Columbia Falls, Montana

Glacier National Park is more than just the Going-to-the-Sun Road. With so many trails, creeks, and lakes to explore we could have easily spent a whole month there. Hmmm, something to consider for the future.

Here are a few other places we managed to explore.

Johns Lake and Trail

Situated just past the north end of Lake McDonald, is a trail that loops around Johns Lake, through a forest, and along the banks of McDonald Creek.

Johns Lake Trail

We could barely see Johns Lake through the overgrown forest and vegetation that surrounded it.

Johns Lake—No Way To Fish Here

In some areas along the trail, lodge pole pines looked like a game of pick-up-sticks.

Let’s Play Pick-Up Sticks

The best part of the short hike was McDonald Creek where water rushing over the rocks and boulders was deafening.

McDonald Creek

I don’t recall seeing a creek with such a beautiful shade of turquoise.

McDonald Creek

A few people stuck more than a toe into the icy water. Although it was a warm day, we decided to pass on a dip.

McDonald Creek

The way the fallen trees provide nourishment for the new growth reminded me of the Hoh Rain Forest west of the State of Washington’s Olympic National Park. In the Hoh Rain Forest, the infant trees grow in a row on the fallen tree trunks.

Baby Pines

Camas Road and Forests and Fire Nature Trail

The Camas Road took us on the west side of the park to the Forests and Fire Nature Trail. Along the way, we stopped at Fish Creek Campground to see what they offered. There were a few spots that might have worked for our rig, except for the ones tucked into the vegetation. Visions of creepy crawlies around the vegetation discouraged us from attempting to stay there. Rain threatened to pour from the sky so we were unable to take the Forests and Fire Nature Trail, but we did see a few sections where the cycle of forest regeneration of the woods progresses.

Forest Regeneration in Process
More Recent Burn Area

Near the burn areas, tightly clustered trees surrounded what we thought were meadows. Actually, they were fens, a type of wetland. According to Wikipedia, fens are an area that is pH neutral or alkaline with high mineral content but few plant nutrients. Streams and springs provide the necessary nutrients for the grasses and wildflowers to grow.

A Fen Looking West
A Fen Looking East

Avalanche Creek, Trail of Cedars Nature Trail, and Avalanche Lake

The park service picked one of the most beautiful places for the ADA accessible Trail of Cedars. A boardwalk marks the trail, which winds through old growth cedar and hemlock forest along a stream. There are places to stop and gaze at fallen tree stumps showing off their roots and ferns carpeting the forest floor.

Decomposing Tree Roots
Ferns Blanket Forest Floor
Ferns in the Sun

The sandstone cliffs covered in moss and ferns reminded me of an Indiana Jones movie. There’s a way to the hidden treasure somewhere among the cliffs, I just know it.

Where’s The Entrance to the Treasure Chest?

Sparkling clear water cuts a path between moss covered cliffs.

Avalanche Creek
Avalanche Creek

The 5.8-mile round trip hike to Avalanche Lake has an elevation rise of only 500 feet. Or so the map says. They forgot to mention that the trail goes up hill and downhill at least ten times. That was okay. It was better than a constant incline.

There were a few spider webs near the trail that kept us busy rubbing our faces and arms to brush them off. I liked the way this one glistened from the filtered sunlight.

“Here buggy, buggy, buggy. Won’t you rest awhile on my web?

We were so glad to come across vault toilets a few yards before reaching the lake. I feared I’d have to veer off the trail and squat.

There Are Two Vault Toilets Near Avalanche Lake

The closer we came to the lake the more Spanish moss covered the tree branches.

Tree Branches Wearing Their Spanish Moss Scarves

When I saw this photographer with his entire collection of gear strapped to his body, I feared he would fall in. Sadly, he and his buddy had arrived a bit late to capture the perfect photo.

Watch Your Step

The sunlight through the haze made it difficult to photograph the falls. Here’s the best I could do, with a lot of help from Lightroom. Thank goodness for the dehaze function.

Avalanche Lake and Waterfalls

A half hour after we arrived, crowds descended on the shoreline. Time to head back down.

Let’s Go Swimming

Whitefish, Montana

Curious to see the towns surrounding Columbia Falls, we drove through Whitefish. There we found a quaint resort town with the typical restaurants, gifts shops, art galleries, and such. We checked out the train depot and museum, which included bronze statues of an engineer and a little boy.

Whitefish Train Depot
Where Are All Those Tankers Headed?
Inside the Train Depot
“Yes, sir. I want to be an engineer just like you when I grow up.”

Casey’s looked like a good place to stop for a dark and stormy.

Casey’s in Whitefish, Montana

Served in copper mugs, of course.

