MOUNT RUSHMORE, CUSTER, SOUTH DAKOTA, YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WYOMING, GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA-SEPTEMBER 2021

EDELLSESCIPADES.COM-A GIRL, HER HUBS AND A SUITCASE

TOP 10:

10.Downtown Custer, South Dakota-Baker’s Bakery

9. Sheridan Wyoming-The Historic Sheridan Inn

8.Whitefish Trail, Whitefish, Montana-Hike 

7.Two Medicine East Glacier, Montana-Hike

6.Fairy Falls Hike/Old Faithful/Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

5.Moss Mansion-Billings, Montana

4.Black Hills, South Dakota

3.Great Falls, Montana-Guitar Adventure

2.Sunday Gulch Trail-Custer, South Dakota-Hike

1.The Road to the Sun-West Glacier National Park, Montana

Day 1-CUSTER, SOUTH DAKOTA

It’s Fall… it’s 2021… and it’s been 18 months since we last connected in this format. But I greet you with hope and promise that life is returning slowly. Hubs and I decided to travel closer to home embracing our USA patriotism. Starting off in South Dakota in the heart of our beautiful country and eventually moving out West to Yellowstone and ending in Glacier National Park.

Our story begins on a miserable stormy September morning on the heels of Hurricane Ida from Tampa, Florida-our home base. Thrilled to leave swamp like humidity on a gloomy Thursday and the notion of escaping the hamster wheel of COVID hospital hell has provided me a small offering of a much-needed respite. Soon enough I will be back on the masked medical pandemic merry go round so this break I am certain will nurture my soul with much needed energy, strength and purpose.

On a fully packed airplane, we departed from Tampa, Florida to our halfway point of Denver, Colorado. After a 3-hour layover full of fun purchases and vacation euphoria we continued our short journey to Rapid City, South Dakota.

WE ARE ON OUR WAY

The Rapid City airport was one of the easiest and most manageable airports I have ever frequented. Luggage retrieved within minutes, rental car premises literally steps from baggage claim and before we knew it we were outside in the cool South Dakota air. A gentle breeze and zero humidity awakened a keen sense of renewal. As we drove off in our sensible non-flashy Toyota rental car, we embraced the challenge of creating new memories and for Hubs- later on reliving old ones.

It was a pleasant short drive on a near empty highway as we drove along the rolling hills and slanted boulder slabs while the salmon-colored sky began to fade. The lulling rhythm of the motor and tranquil stilled silence was abruptly halted by a surprise appearance by a beastly intensely focused buffalo munching on grass curbside. The appealing commute eventually delivered us directly to our refuge for the next 3 days-Calamity Peak Lodge Home (calamitypeaklodge.com) -a 10 cabin cozy dwelling tucked in an ideal setting nestled in the solitude of the woods.

Owners Joe and his wife are two of the most accommodating individuals I have met on my travels to date. They both live on the premises-Joe a gravel truck driver and his wife a respiratory therapist at the VA, dedicate their time when they are not working to making Calamity Peak Lodge a home away from home. A bargain of a price makes everything about Calamity Peak Lodge is a traveler’s dream. Joe provided us with maps, brochures and amazing recommendations that were all used. Perched up above numerous wobbly slate steps, we lugged our impractical rolling suitcases (hence the name of this blog) up to our abode for the next 72 hours.  

We were hungry and ready to explore the city of Custer, South Dakota. Joe suggested Pounding Fathers BreweryMt Rushmore Brewing Company – Custer, South Dakota -located in Custer’s adorable downtown. Pounding Fathers is a two-story brewery and eatery showcasing South Dakota specialties. Under the luminescent sky, we dined outside-Hubs nursing his beer with a local Wallaby Salmon cooked in parchment paper. I would soon learn in Elk/Buffalo country vegetarian fare is challenging. But, here at Pounding Fathers I was provided a delicious veggie burger on lettuce buns. This healthy focus would diminish as the days went on replaced by high carb portable snacks for quick easy convenience.

We ventured back to Calamity Peak Lodge as the night air turned cold. The dark cabin, chilly drop in temperature and well-fed bellies of good food rendered a perfect backdrop for a blissful night’s slumber.

Day 2 Custer, South Dakota

We awoke to darkened skies and heavy rain pounding obtrusively on the roof above. Disappointment and expectation adjustment forced me to refocus. In the scheme of things, this was a small obstacle and ultimately worked in our favor reducing crowds on this Labor Day Holiday weekend.

Again, at the incredible advice of Joe and his wife, they provided yet another fabulous meal suggestion-Baker’s Bakery Cafe Bakers Bakery Cafe – You are gonna love our buns!-located in downtown Custer, close to last night’s Pounding Fathers. A kitschy, long-legged lady with politically incorrect cinnamon buns strategically stationed on her derriere region is the mascot for this divine eatery. Known for its sweets and hometown comforts it did not disappoint. A diner-escue environment greets one with a very downhome local feel to it. Lauren greeted us with friendly enthusiasm, and it was soon determined that this spunky spitfire was running the whole place-quite efficiently I may add. I had a hearty and delicious Acai bowl, sweet, fresh and satisfying. Hubs had an abundant omelet that would keep him content for hours.    

From there, we made our way to Mount Rushmore Mount Rushmore National Memorial (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov) which was very close in proximity. The seemingly empty highways penetrated the tire wheels oddly reverberating sounds akin to Indian chanting that echoed through our silent vehicle. The Black Hills, an extension of the Rocky Mountains, occupy the southern half of the state and extend into Wyoming. The geologic history dates back almost 2 billion years ago originating from a cataclysmic collision of volcanic activity and titanic plates. The result is a beautiful, striated mosaic of tilted, twisted, slanted and folded granite, limestone and other unpronounceable stone elements forming an outer galactic display of natural riveting beauty. In various light and angles, the geologic mystery becomes even more elusive creating deceptive trickery of the eye by portraying images on the imposing boulders.

The melancholy sky began to clear as we approached the grandeur of Mount Rushmore. Hovering at over 5,700 feet with the backdrop of the Black Hills Black Hills National Forest – Home (usda.gov) near Keystone, South Dakota holds the most patriotic images of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Each President representing the country’s birth, growth and preservation. There was a minimal parking fee to a garage that brings you straight to the park. A colonnade of welcoming flags wave in greeting as one progresses down the wide arcade as all the Presidents are visible. The park’s passage twists, turns and rises in elevation as the Presidents facades become viewable. Plush greenery and scaling granite monopolize the visual field. A wide range of every demographic was represented with a strong focus on family unity and an overwhelming feeling of honor and pride was evident. There is a museum down a winding stairwell that we missed that tells the stories of the brave men that helped bring this vision to life. We spent an hour in entirety there and I was fully captivated with this bucket list event.

