Monday, July 4, 2011

Last day of epic heroic journey, July 3

Mileage: 2549, July 3     I wake up in Havre, MT,  and it’s already hot. I go park my car in the shade outside the hotel. . . the Townhouse Inn.  This hotel was a bit expensive, but they allowed me to have the dog. No Red Roof in town. At first I was a bit disappointed yesterday when I found the hotel, because it was right on the railroad tracks, three sidings worth. Box cars parked right outside the back hotel door, which was my door. But then I thought, the train has been my buddy all across the northern plains; we might as well sleep next to each other. And besides just one giant earthquake type sound which indicated that many cars had just received a power nudge and all pushed together, I slept like a true railroad fan.
the sweet smelling sage (?) trees


The shade trees I selected were the ones that emitted the mysterious sweet smell I had been smelling for the last day on my way through the eastern Montana towns. I asked two room cleaners who were taking a smoking break in the parking lot what type of trees they were. Sage trees I was told. I’ll have to look that up, so check the pictures, maybe you know the answers.
So today I am going to make it to my destination. It will not take me all day, and the drive will be pleasant. I am feeling good. I will follow US Route 2 west across the the west half of Montana to the mountains and cross the Rockies at Marias Pass, a very important pass. . . it opened the northern RR route over the Rockies and caused the huge tourist lodges in what is now Glacier National Park to be built. Nice drive.
First I want to see the Buffalo Jump, and I am disappointed that an ugly mall with an uncared for parking lot, full of chunks of loose asphalt, has been plopped down in front of this important ancient site. It was truly difficult to imagine Indian tribes cooperating in getting the buffalo to go a certain way in a mad rush so there would be enough of a harvest at the foot of the precipice to feed all people through the winter, make tipis and clothing and bone beads, needles, weapons, fishing hooks. . . everything. Everything came from the buffalo. You could say that the mall was placed in the same spot where two thousand years ago the local folks collected their product. What a different type of civilization we have become. And yes, the buffalo were killed by machine gun (Gatling guns) by the railroads and the US Calvary after the Civil War so that the Natives would no longer have a sustainable way of life. And that is still more than evident when I pass through their nations, which dot this state.
So I leave Havre and immediately pass at least seven white crosses on the highway. Be careful. Do not text and drive or drink and drive. Same difference when it comes to driving a car. The flatland around me is green with crops. . . there are squares of brown fields that are not planted and squares of something green growing. 
planted and unplanted fields

I tried to get bugs off windshield, really!

