We started July among the wonders of Yellowstone National Park, seeing its sights and beauty with Dolly (Suzi's daughter) and Fred's sister, Jean, and her family. We ended the month doing the same thing by ourselves in Glacier National Park. In between, we surveyed campgrounds in the Lolo, Kootenai, and Flathead National Forests.
Glacier National Park is one place both of us have been looking forward to seeing. And it was worth the wait. The place is magnificent!!! Because of our schedule we could only spend one day, so we drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road and did one hike to the St. Mary's Falls. What a hike! What a road! Both were breathtaking but than so was the whole Park.
Yellowstone is probably the best known of all our National Parks. It is a wondrous place that should be seen by all. When you visit, may we suggest taking a quiet hike away from the crowds and look at the small stuff. Take the time to look closely at the orange lichen growing on a rock (it grows an average of one-inch/century), the sugar grain-size crystals shining in a rock, the diamonds of dew on a spider-web, and tiny flowers that only bloom in snow run-off. The beauty and wonder of the whole world can be found in these little things. According to the Park Ranger, less than ten percent of Yellowstone is seen by visitors. That leaves 90-percent for us to explore! You'll need a map, hiking boots, a trail, and maybe some pepper spray as insurance (nope, it's not for muggers) for bears if you decide to explore completely alone.
It was great to spend time with Justin and Lia (Jean's children) and discovering things through their eyes. And to have adult conversations with Jean and Rich was delightful. Of course, Dolly was just as beautiful as always. It was hard to say good-bye to them. We are often asked if we miss family. It is strange but we really don't until we see them. We are so busy and full of new sights, sounds, and experiences. Don't get us wrong. We think about our family and friends often - with just about every sight, sound, and experience - but that empty, "I-may-never" feeling doesn't come very often.
Our return to the Lolo National Forest, which surrounds Missoula, Montana, was greeted with some of the warmest (actually, darn right hot) weather western Montana has experienced in years. You'll hear no complaints about cold, rainy weather from us this summer! There were actually days when Bisbee was cooler than the places we were at in Montana. Totally bizarre!!! Plus, this Spring, the folks in western Montana suffered through 35 continuous days with rain. The high temperatures, plus all that
moisture, has produced Washington, D.C. humidity, full lakes and streams, and some of the greenest green imagined.
The centerpieces of the Kootenia, up in the most northwestern corner of Montana, and Flathead, just west of Glacier National Park, National Forests are huge reservoirs. Now we are talking about lakes measured in miles - more than 150 miles around! Which isn't too bad except that most of the route is gravel roadway. The Koocanusa (Suzi still can't pronounce this one) Reservoir is in the Kootenai between the towns of Libby and Eureka. This lake, with it's robust population of Kokanee salmon, has become a gathering place for fishing people, osprey, and eagles. And, along it's eastern shore, rock climbers. There is one place called Stone Hill that is very popular with these wall-climbers. In fact, they have placed a "Fall Rock Climbers" warning sign for passing motorists.
The other huge Reservoir, in the Flathead National Forest, is called Hungry Horse. Interesting story behind that name. It seems long before the dam was built, a local rancher lost a herd of horses in the deep canyons. When found, the herd was a collection of very hungry, skin and bone horses. Thus the name for the complex of canyons and mountains now hidden by water.
One of the best things about what we are doing is the discovery of little "jewels." We found one in the Kootenai called Big Therriault Lake and campground (locals call it Big T). It was like finding that perfect seashell. The drive to Big T is long, dry, and rough but the reward - fabulous. The campground is small and might be politely described as rustic. There is good
drinking water, vaults, and sites shaded by ancient Douglas firs. But the real treat is the Lake and the hike around it. The lake is so very clear the colorful rocks along the bottom shine like a church's stained-glass window. Along the shore the Douglas fir reach skyward and appear to assist the dark green mountains in holding up the azure blue sky. This is what they try for when building a cathedral.
From this wondrous place, we moved on to the Flathead (Dolly's old stomping grounds). We made it at the height of the "Flathead" Cherry harvest. Never has a cherry tasted so sweet as that locally grown fruit. Plus the huckleberries were coming into season. The Forest Service was very happy about this as huckleberries are a staple of the local bear population. There
were almost daily reports of bears in campgrounds. (We saw none up close, thank you very much.) For those who thought huckleberry was the name of a cartoon character, let us give you an idea of what it is. The huckleberry appears as a very large blueberry growing on a good-size bush with bayleaf type leaves. Their taste is somewhere between a blackberry and a blueberry but sweeter.
This is how the whole month of July was for us - sweeter for having time with family, enjoying all the wonderful sights, and meeting as many interesting people. August will see us finishing the another Forest Service Region with the completion of the Helena and Lewis and Clark National Forests. We'll spend a few days visiting Dolly in Livingston, MT and getting ready to start our work in Wyoming. Another busy month. Wonder what adventures August will hold? Tell you all about them early in September.
Suzi and Fred