From there, just a short distance away is the Crazy Horse Memorial Home of the Crazy Horse Memorial: Crazy Horse Memorial– it is an ongoing incomplete  mountain monument in the Black Hills. It honors the Lakota warrior-Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing to his tribal land. Initially sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski it continues to be a work in progress with the legacy continued by his family.

The carving is 563 feet high and is erected on sacred Lakota land. Entry was a bit pricey-$30 for the two of us. It is not part of the Federal or State parks therefore, our pass could not be utilized. We entered the visitor center and made our way through the museum that displayed artifacts under the watchful eyes of buffalo heads affixed to the wall. A colorful teepee is a vibrant focal point in the open space. We watched an informative video on the making of Crazy Horse that lent insight on the daunting task. Caught up in the moment, we purchased an absurd leather cowboy hat for Hubs and a traditional dream catcher. The high-priced entry and expensive souvenirs were overly indulgent and a skosh regretful.

From there, we made our way to downtown Custer. Adorable brown western style store fronts displaying tourist bric-a-brac percolate my blood and feed my soul. I am a sucker for useless baubles, dust collectors and worthless novelties. We meandered from store to store with friendly clerks who referred to us as “sweetie and honey pie” offering us samples of tasty fudge.

We made our way to Calamity Jane Coffee Shop Home (calamityjanecoffeeshop.com) a friendly and inviting neighborhood coffee house. The barista we would come to us know well over the next several days. She provided helpful hiking advice and a hand drawn map.

Our cabin had a kitchenette and we wanted to make good use of it. We stopped by the local market-Lynn’s Dakotamart Lynns Dakotamart Grocery picking up meal essentials for an outdoor picnic. We dined at the outdoor table under the midday sun, Hubs noshing on questionable fried chicken, crackers and cheese for our alfresco dining.

After lunch, I decided to take a run. The lodge holds prime real estate situated conveniently right on the George Mickelson TrailGeorge S. Mickelson Trail | South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks (sd.gov). It is 109-miles in the heart of the Black Hills. As I eagerly started my run, the weather could not have been more ideal. The sun was setting, the temperature began to drop into a cooling autumn chill and as I ascended the steep gradient, dubious deer eyed me suspiciously from just a few feet away. My motivation quickly evaporated like the dewy sweat on my forehead. My Floridian bones are not used to or equipped to tackle a 4 % slope and elevation a mile high-to prove this point my legs simply decelerated down to a slow stroll.

I persevered to a steady stride providing myself forgiveness and a pass this time. I noted on the path there was the Gordon StockadeThe Gordon Stockade | Black Hills & Badlands – South Dakota (blackhillsbadlands.com)-this log fortress replica represents the shelter that served as protection from Lakota attacks during the 1874 gold rush.

I returned to the lodge with a newfound confidence due to my exploratory skills. As I excitingly shared with Hubs my 2-mile conquest Hubs suggested we re-investigate together the area.

We returned to George Mickelson Trail pacing ourselves. The deer posse were still stationed inquisitively at the same point. We re-circled my previous route, viewed the stockade, and then as the sun was setting a creamy cotton candy pink sky, we made our way around the stunning Stockade Lake TrailStockade Lake Trail – South Dakota | AllTrails.  

We walked the 1.4-mile loop with ease. A family passed us all on bikes as the youngest child with training wheels struggled up the precipitous pitch. Her cuteness was infectious as she pleaded for a push. I playfully and gently thrust the back of her bike-giving her a helpful heave ho that got her going.

The people of this area have been so welcoming, kind, friendly, down to earth and demonstrate a real effort of caring. They are chatty and intrigued and after months of COVID solitude, isolation and forced seclusion-the interaction and approachability was readily accepted and openly reciprocated. Ending the day with a total of 6 miles earned through all the day’s events we nodded off quickly.

Day 3 Custer, South Dakota

I awoke early as my body clock remained on eastern standard time which in one regard was making us very efficient however we then would fade out quickly in the early evening hours.

I set out in the opposite direction this chilly am hoping the hills would be less difficult than the day before. Initially it was flat, and I ran with intent and fervor as the Florida humidity this summer has put a strain on my running. But, quickly the gravel footing underneath me sloped dramatically once again causing my calves to burn, my lungs could not keep up with the unfamiliar altitude and I immediately had to transition to the shuffle of shame as running with these variables were essentially impossible for me. I managed to achieve 2-miles- a feeble effort nonetheless…

Hubs and I returned to downtown Custer to Calamity Jane’s for coffee. We were greeted by the same friendly team and made small conversations with the locals around us. We sauntered around the small downtown, some minor window shopping and headed into Dakota Territory Trading Post Dakota Territory Trading Post – 18 N 5th St, Custer SD 57730 – Loc8NearMe. This fine store is a treasure trove of knickknackery, bibs and bobs and odds and ends. Basically, nothing you need and everything you want for double the price. I wanted desperately to capture the heart and soul of South Dakota and honestly, I feel in my selections I did just that. We selected a native American Indian horn that is used in ceremonies as a symbol for independence.

We had been quite receptive and lucky to receive recommendations. Both the barista at Calamity Jane’s and Joe from the lodge suggested Sylvan Lake and Sunday Gulch Trail Sylvan Lake | Black Hills & Badlands – South Dakota (blackhillsbadlands.com) Sunday Gulch Trail – South Dakota | AllTrails. Armed with only one bottle of water, a few snacks and fancy expensive (grateful to have) trail shoes we embarked on our challenging activity that would test our strength, resolve and determination.

Sylvan Lake is in Custer State Park Custer State Park | South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks (sd.gov) within the Black Hills National Forest Black Hills National Forest – Home (usda.gov). The lake itself is a frenzy of activity-paddleboarders, hikers, dogs, kids, picture takers, wedding backdrops, cars coming and going and motorcyclists everywhere. Their thunderous engines and gruffy sputtering act as soundtrack echoed throughout the entire area.   

The crunchy gravel descends directly to the Sunday Gulch Trail Sunday Gulch Trail – South Dakota | AllTrails. The sign indicated a level of easy to moderate measuring 3.9 miles and should take 2-3 hours. For us, it was very challenging, it took 3 hours and measured 6 miles. The starting elevation was 6,067 feet, the highest point is 6,226 feet with an elevation gain of 830 feet.

One slowly makes their way down the granite and limestone steps with a convenient handrail providing support down the vertical descent. Mossy slippery stone steps lead the way, surrounded and shaded by monolithic mountains, boulders and scaling evergreens. Nosey squirrels darted their curious eager selves mischievously playing hide and seek.

An hour in and Hubs and I were going strong. The trees canopied over us providing a shield of protective shade from the glowing midday sun. Other hikers passed us, stopping to chat and offer friendly support. I have never observed Hubs so social and chatty. I did not think I could love my big lug more than I already have 25+ years and counting! But the alpine air and cool weather has had a delightful impact on him. Hubs was in his element and shining he was. Spry and agile this newly retired mate of mine-he was holding up better than me on what was now becoming a very physical quest. We reached the halfway turn around point and as the saying goes “What comes up must come down.” Or in our case, it was time to start climbing (UP).