planted and unplanted fields of wheat

sage tree windbreak

where Wheaties come from; RR picks up grain here

the old elevators were more scenic-Lothair

Fresh and new. What is it? It looks like grass. I pull over and look at it hard. It is new green wheat. . . I see the heads are there, but so green still. There are many agricultural silos, shiny silver or white- white. I am talking to my husband Jim on the phone, and he is following my route on Google maps back in Massachusetts. He tells me what little towns are ahead of me, and I tell him how long it takes for me to drive through them.  Kremlin is ahead. Kremlin is behind. That took about one minute to pass through, even at the in-town speed limit. Most of the towns up here are less than villages, but they do have cell towers. So I lose Jim between the little towns, and when I see a cell tower, I voice-command my Blue Ant to call him. Hands free phoning, I love it. I figure I always used to sing at the top of my voice when I drive, still do. . . Dixie Chicks and Bonnie Raitt, etc., so why not have a conversation. It works.
Oh, I am excited. I see a mountain ahead, at one o’clock (west north west) I’ll tell Jim to check it next time I get him on the phone.  How many miles away is that? Is that the Rocky Mountains? I see a sign. . . Shelby, 74 miles.  the cruise control is set at 65. People pass me. They are doing 80. There are no breakdown lanes. I decide to go 70. That’s easy. It takes me less than 20 minutes to go 20 miles. Back in the day when people crossed these high plains making their way west in wagons, 20 miles of progress was a stupendous day. This would have been a good time of year to be on their way. All the water holes are full of water. It won’t be that way in a month. I wonder why half the fields are not planted. Are they paid not to plant them? It’s too late this year. The brown fields will dry up and blow around in the wind when it gets dry. What a waste. But maybe there is a good reason. I am so negative today, considering the beauty. I pass Hingham. A grain silo town. The few houses have tree wind breaks planted around them. The wind just rips down from Canada all winter long. I can’t imagine living here in the winter. Happy July everyone! Only 4 to 5 months to snow time again.
The sky is immense. Every time I go up a little rise, I have to look down to see the horizon. I am in a blue world. I know why the pioneer ladies who planted themselves here went mad. Too much sky.  I see a house that faces a hill, rather than the wide view. I get it. You have to anchor yourself to something.
There is a sign. It says:  “Rudyard. 596 nice people live here.”  That’s good. That’s a lot of people in one place out here. OK, Jim on the phone. I ask him the mountain question. . . He says, that is Mount Lebanon and Mount Brown. Not the Rockies. I can see that now. There is just flat land ahead of me.  Here is a sign for Sweet Grass Hills. I pass by the historic sign. Darn. But I don’t want to go back. I am at mile 2604.  Now I am passing through Chester.  I see they have a rest area with bathrooms that look like original prairie cabins. Very authentic. But I don’t have to go, so I don’t stop.  I am out of the agro-farm area for awhile.  Sage, sage everywhere. I love sage.  I tell Jim wait a minute I am stopping the car, once I get out there in the plains again. He waits. I pull over get out and yank some sage from the side of the road. It is fresh and soft and velvety with seeds forming at the top. I stick it in my car, and it smells good. Jim thinks I am nuts. At that exact moment of stopping, one of those crazy bicyclists passes by going in the other direction. He yells at me, the lady with the left leg prosthesis who has gotten out of her car to wade into the grass and yank something. . . are you OK?  Yes, fine. I give him the thumbs up and he keeps grinding it out up the road.
My car is now carrying the essence of sage. Yoko does not mind it. She is in the front seat today, she insisted . She is sick of riding in the back seat. She just got up her energy and kept jumping into the front seat until I said OK.  She wants the AC on full blast. Otherwise, she pants. So it’s blasting.
Tiben Dam, 14 miles to the south. I lose Jim again on the phone. I told him to go have fun a few times, but he said that this was fun, following me on Google maps. Vicarious travel. But this time I really lost him.
I practice my point and shoot technique seriously on a vintage wooden grain elevator at Lothair. It looks good, for 60 mph, don’t you think? I come to Galata. There is a cemetery on the left of the road, and maybe four houses on the right. And then four white crosses on the highway after that. Now it’s hilly with cuts and draws. . . can’t have a field here, so there are cattle fences. So Far, no cattle. Then back to farmland.  I start to look at company insignia on the grain elevators I see. Watermark Grain Corporation.
Oh, there are some cattle! They are playing king of the hill on a dung mound. There is definitely a winner. He’s up there. The two mountains Jim looked up for me are on my right now at 3 o’clock. Mileage. . . 2637.
OH, WHAT IS THAT?  I see ahead a windfarm. Tiny still very tiny. I am in Dunkirk, sign says 10 miles to Shelby.   
windfarm east of Shelby. More than 100 wind turbines

99 miles to Glacier National Park. Now I am getting somewhere.
I pass by something that I now wish I had jammed on my brakes for. I think I might even go all the way back to look at it. A little bare tree with dead branches sat next to the railroad tracks. In the tree about four feet off the ground balanced a nest made out of sticks. In the nest, a large fat bird. Maybe a hawk. I could not believe she would build her nest next to a busy railroad track. How many trains had she glared at so far as they shook her tree? And she sits just about top-of-the-wheel height. I’m just going to have to keep that picture in my head. Wow.
Now there is a RR crew coming towards her. They are laying down new rail on a Sunday! What will she do when they get near her? Peck them, maybe. I see ahead what I think are white wisps of smoke coming up from the horizon, like many campfires.

