Home is where we are parked

Home is where we are parked
Home is where we are parked

Friday, September 22, 2017

MT -- Columbia Falls & Glacier NP, 28 Aug-18 Sep 2017



Three weeks in Columbia Falls, Montana…

Why we came…

To explore Glacier National Park!

The campground…

Glacier Peaks RV Park is just west of Columbia Falls at the intersection of Hwy 2 and Hwy 40. Helen, the owner was very sweet, eager to answer questions, and made our stay comfortable. She gave us our choice of the available sites. Helen even gave us fresh tomatoes from her garden.

The RV Park has 60 RV spaces with large pull through sites and long back-in sites at the back of park. There are large petunia boxes brightening the park everywhere.

It has one full service cabin and 5 sleeper cabins. The sleeper cabins are conveniently located next to a restroom/shower facility and several picnic tables. There is one other restroom building. Unfortunately, the urinal in the men’s room and one of the ladies stalls are out of order. But they are kept impeccably clean.

The laundry room at the front of the park has a number of washers and dryers but a few of them are out of order. It is open to the public so it stays pretty busy.

They offer good secure wi-fi and cable. The wi-fi would hiccup only once in a great while. Overall it ran very efficiently. Plus, we had a reliable 4 bar, LTE Verizon cell phone signal.

We selected a full hook-up, 70’ back-in site at the rear of the park. We were barely able to get a satellite signal through the tall trees. But we managed it!

Unfortunately, the park is located at a major highway intersection. We could hear semi trucks’ exhaust brakes as they slowed down for the traffic light till late at night and then again early in the morning. We had to use a fan through the night drown out the noise.

Glacier Peaks is priced lower than some of the campgrounds to the east that are closer to West Glacier.

It is conveniently located with access to Glacier National Park, Whitefish, Kalispell, and Flathead Lake.

Ellen stayed in Glacier Peaks RV Park’s full service cabin. It worked out well since we were just a few dozen steps from each other. She was able to wander over any time in the morning when she was ready for an adventure. Arleen could easily go visit with her.

The cabin is very cute! It has a queen size bed, dresser, reclining chair, kitchen with full size refrigerator, and full bathroom with shower and closet. It has a large porch which would have been nice if the weather had been warmer during her visit.

Though we were comfortable at Glacier Peaks, next time we’d choose either the West Glacier KOA or North American RV Park for their closer locations to the Park and quieter settings.

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Columbia Falls RV Park needs some TLC but we were comfortable

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Roughly 25 turkeys occasionally ran through the park  /  Another smoky sunset

Nearby towns…

Columbia Falls, population ~5,000 and elevation 3,087 feet, has a decent selection of restaurants, two grocery stores, and some services.  It’s a busy little town surrounded by an outdoors paradise.

Whitefish, population ~7,000 and elevation 3,028 feet, is 10 miles west and has more of a resort town feel.  It has more restaurants, stores, and services.  It sits at the south end of beautiful Whitefish Lake and there is a decent sized ski resort nearby.  We could easily live there!

Kalispell, population ~22,000 and elevation 2,956 feet, is 17 miles southwest and is the main shopping and service center in the area.  It feels much bigger and busier than its 22,000 people population.  In fact, Wikipedia says there are nearly 100,000 people living in the Kalispell area, which includes Columbia Falls and Whitefish.

Glacier National Park…

Glacier National Park, established in May of 1910, is in the northwest corner of Montana sharing the Canadian border with its international peace park , Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park.

“The park encompasses over 1 million acres and includes parts of two mountain ranges, over 130 named lakes, more than 1,000 different species of plants, and hundreds of species of animals. This vast pristine ecosystem is the centerpiece of what has been referred to as the "Crown of the Continent Ecosystem", a region of protected land encompassing 16,000 square miles”.

“The current glaciers in the park are estimated to be at least 7,000 years old and peaked in size in the mid-1800s, during the Little Ice Age.” Today there are roughly 30 glaciers clinging to remote mountain sides.