Copper Mugs of Dark & Stormies

We had to fork over our driver’s licenses in exchange for the mugs. Apparently, some patrons erroneously thought they bought the cup along with the contents.

There were plenty of other sights to see and things to do in Glacier. Unfortunately, the limited time we had didn’t allow us to tick off all the trails, boat rides, and other activities that had piqued our interest. We were glad for the days we had to visit Glacier National Park. Only now we are saddened to learn of the destructive fires caused by lightning that broke out in August. Logically I know that fire is a good thing for the forests. I only wish it didn’t have to be that way.

Glacier Fire Update

I checked out the Glacier webcams on September 8, 2017. The smoke from the fires obliterated the view across Lake McDonald revealing only a few feet of the lake from the shore. On September 14, although still a bit hazy, I was glad to see the smoke had lifted allowing full view of the lake, mountains, and cloudy sky. Smoke had also cleared from other parts of the park.

As of noon on September 13, 2017, Glacier National Park and the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department issued an evacuation warning for the Apgar area within Glacier National Park and portions of West Glacier due to a shift in high winds forecasted. According to the incident report, the Spraque fire has gobbled up 14,795 acres, is 60% contained, and full containment is not expected until November 1, 2017. For updates, go to

While hurricanes pummel and flood Texas, the Caribbean, and Florida, the western states battle their fires. It’s been a tough year so far.

Safe Travels



Columbia Falls, Montana

Going-To-The-Sun Road (GTTSR) was first on our list of things to do in Glacier National Park. The fifty mile road includes several points of interest for fantastic views of the wildflowers, snow-capped mountain peaks, and valleys below.

Wildflowers, Peaks, Valleys, and Snow

Going-To-The-Sun Road

With speed limits ranging from 25 to 45 miles per hour, drivers can’t be in a hurry to reach the other end of the park. The park recommends an early start to avoid the traffic jams. This is fine if you don’t want to stop at Logan Pass Visitor Center or are only traveling one-way. For a round trip drive, however, plan on spending a full day and encountering significant traffic on the way back.

The road is an engineering marvel for the 1920s. Instead of creating a solid tunnel with no view, portholes were created so passengers can catch glimpses of the scenery as they drive through. This is an example of one of the tunnels.

One of the Tunnels on GTTSR

Weeping wall is a remnant from construction of the GTTSR. Engineers created a cliff when they carved through the rock in this section. Water from springs and melting snow pour over and onto the road surface below.

Weeping Wall

It was a good thing we took photos on our way eastbound because on our return trip it felt like driving through downtown San Francisco during critical mass when all the bicyclists arrive to disrupt traffic flow. Wildlife traffic jams are a common occurrence in national parks. On our return trip later in the day, the wildlife turned out to be two young women. One woman posed on the wall side of the road with the water pouring down behind her while her friend stood on the other side taking a photo. The vehicles going in both directions inched their way between them. It always amazes me how people put their lives in jeopardy all for the sake of a photo.

Enjoy a few more renderings of the scenery along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Peaks, Valleys, and River
Peaks, Forests, and Snow
Falls Along the GTTSR
More Falls
More Peaks, Valleys, Snow and Falls
Quite a Bit of Snow for July 8
Hanging Valleys

We thought we had left early enough to make a stop at Logan’s Pass Visitor Center. Not so. We drove into the parking lot along with other cars circling around in search for a space. We spotted people getting into their car. Jon turned on his blinker and left room for other vehicles to pass. The car’s back up lights came on. A lady pulled up next to us. We thought she would drive on. No such luck. I got out and told her we were waiting for the car to leave, didn’t she see our blinker? Her reply, “I followed them from way over there. It’s my spot.” Really? Is that a thing? It wasn’t worth arguing about so we ended up taking turns driving around the parking lot so we could visit the restrooms. If we come back to Glacier, we’ll take the shuttle to Logan Pass Visitor Center.

Further down the road, only a few cars had parked along St. Mary Lake leaving plenty of opportunity to take pictures.

St. Mary Lake

Many Glacier

We exited the park in St. Mary and headed toward Many Glacier. The road into Many Glaciers travels through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Although evidence of recent road work was visible, huge potholes and washboard areas made for a very slow and bumpy ride to the park entrance. A few yards from the gate, this cub was too busy foraging for his meal to raise his head for a photo op.

Foraging Bear Cub

The Many Glacier Hotel in the Historic Swiss Chalet, looked like a great place to get a bite of lunch.

Many Glacier Swiss Chalet

The rich wood paneling, high ceilings, gleaming floors, and stone fireplace created a sense of warmth that invited us into Ptarmigan Dining Room.

