Avalanche Lake Hike – Glacier NPs

St. Mary, MT

After a few days exploring the Two Medicine section of Glacier NP, we drove about 50 miles to the north to St. Mary, MT where we secured a spot for the motorhome at Johnson’s of St. Mary RV Park.  St. Mary is the eastern terminus of the famous scenic Going to the Sun Road, a narrow two lane road that goes over the mountains through the middle of Glacier National Park.  St. Mary is also just south of the entrance to the Many Glaciers section of Glacier NP, so it’s a perfect spot to access some great hiking.

Unfortunately, heavy clouds and steady rain moved into the area the day after our arrival.  For two days we couldn’t even see the mountains and one day we didn’t even leave the motor home (very unusual for us).

On day three the weather on the east side of the park continued to be very wet, while the forecast for the west side of the park was a bit drier, so off we went for a hike to Avalanche Lake.  But first we had to navigate the Going to the Sun Road.

The first obstacle we had to conquer was eleven miles of wet dirt road.  The Going to the Sun Road is in the final phase of a ten year improvement program and a large stretch on the east side has had all the pavement removed.  It will be re-paved in September, but for now it is a bit sloppy.

The next challenge was the fog at Logan’s Pass, the highest point on the Going to the Sun road.  Driving through a cloud where you can’t see the car in front of you on a narrow, winding road really gets the old heart beating!

Once down the other side of the mountain, we were a bit dismayed by the layer of mud covering the normally fairly clean Jeep!

The hike up to Avalanche Lake is one of the busiest hikes in the park, so the trail was a bit crowded.  But after two days of steady rain it was good just to get out in the fresh air.

Avalanche Lake was very beautiful and the trail went by a number of neat waterfalls.

The trail to Avalanche Lake branches off from the Trail of the Cedars, a wheel-chair accessible loop trail along a raised boardwalk that passes though a forest of ancient western hemlocks and red cedars.

Below is a Black Cottonwood, one of the many amazing tall trees along the trail.  Some of the trees in this area are more than 500 years old.

Some of the trees had some very strange images grown into the trunk.

One of the reasons we wanted to travel over to the west side of the park was to take advantage of the opportunity to meet fellow bloggers, Rick and JoAnne, of Rick and JoAnne’s RV Travels.  They are volunteer camp hosts at Apgar Campground at the west entrance to the park.

We spent a very pleasant time in their motorhome sharing experiences traveling in a motorhome.  Then it was time to head back across the Going to the Sun Road.  As we approached Logan’s Pass we found that the fog had not eased at all.  In fact it was thicker than earlier that day.  So again, we crossed the pass at crawl speed and traveled down the other side for a few miles before things cleared a bit.

As we approached the park exit we noticed a couple of cars pulled over with the occupants standing along the road.  Must be some wild life nearby!  Sure enough, a couple of black bears were enjoying a late evening snack nearby.

The weather is predicted to be poor at least one more day, but clearer skies are in our future.  Drill Sergeant Pam has some pretty long hikes planned, so things better clear up soon or somebody is going to get pretty wet!

More on that later . . .


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Two Medicine – Scenic Point Hike

East Glacier, MT

When we first arrived here a few days ago we drove in to Two Medicine (part of Glacier National Park) to visit the ranger station and ask about some of the hikes in the area.  One of the hikes recommended by the ranger was to Scenic Point, a high viewpoint that gives a good view of the entire Two Medicine valley.  The hike was listed as only 3.1 miles one way but with an elevation gain of 2,350 feet.  Since we had just arrived at these higher elevations, we decided to wait to do this hike after we had some time to adjust to the altitude.  After hikes of over nine miles one day and over twelve miles the next, we felt we were ready for the assault on the Scenic Point Trail.

The trail begins with a half mile of gradual incline, then quickly starts to gain in elevation along a ridge line with great views back toward the lake.

