Sunday, October 22, 2017

Going With the Flow

Post by Henry

When last we left you, we were leaving Montana earlier than planned because of the smoky conditions from all the wildfires. Yeah, we would liked to have stayed longer, but we're pretty flexible, so we just kind of go with the flow.

Heading South out of Montana, the 2017 Solar Eclipse was coming up in about a week and we would be passing through Idaho Falls, where it would be 100% totality. We had read all the stories about the traffic and crowds flocking to view the eclipse and the ridiculously inflated prices being charged to camp in a field. We decided to give a place we had been two years ago a shot. We pulled into the Juniper Campground at Ririe Reservoir, just East of Idaho Falls, and they still had a few sites available at a regular, non-inflated price! ($18 a night for full hookups). So we signed up for a week and then on the day of the eclipse, we walked to the best viewing area and watched the show with maybe a dozen other people!

Eclipse #1
Eclipse #2
Eclipse #3

September was a mellow month in Colorado.

We watched the aspens turn from green to gold and saw the mountain peaks progress from bare to dusted to snow capped.

Colorful Mountainside

Fall in Colorado

Snow Dusted Mountain Peak

Independence Pass
First Snow of the Season

While in Colorado, we got in some good hikes.

We went to a few farmers markets as they wound down for the year.

We visited a couple of heart touching celebrity memorials.  John Denver.....

John Denver

Remembering John Denver in Serenity

Rocky Mountain High
....and Dennis Weaver.

Dennis Weaver
Ridgeway, CO

In Memory of Dennis Weaver

And we hung out with good friends....(WHAT??? No pics of James and Mary?!? Sorry!)

Our Montana Buddies
Maureen and Bob

In October, we moved South into New Mexico and spent a week in the Taos area checking out the famous plaza with its shops and galleries.   There's no shortage of great places to eat in Taos, and we took advantage of a few of them. Taos has some of the best Southwestern architecture, too!


Taos Shops

We drove the Enchanted Circle, which is an 85 mile scenic route out of Taos that circles Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in the state. It was pretty much peak fall and the aspens were blazing gold making for outstanding scenery.

Mural of Enchanted Circle 

At the halfway point of the Enchanted Circle is the town of Red River. We attended their annual Oktoberfest with authentic 'oompah music' and numerous local craft breweries.Oh yeah, they had food and crafts, too.

Red River Oktoberfest

Eurofest Polka Band


Now THAT'S a Pretzel!

Is this not the CUTEST Brewery Ever?!?

While in Taos, we discovered the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta was coming up, so we looked into it some. This is a huge 9 day event and actually it's the largest balloon festival in the world. And it packs them in, too. They have various levels of RV parking for the event and they start taking reservations for NEXT year 9 hours after THIS years fiesta ends.

We decided to give it a shot anyway, and headed down the road to Albuquerque. We pulled up at the gate to the RV area and they said, "No problem! We have plenty of space!" And there we were for 3 days at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta with HUNDREDS of other RV's.

RV Parking at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Every day the fiesta starts REALLY early. At 5:00 a.m. we walked down to the launch area and soon we are on the field with THOUSANDS of other people watching the balloon crews inflating their balloons and making preparations to take off.

Almost Ready to Go Up

At 6:00 a.m. they have something called the Dawn Patrol, which is about a dozen balloons that take off while it's still dark out. Watching these lighted balloons against the dark sky is a beautiful sight!

Dawn Patrol


Then, at 7:00 a.m. is the Mass Ascension and over the next couple of hours, hundreds of hot air balloons in all shapes and sizes take off and fill the sky! And when I say hundreds - it's almost 600 balloons!

Mass Ascention

Sky Fills with Balloons!

A Few More....

It's quite the spectacle!

Check Out the Size of this One!

Leaving Montana early ended up sending us on a different course than we originally had in mind, but things worked out great by going with the flow....

A Colorful One
Looking Inside

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Hot and Smoky Montana

Post by Henry

Back when we decided Montana would be our destination this summer, I had visions of cool, refreshing temperatures and Loretta was worried it would be cold.

Nope. Didn't happen.

When we arrived, temps were in the low to mid 90's every day, with the fifteen (15) day forecast showing no end in sight. Add to that the fact that Montana is also in a severe drought, and you get forest fires. There wasn't just wildfires in Montana. Idaho had some too, and British Columbia was having severe wildfire problems. The smoke from all the distant fires lead to very smoky conditions all around the western part of Montana.

Smoky View in Glacier

Our original intentions were to be in Montana until early September, but after we couldn't even see the nearby mountains anymore, we decided to leave in mid-August. Mostly, the first half of our stay was just pretty hot temperatures, and the second half, the smoke moved in. That doesn't mean we didn't enjoy ourselves while we were here. We experienced some of the best that Montana has to offer!

We hiked out to the Granite Butte Lookout Fire Tower and spent two (2) nights there. 