Ptarmigan Dining Room

The view from our table could not be beat.

View of Swift Current Lake
Cabin and Dock at Swift Current Lake
Swift Current Lake and Mount Wilbur
Swift Creek Lake and Jagged Peaks

The food? Not the best part of our experience. My bison sloppy joe wasn’t the most enticing dish when the server placed it in front of me. Although it tasted okay, it was nothing special.

Bison Sloppy Joe

Unfortunately, after Jon took a spoonful of his bison chili, he wanted to ask the server, “Where’s the bison?” The chili was mostly beans. We found the reviews on Travelocity similarly mixed.

Bison Chili

After our meal, we walked along the Swift Current Trail that wraps around the lake in a loop.

Swift Current Nature Trail
View of Many Glacier Hotel from Swift Current Creek Nature Trail
Swift Current Creek
Clear Water in Swift Current Creek
Deer Crossing Trail

If we make our way back to Glacier National Park, I’d like to spend a few days on the east side and explore the numerous trails around Many Glaciers, maybe even take a boat ride, or try out a kayak or stand-up paddle board.

Good to Know Information about Going-To-The-Sun Road

An audio tour of the road is available to download on the NPS website here. Transcripts of each recording are also available.


  • Sun Tours imparts information about the Blackfeet Indian culture and the importance of Glacier National Park to their heritage
  • Ride in a historic Red Bus and enjoy the scenery in a convertible vehicle
  • Going-to-the-Sun Road Shuttle System travels between Apgar and St. Mary visitor centers making stops along the way, including Logan’s Pass

A few precautions:

  • Vehicles longer than 21 feet, wider than 8 feet, and/or taller than 10 feet are restricted. Visit the website for more information about the road conditions here.
  • Don’t be in a hurry
  • Watch out for
    • Construction zones
    • Bicyclists on portions of the narrow road
    • People walking into traffic at trailheads and points of interest stops
  • Cell and WiFi service is pretty much non-existent throughout the park
  • Pack snacks and/or a lunch

Stay tuned for more of Glacier National Park and a visit to Whitefish, Montana in next week’s post.

Safe Travels

Livingston, Montana

Only July 4, 2017, we made progress toward Glacier National Park selecting Livingston, Montana, as a waypoint for a few days. Smoke streaked across the sky along Interstate 90, even though Inciweb indicated no fire in the area. A few miles east of Hardin, we drove under the stream of smoke leaving clear skies ahead. We continued through hills sporting their golden summer hue, saw a cornfield growing between the freeway and a train yard near Laurel, and experienced the finest rest area ever. Greycliff Rest Area Westbound didn’t have the usual dark and dank multi-stall facilities one finds when stopping along the freeway. Instead, we found two building wings—one for men and one for women—with individual ADA accessible rooms. The room couldn’t have been any cleaner or more comfortable. As we continued our route, the Crazy Mountains loomed ahead with the remnants of winter snow outlining the crevices and valleys.

Off Pine Creek Road (US-89 S) we found the Livingston Paradise Valley KOA nestled between tall cliffs of a canyon. I thought for sure the authorities had banned fireworks in this area of forest, farms, and ranchlands that border the Yellowstone River. Silly me, the explosions echoed in the canyon until at least midnight. Happy Birthday, USA.

The City of Livingston, Montana, is a historic railroad and ranching town and was the first gateway into Yellowstone National Park. Art galleries, bookstores, outfitters, breweries, restaurants, boutiques, and banks occupy several blocks of historic buildings.

Independent Stationery Stores Still Thrive
Livingston, Montana, Post Office

Step into Montana Watch Company for a custom-made timepiece. I’d love to own one of these gorgeous watches. Unfortunately, their price point is beyond my budget.


To escape the sweaty 100-degree weather, we stopped in at Katabatic Brewing for a pint of Hefeweizen and taco salads served by Fiesta En Jalisco, a Mexican restaurant next door. I received a meteorological lesson when I asked about the name Katabatic. The owners named the brewery after the ever-present winds in Livingston, which can equal or exceed 70 mph. The Santa Ana winds in Southern California are also of the katabatic variety where the wind carries high-density air from higher elevations down slope. With winds exceeding 30 mph on 246 average days a year, Livingston is the windiest city in Montana. What else would you call a brewery in the windiest city?

Katabatic Brewing Co.
Katabatic Offerings On Tap

We recommend breakfast at Northern Pacific Beanery in Livingston. With vintage décor and a choice of counter seating or chairs at a table, you’ll feel like you stepped into the 1900s when the location served railroad workers, locals, and visitors who rode the train to Yellowstone, the world’s first national park.