It started off moderately manageable. However, quickly the environment and surroundings began to change dramatically. The rocks and slabs used as steps and leverage began to space out further and farther. This required us to lunge our bodies in a rather theatrical way leap frogging from stone to stone. Then came the roots. Big, thick knotty ones, hidden and poking out in the precise place that would catapult us like a sling shot. The constant attention to foot placement, avoiding injury, strategically thinking ahead like a game of chess began to zap our energy and drain our reserves.

As we approached our final mile, a couple in flip flops and several toddlers passed us on the slender escarpment teetering we hugged a tree precariously to make room. We reached a critical point where I feared a helicopter would need to perform a reconnaissance mission rescuing us-Mountain 1-Hubs&A Girl-Zero. It was at this pivotal point that I sidestepped my pride and began to slide breech style-rump side down the jagged awkward rock. This mortifying act ultimately hastened the conclusion resulting in a total success.

As we emerged out back to Sylvan Lake-the world felt light and innocent again. Dogs were wagging their tales, children were playing, families taking photographs capturing a utopian world.  

We limped our drained, dehydrated bodies back to the car. We replenished with indulgent ice cream sandwiches and cold water rehashing our achievement. As we exited the park, we viewed the cathedral spires Cathedral Spires, South Dakota – AllTrips (allblackhills.com). The finger-like spindle granite towers reach close to 7,000 feet. A cluster of cars monopolized the street, chaotic picture taking from frantic tourists attempting to capture the perfect photo. The truth is-these colossal and celestial figures of mother nature are difficult to isolate. To bring to life the magnificence and magic of the Black Hills, one must truly embody it, the tangible nature of it, the rhythmic crunching of the pebbles, the earthy aroma of the pines, the operatic arias of the birds, the sticky, gummy sap on the trees, the pain, the irritating blisters, the feeling of accomplishment when it is over. To just drive up, snap a few photos and feel you have truly captured the authentic essence and depth of the Black Hills of South Dakota-I would argue you’ve completely missed the mark on this one.  

We came back to Calamity Peak Lodge smelly, exhausted and sore. In true pathetic fashion, melted cheese was consumed by yours truly for dinner and Hubs dined on cheerios. We watched morbid murder mysteries and as Hubs dozed off, he yelped in agony overtaken by a debilitating Charlie horse. As I rubbed his pulsating calf, soothing his tenuous extremity, we agreed in spite of the pain, aching and Charlie horse PTSD-it was 100% worth it.

Day 4 Custer, South Dakota-Sheridan, Wyoming

On this day, sadly we would say goodbye to Calamity Peak Lodge and Custer. The time spent in South Dakota was a welcoming calm in my soul. The Black Hills Black Hills & Badlands – South Dakota | The Home of Mount Rushmore (blackhillsbadlands.com)are sacred to the Native American Indians, and I now understand why. I am convinced there are healing properties within the mystical caves, rolling hills and thick forest. My head felt clear, my soul rested and rejuvenated. Joe and his wife from Calamity Peak Lodge offer apleasant sanctuary. The small establishment provides a personal touch and we left feeling like we now had extended family in South Dakota.

We headed out to downtown Custer one final time for coffee at Calamity Jane and a hopeful Acai bowl at Baker’s Bakery. Getting a late start and it being Labor Day weekend, the quiet downtown became an intimidating, messy mass of bikers, tourists, and crowds. There was a staggering line outside the bouncy buns of Baker’s Bakery. Calamity Jane was a calamity of chaos. People straggled outdoor fronts, spilling out onto the wide sidewalks. Criss crossing, jay walking mayhem overtook the once unassuming downtown. We were grateful to have partaken in such an inviting version of downtown Custer and understood its apparent popularity. With Calamity Jane coffee in hand, gratitude in our heart and renewed spirit-we continued our expedition.

As we drove through South Dakota before approaching Wyoming, the scenery began to change, barren sloping mountain ridges flanked the highway. Slender, long tendrils of lumber strewn throughout detached from its roots carpeted the otherwise unfertile land. There were few signs of life, almost no cars on the thoroughfare and an eerie unworldly existence was pervasive.

We drove into northeastern Wyoming to Devil’s Tower Devils Tower | National Geographic Society. This unique 867-foot rock formation is composed from phonolite porphyry and formed 65 million years ago. It is believed that it was formed from the same forces that created the Rocky Mountains. It gathered its unique shape from molten lava. Erosion from the elements continue to impact the shape of it.

If you have ever seen Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind  Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Bing video this rock formation will appear familiar. For 2-hours we literally drove into nothingness void of life with yellowing vast fields and grey mountain ranges, not a gas station, rest stop or even a pull off to note for many, many miles until this curious oddity emerged out of nowhere. Additionally, cars, tourists, flocks of campers, tour buses and bikers monopolized the parking lots, so much so- a park ranger approached us to alert us that entry had temporarily ceased. Hubs and I went back and forth whether to move on. We took a small walk to a field that warned of rattle snakes and feisty prairie dogs. These annoying little rodents popped out of holes in childlike peekaboo fashion. The sign warned that they are not friendly and to not engage.

We contemplated abandoning this activity. As we pondered, we were approached by a lovely couple, one of many twosomes that we would grow to appreciate. The retired duo adorned in matching outfits shared with us their RV travels. They were well seasoned park frequenters. They provided us with a bevy of tidbits that would stay with us the remainder of the time. Armed with insider tips and in agreement, we approached the entry and to our surprise and glee-the ranger was gone and we re-attempted access. 2 miles of twists and turns led us to the Devil’s Tower.

With heads craned up and elongated necks hyper pronated we made our way through the corkscrew pavement that looped around the tower. Daring men with lengthy ropes dangled and repelled in audacious pageantry. After fully absorbing the bizarre attraction, we left for our next destination for the evening.

We drove for what seemed like hours through completely remote, uninhabitable terrain. Eventually hunger took over and as soon as we entered some form of civilization, we stopped at the first place. In hindsight, I do wish we would have held out. We dined at Pokey’s Barbeque in Gillette, Wyoming Home (pokeysbbq.com). Surrounded by dead animals and carcasses on the walls a suspicious salad bar displayed questionable items. Unwilling to partake in a salad bar during this pandemic time-my options in a “meat house” were limited. Hubs had wallaby salmon. I had a partially cooked baked potato and a mound of coleslaw. This meal was unmemorable and had I not taken these notes it would not even be mentioned, so let’s move on.

We drove another 2-hours as I dozed on and off. We made it by dusk to The Historic Sheridan Inn Sheridan Inn Hotel | Hotels in Sheridan WY 82801 | 307-674-2178. The sole purpose for this stop was purely to break up distance. However, what a treat this hotel was. The Sheridan Inn established in 1893, has significant historical importance for our nation. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, co-owned the establishment with the railroad and entertained the guests with his touring company performing the “Wild West” show from the front porch.