About a mile from the trailhead we entered a ghost forest of dead whitebark pines, the result of white pine blister rust, a fungal disease that was accidentally introduced from Europe around 1900.  According to a park brochure, nearly half of the original whitebark pine population in Glacier is already dead. It’s estimated that more than 75% of the remaining trees are infected with the disease, and will die within 20 years.

Above the treeline the wind was howling, but the views were spectacular!

The park information stated that this hike was 3.1 miles one way.  Another flyer we picked up said it was 3.6 miles one way.  As we neared the 3.1 point we were hoping that the park’s figure was correct, but we just kept going up!  As we neared the 3.6 point we realized that both figures had to be incorrect as the trail just continued!  We crossed over a small ridge where the trail flattened out and we could see what we thought to be Scenic Point in the distance.

So we just kept hiking!

We must have become a bit disoriented because at one point we looked to our left and saw what appeared to be Julie Andrews singing “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music!”

At four miles we began the final ascent, a pretty steep climb of roughly 145 feet in just 0.15 miles.

The view from the top (7,450 ft.) made the steep climb well worth the effort.

The only wildlife we saw was the little critter below who kept an eye on us, hoping for a handout.  But that was not to be, as we had nothing to give him.  Seems we had a little mix-up during the packing phase of this adventure.  When we arrived at the peak we sat down to enjoy “lunch with a view” only to find that no one had moved “lunch” from the refrigerator to the backpack!  Oh well, who needs any nourishment after climbing up 2,300 feet!

After enjoying the great views and some conversation with some fellow hikers, we began the return hike.  Needless to say, gravity is your friend on the downhill!

If you are ever in the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park, don’t miss this hike.  We think it was one of the most beautiful, and challenging hikes we have ever done.

That’s it for Two Medicine.  Next up is a short drive north to St. Mary and some hiking in the Many Glaciers area of the park.

More on that later . . .



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Two Medicine – Glacier National Park

East Glacier, MT

After spending the past year on the east coast, we have been very anxious to get back to the great hiking sites of the west.  For the past month we’ve been slowly moving along US Rte. 2 heading for Glacier National Park.  Finally, we made it!  We set up the motorhome at a nice little RV park in East Glacier, MT and headed in to the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park.

Finally, some mountains!

The view from the entry road to Two Medicine

Two Medicine Lake with Sinopah Mountain in the background

Our first hike was along the southern shore of Two Medicine Lake.  But first, John had to practice his “Quick Draw McGraw” move with a can of bear spray.

Beware, Yogi Bear, Beware!

Our first stop was for a visit to Astor Falls.

We then climbed up the side of the mountain for almost a mile to view the lake from Astor Park, a rocky outgrowth.

The view from Astor Park

Continuing our hike along the lake, we came to a suspension bridge over Paradise Creek.  It’s a solid structure but the walk across is a bit wobbly.  The bridge is removed by the Park Service for the winter.

Paradise Creek Bridge

We finally came to our destination, the Rockwell Falls.

As we turned to head back, a light mist dampened the trail and shrouded the mountains around us.

We returned to the Jeep after hiking over nine miles!  This was our first day of hiking and the altitude here is about 5,100 feet, so we had intended to make it a short, break-in hike.  But when Drill Sergeant Pam is in charge of planning, make sure you pack a lunch!

The next day the drill sergeant allowed our tired legs to rest a bit and only planned a short hike to Running Eagle Falls, a nearby waterfall that sounded interesting

A tourist reads the story of Running Eagle

The waterfall is named after Pitamakan, or Running Eagle, a female warrior leader of the Blackfeet Nation in the early 1700s

The waterfall receives its nickname, “Trick Falls,” because there are actually two separate waterfalls in the same location. During the spring run-off water rushes over the top ledge for a 40-foot drop, while obscuring the lower falls. However, by late summer, after the upper falls has dried up, water continues to rush through a sink hole at the top of the cliff before flowing out of an opening in the cliff face, thus creating the lower 20-foot falls.