And then I see it is the snow fields of the Rocky Mountains. . .there are the mountains!  I hear on the radio that some ski areas are open for the Fourth of July. Insane. So much snow this year. I am now in Shelby.
A big billboard of a cute little boy. “Second hand smoke causes asthma attacks.”  Smokers don’t seem to realize why their kids are sickly. Cuz they are smoking, 2. You know it.
I stop at a very busy car/truck stop. It is so hot that I run in to pee, hoping Yoko will be OK long enough. I come back and she is already panting, but the AC goes right back on. We cross under a double lane north/south route: Interstate 15.  For a ways it is too hilly and butte-y for wheat farms. Then I come out from behind one of those hills and see it. .. the biggest wind farm ever (pictures above). I see at least 30 turbines, all turned in different directions. Some turning lazily, but most stationary. There is a white farmhouse way out there under the turbines. I wonder how they are doing in the giant shadows, but they are probably living somewhere else, considering the sum of money they most certainly (hopefully) were paid. I stop on the highway because I can, there are very few  cars on this section of the highway today, and take pictures. Later, I read that there are more than 100 windmills at this installation.  I am in Glacier County now.
Next town up Cut Bank. . . a sign proclaims how many millions of gallons of oil and billions of square feet of natural gas the town has produced. Or farmed. Or harvested. However they say it. . . they must have to constantly update the sign. I slow down to the 45 then 35 then 25 mph speed limit. . . this is a real town. . . A nice old courthouse, built in 1938, a substantial senior citizen center, one of the best I’ve seen in Montana, and they are playing Transformers at the movies. The city hall looks like a recycled drive-thru bank. Kudos for recycling a building, Cut Bank! And then, I am down the hill and heading west fast into the country.  There are some daring cattle way up on a rock cliff. Silly bovines.
I’m on my way to Browning, home of the Blackfeet Indians. I see the mountains out there in front of me loud and clear. 

sorry about the windshield glare

Mountains have big spirits. . . if only we would stop to feel it. I wonder how many days the pioneers saw the mountains before they reached them. There they are, still snow capped over the lush green fields. I am going to see trees soon!  I love the smell of mountain firs. It is nice that although I am in flat country once again, the vanishing point in front of me on the straight road is the mountains. I stop and read the sign about the Blackfeet tribe. 
click on the pix, and it will enlarge so you can read!

Mileage 2701.  I come to Interstate 89, which leads south to Great Falls. Well, there are no great falls anymore, the river has been dammed. No more fabulous fish jumping over the great falls. Sad. But we know where they so recently were.  A sign says “Crosswinds,” because this is a road condition. There is a wind sock straight out, winds from the south west. I pass the Blackfeet College and a large office building for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.   

And then lots of little tiny houses. A sign “Drinking and driving leads to empty lodges. The alcohol spirit is real.”  I see the Blackfeet Trading Post, and know I would have spent money there if only Yoko would not have roasted in the car. She is good for my wallet (when we are not at the veterinarian’s office). Here is the Museum of the Plains Indians. I will come back here with my granddaughter. . . without the dog, and spend the day. There is much to learn. And a sign. . . only 12 miles to East Glacier. Almost to one of the best National Parks in the country, and the gateway to the other side of the Rockies. Sadly, the Indians are living in a low economic situation. Here is a large housing project in the city limits. And then, we are out in the country again. . . big ranches with horses. Sign: Blackfeet Nation Bison Preserve. 
cattle on the Blackfeet bison preserve
 I get excited when I see dark spots and slow down to take a picture. When I enlarge it. . . they are cattle. Not bison. Do cattle and bison live harmoniously together? Hmmmm. . .  Then I go over Two Medicine River and I am in East Glacier!  2723 miles on the odometer. Trees!  Trees!  Route two here is beautiful. I zip under the railroad bridge into the park for a few minutes to take a picture of the imposing Glacier Park Lodge, one of several grand old hotel lodges in the park.  It is gorgeous. Built by the railroad barons themselves. 
Railroad underpass to East Glacier

red vehicle on left is a "jammer" tour bus, Glacier Park

There are campers and motorcycles on the road as we travel west on Route 2. . . . this is Marias Pass, “discovered” in 1889 after a long year of tramping around in the wilderness looking for it by a railroad surveyor named  Frank Stevens. But he didn’t really discover it. . .he had an Indian guide, of course.
The Continental Divide!  Elevation 5216.
I stop at a waterfall, and turn in at the Goat Lick to see if I can see any mountain goats licking salt off the cliff today. Yes, two. . . very far away. 
snowmelt falls galore