Glacier National Park has seven main areas. We had plans to explore the west side including Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, and Polebridge areas.


On 29 August we made our first trip into Glacier National Park…

It was so exciting as we drove through the gate at West Glacier. I had never visited Glacier and Arleen only visited as a little girl.


We were familiar with the Sprague fire. We had been following it on Inci web (InciWeb is an interagency all-risk incident information management system). The wildfire was expected to crawl into higher terrain and impact only a very small percentage of the park. Sadly, that is not what happened…

We were surprised to see smoke obstructing the view across McDonald Lake. As we climbed the Going to the Smoke… I mean Sun Highway, we could barely see the mountains, glaciers, and snowfields all around us. We paused at a few turnouts to capture blurry images. We hoped that we would return another day to see all its glory.

We barely found a spot at Logan Pass. Despite the smoke, the parking lot was full. We took a short walk around the visitor’s center.  We noted that most of the Fireweed’s petals were gone. Fireweed is a prognosticator of winter. A few petals clinging to some plants were all that was keeping the snow from flying.

We enjoyed reading the park’s creative interpretive signs about the area’s mammals. However, the smoke was obscuring the views that are normally possible from this high vantage point at 6,646 feet. It was like we only had a peak through the curtains.

Despite the reduced visibility we set off on the Hidden Lake Overlook trail.  The hike starts on a boardwalk through tundra filled with the remains of wildflowers back dropped by several tall granite mountains. We could glimpse snowfields and glaciers hanging high on a few of them. 

At the overlook we could barely discern the lake far below us in a shroud of smoke. Still we pressed on a little further and that's when we met our goat friend. 

The nanny Mountain Goat was resting under some shrubbery. As she moved towards us, we backed along the trail. Still she pressed on browsing on greens as she moved. It appeared as if Arleen was walking her for a little while. 

She was not skittish. She just wanted to eat her fill of wildflowers. 

On the way back the smoke started to lift giving us a better view of the scenery all around us. We also saw a small band of goats with a few kids. Though we made some special memories, we still felt that the smoke robbed us of incredible views.

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Hike route to Hidden Lake overlook  /  Getting the Glacier stamp for her National Passport book

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Smoky view along the Going to the Sun road

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We enjoyed the short nature trail at the Logan Pass Visitor Center  /  Boardwalk and snow stakes on the Hidden Lake trail

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Flowers, streams, and waterfalls along the Hidden Lake trail

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Even with the smoke, it’s still spectacular

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Posing above Hidden Lake

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Arleen’s mountain goat  /  Most of the fireweed was nearly done…winter is nearing

On 1 September we went back up to Logan Pass…

On the first of September a weak cold front pressed through the area, mixed the air, and the wind direction switched. We woke up that morning and checked out the web cams in the park. It looked relatively smoke free.

It was time to rush to do the Highline trail from Logan Pass. We hurriedly drove up the Going to the Sun highway. And it was going to the sun today, not the smoke. It was absolutely amazing! We stopped at the same overlooks to take comparison shots.

As we rounded the final road switchback, we noted the American flag above the visitor’s center was flapping brutally in the high wind. We stepped out and it felt chilly. We donned our jackets and set out. The hope was that the wind was funneling through Logan Pass and would let up once we were out on the ledge.

After we crossed the highway, we were greeted by a park volunteer, who was making sure everyone had enough water as the trail has no water sources, is long, and she said they were averaging a rescue a day.

Just past her, there in the middle of the trail was a large pile of bear scat. We teased her about pooping in the trail and eating too many berries. She laughed with us.

The Highline Trail is almost 12 miles from Logan Pass to the “The Loop” parking area. We did over two and half miles along the Garden Wall ledge to just below Granite Park Chalet. The entire length we had views of Bird Woman Falls, Clements Mountain, Mount Cannon, Heavens Peak, Vulture Peak, and glaciated valleys.