The next day our legs were feeling strong again, so the drill sergeant planned a hike completely around Two Medicine Lake, with a little side trip to Upper Two Medicine Lake, a mere 12.6 miles!  The views along the north shore of the lake were fantastic.

Beyond the west end of the lake,  the 7620-foot Pumpelly Pillar came into view directly in front of us.  The glacially carved, cone-shaped rock is named after Raphael Pumpelly, leader of the Northern Transcontinental Railway Survey party that crossed Pitamakan Pass in 1883.

Pumpelly Pillar

After hiking around the pillar, we took a short spur trail to Twin Falls.  Twin Falls is a beautiful set of cascades flowing off the eastern slopes of Pumpelly Pillar. The two falls are separated by roughly 50 feet before converging again near the trail.

Twin Falls

About a mile and a half to the west of the falls is the very remote Upper Two Medicine Lake.  Before reaching a small beach area on the east side of the lake, we first passed through the Upper Two Medicine Lake backcountry campground.  The campground contains four individual rustic campsites.

Upper Two Medicine Lake

As we hiked to and from the Upper Two Medicine Lake we stopped a few times to sample one of nature’s tastiest treats, Huckleberries.

On the return hike, we took the southern trail back around Two Medicine Lake.  The first part of the trail around the lake goes up the side of a mountain, providing some stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains.  Below us on the lake we spotted the shuttle boat that ferries hikers from the lodge at the east end of the lake to a small dock on the west end.  Taking the shuttle shaves 2.2 miles off the hike in each direction, but our drill sergeant would have no part of the shuttle!

The empty shuttle heads west to pick up a group of hikers

Beautiful wildflowers can be spotted all along the shoreline

These three hikes were a wonderful way for us to return to the west.  But one more hike is in front of us before we move to the north.

More on that later . . .

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A Buffalo Jump

Havre, MT

Havre (pop 9,300) is another one of a string of towns along US Rte. 2 built by the Great Northern Railroad.  We stopped here for two nights to look around the town and to visit a well-known buffalo jump.  The Wahkpa Chu’gn Buffalo Jump, or bison kill, is one of the largest and best preserved buffalo jumps anywhere.  In prehistoric times, Native Americans would drive bison over the edge of the cliff, killing or severely injuring the animals.  Afterwards, the Native Americans skinned the animals and preserved the meat. The buffalo jump is now an archaeological site and a small tourist attraction.

The site is located in a somewhat strange place, directly behind the Holiday Village Shopping Center.  The parking lot for the shopping center is in need of paving and the shops are a bit run down, so we first though we might be in the wrong place.

The site is right behind this strip mall

A tepee and small sign under the shopping center sign mark the jump site location

But we drove around the back of the mall and, sure enough, there was the buffalo jump.


The cliff was much higher when it was lasts used over 600 years ago but erosion has lessened the drop-off.

Looking down from the top of the cliff

After our tour we drove around to the other side of the Milk River to get a different view of the jump.  The red building in the middle of the picture covers the main dig site.

We were fortunate that a tour was just beginning as we arrived.  So we quickly joined the tour guide and headed down the stairs.

Heading down the the bottom of the jump area

Looking up from the bottom of the jump

The red building above is one of the three covers for archaeological digs that have uncovered bones of the buffalo killed there.

The layers of bone show that the site was used then abandoned for long periods of time.

The red area in the middle of the picture above, and shown in a close up below, is a blood stain.  It indicates that large number of buffalo were butchered on this spot, known as a kill area.

We were fortunate to observe and participate in a demonstration of how the Native Americans quickly cooked the meat of the slaughtered animals.  The women would dig a hole in the ground, line it with buffalo skin, and fill it with water.  They would then heat up rocks in a nearby fire and drop them into the water, very quickly bringing it to a boil.  The man doing the demonstration used a bucket instead of a hole in the ground.

Each of us was given a piece of raw buffalo meat in a long stick.

Once the water came to a boil we put the meat into the water for about a minute.  It tasted delicious.