see human, below, and then know the size of falls

click to enlarge, and see goat in center of cliff

now she has jumped to the left with her baby kid

I get back on the highway, and there is a whole flock of goats lying right there by the side of the road, chewing and staring at the tourists who are staring at them. I couldn’t get a picture, was trapped between moving traffic, and it was too late to pull over. Oh well. Rushing rushing rushing streams, snow melt, fresh air, beaver dam, snow fields, avalanche sheds over the railroad tracks, the train running above my head now as the road shoots down. .  The bear grass is blooming, white pom poms waving in the breeze.  I pass the Isaac Walton Inn, which is another famous railroad stop. You can stop there on Amtrack! I come to a tic-tac-toe grid of nine white crosses. It must have been a bus. Or two loaded cars hitting head on. I cringe.  I see some motels that are doing well, and others that are closed and for sale. It’s a short season here, and very hard to make a financial go of it. But if you need a strategy to lose money, what a nice place to do it. I pass by Stanton Creek, the Bar Café is doing well. Four more crosses and wreaths. Jersey barriers on a sharp curve! Unheard of in Montana. Someone of note must have driven over the cliff. Now I see the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. . . again. . . I passed by it at the Goat Lick.  It is still raging beside me. The water looks like gray green milk. Normally it is crystal clear. Magnetic blue lupine blossoms along the highway. Smashing! A red vintage Jammer tour bus drives by . . . driven by the same driver I had last year when I went up the mountain. Scroll back to Summer 2010, and you’ll find the post of that fabulous trip. I am leaving the area of Glacier Park now, have just passed the Belton Chalet at the west entrance. And I gas up in Hungry Horse. My last fill up, I am almost finished traveling. Gas here: $3.58 a gallon. Odometer: 2786.  Now I am in the Montana I have lived in on and off since 2007. The south fork of the Flathead River is beside me, and it has covered the flats that people normally stand on to fly fish. No fly fishing for now, too much turmoil and silt in the water. The Flathead River is dam controlled at the south end of Flathead Lake, so although it is boiling, it is not flooding like the Missouri River is. Five white crosses just before the House of Mystery, where the Montana Vortex is advertised to reside. They are busy today, lots of cars in their lot. I turn left at Big Sky Water Park, and head for Bigfork. Fifteen minutes later I am seeing the Swan Range that pushes up to the sky on the east side of Flathead Lake (which is about as big as Cape Cod Bay). I take the appropriate turns and talk to my daughter on the phone. She and the granddaughter are grocery shopping for me. NICE! I turn again at Echo Lake Café, and then I pass by the swollen Echo Lake. The snow melt has really caused a sensation on the lake, the causeway is closed to traffic because it is two feet under water. Luckily, I don’t have to cross it. I drive down Sherman Lane. . . my road and pull up at my western home. Tipi in the yard to greet me. Mileage: 2817.  Yoko has been standing in the passenger seat with her paws on the window ledge for the past ten minutes. She knew just where we were. Of course. We have arrived! And the peonies are in full bloom for us. Groceries coming shortly, and the people I want to see. Wonderful. I turn off the key. Well done, little 2001 Toyota Highlander!
The finish line! We have arrived!

If you’ve read this far, and you think this was long, you may blame it on my friend Marie Reilly. She told me to get off the Interstates. Well, I did, and there was much more to comment upon. Much more!

The territory I've covered in the past two days, above.


Jim Wolf said...

What a great peice of travel writing--not to mention the fantastic photos. You are something else. I love it when you stopped for the sage! And what a character that yoko has turned out to be. Love you!


bnow said...

Fantastic reporting Irene! You and Yoko are amazing. Hope you both are well-rested by now and are enjoying yourselves out there. Big hug to the both of you. Will you write some prompts with us soon? Would be cool if the group could conference call with you one Friday morning, even for a few minutes.
Sending lots of love,
Linda xoxo