Day 6: “Mom, I think I’m allergic to the sun!” This is becoming a common phrase from Ethan. We have experienced a lot of sun this past week, which apparently has caused Ethan some difficulty, but we do think he’s being a bit extreme when he says he’s allergic. We tell him to drink more water and wear his hat. I admit that none of us have acclimated to the heat this past week and we get his point. After all, we’re still on Seattle time.
This morning we made it to Billings to visit Scottie at the BLM Fire Station. Ethan was very excited to see a wildland fire station since he’s heard so much about wildland firefighting from me. Scottie gave us the full tour of his new station. Ethan explored the Type 6 engines, tried on wildland firefighting equipment, and received some great Smokey the Bear memorabilia.
In the afternoon Scottie took Ethan and Allie on a horseback ride. Each kid sat on their own horse while Scottie guided them around the property. Ethan was very comfortable on the horse because of all the time he spends on his Grandma and Grandpa’s horse Norm.
The evening was spent hanging out around the house and eating pizza. Ethan and Allie played lots of games while Autumn tried to keep up. The kids finally made it to bed before 9pm, which is a first on this trip.
Tomorrow we’re off to Yellowstone and then Grand Tetons National Parks. We won’t post again for 6 days.
Day 5: When you have to go, you have to go. Eastern Montana offers plenty of wide open spaces and solitude. Unfortunately, this also includes few or no rest areas for bathroom breaks. So when a child says he needs to go, then you pull over and go. We’re getting use to the quick pull over and go.
We had a lazy start today. We arranged a late check out and enjoyed a morning swim in the pool. This is Ethan’s third swim on this trip and his confidence in the pool is improving. His inflatable ring was key to his success today. Autumn has also enjoyed her swim time and has no fear when it comes to jumping into the pool.
The drive from Great Falls to Billings is about 4.5 hours. Except for a small portion of Interstate near Billings, the entire drive is along State Routes. An interesting observation along this drive and our entire driving in Montana is that we have yet to see any State Police. We’ve stuck to State Highways most of our drive in Montana so perhaps this is the reason.
We arrived around 5pm at Scottie and Allison’s house. Scottie is Laura’s cousin. When I lived in Burns, Scottie and I were both wildland firefighters and roommates. He and Shari, Laura’s sister, were instrumental in getting Laura and I to meet each other. More about that on our Family page.
Their home is about 20 miles from town so it’s pretty remote. They heat with wood or propane. They take the garbage into town. A neighbor plows all the roads in the area…and water? Well, water is brought to the property in the back of a truck. Twice a week Scottie drives about 5 miles to fill his 400 gallon portable tank to bring water to the house. This somehow reminded us of our Peace Corps experience. There is no doubt that this is a beautiful area to live. I took some photos of the skyline tonight but still don’t think it can capture the beauty of the area.
Scottie and Allison have two children, Gracie and Allie. Allie is 5 years old and her and Ethan hit it off. Gracie is 5 months and Autumn is intrigued with Gracie and all her toys. As expected, Scottie and Allie are extremely hospitable and have made us feel very comfortable.
Day 4: Ethan received his first Junior Park Ranger badge today. He didn’t know what to expect when we handed in his packet to the ranger. But upon receiving the badge, he proudly displays it on a shirt or jacket…whatever his outer garment is. We’re proud of our little guy.
We packed up camp and were on the road by 10am today. We took Route 2 along the southern border of the park to get to the east of the Rockies. Again, the drive is beautiful and allowed us our first glimpse of a black bear cub walking around a meadow. We did the tourist thing and stopped the car to look at it. No car accident or harm to the bear ensued as a result of our stopping.
The views from the east side of the Rockies are much different than the west side. The trees are sparse and the hills are low and rolling. As you continue east and look back to the mountain range, you can view the entire northern Rockies into Canada. Again, we recommend Highway 2 and Interstate 15 for spectacular views.
We arrived in Great Falls around 1pm and were able to check in early to our hotel. Honestly, there is no reason for us to visit Great Falls. We stopped here because we wanted to break up a 7 hour drive to Billings that we’ll continue tomorrow. We thought this would be a good location and our only requirement was a hotel with a pool and a two-bed room. The Best Western provided that for us. After settling in the kids took a swim and then hung out in the room to relax and recoup from our busy past few days. Ethan enjoyed lying up against a plush set of pillows and watching cartoons. He was annoyed though that they had commercials. We only watch DVDs at our house so, just like when he listens to the radio, he gets annoyed with commercials.
We enjoyed tasty pizza for dinner at MacKenzie Pizza along the Missouri River and then hit up a local park for the kids. The weather went from hot and sunny this afternoon to cool, windy, lightening and thunder by 7pm. We spent about 20 minutes at the park before the high winds forced us to return to the hotel. The kids got baths and were put to bed.