Thankfully, only a quarter mile up the trail, we turned and the wind let up. This was good! There is a short section where the edge trail hugs the wall. A chain is provided for security. It is so narrow in places; you have to wait for oncoming hikers to pass.

We hiked to just behind Haystack Butte. We found a dry fall whose boulders made a perfect bench to rest and take in the magnificent view.

We were so glad that we went back that day. We later learned that as the front pushed through, the winds picked up, the Sprague wildfire almost doubled in size and the historic Sperry chalet was lost to flames despite the brave firemen attempts to save it. As we drove down, we could see smoke billowing out of the area of the fire. The McDonald Lake area would only be open for four more days because of the fire and the smoke.

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Hike route on the Highline Trail  /  Starting the hike

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Less smoke and better views!

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Enjoying the incredible beauty along the Highline Trail

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Posing along the trail

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We love it when the terrain makes us feel small

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Going to the Sun highway heading up to Logan Pass  /  See Arleen?

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Life is great!

On 2 September we had a special experience in the northwest part of the park…

Arleen’s dear friend Linda, who lives in Montana, joined us for a few days.  She and Arleen have wanted to hike together for years.  The three of us would have a very special hike together in a remote part of Glacier.

To get to the Polebridge Ranger station, we headed 34 miles north out of Columbia Falls on the North Fork road. After about 7 miles it turns to dirt. There are a few sections near cabins that are paved for dust control but for the most part it is a rough dirt road.

We took a right at Polebridge Loop and then a left onto Glacier Drive at the busy Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery. It was a bit of a shock seeing folks milling about after very little traffic for 34 miles.

After another mile and a half we parked at the historic Polebridge ranger station. Then we walked a few yards up the “inside” North Fork Road and ducked left into the woods.

We walked a ways through a lodgepole forest that slowly transitioned to larch and mixed pines. After a half mile we emerged onto a meadow.

The meadow was covered in spent wildflowers. It must be spectacular in July! It is the sort of meadow where we could have seen deer, elk, or even a bear. We walked to the far side and ducked back in the woods.

We exited the woods nearly a half mile from the ranger station on the “inside” road. We sauntered along the road and the North Fork Flathead River edge. We were able to peer into the clear river from the 50 foot cliff at the rafts floating by. It just looked so pleasant!

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Hike to Covey Meadow  /  Much of the trail went through a dense lodgepole pine forest

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Early fall colors in Covey Meadow  /  Linda and Arleen above the North Fork of the Flathead River

Next, we drove up the “inside” road another 3 miles and parked at narrow pullout area. The trail initially pitched up a couple hundred feet. We walked through the woods for just over a mile.

Again, it started in a plain lodgepole pine forest. Then there was a transition point with pleasant larch, spruce, and aspen with mixed pines. It was in this area that Linda asked Arleen if she smelt anything funny. Linda said it smelt as if something had died.

We emerged onto a very pleasant meadow with a small pond that was graced with a Trumpeter Swan pair. Interestingly, “Trumpeter Swans breeding in Montana are non-migrants.”

We greeted a couple who had arrived just before us. They walked down to the pond to get pictures of the swans floating peacefully on the reflective water. We took shade under an enormous Douglas fir to take a break.

All of the sudden Linda exclaimed, "Look, there's a bear!" Arleen and I spun our heads! Sure enough a bear was emerging from the woods, right where Linda had smelled an awful odor! We could make out the top of his head and his back in the tall grass. On his back was a telltale hump… It was a GRIZZLY!

The other couple was still by the pond and oblivious about the bear. I shouted in my big boy voice, “There's a bear coming right at you!”  The man and woman looked around and yelled back, “Where? We don’t see it!” The bear ignored us and continued to walk through the tall grass towards the couple. Our elevated position gave us a good view of the two people and the bear, and the situation got more and more tense.

Finally, the man could see the bruin. Both of them started yelling at the bear and clapping their hands. That got the bear’s attention. He raised his head, took a good look, spun around, and sauntered away. 