Best Breakfast in Town at Northern Pacific Beanery
Historic Building of Northern Pacific Beanery

On the hunt for freshly baked bread, we headed to Bozeman. Our mouths watered when we walked into Great Harvest Bread Co. and smelled the yeasty goodness baking in the ovens.  We enjoyed the aroma of a loaf of Honey Whole Wheat the rest of the day and until we returned to the KOA.

While in Bozeman, we visited the American Computer and Robotics Museum. Their displays range from stone tablets to an iPad, cyborgs and robots, early video games, an original Apple I signed by Steve Wozniak, and the first PC. They have filled each room with memorabilia for the theme be it robotics, computers, video games, or brains and thinking machines. Also included are pictures and biographies of the creators and scientists.

1945 Clifford E. Berry Analog Computer Reduced Calculations of Simultaneous Equations from 5 Hours to 44 Minutes.
Grace Hopper Conceptualized Programming Language That Led to Development of COBOL
From Stone Tablets to Apple iPad in 4,000 Years

The Tinsley Living History Farm at the Museum of the Rockies was our next stop. The volunteers stationed in each of the main rooms of the house wore period costumes, multiple petty coats under cotton dresses with long sleeves in 100-degree heat. Oh, my! I was glad I had on shorts and a sleeveless top. The docents detailed the history of the house and the people who lived in the home. In the kitchen, they took turns churning cream into butter. Tinsley descendants and other people donated many of the furnishings, decorations, and appliances, some of which could have been purchased from the Sears catalog in the day. Outside we found a wheat field, chickens, gardens, and a replica of the Tinsley’s original log cabin with a sod roof, in which they lived for 20 years before they built the house.

Tinsley House Built in 1889
Blackbill Magpies Squawked at the Visitors
School Room and Work Room
Sit a Spell and Sew a Few Stitches
Vintage Working Loom
One of the Bedrooms in the Tinsley House

It looked like the walls were lined with a sail cloth fabric. We were told it was actually paper.


Another Bedroom


It’s the Little Details that Help Tell the Story



Child’s Bedroom
Here Chicky, Chicky
Can’t Wait To Harvest The Wheat

The Tinsley’s, along with their eight children, lived in a cabin similar to this one for twenty years before they built the big house. I can’t imagine living in that tiny space with more than one other person, much less eight children.

Replica of Tinsley Homestead Cabin

After each day of sightseeing while in Livingston, this golden eagle greeted us back to the campground. Always perched on the same electrical pole and scanning the field for dinner.

Golden Eagle Greeter

We waved goodbye to the golden eagle on July 7, 2017, and pointed the truck in the direction of Columbia Falls, Montana. On our way, we found a couple of gems worth mentioning.

In Missoula, Montana, we stopped for fuel and some lunch. What a surprise to bite into a generous serving of sandwich fillings between freshly baked bread from Wheat Montana Bakery and Deli. We were thankful for the fresh ingredients and tasty meal worthy of a gourmet restaurant. It was so unexpected at a fueling station where the usual offerings consist of pizza, soggy cellophane wrapped sandwiches if you’re lucky, or anything that is fried or spinning on a spit.

Wheat Mountain Bakery Deli

Bowman Orchard and Winery on Highway 35, which runs along the east side of Flathead Lake had ample parking for our rig. We munched on sweet cherries the rest of the way to Columbia Falls.

Visit Bowman Orchards & Winery for Sweet Cherries

Join us next week when we begin our tour of Glacier National Park from our base camp in Columbia Falls, Montana.

Safe Travels

Garryowen, Montana

We left the Black Hills of South Dakota in our rearview mirror on June 30, 2017, and headed for 7th Ranch RV Camp in Garryowen, Montana. We were surprised to find that our campsite was at an actual working ranch with cows and horses.

IMG_31287th Ranch RV Camp

The best part about 7th Ranch was the free huckleberry ice cream sandwich we received upon checking in. They made a perfect treat after setting up the trailer for our four-night stay. We enjoyed waking in the morning to the sounds of cows mooing and walking the property to see all the whimsical birdhouses that sat atop fence posts.

Yikes! Wasps! Run!
Here Fishy Fishy Fishy
Big Home for a Big Bird

Oh, and I can’t forget the beautiful sunsets each night.

Fiery Sunset
Calming Sunset

What’s in Garryowen, Montana? Not much other than a privately owned Custer Battlefield Museum, a Conoco gas station, and a trading post. However, one exit to the north is the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, and by the Lakota and Plains Indians as the Battle of the Greasy Grass.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

We counted ourselves lucky to have arrived at the monument in time to hear a ranger talk on the two-day battle between the American Indians and the Cavalry.