Granite Butte Fire Tower

The fire tower had been recently renovated in 2016 and was available to rent for overnight stays. It's listed on the national register of historic lookouts and sits directly on the Continental Divide at 7,587 feet above sea level. There's a few basic amenities in the lookout tower, like a wood stove, bed, a couple of cots, table and chairs, dishes and cutlery.

Cozy Little Fire Tower

One important thing that's NOT available is water. You can actually drive to the lookout if you have a high clearance vehicle, but our HHR is not, so we had to do a four mile hike to get there.

Now a four mile hike is not usually a big deal, but add to that our sleeping bags, minimal extra clothes, a few odds and ends, and two (2) days of food and water. The water was the kicker. Two days worth for drinking, cooking, and cleaning up and our backpacks were pretty heavy.

Beginning the Uphill Climb

We parked the car at Stemple Pass (where the Unabomber lived) and we had two choices to get to the fire tower. Hike up the road or hike the Continental Divide Trail. I had looked over some maps and the CDT didn't look like too rough of a hike and I thought it would be more interesting than hiking up a road. Well, it may have been more interesting, but it ended up being one butt kicker of a hike with some really steep ascents and 2/3's of the way, we dropped 700 feet elevation and then had to regain it again to reach the tower! 

Up...Then Down

OUCH! On the hike out two days later, we went down the road instead, and it was nice and gradual downhill all the way to the car. And you know what else? Hiking back along the road, we discovered that we could have driven the car to within a mile and a half of the fire tower! Yep, I may never live down THAT decision. We did have some pretty spectacular views and saw lots of wildflowers along the hike, so it wasn't totally painful.

A Sampling of Wildflowers

Beargrass in Full Bloom

At the Granite Butte Lookout, though, life was pretty grand for two days. It was peaceful and at that elevation, the temperatures were milder. We had windows and a deck on all sides of the tower, so we had 360 degree views. 

Taking in the Views

View from Fire Tower

View from Fire Tower - 2

The wildfires hadn't really kicked in yet, so the skies were nice and clear. We saw some good birds, including two new ones (for us), the Evening Grosbeak and the Pine Grosbeak (no decent picture).

Pine Grosbeak

Clark's Nutcracker

We thought we would see more wildlife, but unless you count some cattle, we only got a brief glimpse of two mule deer and later, a coyote on the hike out. Overall it was a great experience!

We spent some time on the east side of Glacier National Park. 

Glacier National Park

The day we arrived, we had smoky skies, but the next ten (10) days were nice and clear. Glacier National Park is known as the Crown of the Continent, and it is one beautiful place!

Wild Goose Island
St. Mary's Lake

Jackson Glacier

Historic Many Glacier Lodge

Trick Falls - Running Eagle Falls
Flows Right Out of Rock!

Two Medicine Lake

Mountains, Valleys, and Clouds

Just like so many of the other national parks, it is one popular place, too. In July, the park set an attendance record and we were just two (2) of them.

We did a few day hikes, including two where seemingly hundreds of other people were on the same hike.

Trail to Hidden Lake

Snow Along Trail to Hidden Lake
(In July!!!)

Hidden Lake

The Logan Pass Visitor Center parking lot at the top of Going to the Sun Road was full by 9:00 a.m. every day, and then full of vehicles circling the lot hoping to catch someone pulling out.

Every campground was full every day and usually full by mid-morning.

The park does have a great shuttle bus system in place to help with the congestion, but still almost every hiking trail parking area and pullouts on the side of the road are full all day long.

The National Parks are being loved to death.

Even with the crowds, though, we saw a good number of wildlife and amazingly gorgeous scenery.

Mountain Goat and Friend


Look Closely
Big Horn Sheep Butts

After East Glacier, we moved to the West side of the park and into the Flathead Valley near Flathead Lake. This is where the smoke settled in and where we hooked up with our friends from Alabama again, Ken and Trisha.

Ken and Trisha at Glacier

The Flathead Valley is known for their cherries and WOW are they delicious! After buying several pounds at roadside stands a few times, we decided to take matters into our own hands and go to a 'You Pick' orchard. 

Loretta Picking Cherries

Just a dollar a pound and the trees were hanging full of cherries! It took Loretta and I about 20 minutes to pick four (4) pounds, flitting from tree to tree - cherry picking. Ken and Trisha picked seven (7) pounds!

Hand Picked Flathead Cherries

And the result of the cherry picking.....

Yes, We Did!

The National Bison Range was near to where we were staying and we enjoyed this so much, we went more than once. Yep, there's buffalo there.

Bison in the Rut

 And bears. 

Twin Bears

And pronghorn.

Pronghorn (Antelope)

 And deer. 

White Tail Deer

And lots of birds, including another new one for us, the Lewis Woodpecker.

Lewis's Woodpecker

So, let's see. There's buffalo, pronghorns (also known as antelope) and deer.

Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Unfortunately, once the fires got out of control, the skies were smoky all day, which was discouraging. So, since our house has wheels, we decided to move on from Montana. We had hoped to do more hiking in Glacier National Park and get up into Canada more, but we will have to return another time. 

Sunset from Granite Butte Fire Tower