The couple moved back from the pond to join us. Their senses were still in overdrive after their close encounter. We all kept scanning the area. We saw the bear emerge at the west end of the pond, crawl into the water, and take a leisurely swim. 

So we walked as a group down to the edge of the pond to get some good pictures. It was an amazing experience to watch the big bear dunking his head under the water and pulling greens and sticks up from the bottom! When he was done, he disappeared like a ghost into the cover of the shrubs.

The five of us took a break under the shade of a mighty Douglas tree.  We continually scanned the far side of the pond. We knew based on how the swans were turning their heads, where he was.

We were awarded a few times spotting him as he circled the pond. We were joined by another trio of folks who were also excited to see the grizzly.

Reluctantly, after watching him for an hour, we moved back down the trail. We alerted hikers headed towards the meadow of the bear. What an incredible experience!

Finally, we stopped at the ranger’s station to tell him about our sighting. He commented after seeing the picture that the bear was a “big boy”.

Linda departed the next day after we met her for a good breakfast. We look forward to her joining us again in Glacier for more wildlife adventures in 2 years.

Note: On September 5th, most of the West Glacier area closed including our meadow hike areas due to the wildfires and smoke.

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Hike route to Hidden Meadow  /  Practicing for a bear encounter

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Big douglas fir at the edge of Hidden Meadow  /  Two trumpeter swans

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We watched this big grizzly for an hour.  It was a special experience!

On 4 September we hiked near Whitefish…

The city of Whitefish has an extensive Trail system. We had a few hours in the afternoon and the 2.5 mile Skyles Lake Overlook loop was perfect.

“The Whitefish Trail is the result of a community collaborative project to preserve clean water, public access, recreation, thriving forests, uncluttered views and wildlife. To date, Whitefish Legacy Partners and the City of Whitefish have built 36 miles of trail and ten trailheads readily accessed from town.”

We started the loop from the Lion Mountain Trail Head. It has ample parking and a nice outhouse. The area is popular with mountain bikers and there were several vehicles parked there.

The hike starts up a gentle hill through a forest of thinned lodgepole, occasional Ponderosa and spruce with a carpet of maple bushes, huckleberries and other undergrowth. Fire swept through the area in the early 20th century. They have kept it thinned since.

We hiked past the Learning Pavilion. The area was decorated with signs that children had recently created there. “Don’t wear headphones on the trail.” “Don’t feed bears.” “Wolverines are rare and stink.” “Cougars are in trees.” “Don’t walk cats on the trail.” The kids’ signs were very amusing and made us smile.

After a quick uphill mile hike, we came to the overlook. From a comfortable bench, we looked down upon Skyles Lake. We enjoyed an apple break and the antics of a chipmunk. The valley, like rest of the area, was shrouded in smoke.

The way back was about a mile and a half of gentle switchbacks. None of it was overly steep. Arleen was able to handle it with her trekking poles.

We were surprised that we only saw three mountain bikers and one other hiker during our outing. When we returned to the parking lot, there was only one other vehicle left. The vast network of trails really spreads folks out.

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Hike route to the Skyles Lake Overlook  /  Let’s go!

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Sasquatch home?  /  Taking a break at the overlook

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Signs like these were posted all along the trail.  We loved them!  (Click on images for a better view.)

On 6 September we hiked to Stanton Lake…

Arleen was excited to return to a wilderness area for the first time in three months. A visit to Stanton Lake and the Great Bear Wilderness would get her there.

We drove east on Highway 2 for 36 miles. The smoke reduced visibility to around a mile. Just past the Stanton Creek Lodge is a small parking area.

There were only two other vehicles in the parking lot. It was either because we were past Labor Day or because the smoke was bad and most of Glacier was closed, but the crowds had disappeared.

Given the name, Great Bear, we each strapped on our bear spray and bells before we headed up the trail. The trail pitches up for a half mile climbing a steep 300 feet.

