Archive for August 21, 2010

Day 83: Big Sky Country

August 21, 2010 10 comments

Location: Missoula, Montana

Miles Driven: 428

Total Miles: 20,628

I think it was around 6AM when I started driving this morning, and I didn’t feel tired at all.  I was excited that I would be crossing the border later that day.  My initial plan was to first hit Waterton Lakes National Park, just north of the border, and connected to America’s Glacier National Park.  However, I changed my mind after seeing the haze in the western skies.

So I was a bit worried that my views at Glacier would be obstructed by the haze.  But as I made my way towards the border, the skies started to clear up.

I thought I might be able to pass Customs relatively easily, given that I didn’t think I was on a major route that goes into Montana.  I was wrong.  There was a long queue of cars, and it took me about 40 minutes to get to the window.  But I was able to take advantage of that waiting period.  I reorganized my junk in the back seat, cleaned up the front a bit, and washed the windows.  While washing the windshield, I discovered a giant bug caught in one of my wiper blades.

R.I.P. big dragonfly

For the third (and last) time on this roadtrip, I crossed into American territory.  I was sped right through once again, and actually had a nice chat with the officer about my trip and future plans.

Soon I arrived at the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park.  The Going-to-the-Sun Road spans across the park about 50 miles, and I was going to take it the full way to the western side.  The last time I was here, I drove west->east, so it was cool to get another perspective of the park.  It wasn’t long before I was smiling, windows down, recognizing some of the most beautiful country in the U.S.

St. Mary Lake and Goose Island

It was a couple hours before I made my way to the other side.  There was a good amount of road construction, but those waits allowed more time to take in the views.  Here are a few more pictures from the drive:

Jackson Glacier

In Glacier, there a lot of waterfalls just coming down the mountains near the road

The familiar U-shape of glacially-formed valleys

Lake MacDonald

By early afternoon I had exited the park, and being a bit tired, I stopped at a cafe not far from Kalispell.  It was there I realized how very dirty the car was.  The Mazda hadn’t received a wash since Alaska, and over a week’s worth of dirt, bugs, and grime had taken their toll.  I was able to find one of those coin-operated car washes and spent a lot of extra quarters working to get the dead bugs off the front.  Here you can see the before and after:

Looking good as new, once again

Speaking of bugs, I’m not sure if it’s something about the northern U.S., but I don’t have to squeegee my windshield as often as I did in Canada.  In Canada, it seemed every 50 miles or so, the windshield would be covered with dead bugs.  I have witnessed the demise of so many of those little guys (and some big ones…ugh).  My brother Jon bought me a new squeegee when I was in Houston, and already it’s pretty filthy.  Here’s hoping the run-ins with the bugs continue to be limited.

Also, it seems bees are strongly attracted to bug guts.  In Canada, whenever I parked my car, within a few minutes I’d have near a dozen bees milling about the front of the vehicle, and behind the rear view mirrors where bug guts were plenty.  So washing the car offers more than just aesthetic values, I also reduce my chance of getting stung.

I was hoping I could find a park in Kalispell where I could get exercise.  As luck would have it, the first park I found had an empty basketball court.  I haven’t had a chance to play since I left Georgia, so I grabbed the ball from my trunk and got to it.  Since I had my camera, I figured I’d make a video and see how many shots in a row I could make:

Needless to say, I stopped filming video shortly after.  But it was good to get some exercise.

Around 9PM or so it started to get dark (what one might consider “normal” compared to Alaska sunsets), and it was a clear night, so I thought it might be a good night to pull out the camera and tripod.  But then I realized my old nemesis, the Moon, shone bright in the western sky.  It wasn’t full, but near full, and it would seriously hamper my night vision.  The moon wouldn’t set until after 3AM, so I decided I’d have to wait until another time to take some astrophotos.

I slept for a little bit, and then woke up around 3AM Saturday morning.  Not able to fall back asleep, I figured I make my way further south.  It was on this drive I realized the skies were still dark, and now moonless, so I took advantage of that and found a dirt road away from Hwy 93.

It's not often you see Orion in the summer night sky. But around 4AM in the summer, sure

Clouds came in fast, but they helped create some cool effects for the photos.

Eventually the cloud cover took over, and I packed up my equipment.  Great to take in some stars once again, especially against the backdrop of some Montanian mountains.

I made my way to Missoula, a place I’ve spent a night once before, but I won’t linger too long today.  I’d like to get close to the Billings area today, and from there I’ll head south towards Eastern Wyoming.  The over-arching goal is to arrive in Boulder, Colorado on Monday, where my friend John has kindly set me up at a hotel.  That will be a real nice treat after all this car-sleeping.