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 Unibomber 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!
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).
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
|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|
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|
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|
|White Tail Deer|
And lots of birds, including another new one for us, the Lewis 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|