As it climbs it meanders through a mixed pine, cedar, birch, and aspen forest. The cedar added to the rain forest feel along with the dense understory of ferns, berries, devil’s club, and moss dangling from trees.

After a mile, the trail drops to the pretty emerald and clear Stanton Lake. We had caught two other hikers. We could hear their bear bells ahead of us. We saw three other people on the way out and we were impressed that everyone carried bear spray.

It was very peaceful at the lake. There was no wind and no man-made noises of any kind. The only thing we heard was the haunting wail of the common loon. We always pause, and listen to them.

We hiked up to the far south side of lake. We had to push uphill through head-high thimble berry, fireweed, and cow’s parsnip. We could tell by how overgrown the trail is, very few people push beyond the lake.

It was a jungle! There could easily have been a bear right there! We kept our “Hey Bear” calls up. We even played nature jeopardy so we would keep up the noise level.

There were a few nice camp spots near the south end with a nice rocky beach. But after we pushed to the far south end, it ended in a thicket of willows. I could have maybe walked down the inlet stream back to the lake. However, Arleen did not have water footwear and I could not let her walk back through the bear corridor without me.

We went back to the camp site and took a break. Sadly, the only sign of fish were tiny minnows. If there were trout, we didn’t see them. It is big for a mountain lake; a mile long and a quarter mile wide.

This is one of those hikes that is uphill both ways. We had to hike up and over the ridge to drop back down to the highway.

We noted that the smoke had thickened while we were in the woods. The visibility was less than a mile and it smelled more acidic. The air was very still. It would be a few days before a southerly flow would set up and move the smoke at all.

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Hike route to Stanton Lake  /  The trail was overgrown beyond the lake

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Stanton Lake was very peaceful.  The smoke and wailing loons made it eerie.

On 8 September I fished the North Fork Flathead River…

The three forks of the Flathead River are known for their great fishing.  I hoped to fish all three forks while in the area and started with the North Fork.

I studied a few maps and satellite and decided to focus on a braided section of the fairly large river.  I wasn’t sure about the 3/4 mile long hike to the river.  I had to get “boots on the ground”.

My route started in a thinned lodgepole forest.  Usually walking through lodgepole is a pain in the butt, but this was mercifully easygoing. Then I popped out in a large cleared patch with very tightly spaced 4-7 foot high lodgepoles…yuck!  Thankfully there was a path, but I had to duck under and crawl over many downed trees.  I was leery of running into a bear and it felt a little spooky.  As I neared the steep descent to the river, the vegetation got thicker and the going got rougher. 

I made it down to a stagnant side slough of the river.  There was no way I could follow the silty slough but a beaver dam would make it possible to cross.  Once across, I would have a quarter mile of tough bush-whacking to reach the river.  That was too much time and effort so I turned around and headed back to the truck.

I drove a few miles back downstream and stopped where a big island separated the river in two channels.  It was a steep descent to the river, but there was a well worn path.  As well worn paths usually do on pretty streams, it lead right to a good fishing hole. 

I flogged the hole for at least 45 minutes and saw no signs of life.  I fished my way upstream to the top of the island and no fish stirred.  Then I fished my way down the other side of the island and got no bites.  Though this stretch of river is popular with rafters, I didn’t see any.  The air was still and the smoke was thick…it was peaceful. 

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Two fishing routes on the North Fork Flathead River  /  A bald eagle keeping an eye on the river for a snack

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Lots of smoke and no fish, but it was peaceful

On 10 September we hiked to Skiumah Lake…

We eagerly monitored the long range forecast for a change in the winds to blow out all the smoke. On the 9th of September, the front we were looking for rolled through. We headed out early the next morning to a great view of Flathead Valley for the first time since our arrival. In addition, the air condition was finally green (good) rather than red (unhealthy).

We drove up the Middle Fork of the Flathead River on Highway 2 to the Skiumah Creek trailhead in the Flathead Range.