I’ve spent the last hour updating our websites. On the road I can only update the website when I have an internet connection, which is at our hotels. Though I post photos on Facebook a few times a day with my Blackberry, Facebook gives the soundbites. Our website provides the story of our trip.
Day 3: The night was chilly and Autumn a bit restless, but our first of nine camping nights went well. I cooked up some delicious mountain pancakes before we headed to the Apgar Visitor Center. At the center we inquired about trail conditions and those appropriate for kids. Ethan picked up a pre-reader Junior Ranger packet. The Junior Park Ranger program is geared towards children and allows the kids to learn more about nature and the park through fun activities. Ethan was excited to complete his first one. Before heading out we clicked a few classic photos of Lake McDonald. The views from this Visitor Center area are truly breathtaking. If I could, I’d just pull up a chair and book (or maybe a laptop) and hang out all day. The scenary never gets old.
Before heading out, we were informed that the Going-to-the-Sun Road was still not open. That was disappointing as we had planned on heading east the next day via this route. We completely understood what kind of snowpack conditions all the western States were experiencing so we’d use an alternate route tomorrow.
We decided to hike around the Avalanche Creek area along the Trail of the Cedars. The trail was located 16 miles on the east end of the lake. The Western Red Cedars along the loop are magnificent and the creek is flowing at capacity. The hike was easy and allowed Ethan to explore the different flora in the area.
On the drive back west we stopped by McDonald Falls and snapped a few shots. We also enjoyed a nice lunch along the river. The park was active but it was fairly easy to get around to the various scenic points and trails. We assume that when the Going-to-the-Sun Road opens the number of visitors will increase.
After lunch we stopped at Lake McDonald Lodge to catch a boat. We rarely do a park concessionaire activity when visiting National Parks but this seemed so unique and something Ethan and Autumn would love. We weren’t disappointed. The boat left the lodge and toured the lake for an hour. A National Park Service Park Ranger provided a talk about the natural and human history of the area. The kids loved the boat ride and the views.
After grabbing wood, ice, and milkshakes we headed back to camp around 3pm. We wanted the kids to enjoy the camping area without any plans. Both kids let energy out and played, played, and played. We fired up our first, and last, camp fire of the trip to grill sausages and marshmallows. I say last because camp fires and kids never mix well. They want to touch everything and seem drawn in like a magnet. Also, smoke abatement is difficult and everyone just smells afterward. The fire was worth it though because our meal was delicious.
Later in the evening we tried to listen to the evening ranger talk at the campground amphitheater but the person giving the talk wasn’t a ranger. Instead it was a park employee or intern giving their first PowerPoint presentation. After the 210th “Awesome”, “Cool”, and “Ummmm” we left. The kids didn’t mind at all. We instead strolled around some of the hiking trails in the area.
Autumn fought going to bed tonight so we packed up the family in the car and drove along Camas Road. This area goes through the 2003 Roberts Fire towards an entrance north of us. The views of the burned area and the northern Rockies were spectacular. I’m glad Autumn couldn’t sleep because, otherwise, we wouldn’t have driven around here. It was a great area to view.
After putting Autumn to bed, Ethan and Laura completed his Junior Ranger activities packet. The packet focused on shapes, coloring, matching, and numbers. All of us finally turned in around 11pm.
Day 2: A visit to Spokane wouldn’t be complete without a stop by the World’s Largest Radio Flyer Wagon Slide. On our way out of town we visited Riverfront Park where the kids enjoyed the slide and a spin on the carousel. This was Autumn’s first time on a carousel and, unfortunately, she cried a bit. That may have set us back a year. We enjoyed a false start to our drive to Glacier when we had to return to the motel after driving for 30 minutes. We forgot Autumn’s blanket. There are some items a parent could just say let’s cut our losses. A one year old’s blanket is not one of them.
Our drive through Idaho and Montana was gorgeous. The drive in I-90 through Towns of Wallace and Taft and the Lolo National Forest reminded me of the book “The Big Burn” that I completed last Spring. The book focuses on the fires of 1910 that swept through this stretch of I-90. Wallace, Taft, Lolo and others were burned. When you look at the mountains on both sides of the Interstate, the slopes are steep and the canyons not very wide. You can begin to imagine why the 1910 fires were so devastating.
In Montana, we left I-90 and took Highways 135, 200, 28, 93, and 2 to Glacier. 200 and 28 are very scenic drives. They are country roads with no amenities. The valleys are wide and beautiful. The hills are scattered with trees and snow. If you haven’t driven this area before, we highly recommend it.
We pulled into our campsite around 7pm. We camped at Fish Creek Campgrounds along the north side of Lake McDonald. This is one of the few campgrounds that allow advanced reservations. After setting up camp, we enjoyed a hot pasta meal and went on a bike ride around all the campground loops before turning in for the night.