The buffalo jump was in use at a time before there were horses in North America and before the bow and arrow.  Native Americans used a throwing stick, or Atlatl, to throw their spear with greater velocity.  Our tour guide demonstrated its use for us.

After that each member of the tour was given an opportunity to hit a buffalo passing in front of us.

A bit short on that one, buddy!

That’s better!

Now we can stock the motorhome with food for the winter

Fortunately, no one was hurt during this attempt!

The youngest member of our group gives it a try

The tour of the buffalo jump was the highlight of our visit to Havre.  Next up, Glacier National Park!

More on that later . . .


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Glasgow, MT

Glasgow, MT

After entering Montana from the east, the first town of any size on Rte. 2 is Glasgow (pop. 3,250).  We took a site there for one night in a nice little RV park behind a motel and set out to see the sights in this little town.

The main drag in downtown Glasgow

Seems like almost everyone in Montana drives some sort of large, loud pick-up truck.  Check out the vehicles outside a local watering hole in the downtown (in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon).  The right side of the street is nothing but pick-ups!

OK, the downtown tour didn’t take very long.  So what else is there to see in the Glasgow area?

During the 1960s, Glasgow had double the population it has today, due to an Air Force base about 15 miles north of town that closed in the late 60s.  When John looked at the base on Google Satellite, it appeared that the runway was still in usable shape.  And it also looked like cars were parked outside some of the old base housing units.  What’s up with that?  We couldn’t resist driving north across the prairie to check this place out.

A little research revealed another great example of your tax dollars at work.  Glasgow Air Force Base was opened in 1957 as a fighter base.  In 1960 it became part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and the runway was expanded to accommodate giant B-52 bombers.  The B-52s were transferred to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and the base closed in 1968.  So the military built this large facility, complete with housing, schools, and recreation areas, and abandoned it after eleven years!

The runway itself and surrounding buildings are now owned by the Montana Aviation Research Company, a subsidiary of the Boeing Company.  Boeing maintains the 13,000 foot runway and  uses the facility as a test facility for new aircraft.

Today most of the extensive facilities built by the military to support the base stand empty and in decay.

Empty enlisted men’s barracks

Former school building

Empty base church

When the base closed, the housing was purchased and offered for sale to private individuals.  Most of the base housing stands empty and dilapidated.  But about 240 hardy people own and live in homes they purchased from the government that is now a community called St. Marie, MT.

A ride through the community reveals a very strange situation.  Some of the houses are well-maintained with nicely trimmed lawns.

But they are then surrounded by dozens of houses that look like this.

A few of the many duplexes are also in great condition.

But again, they are surrounded by many that look like this one.

A ride through the pot-hole filled streets of the former base housing area known as St. Marie borders on the bizarre.  The people we did see there seemed very friendly (some even waved to us) and happy, but imagine living in a ghost town on the Montana prairie 15 miles from the nearest small town!

Next up for us – Havre, MT.  More on that later . . .


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Minot, ND and a Drive Through Oil Country

Minot, ND

After waving good-bye to Terry and LuAnn near Devil’s Lake, we continued our journey across US Rte. 2 to the city of Minot, ND.  The trip was very enjoyable on a smooth, flat highway through miles and miles of farm fields filled with all types of grains, seeds, and beans.

N. Dakota is the second biggest sunflower seed producing state (S. Dakota is the leader)

N. Dakota is the leading producer of flax in the U. S.

Minot (pop. 46,000) is typical of many cities along US Rte. 2, it was founded by a railroad owner.  It came into existence in 1886, when James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railway ended its push through the state for the winter.  It was the end of the railway’s line, so whenever a train came into the town and the stop was announced, the conductor would call out “Minot, this is Minot, North Dakota, prepare to meet your doom”.   A tent town sprung up overnight, as if by “magic”, thus the city came to be known as the Magic City, and in the next five months, the population increased to over 5,000 residents, further adding to the nickname’s validity.