The hike starts out in a mix of pines, alder, birch, with an understory of berries, devil’s club and spent wild flowers. A new one to us was a twisted stalk. It has leaves like corn but has bright red berries in the fall.

In some areas, the understory was almost six feet tall. Arleen would disappear as she tried to push through keeping her head down, so she would not lose the trail. The moss hanging down from trees added to the spooky feeling.

After almost two miles of a steep, rocky, uphill climb, we could see blue breaks in the dense trees. Soon we had glimpses of the lake. We followed the trail around till we were above the lake with the only thing separating us a meadow of wildflowers.

Once we pushed into the “wildflowers”, we realized they were thistle. It took us several minutes to navigate the plants that came up to our armpits. They bit through our clothes. The prickly field seemed to grow larger with each step.

Finally, we were free and standing on an embankment looking down at the pretty lake with Mount Penrose standing at 7,818 feet as a backdrop. We knew that the lake was low because on our satellite image, we were standing in the lake. It was so low in fact there was no longer an outlet. Seepage through the old moraine was creating the creek we had crossed on the way up.

I made a few halfhearted casts. I didn’t see any signs of fish. My research had not revealed any details of fish.

We had noted a few piles of bear scat on way up the trail. On our way down, we saw a huge pile that looked more like dog poo but it did not contain any berries. Then we discovered a tree down across the trail that had not been there on our way up just like the big pile of poo! Could Sasquatch have left the pile of poo and pushed the tree over across our path?

Also, it should be noted that we did not see anyone else on this quiet trail.

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Hike route to Skiumah Lake  /  Crossing Skiumah Creek

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There were a few piles of bear poop on the trail  /  We walked through chest high thistle to reach the lake

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A field of alpine daisies flourished by the lake  /  Capturing another great memory

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Mountains rise nearly vertically over 3,000 feet above the pretty lake

On 13 September I fished the Middle Fork Flathead River…

We had driven along the Middle Fork on recent adventures and my urge to fish it got stronger each time.  It looked great!  Each glimpse of the pretty river allowed me to select a few prime spots to check out.

I parked at a railroad maintenance access and walked down to the tracks.  After making sure that no train was coming, I crossed the tracks and dropped down to the river. 

I heard small rocks and a scrambling sound on the other side of the river.  I stopped and scanned the area, but didn’t see anything.  A few steps later I heard the sounds again and stopped to look.  This time I spotted a good-sized bear scrambling up the steep hill.  It had been down by the river and took off when it saw me.  I watched it for a minute or two before it disappeared into the woods.

Now I carefully scanned the beautiful river that was still 30 feet below me.  Oh boy…it looked sweet!  A long emerald green run was wedged between steep rocks.  I even spotted a few trout…I was in for treat!

I snacked and then strung up my rod, constantly watching the water.  Each time I saw a trout, I got a little more excited.  I posed for a few pictures and then fished steadily for about two hours.  

Occasional 30 mile per hour winds made casting challenging, but the trout cooperated.  I caught at least 10 cutthroat trout that were 6-13 inches long, not big but very scrappy.  I missed at least that many.  Most them hit a size 16 hares ear nymph fished about 18 inches below a grasshopper.  The water was so clear that I often saw the trout hit the nymph.  It was like fishing an aquarium!

Except for four or five trains cruising by, it was peaceful.  The river was beautiful.  The fall setting was beautiful.  And the fishing was fun.  It was a great day!

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Fish route on the Middle Fork Flathead River  /  I spooked this black bear when I got down to the river

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This stretch of the river is absolutely beautiful

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I caught a bunch of 6-13 inch long cutthroat trout and had a wonderful day!

On 17 September we hiked to the top of Whitefish Mountain…

Arleen is always looking for a slide or a zip line down when we do a steep uphill hike. Whitefish Mountain Resort had the perfect hike for her. We would hike 4 miles and over two thousand feet up the Danny On Trail and then ride a ski lift down!