Each of the twenty-two rooms are named after the key characters from his life. We stayed in The Death Valley Scotty Room- Room 303. The room was newly renovated with modern Western American décor. The bathroom is out of an interior decorators dream with black and white subway tile and an exquisite bear claw porcelain tub.

The TV-less room (going for an authentic 1900’s feel) had a view of the railroad and many times throughout the evening and early morning, the comforting energy vibration of the train pulsed in a soothing cadence. After we checked in, I soaked in the lavish tub, bubbles up to my chin, calming my sore muscles from yesterday’s events.

From the suggestion of the gentleman at the front desk, we meandered the one block to Wyoming Rib and Chop House Steaks, Seafood, and BBQ Ribs Restaurant | Rib and Chop House. The place was packed with football games displayed on all TV’s. Cowboy hat wearing millennials chowed on steak and beer and all around me this felt quintessential Americana. This meal was my first real meal in days as we had been grazing and snacking on non-perishable junk food. The meal was a bit pricey and for the most part so far everything has been inflated. With tummies fed and hearts content, we slept well

Day 5 Sheridan, Wyoming-Gardiner, Montana

The bright sun streamed in through the 100-year-old windows. As I gazed out at the morning sky, the sun had an iridescent pink aura haloed around it. In full daylight, the setting of this idyllic downtown was now coming into focus. We made our way to the dining room for our complimentary breakfast that was included. After several days of packaged protein shakes from home-this added nicety was certainly appreciated.

As we ate breakfast and gazed out the window, we detected a hot air balloon rising. We swayed on rocking chairs as we soaked in this scene. This day happened to be Labor Day. From our view, the proud American flag flapped in the wind and off in the periphery the hot air balloon hovered above. As the cool morning air combined with the hot sun, I tried to snapshot this for my heart to always remember. It is times like this, when the world slows down and like the clouds that were passing by so was this memory in the making. I tried to memorize every detail and place in my reserve so in the future I will be able to resurrect this moment.

We left Sheridan and made our way to The Battle of Little Bighorn Story of the Battle – Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov) which was fought along the Little Bighorn River in south-central Montana on June 25-26, 1876, between the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes vs the 7th Regiment of the US Cavalry. This fight symbolized the constant conflict that persisted with bloody and deadly implications for decades.

Ultimately, Custer and his military were decimated and a momentary victory for the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes was had. The battle site expands over steep bluffs and ravines encompassing a wide area. The grounds hold simple white identified gravestone markers for all the dead soldiers including Custer where each man lost their life. There is a walking or auto tour option available. We ambled a short distance (we were warned of potential rattle snakes) and then took the easier rout in the car. Additionally, there is a gift shop and a museum. Our entry was free with the Federal Park Pass, otherwise it costs $25 per car. On an interesting side note, Hubs and I brought along an audio book Killing Crazy Horse by Bill O’Reilly  ‘Killing Crazy Horse’ – A Wild Ride Through the American Frontier – YouTube. This audio book has kept us entertained and invested. The captivating nonfiction story depicts the complex struggles of native American Indians and settlers from 1830-1880. It has been an incredible foundation for our time here serving as a real educational opportunity in this fascinating and devastating time in our country’s history.

From there, we drove to the capitol- Billings, Montana. We made our way to the beautiful dwelling of the Moss Mansion  Moss Mansion | Historic House Museum-built in 1903 for the family home of Preston Boyd Moss his wife and children. There were many unique architectural details and although styled in art nouveau with modern influences at the time as well as a stunning garden, the home has a lived-in quality with a big emphasis on family. I received a student discount (student age:8-16 years old) that Oil of Olay is sure working wonders on me, honey! We both enjoyed the activity and only offer one critique for any future visitors. The two staff members that worked there could be heard throughout the spacious mansion. They were having a cacophonous discussion, quite loud with obscene cackling and guffawing. This banter echoed against the ancient walls. There was odd soulful coffeehouse jazz playing on a far-ranging speaker that did not fit the time era at all and was irritatingly distracting.  As I leisurely roamed from room to room-it was impossible to remain focused while these two ladies continued their irksome tête-à-tête. Upon our departure, I felt compelled to share my findings with the only other staff member there. The feedback was received well and in spite of the inappropriate noise level we genuinely enjoyed our time at Moss Mansion.

We scavenged for food with some difficulty as again this was a major holiday, and we were in downtown Billings. Frustratingly, each place we tried was closed. However, eventually we landed at Bernie’s Diner Dining – The Northern Hotel located in the posh Northern Hotel-hence the only reason it was open.On a side note, in merely an observational context-we have noticed with some sadness and understanding all throughout our travels a complete deterioration in service. Places are short staffed, employees that are present are overworked, appear annoyed, fatigued, irritated and vacant. The service/hospitality industry has been impacted by the mass exodus in the work force. It was disappointing to see this overall sense of apathy and despair. At Bernie’s it appeared the case as well. It did seem the staff there tried to make a friendly attempt, but the underlying sense of gloom was palpable. In each of these events, I have made it an effort to increase the tip and express recognition for those that do show up. We consumed typical diner fare; anxious to get back on the road.

We arrive in Gardiner, Montana Home (visitgardinermt.com) just a mile from the Yellowstone National Park North Gate, we were staying in a home from VRBO/Expedia-a gem of a find advertised as “all the comforts of homeAll the Comforts Of Home Surrounded By The Rocky Mtns. & Yellowstone Park in Gardiner, MT | Expedia– and it certainly lived up to its name. I have stayed in Airbnb’s before and have never been truly impressed. But the owner “Momma Terry” as she called herself provided literally everything you could think of. Out of the confines of your own home, you don’t realize all the items that are taken for granted. The residence was stacked with essentials from utensils to toiletries, a fully stocked cabinet and an ample supply of linens. A washer and dryer-a real luxury when traveling was lifesaving.

We stopped at the local market and stocked up for the next several days. This was wise as Gardiner is a tiny town with only a handful of restaurants-each one with staggering long line. We arrived late Labor Day as activity and crowds hit a crescendo. People were extracting the last molecules of summer absorbing the final hours of daylight. Later we would learn, the day after Labor Day horseback riding ceases, opening hours change, restaurants and stores board up until Summer. So, although coming on the “shoulder” season is nice for crowds and weather, be aware you may miss the window to do many things.

The sleeping arrangement was slightly weird but oddly worked out surprisingly well. The bed was a little too small for us and what we were used to. But a hide-a-bed was provided. I set up camp on the floor adjacent to Hubs, I created a fort like environment and slept unexpectedly remarkably well the whole time. At some point, early on I realized I could have joined Hubs at “the adult table” but my fortress was fine and suited my needs well.

