McDonald Lake, gets pretty gnarly in this area and the falls are very scenic. We spent about a half hour taking pix of the falls and creek.

On the way back we stopped at a few of the McDonald Lake viewpoints for some pix of the lakes and mountains. The lake is a beautiful example of a glacial cut and must be really gorgeous in the early spring when the mountains are still wearing their winter cloak of snow and ice.

We backtracked along U.S. 2 to Kalispell and a stop at Taco Bell for a late lunch. Then back to the Elks Lodge and Carpe. Later in the afternoon, once the bar opened, we settled up for our stay. We decided to stay till Friday morning and then continue east. There is a Passport America park just south of Glacier NP where we'll spend the weekend. That should be a good base for exploring the east part of the park.

Weather is forecast to warm up. We've been enjoying daytime highs in the low to mid eighties and nitetime temps in the forties and fifties. The weekend and into next week is forecast to have highs in the nineties and lows in the sixties. Not very good boondocking weather so we may have to amend our plans to include RV parks with electricity to run our AC units.

Wed, 24 Jun: W*O*W

Today we drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is the only road that crosses Glacier National Park from east to west (or west to east). It was started in the 1920s and completed in 1932. To say it is an engineering and construction marvel is an understatement.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is about fifty miles from entrance to entrance. But, depending on traffic it can take from 2½ to three or more hours. Based on our observations when we first visited the park on Momday, we decided that an early start would be wise. Hence, we set our alarm for 0500 and left the coach a bit after six.

We entered the park's west entrance at West Glacier at 0700 sharp. The entrance booths weren't yet open so we just drove right in. There was very little traffic, and the sun was still quite low in the sky. In fact, for the first thirty or so miles it was pretty much continuously in our eyes.

We'd driven the first twenty some miles, so there was little reason to stop. Just past the McDonald Lodge we saw a black bear on the side of the road. Bob grabbed his cell phone and grabbed a shot. It isn't a great pix, but it is the best we have.

As we continued east we started to climb from the 3,000' at the entrance to 6,650' at Logan Pass, the highest point on the road. Logan Pass is also the Continental Divide. We stopped frequently for pix, and between us shot more than 150 pix. We stopped at Logan Pass Visitor's Center for a pit stop. This can be a busy place, but when we were there (0845) it was easy to find a spot in the parking lot.

After departing Logan Pass it was downhill to St. Mary's, the eastern portal. Enroute we encountered a major construction project that took traffic down to one lane. Eastbound we waited fifteen minutes till it was our turn to follow the pilot car thru the work zone. As a result of the construction, most of the turnouts were closed so we could not stop for many of the pix we wanted.

We arrived at St. Mary's about 0945 and parked in the lot for a pit stop and snacks. We'd packed some cheese and fruit, which was quite welcome given our early breakfast. Then back on the road, this time westbound. The construction backup went quickly as we only waited five or so minutes till we again followed the stream of traffic following the pilot car.

The westbound road hugs the mountains west of Logan Pass, which is interesting as the rocks extend well into the roadway at a height of ten or so feet. In other words, it is akin to being in a tunnel open on one side. This is why the Going-to-the-Sun Road is restricted to vehicles less than ten feet high. Sorry Carpe, this isn't a road you'll be taking.

While the traffic was heavier as the morning progressed, at no time did it present a problem. Many of the turnouts were full, but we were still able to find room to stop if we wanted to grab a pix. We were back at West Glacier shortly after noon and in Kalispell in time for a late lunch.

Summary... This 175 mile round trip was well worth the effort. Carpe Dinkum, our Ford Focus, performed flawlessly. Sandi was very happy to have a manual transmission as it helped keep our speed under control on this long downgrades. The weather could not have been better, with sunny skies, puffy white clouds, and azure skies.

Back at the coach we "crashed". Sandi took a nap while Bob processed his pix. We were both in bed before nine—a perfect ending to a very special day.

Thu, 25 Jun: Another day of sightseeing.

We are in Kalispell Montana, the county seat and self-proclaimed "heart of the Flathead". We didn't know what the Flathead was when we first arrived, but we quickly learned that it is both a river and a lake. And a very large lake at that.

So, this morning we headed south on U.S. 93 to Flathead Lake. It was a lovely drive south along the lake's western shore to the town of Polson at the southern end of the lake. Then back toward Kalispell on MT 35 along the eastern shore. The drive was roughly 100 miles and afforded some beautiful views of a nice lake.

Once back in Kalispell we headed to Costco (yes, there is a Costco here...) for lunch and some victualing. Then a quick stop at the Wal*Mart for more victualing and finally back home.

Tonite we're going to explore the dinner offerings at our Elk's Lodge. We've been parked at the Kalispell Elks Lodge since Sunday and have yet to visit the Lodge other than to check in. The calendar sez BBQ Beef & Chicken, so we shall see...

As of this writing we're planning to head east in the morning to the town of Essex Montana, closer to the eastern portal to Glacier NP. We hope to visit some of the park's eastern venues while there.

From there we are planning to continue east on U.S. 2 toward the Theodore Roosevelt NP in North Dakota. The North Unit camping is primitive, so we'll be watching the heat. We heard from our friends Bob & Caren Collins who are at the South Unit and want us to visit there. Again, we'll have to play it by ear.

We have almost three weeks to get to Forest City Iowa (~ 1,275 miles) so time is with us. We have some ideas, but right now that's all they are—ideas.

So, stay tuned...

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