Ranger Will Abbot, A Great Storyteller

Through his storytelling, I could see smoke rise from the American Indian camp near the river, and hear the thunder of horses, the cracks of rifles, and the shouting and whooping as the cavalry and Indians clashed. Mr. Abbot explained the impetus that culminated in the conflict, the strategy of each side, the skirmishes within a five-mile stretch of hilly land, and how it all ended. The National Park Service had a unique opportunity to perform painstaking research when a 1986 fire uncovered archeologically significant evidence. This discovery allowed them to corroborate the American Indian oral histories and written accounts by the troops who came upon the scene in the days after the conflict for a more accurate account.

View of Visitors Center from the Custer Monument

We drove the 4.5-mile trail pulling over at each information stop to listen to a recording on the cell phone of what happened in that location. White posts marked the spots where the cavalry troops fell during the battle, red posts marked places where the American Indians fell. Even the horses that died in the conflict have their own memorial at their burial site.

Cheyenne Warriors Remembered
Cavalry Troops Remembered
Cavalry Horse Cemetery

Jon, with his military background, was most interested in the skirmishes and determining what the cavalry did right and what they did wrong. The senseless death and destruction affected me more. While driving the battle route and walking the grounds of the national cemetery I wanted to whisper and walk softly to honor the sacred ground of both the white and red men who fought and died to protect their way of life.

Custer National Cemetary
Custer Monument
Custer Monument and Field of Fallen Troops
Indian Monument
Artwork at Indian Monument

The place calls out for solemnity, the same feeling I experienced when we visited the Arizona at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii where over 1,100 sailors are entombed in the ship.

Yellowtail Dam National Park

The picturesque drive to Yellowtail Dam National Park took us through the Crow Indian Reservation ranch and farmland along the Bighorn River. The river is a fly-fishing paradise with numerous cabins and camps along the banks.

Bighorn River and Valley

No tours are offered of the dam, but the visitor center has nice displays depicting the building of the dam, the after bay, and river. They also show a movie that explains the surrounding area, recreation opportunities, and wildlife.

Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center

The dam regulates the flow of the Bighorn River for irrigation purposes and generates power to residences in the area.

Yellowtail Dam and Red Canyon Walls
Water Flows Into the After Bay Before Becoming Part of the River

Near the park headquarters, we found Ok-A-Beh Road and headed out to the marina on Bighorn Lake. We enjoyed the views of more green grassland, red canyon walls, and the river valley.

Green Fields and Red Hills

We pulled off at one point to look at a fenced off area. Posters inside the fence told the story of the vision quest and gave other information about the tribe.

Displays About American Indian Culture

About a half hour or so of driving, without seeing more than one or two vehicles along the way, all of a sudden cars, SUVs, and trucks, some with boat trailers, lined both sides of the road for about a quarter-mile. We gave up on the idea of eating our lunch at the marina. We dropped down into the main parking lot to turn around. Up one lane and down another.

Ok-A-Beh Marina Parking Lot

Then, “Wait. Slow down. That guy is jingling his keys.” No one else vied for his spot. Score! We munched our tuna sandwiches and tortilla chips with salsa while boats and jet skis glided in and out of the marina. The red canyon walls and the lake enhanced our view under cloudy skies.


Bighorn Lake and Ok-A-Beh Marina

Big Horn County Historical Museum

With temperatures approaching 100 degrees, an inside activity seemed the smart choice for our sightseeing one day so we drove to Hardin, Montana, to wander among the artifacts and displays inside the air-conditioned Big Horn County Historical Museum.

A Display Inside the Big Horn County Historical Museum

As it turned out, most of our visit was outdoors exploring an early mid-1900 farmhouse, a schoolhouse, ranch cabins, a train depot, and two barns filled with vehicles including surreys with fringe on top, stagecoaches, mid-century fire trucks, and other conveyances.

Mid-Century Farm House Dining room
Ranch Cabins


Ranch Cabin, Teepee, and Out Buildings
Tool Board
Meat Market
Train Depot Kitchen
Church Outside
Church Inside
Ranch Camp Dining Room and Kitchen
The Fly Inn Gas Station and Corinth Store
One of the Barns Filled with Vehicles

And Then There Is Food

We had seen several Taco John’s locations for the past couple of weeks but never tried them out. We were surprised to find they had a large selection of tacos and other Mexican-style dishes, all made to order with fresh ingredients, chips, and a variety of salsa to choose from. It definitely was not Taco Bell. I’m sure we will visit them again when we are near one of their stores.

Great Tacos at Taco John’s

Next up? Glacier National Park after a few days in Livingston, Montana.

Safe Travels