Day 6 Gardiner, Montana-Yellowstone Park

Waking up on this morning, it was in the 40’s. I had planned on running, but as I peeked out the blinds in the early dawn, an Elk glared back at me from a very close proximity. “Momma Terry” had warned me about the feisty Elks and what to do if they approach. However, I couldn’t remember do I drop and roll? Do I fight back? Do I play dead, run backwards, walk sideways?? I couldn’t remember. So, I played it safe doing a Peloton cardio workout- which ended up probably more dangerous as I backed up into the coffee table during a sexy shimmy dance number.  

The house is located on the main road, close to the few limited restaurants, market and stores. The Yellowstone River is right up the road, a walking bridge hangs tenaciously over the roaring torrents of turbulent water. Elk prance gingerly through the town, tourists acting like desperate paparazzi seeking the perfect photo op.

We headed out for the day, passing through the gate and into the park. Interestingly, Gardiner has a tiny population (approx. 1,000) and is in Montana. However, as soon as we entered the Yellowstone gate we were in Wyoming. Only several miles separate the two states-walking distance for us.

Magnificent slabs of mountain shadowed over the steady streams of tourist automobiles, RV’s, tour buses and motorcycles all full of eager visitors. We eventually made our way to Mammoth Springs Mammoth Hot Springs and the North – Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov). Mammoth Hot Springs is one of Yellowstone Park’s most popular sites and a main attraction. Known for its peculiar formations of white limestone unique to this area-it is caused by deep volcanic forces below the surface that fuel the thermal areas. A prism of rainbow hued steam over the limestone creates an outer worldly visual. This is caused by seismic shifts that generate heated water beneath the surface and when limestone and carbon dioxide combine it solidifies on surface. You did not know you would be getting a science lesson-did you?

We moseyed on sturdy boardwalks that zigzagged is an escalated manner. AARP card carrying couples in matching attire with very expensive photo gear raced along the wooden planks as their RV’s waited patiently for them. Every few steps, I would stop, take a picture, each one more fascinating than the next. The boardwalks rose to terraces where a 360-degree view provided a panoramic bird-eye scene. As we clomped liked Clydesdales along the wooden planks in our $150 pristine Merrell hiking boots at the mysterious landscape, all my senses took in the smoky haze and indistinct sulfur odor, as orange rust colored run off tentacles displayed like a Rorschach test on the ancient rock.

We left there joining the caravan of cars eventually locked into bumper-to-bumper dead stop traffic, due to road work. We would go through this construction zone numerous times over the next several days. Much time was lost to lines, traffic, waiting and antiquated traffic patterns with only a stop sign for half a million cars passing through. We pulled over at Grizzly Lake Trail Grizzly Lake Trail – Wyoming | AllTrails an 8-mile roundtrip hike that has easy on and off access from the main road. Colorful abundant wildflowers pervaded the open unshaded field. Other young couples passed us; one couple fled back fearing the sighting of a bear (hence the name). Armed with a whistle and a compass, we preceded. In the end, it was a crane-not a Grizzly. As I looked up to assess the difficulty and remainder, I realized it is a straight shot directly up the mountain. As we eyed with envy the fit couple we said, “How did they get there so fast?” I am certain, they looked down and said, “How are they moving so slow?” Burnt trees from past fires served as cautionary reminders of the dangers of high fire risk (which was actively in affect).  Alas-we never made it to the lake. It was mid-day the sun was potent, and our energy was waning and ultimately hunger took over.

We returned to our home away from home and I made Hubs a delicious lunch, better and cheaper than any restaurant (and no wait may I add….) After we ate, I made an impromptu FaceTime call to Hubs best Friend Greg. These two after high school graduation went on a cross country trek. For decades, I have heard of Hubs and Greg’s Yellowstone conquests-their 1-month-long cross-country extravaganza. I watched and listened with love as they both transcended back in time extracting memories from long ago and reliving precious moments.

We decided to explore downtown Gardiner. As the sun was setting, we experimented with foul tasting pumpkin ice cream, while listening to live music. We made our way to Roosevelt Arch The Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone’s North Entrance (yellowstonepark.com) sat on rocking chairs as we looked out at the near empty park. Finally, at last no crowds, no lines, no waiting. Just Hubs and I rocking at sunset at Yellowstone National Park-it does not get better than this. We sat and rocked in silent gratitude as the sun disappeared behind the mountain range.

 

Day 7 Gardiner, Montana-Yellowstone Park

Feeling rested and raring to go-we set off for The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov). The park ranger directed us wrong to a road that was closed. Car after car like us were forced to turn around and redirect. Hubs saw an entrance for a one-way road that looked rustically rural to travel down. Unable to go more than 7 miles an hour on a gravel jostling road added an additional 45 minutes to our agenda. As the car swayed side to side in a hypnotic lullaby, my eyes fought to stay open. Traffic ensued for what felt like forever, due to a tiny fox in a field that people had sprung out of the vehicle to capture a picture. With a continuous parade of traffic, we made our way slowly to The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We fought once again for parking; this would be the theme throughout our time here.

We worked our way towards an overlook that hovered over the dramatic waterfall. We used our binoculars getting a magnified up-close viewing. We descended a steep decline to get as close to the waterfall as possible. The thunderous roar and white capped liquid cascade created a more theatrical presentation from above. Pregnant woman, disabled individuals, mothers with harnessed children, all passed us on the extreme incline as we worked hard on the ascension back up.

We were stuck in long periods of traffic the ride back to “all the comforts of home”. We dined on leftovers and dozed off early.

Day 8 Gardiner, Montana-Yellowstone Park

On our last full day in Yellowstone, I woke up early and ran 2 miles in downtown Gardiner. I ran over the bridge, to the Yellowstone North Gate. I took selfies as the sun rose. 2 Elk pranced down the street stopping traffic. The town was still sleeping, all was quiet. The air was cool and very comfortable. The run left me feeling revived and ready to fully immerse myself into the remaining hours at Yellowstone.

We plodded on the noisy gravel walkway to Fairy Falls Fairy Falls Trail (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov). Close to a 6 mile walk that took 3 hours to complete with peak elevation at 7,354 feet. We wandered to an overlook of the thermal springs. I noticed in amusement that many couples look alike. They dress identical, wear matching attire and even walk in similar gait. In my mind, I chuckled comparing it to Noah’s Ark as the visitors promenaded in pairs 2×2.

We made our way to an overlook where we had a commanding view of the thermal springs. Water beneath the earth’s interiors generate geothermal heat to form hot springs. We continued on the dusty pebbles as our exhausted calves cramped up. We pulled to the side and struck up an engaging conversation with Loren and Jeannine Candor from Iowa. This discussion would prove to be very fruitful. The Candors provided incredible advice, tips and suggestions that we would use later. So, if you are reading this Loren and Jeannine-thank you for your great recommendations and we hope one day our paths (literally) reconnect.