The “Skyline: of Minot

There isn’t a great deal to do or see in Minot but we did enjoy an hour or so visiting the Scandinavian Heritage Park.  Over 40% of the local population are of Scandinavian Heritage and this park honors their past.  It is believed to be the only park in the world representing all five Nordic countries..  The most interesting part of the park for us is the Gol Stave Church.

A stave church is a medieval wooden Christian church building once common in north-western Europe.  The name derives from the building’s structure of post and lintel construction, a type of timber framing where the load-bearing posts are called stafr in Old Norse and stav in modern Norwegian.  The Gol Stave Church Museum is a full-size replica of the original church built in about 1250, now in Bygdoy Park in Oslo.

Inside the Gol Stave Church

After a visit to Minot, we continued west heading toward Montana.  But first we needed to drive through the Bakken Formation, an area of about 200,000 square miles in western North Dakota, eastern Montana, and southern Saskatchewan rich in petroleum and potash.  Oil was first discovered within the Bakken in 1951, but drilling techniques of that time made it uneconomical to drill there.  Today advancements in drilling techniques and demand for petroleum have now made drilling in the Bakken economically profitable.  Today this area is going through an economical boom.

The drive began peacefully through flat, empty farmland

Soon things began to change as wells appeared

The oil boom has brought a large number of workers and their families to the area, creating a severe housing shortage.  Two years ago we were travelling through the southern part of the oil area and saw miles of travel trailers parked in fields.  We saw fewer trailers on this trip. as the oil companies have had time to build more stable temporary living facilities.

Two story apartments that looked like truck trailers

Some of the housing looked like giant mailboxes

Traffic increased as we approached Williston

Williston is definitely Boom Town, USA.  In 2010 the census counted 14,700 people.  Today some estimates place the population at over 30,000!

Storage tanks and tanker trucks are everywhere

Typical scene at a traffic light along Rte. 2

Ah, finally a return to normalcy as we enter Montana!

We didn’t stop in Williston, there are just too many people and trucks!  A couple of hours later we found ourselves in peaceful Glasgow, MT for the night.  More on that later . . .

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Devils Lake, ND

Graham’s Island State Park, Devils Lake, ND

After a brief visit in Grand Forks we continued our trek west on US Rte. 2 for about a hundred miles to the small town of Devils Lake, ND.  There we turned south and continued for 15 miles to Grahams Island State Park.  When we visited with Terry and LuAnn (Paint Your Landscape) in Bemidji, they told us the park was their next destination.  Since it was on our route and we enjoy visiting with them, we decided to take a break from touring and spend a couple nights there.

Grahams Island is connected to the mainland by a long causeway.

Devils Lake is endorheic (of course, you know that means, it has no outlet!) so it is a bit salty, like the Great Salt Lake.  The release of water is dependent upon evaporation and seepage.  An increase in precipitation between 1993 and 1999 caused the lake to double in size, forcing the displacement of over 300 homes and flooding 70,000 acres of farmland.  As you drive along the lake you can see many areas where trees that were at one time on dry land have been flooded and died.

We usually stay near cities and towns and spend much of our time exploring them.  But on an island 15 miles from the nearest population center there is not much to do unless you like to fish (the lake is called the Perch capitol of the world).  So we took the opportunity to sit for an afternoon down by the lake and read while enjoying a cold adult beverage.

Later that day we went to see Terry and LuAnn and were treated to a delicious meal.

The next afternoon we invited them over to our site to return the favor and we Pam prepared an equally delicious meal.

The next morning we both planned to move on, with Terry and LuAnn heading south, while we continued traveling west.  We didn’t know what time they were leaving, but as we pulled out we spotted a familiar fifth wheel in the distance in front of us.

We slowly caught up with them and at a “T” in the road waved as they turned to the south and we turned to the north for a few miles, then west on US Rte. 2.  We plan to meet up with them again this winter in southern California or Arizona.

Good-bye Terri and LuAnn!

Next up for us: Minot, ND.  More on that later.

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