Day 3: Snowy Montana

We woke up this morning and found that snow had put a wrinkle into our plans.  Our original plan had been to drive up to Many Glacier, one of the east entrances into the one-million square acre Glacier National Park, as rumor had it that bears and moose abound up there.  It is very close to Canada, after all, and if I were a bear or a moose I’d like to have the option of Tim Horton’s every so often, too.  However, the snow had closed down all the roads on that side of the park and entry was downright impossible without snowshoes and an aptitude for camping, of which we have neither.  I am very, very sorry for what I’m about to do, but I can’t help myself.  “Sorry, folks, park’s closed.  The moose out front should’ve told you.”  Who doesn’t love a well-placed (?) Vacation with Chevy Chase reference?

Well, now what?  We still had to get over the Rocky Mountains one way or another, so we started polling every local we could find about which route we should take.  A very hardy-looking employee of the Townhouse Inn took charge of our day and assertively showed us which way to go.  I wanted to ask her to come along with us, as she looked like she could wrestle a bull moose to the ground if need be.

Her route was not the preferred Route 2 that skirts the southern portion of Glacier National because that pass would be too hairy to cross.  Instead, she strongly advised going 81 miles out of our way and take Highway 200 west through Missoula and back up north on 93.  Who were we to argue, especially with a woman who could wrestle us both to the ground and have us hog-tied before we could say bull moose?  Besides, she assured us that Highway 200 was a “24 hour road, “ which would indicate that not all roads in Montana are open 24 hours.  Hope there is a moose out front to tell you one way or the other.

Heading into the pass

Confident in our new friend’s plan, we set out around 10:00 AM and after a brief grocery store and gas station stop, we were on our way.  The roads weren’t fully plowed and there was a great deal of slush that made driving a little precarious, but Jimmy handled it like a champ.  We soon found ourselves climbing the pass and let me tell you, it was gorgeous.  Snow-topped evergreen trees, golden larches, and snow-capped mountains were all around us and they were all spectacular.  This part of Montana is really something else.  Well, the eastern side of Montana is really something else, too, but perhaps not for the same laudatory reasons.

The pass was crested with ease and we went back down on the other side to find they’d only gotten a “skiff” of snow.  This is terminology Montanans use to describe a dusting or very small amount of snow.  And a skiff it was, as the roads were clear but there were traces of white everywhere that put an exclamation point on the scenery.  We also found ourselves once again in a fairly desolate area and decided we can never consider our place in Wisconsin to be rural ever again.  Crimeny, being within 30 minutes of a gas station is downright urban in Montana.

It was around 1:00 PM by this point and while I haven’t really been mentioning our dining stops thus far (mainly because they aren’t very exciting), I need to say that Jim chose a picturesque spot near a river to pull over and have our usual picnic lunch in the car.  As soon as we started eating a bald eagle decided to do a fly by and land in a tree fully within eyesight.  Oh, yawn, a bald eagle…  (!)

Although the new route and day’s plans didn’t involve bears and moose, the change in direction did afford us an opportunity that I’d had as an optional stop a few days from now, and that is a visit to the National Bison Range near Moiese, MT.  We eventually found it (turns out the GPS isn’t infallible, nor are my map-reading skills) and no sooner had we pulled into the gate but we saw a couple of mule deer and elk.  Well, hello there.  We really admire the National Park Service and how they employ all these animals as the welcoming committees.  Nice touch.

We were the only ones at the National Bison Range, as it was, oh, 35 degrees outside, cloudy, and a little snowy, but we were undeterred in our mission to see a real live bison.  By the way, we learned that there are no true buffalo in the United States, they are all actually bison, but we all have been saying buffalo/bison for so long that the two words are interchangeable and acceptable at this point.  Ok, lesson over, back to the story.  We started the Winter Drive, which is a portion of the summer scenic drive but without the part that goes up switchback roads to the top of the snowy ridge.  Along the way we saw:  white-tailed deer, pheasant, black-billed magpies, golden eagles, a bald eagle, and quail.  But no bison.  Nary a one.  Man, these things hide well.  On our way back to the entrance a park ranger came up to us in his car and we asked if he’d seen any bison.  He said, “yeah, there was one down in the draw” and we just nodded and smiled.  Oh, the draw.  A bison in the draw.  Of course.  Um, where or what the hell is the draw?

Our next stop was just to get to Whitefish, where we will overnight for the next two nights.  Along the way Jim informed me that we will absolutely not leave South Dakota (the last stop on our trip) without seeing a real live bison, as that would be our last chance.  I’m with him.  You read it here, we will not leave that state without seeing a real live bison.  You hear that, buffalo?

We arrived in Whitefish around 6:30 PM and checked into the Grouse Mountain Lodge.  It seemed like another long car day but one with very pleasing scenery and stops.  No, there were no World’s Largest or Smallest anythings, but there were many highlights, nonetheless.

This brings me to sharing with you some of those highlights in a pictorial I like to call:

Just Another Day in Montana

A bald eagle sitting in a treetop

Two eagles in flight

A couple of white-tailed deer

A golden eagle

A golden eagle trying to get away from our gawking

Whoa, elk

View of Flathead Lake with the Rockies in the background

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1 Comment

  1. Monte D

     /  October 24, 2012

    Hi Kids..meant to comment on yesterday’s blog that you were short two kids and a dead aunt from becoming full fledged Griswald’s.”.we’re four short hours from the worlds largest ball of twine”..but Ang you nailed it in today’s blog…good job!..glad you’re having fun. Take care-see you soon…..Love, Monte


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