The day was going quickly, and we had one final site we had to check off our list. Hubs had been to Yellowstone as mentioned earlier decades ago as a college student. His memory of Old Faithful Old Faithful – Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov) had remained with him all these years later. He had shared his vivid recollections with me numerous times over the years-so to be able to be part of this new memory was very meaningful.

We made our way to the viewing area-long benches lay perpendicular all along the circumference of the Geyser. The Geyser was currently emitting a white barely visible plume of white vapor. There is a schedule for Old Faithful earning the name from its accurate predictability erupting its grand display approximately every hour.

A few minutes earlier than scheduled Old Faithful gurgled, bubbled and sputtered a white, vertical spouting erratic column of opaque steam. The presentation was very ceremonial and theatrical as all eyes remained on the natural phenomenon. The spectacle lasted about 10 minutes. The orbit of the spray peaked and then slowly, gradually lessened eventually coming to an end. Immediately, the audience rose and quickly thinned out as a new crop of eager beavers marched on through.      

We headed back to Gardiner stuck in long lines of slow-moving traffic. We stopped back at the store for some essentials, and this is how I was introduced to Huckleberry. This delicious berry is the rage here-growing in colder regions and higher altitudes. It is a sweet, tangy distant relative of flavor to the blackberry. I am certain it is a joke for the locals as I procured 20 huckleberry lollipops as gifts for my peeps back home. If given an opportunity, though I highly recommend a huckleberry and peanut butter sandwich (preferably on gluten free bread). I have spent many an evening since conjuring up a huckleberry black market gig or honing my skills as a huckleberry farmer. Both ideas seem unobtainable with numerous barriers to success. As I work out the kinks in this plan, I will continue to taste test my way through this trip, perfecting my skills as a huckleberry connoisseur.    

When we arrived back in Gardiner, I overheard Hubs talking sweetly outside as if romancing a “lady”. His sing song accolades were slightly out of character. As I peered through the blinds, I noticed he was speaking to the visiting Elk. Curious as to how the Elk entered the backyard, we then watched with fascination as she (it) munched on the owner’s lawn. We gazed out the blinds, staring with complete captivation. As we came up with theories on the Elk’s entry we watched in amazement as she (it) took a standing jump over the fence as if to answer our inquiry with a giant exclamation point. We remained there in silence, knowing that we will most certainly never witness this in Florida. We ended our amazing evening by watching a spellbinding Tampa Bay Buccaneers Football game with them winning the last 2 seconds. A little hometown jubilation 2,500 miles away.  

Day 9 Great Falls, Montana

Leaving our Gardiner VRBO All the Comforts Of Home Surrounded By The Rocky Mtns. & Yellowstone Park in Gardiner, MT | Expedia-I reflected on the trip taking a mental inventory of all the images I had been so fortunate to observe so far. The VRBO had been an oasis for us, providing a good home base, all the luxuries of home, clean clothes capability, and the much-utilized amenities. As the name indicates, it yielded “all the comforts of home” and more. “Momma Terry” the owner was an added bonus, extending her knowledge, suggestions and “Mommaness”.  All The Comforts-VRBO gets 5 suitcases from A Girl and Her Hubs-the only improvement would have been a king-sized bed-but in a VRBO/Airbnb world this is a unicorn. The incredible bargain, location and “comforts” more than made up for that small concession.

Passing through the flat plains of Bozeman, Montana we saw wild horses galloping freely over the golden fields. Rust colored striated mountains monopolized the landscape. We drove through canyons, passing cozy cabins and a bucolic scene of rowboats on a serene lake.

After several hours, we made it to Crystal Inn, Great Falls, Montana Great Falls – Crystal Inn Hotel & Suites (crystalinngreatfalls.com) . We would only be here one night, in an effort to break up the long hours of travel. Great Falls Visit Great Falls Montana – Home – Visit Great Falls Montana – Adventure Awaits in Montana’s Basecamp for Art & Adventure turned out to be a good breather from the hiking and physicality-granting us some much-needed R&R. A” vacation” from the vacation…Sue Babbitt, the front desk attendant-a spunky, spirited, enthusiastic gal represented Crystal Inn with pride. She lent her wayfinding services, suggesting activities, restaurants and detailed the hidden gems of Great Falls. Ultimately, we did none-but we enjoyed the chatter and the passion she displayed for her city and Crystal Inn.

Our suite was luxury, after 3 nights of sleeping on a cot. We had our own queen beds and spread out indulgently. A little disclosure here, I am a Pisces and love water activities (that don’t require activity). Crystal Inn had a saltwater indoor pool. We were warned a large tour group would be parading in at some point. We took advantage of the unattended pool and swam like little guppies, splishing, splashing, floating and plunging in zero gravity frivolity.

Hubs flung his arms and body in an impressive trajectory with tsunami like waves causing a storm surge with undulating aquatic ripples. Mid splash manatee style, two 20 something year old girls entered- bikini clad shocked to see this elderly twosome in a Cocoon-esque scene Cocoon (1985) – IMDb. They retreated to the hot tub, hovering closely together in fear and repulsion. No longer able to demonstrate our synchronized swimming routine for these young gals, we quickly departed-cloaking our shame and sogginess in ill-fitting towels.

Back in the room we had an indoor picnic from our grocery selections we had wisely obtained back in town while watching a Yankee game. The air was very smoggy with a high smoke advisory, so we chose a good day to rest.

Day 10 GReat Falls, MoNTANA-EAST GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA

After a great night’s sleep, waking up refreshed, I decided to surprise Hubs and provide him with an offer he could not and would not refuse. For 10 days, Hubs had given me free reign as I went from store to store collecting magnets, t-shirts, huckleberry nonsense and ridiculous sling shots, tomahawks and other unmentionables that may or may not get through TSA. Now it was my turn to let him have his fun. I proposed going to a local guitar store and purchasing an acoustic souvenir. Hubs was in total agreement and his exuberance exhibited was endearing. We drove to downtown Great Falls which was a charming town center-steeped in time. An eclectic array of stores on the surface were inviting and welcoming. But, as we entered the establishments, we realized they specialized in tattoos, bong paraphernalia and gems to ward off evil spirits. Our purpose today was Guitars of Montana –Guitars of MontanaJohn Laughlin, owner and guitar enthusiast greeted us immediately in his well-stocked store. He led Hubs to a back room with good acoustics and a nice supply of guitars. With a glassy gaze, Hubs lovingly ogled the selection. Balancing on a stool, he picked a 12 string Guild and began to strum with delight. Melodic harmonious notes boldly resonated from his expressive digits. John and Hubs talked “guitar language” which I am not fluent in. John detailed the finer selling points and mentioned “Montana has no sales tax.” That’s all Hubs needed to hear. John agreed to restring and tune the instrument as well as throw in a Led Zeppelin music book. Everyone was in agreement. We hustled off down the street for coffee to Crooked Tree-Crooked Tree crookedtreecoffeeandcakes.com).