“The Danny On Trail was dedicated as a memorial to Danny On, a Forest Service silviculturist (forest ecologist) and renowned nature photographer, conservationist and avid skier on The Big Mountain. Danny died at the age of 55 in a skiing accident on The Big Mountain.”

The hike up started in cool trees but from time to time, we would emerge from the trees onto a ski run and get a peek at the valley below. In other areas the trees had been thinned for perfect tree runs.

Near the top of the mountain, we detoured onto the Flower Point Trail. Our pace slowed considerably because we kept stopping to pop huckleberries into our mouths! On this quiet section of trail we found a spot with a great view to take a break and have a picnic lunch. For dessert, we munched on huckleberries from the buffet that was all around us.

At the mountain chalet, we looked down at Flathead Valley and out at Glacier National Park, the Canadian Rockies, and the Bob Marshall, Great Bear, Scapegoat, and Cabinet wilderness areas. Incredible!

Finally, we took a chilly 10 minute ride down on the Scenic Lift chair to finish Arleen’s ideal hike. We are going to look for other ski mountains that we can hike up and take chairs down.

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Hike route up Whitefish Mountain  /  Ascending the Danny On Trail

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Looking down a ski run towards Whitefish Lake

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There were still tons of huckleberries on the upper mountain  /  Our hazy distant view of Glacier NP

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We enjoyed the lift ride down  /  The mountain is popular with mountain bikers

Ellen visited!

Arleen: Since my Mom lives in Montana, it was important for her to visit while we were in the same state. Other attempted visits this summer fell apart due to wild fires and thick smoke. Finally, we planned a five day visit to Columbia Falls.

We met Mom in East Glacier and she surprised me by showing up at the meeting place with our friend Linda! It is a great month when we get to see Linda twice! The four of us had a delicious lunch at the well liked Twin Medicine Grill. We had to take a few pieces of their famous Rock N’ Roll Bakery huckleberry pie to go.

We detoured by the East Glacier train station. The Amtrak Empire Builder train still runs and makes stops there delivering passengers from Chicago, Seattle, and Portland. Inside the train station was a museum dedicated to the Great Northern Railway and its influence in bringing folks to Glacier National Park.

We hugged Linda and her two little dogs goodbye, assuring her we that we would visit again soon.

I drove my Mom’s vehicle over Marias Pass so she could enjoy the drive. The pass is a great place to spot mountain goats. Then the scenic highway flows with the Middle Fork Flathead River along Glacier’s boundary and out of the mountains towards Columbia Falls.

Unfortunately, a lot of what we planned to do with Mom, wasn’t possible. We could not walk the Glacier Trail of the Cedars because of the Sprague wildfire. It was too cold to swim at the nice Whitefish city beach.

Fortunately, the Apgar visitor center near West Glacier was still open. We wanted to see the Glacier film but they don’t have a theater there. So, Mom listened intently while I told her about the Western Larch tree and Fireweed in the center garden.

The Larch is a coniferous tree that has needles that turn yellow in the fall before being shed. The fireweed had lost all of it petals. Keeping with fireweed folklore, we saw snow showers falling high in the Flathead Range that afternoon.

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Linda, Ellen, and Arleen at the historic East Glacier Train Station  /  Entering Glacier NP

Next, we drove over to the Hungry Horse Dam. The Hungry Horse Dam was built from 1948 to 1953. It is 464 feet tall and 2,115 wide. It is the 11th highest concrete dam in the United States.

The dam backs up the South Fork of the Flathead River between the Flathead Range and the Swan Range. The large lake is 34 miles long and the drive around it is 115 narrow dusty miles!

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Posing at the impressive Hungry Horse Dam

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Standing on the Hungry Horse Dam, 564 feet above the South Fork Flathead River

Finally, we stopped at the Huckleberry Patch for a cup of hot chocolate to warm us up. Since we were there, we had a piece of huckleberry pie a’la mode for dinner! It was also a good place to pick up a few delicious souvenirs. “Hungry Horse claims fame as the wild huckleberry capital of the West. This sweet tart wild berry grows only in moist mountain areas and cannot be commercially grown.”

