Exploring the Purple Mountain Majesties Above the Fruited Plain!
Herds of Pronghorn deer followed us as we headed south toward home. They were watching high up on the mountains, in the golden fields, and right next to a herd of cattle taking a break. Prairie dogs waved when we left the dark canyons to oil rich Wyoming and the Little Big Horn Battlefield. Where were the bears now?
Montana and Wyoming
They call it “Big Sky” country. The view is almost hypnotizing. From the top of mountains or valleys you can see for miles and miles and miles. There is a sense of freedom that we don’t have in our well-ordered, tree-lined streets. Interstate highways post 80 mph speed limits because it takes so long to get from one town to another (I suppose). On some Interstates or highways there are few exits. I can see how this could be dangerous and lonely.
Wyoming’s population is about 500K. The prairies are empty and few people drive the dusty, gravel, and oil-enriched roads. I can understand why the military men went a little crazy when they were stationed at Fort Laramie!
Every city or town we visited in Montana had its own personality. Hands down our favorite city was Bozeman. We knew something was different about Bozeman when we visited a quaint super Walmart with a brick facade and shutters. What?
Squatting in the parking lot were at least thirty camping vehicles. Some had disengaged their pickup from the trailer and left the RV sitting in the parking lot … along with a leashed canine. A homeless man living in his car, with a cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup, welcomed us. Did we miss the turn again?
Inside Walmart we met tall thin men and women who were perfectly coiffed wearing designer clothing and jewelry. Many of the items we were looking for were gone. It looked like the place had been raided.
We discovered that Bozeman housed Montana State University with very low costs for people who lived in state, total $17K and out of state $34K. It is a clean preppy town with lots of restaurants and entertainment on Main Street. We were surprised that the median cost of a home was around $500K and that was a small bungalow. Wonder what the average cost would be? We heard that wealthy movie stars had begun moving into town.
Our Main Street walk was a treat with Tom’s stop at the guitar store. I found a keyboard that was retro-cool!!
The town itself is not diverse with a 95% or more light skinned (white) population. We were happy to find a very good Thai restaurant in town. (This was the best meal we had at a restaurant during our long journey.) So we know there are other ethnic groups around. The dry cool sunny weather with no mosquitos in the air or chiggers at our feet was agreeable. We will be back again soon!
Glacier National Park was not Mecca (Makkah)
Glacier was going to be our majesty mountain trek. A Hungry Horse campground was to be our home for four days while we adventured in the park. Up until the day we arrived, the west end of the park was closed due to fire. Luck was our friend when they opened up the road for buses only. You had to stand in line in order to obtain a free pass for one day. Tom did not want to risk standing in line and decided to book us on a Red Bus at $95 per person to see the park. I thought the cost was a bit steep.
Fall arrived on the day we were to travel through the park on the Going to the Sun Highway. We met the Red Bus at Abgar Visitor Center. When we arrived, there were hundreds (or more) of people standing in line hoping for a free shuttle pass. One man was handing out the passes and ended up with only three left for a party of five.
Feeling sad for the group a young Asian lady came up and gave them her pass and then another did the same thing, so that the group could travel together. These acts were more than unselfish!!
The park ranger announced to the hundreds of people waiting in line that all the passes had be given out. (I almost cried. People were so sad.) One man said that he had been waiting at the park since 5:00 a.m. It was now 8:30 a.m. International travelers come to the park, maybe once in their lives, and now they have missed it!
I love national parks. But so do millions of other people. Glacier is only open 8-12 weeks a year with over 2 million visitors. We figured that there were 30K visitors a day. There are not enough parking spaces anywhere in the park for that many people. We were told that parking lots were filled by 9:00 a.m. every morning. The free shuttle will drop you off at parking lots but it is not the same as wandering through the park on your own. And, the shuttles fill up quickly so you might still miss the park even it was totally open, as I have read in one international visitor’s blog!
Our tour guide and driver Matt was excellent but the 8-hour ride in a 1937 re-tooled bus was horrendous. We were quickly shuffled through the burning part of the park toward the east end. It was too hazardous to stop. Probably the most meaningful stop on the trip was Logan Pass, the Watertown-Glacier International Peace Park where both the U.S.A. and Canada fly flags in a show of a peaceful relationship.
Smoke filled the valleys and clouded our view of the park. Some of the views were stunning but we saw them only for a fleeting second. There was a pitiful lunch stop at the Many Waters hotel with bad food while it rained and sleeted outside. In fact for most of the time we toured Glacier it was in the 40’s with wind, rain, and sleet beating us down. All of us were anxious for the trip to end so we could warm up and get off the crappy not maintained roads.
This pilgrimage was full of side roads and wonderful adventures. We can’t share all of them. Tom is thinking of making a list of the places he loved. My next blog will attempt to describe Missoula, Butte, Ennis and more! What a trip!
As always this blog is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge.
P.S. There are only 25 glaciers left in the park out of 150 that were discovered in the 19th century. I believe our driver said we could see only nine of them (Not impressive!). If you want to see glaciers visit Alaska where there are perhaps 100,000!