We sat outside in the breezy autumn day at the hip coffee house as the American Flag waved proudly across from us. Hubs grinned ear to ear in glee over his new acquisition. From there, we roamed from store to store, finding ourselves in front of a pet store- Jack’s Pet Center. When is the last time you saw a pet store? We came across a Dorky (a yorkie and a dachshund) and babbled babytalk to this black, furry long mystery. We thought of our precious Juju back home under the care of our friend-shout out- Dr. Berlin. We fantasized expanding our family with this adorable creature. We calculated our finances, we created a name, and then of course reality-schlepping a puppy through the great outdoors. Puppydum, house training and explaining this new sibling to Juju-as we traveled down this rabbit hole of ridiculousness-the Dorky made eye contact with Hubs, charcoal eyes pleading adoption. Before making another monumental purchase, we moved on. Days later, we still think about the Ebony cutie and what could have been.   

We stumbled by accident in a few tattoo parlors. The proprietors looked curiously at us as ink blots and images crawled down their appendages-clearly, we were out of our element and coolly backed out.

We made our way back to Guitars of Montana where Hubs guitar was tuned, restrung, cleaned up and waiting for him. We continued our conversation with John, appreciating his expertise, his dedication and love of guitars. Leaving downtown Great Falls with our new Guild 12 string, the sun seemed brighter, the air cooler and our hearts fuller.

As the great Willie Nelson once sang “On the Road Again”, piled in now with a substantially sized guitar we motored onto East Glacier National Park. A transcending 2.5-hour drive northwest as the countryside became vast and foothills turned into grand mountains overshadowing our small vehicle.

We checked into Whistling Swan Motel Whistling Swan Motel — Your Glacier National Park Adventure Starts Here (seeglacier.com) and were pleased by our quaint cabin. The other 8 rooms were set aside in a separate location, our cabin was next to the owner Mark with no one else around. It was stark in conveniences but had what we needed-a refrigerator, a microwave, a comfy bed and parking right in front. We were situated on the Black Feet Indian Reservation  American Indian Tribes – Glacier National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov) and the Native American Indian influences were everywhere.

We had an engaging, lengthy conversation with Mark the owner. He provided incredible insight on how the region has been affected terribly by Covid lockdowns. He barely had a season last year and gave shelter to all his employees during this time. He was extremely accommodating to my high maintenance requests (extra pillows, blankets, towels, Wi-Fi help, extra chair). East Glacier has a tiny village with a few stores, a handful of restaurants and an Amtrak train line. The train was in constant transport through our time and through several destinations-the train is very much a major mode of passage for people and resources.

We went to the town store also owned by Mark and picked up a few souvenirs, homemade pie and pizza for Hubs (of course made by Mark-obviously a jack of all trades). We set up a tiny picnic and watched the hilarious and ridiculous Joe Dirt as the Glacier sun set.  

Day 11 East Glacier National Park, Montana

If you recall our newmade hiking friends from Yellowstone Loren and Jeannine Candor from Iowa-they gave  incredible suggestions of which we were going to put to good use today-The Road to the Sun Going-to-the-Sun Road General Info – Glacier National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov) with an informative app called  GyPsy Guide GPS Narrated Audio Driving Tour Apps | GyPSy Guide. Setting off to West Glacier National Park was a smorgasbord for the eyes. Hubs had been here on his cross-country trip those many, many years ago-and the memory of the sheer grandeur had stayed with him all these decades later. The visual bounty that was ahead of us are images that I will never, ever forget-but will be extremely challenging to accurately express through words and description, I will do my best…

Glacier Park has over 1 million acres. As we made our way into West Glacier the wind whistled through the windows and jostled the car. We were instructed via app when to look left, right and above. The GyPsy Guide narrated in sequenced timing landmarks of The Road to the Sun. We passed through the gate brandishing dual waving flags of USA and Canada as we were 30 miles from Alberta. We looked off in the distance and saw pyramid like regal mountains displaying red stone layers and snowcapped peaks that touched the clouds. We passed through St. Mary’s St. Mary, MT Travel Information (glaciermt.com) as rising elevation caused our ears to pop. Barren, damaged, stark trees still ravaged from the Reynolds Fire of 2015 where 4,000 square feet were incinerated stood like towering toothpicks.

As the drive progressed so did the traffic congestion. We were informed that entry had been shut down and unpassable for 3 weeks prior to our visit. We were instructed by GyPsy Guide tofind a parking space, go for a hike on this trail.” However, there were no spots available and no safe options for waiting or turnaround on the curving treacherous winding road. Our guide pointed out the Golden Staircase Video (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov), Wild Goose Island Wild Goose Island – Glacier National Park, Montana – Charismatic Planet (seen on the movie The Shining), Mount Logan Mount Logan(GNP) : Climbing, Hiking & Mountaineering : Summit Post, Jackson Glacier Jackson Glacier Trail – Montana | AllTrailsthe 7th largest Glacier in the park, Logan Pass Logan Pass – Glacier National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov) (highest point). We went through the East Tunnel Video (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov), drove straight through fluffy clouds, past a “weeping wallWeeping Wall, Glacier National Park – AllTrips (allglacier.com), Bird Woman Falls Waterfall Video (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov), and the Continental Divide Continental Divide – Glacier National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov). The Continental Divide is a line that divides the flow of water between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. To go one step further it is referred to as “the crown”, because in addition to Pacific and Atlantic Ocean run offs, there is also a runoff that flows North towards Canada.

We miraculously found a parking spot in front of Lake McDonald Lake McDonald Valley – Glacier National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov), we walked along the cobbled speckled oddly misshapen rocks. Pastel colored stones in the shimmered iridescent turquoise water. I walked along the shoreline while Hubs sat at a bench. The only sounds heard were the rocks beneath my feet. I stood at the shoreline looking out at the vastness in front of me. The silence and intense beauty around me opened my heart and stirred up emotions that have lied dormant. Recently, my mother had passed away 6 weeks ago, and the grief process has been a moving target of feelings. I have moved through all the stages of Kubler Ross’s grief spectrum, back and forth numerous times. But, as I let the weight of my feet carry me through this surreal place, this wonderland of immense splendor, the profound and painful heaviness of sorrow bore down on me like a lead vest. I asked my mom for a sign. Anything to know that she was sharing this moment with me. For a brief second, on a greying afternoon, the sun split through the cloud haze, and I felt a microcosm of a moment of the sun’s warmth heat up my face. Did it happen, was it real? None of this really matters. Temporarily, the sadness, emptiness and palpable deep despair dissipated. I bent down, my hands grazed across the smooth, surface of the rocks. I chose one that stood out from the rest. When I come home, these rocks reside in a Tibetan bowl that holds tangible memories of my travels that are an embedded memorial to a single instance of clarity and resolve.