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The Huckleberry Patch in Hungry Horse was fun /  Lots of yummy treats!  /  Huckleberry pie and ice cream

The next day, Mom and I set out to explore Whitefish. “The Great Northern Railway was built through what is now Whitefish in 1904, which sparked development of the town. The area was originally known as Stumptown due to the abundant amount of timber that had to be cleared to build the town and railroad.”

We started at the train station museum. The Whitefish Museum, in the east wing of the historical station, is about more than just trains. Packed inside the one room is information about the area’s logging past, Big Mountain ski resort, and Stumptown itself.

Mom and I spent time looking through the original photos of the train’s history. Most impressive were the trains clearing deep snow with a rotary snow plow and pictures of the Great Northern train wrecks.

After a driving tour of Whitefish, we drove up Big Mountain road to Whitefish Mountain Resort. The original Big Mountain Resort was a community effort and opened its ski lifts in 1947. It was renamed Whitefish in 2007.

“Today Whitefish offers 3,000 acres of glades, groomers, bowls, and steeps, covered in more than 300-inches of Rocky Mountain powder snow. Whitefish is actually not a “ski town,” it’s a town of skiers.”

Mom was impressed with the number of homes and condominiums at the base of the mountain. We wandered around so she could see how the modern ski resort stays busy during the summer with mountain bikers, alpine slide, zip line, spider monkey mountain, aerial adventure park, and scenic lift rides to the summit where there is a nature center.

Shawn and I hugged Mom tight the next morning as we sent her on her journey home. She would make her journey through Helena. On the way there she crossed over McDonald Pass. Thankfully by the time she arrived, the season’s first seasonal snowfall melted off the road. But she was able to enjoy the view of the foot of fresh snow through the mountain pass.

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The historic Whitefish Train Station


We’ve been dealing with wildfires and smoke since mid July.  The Sprague and Adair fires burned in Glacier National Park and significantly impacted our plans.  Additionally, air quality worsened to “hazardous” and visibility dropped to a half mile due to thick smoke.

Lake McDonald Lodge closed for the season due to air quality concerns on 30 Aug.  Sperry Chalet burned on 31 Aug.  An evacuation order was issued for all of the Lake McDonald area and closure of west side of Going to the Sun Road on 3 Sep.  On 5 September the Adair Peak Fire grew prompting the closure of most of the west side of the Park.  The Sprague Fire was very close to the highway the day we left, but thankfully rain and snow slowed the fire to a crawl.  Mother Nature’s good timing will likely save the resources in the popular Lake McDonald area.

We send this blog from fire-free Joseph OR.  We are happy to leave the fires and smoke behind!  It’s been a tough fire season for the Northwest.


Map of 20 largest fires actively burning in Montana on 1 Sep totaling 401,106 acres


Montana air quality on 3 Sep.  Yellow = Moderate, Orange = Unhealthy for sensitive groups, Red = Unhealthy

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The Mount Brown Lookout was wrapped for protection  /  The 104 year old Sperry Chalet burned on 31 Aug

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Another helicopter with a water bucket  /  Lake McDonald webcam on 10 Sep.  The Sprague Fire had burned 14,432 acres and was slowly working its way down to the Going to the Sun Highway.

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Newspaper headline on 13 September boasts long-awaited precipitation


We stopped two nights in Coeur d’Alene ID, and are currently at beautiful Wallowa Lake State Park near Joseph OR.  Then we will spend six nights at the mouth of the John Day River near Rufus OR.  Then we make our way to the Oregon coast for the rest of the fall.

Parting shots…

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We had our first RV blowout on 29 Aug.  While we waited for assistance, we had some yummy wraps and ice cream at Ripples Ice Cream Parlor and CafĂ© in Plains MT.  /  Whitefish Mountain Resort and the historic Great Northern Railway

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Lots of interesting vegetation in the region