We preceded to make our way back up The Road to the Sun. The GyPsy Guide restarted his spiel in the opposite direction, the preferred one as we had missed many things on the first run. As we continued up, around a curve we eyed a parking spot. Without hesitation, we slid in excited at our achievement. We quickly gained momentum and started to hike the Granite Park Chalet Loop Trailhead Granite Park Trail (visitmt.com), the passage was the width of a goat, with no guardrail, protruding misshapen roots, rocks, and overgrowth. We continued down this perilous pathway, traversing other hikers marching in their footsteps. At the 1-mile point, the sky grew ominous, the dark clouds hung over us as the air chilled and the sun vanished. A storm was imminent and this dry, dirt, narrow restricted walkway with rain would surely be a dangerously slippery, sloping mud slide of doom.

We retreated just in time as the sky opened, the rain deluged the much needed arid, kindling forest. As we continued to The Road to the Sun, now through the steamy windows and moist air made viewing challenging as the visibility began to deteriorate. We made our trek back into town a lengthy 2-hour drive as we devised a plan for dinner. Next door to the motel was 1 of only a couple restaurants with extremely limited hours-Serrano’s Serrano’s Mexican Restaurant (serranosmexican.com). We arrived at 5:09 (hours 5-9pm) and not a seat was to be had. Every table was sat, hungry patrons holding menus anticipating their forthcoming feast. We were asked to wait outside in  the slowly forming crowd and informed us of a 30-minute wait. We sat on the bench outside as the customers congregated. There was a real sense of community, respect and genuine interest in each other.

We eventually were seated and much of this trip has been reliant on cooked meals, groceries and grazing. Only a handful of restaurants did we visit. Insatiable hunger growled in my belly, as I licked my lips imagining the enticing menu choices in my salivating mouth. Due to these congruent factors I overordered. We had a true Mexican Fiesta, chips, queso and all the reflux inducing components. Unable to finish my meal, I impulsively ordered desert as well-not to be consumed and sadly, the rock-hard petrified flan was tossed yesterday as we vacated Whistling Swan Motel. The Huckleberry Cider and Key Lime Pie served as a sedative later that night for dear Hubs as he snored into blissful huckleberry abyss.

Day 12 East Glacier National Park, Montana

On this morning I awoke feeling dreadful. Inevitably on every trip there comes a day where my body says “Enough”. This may have been the day. But, also dry air, artificial heat, dehydration, overexertion and change in routine always contribute to this predictable “hard stop”. A quick pep talk, hot shower and a dose of depressing news on the TV, was all the interventions needed to get myself moving, apparently that was the remedy needed for the reset button.

Several individuals on this trip had recommended Two Medicine Exploring Two Medicine | Glacier National Park Hiking & Camping (glacier-national-park-travel-guide.com). Closer in distance then yesterday’s excursion, only a short 22 miles outside East Glacier. We arrived getting the very last parking spot. Two Medicine South Shore Trail  Two Medicine Lake South Shore Trail – Montana | AllTrails starts at the Two Medicine Lake. There is a boat ramp, and I am certain in the summer months there is massive amounts of activity on this lake with boats and other water sports. But, for now-the season has ended and not a boat to be seen across the somewhat choppy greenish blue waters. Entering the South Shore Trailhead, quickly- one is immersed in an enchanted shaded forest.

Thick evergreens tall, commanding and imposing act as an awning overhead shielding the brilliant autumn sun’s rays. As the path progresses it opens to awe inspiring mountains from every angle. We passed a thirsty moose and its offspring, slurping water from a creek- an audience of nosey onlookers stopped, peering through branches, watching in fascination each gulp the moose took. After 30 seconds Hubs and I lost interest. We walked through waste high marigold-colored wildflowers. We passed friendly hikers along the way who were always welcoming and conversational. At 3.5 miles we made it to the two-tiered waterfall. The beguiling scene in front of us offered our weary feet a simple earned visual reward. We sat on a cool slate stone in front of the gushing water and munched on picnic provisions I had packed. The cold-water cascade sprayed dewy droplets our way providing gentle relief. Of note, it was a glorious day weather wise. A strong sun, although shaded much of the time by trees, cool air and zero humidity.

After our lunch break, with fuel in our engines, we moved through the obstacles a bit faster. We had numerous side bar conversations, discussed favorite moments on the trip, and had several chuckles. We passed a mother and daughter clearly upset, stopping us to inquire if we had seen their sister. They had lost her and were quite concerned. We promised to keep an eye out for her. About 30 minutes later, we approached a woman who fit the description of the worried hikers. She yelled her name as she grew closer, evidently several other hikers had heard the story and made inquiries. She stated that this is the third day her sister and niece had moved on quickly ahead and “lost her” 3 days she has had to try to keep up with these ladies! I would be furious. I instructed her to “teach them a lesson”. Toss some twigs in her hair, mark up her face with dirt and tell them she was chased by a mountain lion. She nodded in agreement-we all giggled and said our goodbyes. But, in all seriousness, these woods are no joke, there are wild deadly animals, there are numerous dangerous drops, places to trip, and injuries to occur. It was never too far from my thinking that the woods are no place to mess around. bad things happen, people get lost, currently there is a famous story where a girl is missing from the same trails we hiked.     

We were 1 mile from completing the loop when a darkened sky quickly turned into rapidly pelting rain. Initially the condensation granted momentary relief. But, as it continued, the rain swiftly increased. We hightailed the remaining portion eventually making it to the warm, dry car. As soon as we entered the car, the rain stopped, and the sun penetrated down. We were thoroughly exhausted. We had run out of water, we were nauseous from fatigue, cold and wet. In the end, we had hiked 7 miles taking 4 hours.

We drove back to the cabin and as soon as Hubs head hit the pillow he was snoring. I learned long ago a “repeat” meal is never a good thing-eating the same place 2 days in a row. But, with limited options and our grocery supply diminishing-I ordered from Serrano’s- Serrano’s Mexican Restaurant (serranosmexican.com) the Mexican restaurant from the night before that we so enjoyed. I ordered the food and picked up from the once again popular and crowded eatery. We ate in our small quarters awkwardly, uncomfortably and clumsily as Hubs balanced a gargantuan pile of messy nachos on his lap, causing the room to smell like a spicy hacienda for the remainder of the time we stayed at Whistling Swan. And, probably still to this day continues to….

Day 13 East Glacier National Park, Montana

This would be our last full day in East Glacier. Hubs had done extensive research the night before on a trail worthy of our energy reserve (which was slowly depleting). We drove past the Lewis and Clark National Forrest Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest – Home (usda.gov). The striking vista of majestic mountains resembled an artist interpretation as the early morning light radiated the pointed peaks. The first onset of autumn had launched revealing the tinted treetops glistening in a golden incandescence. After an hour of driving with no signs of civilization, we came upon a town Hungry Horse, Hungry Horse (visitmt.com) a speck of a town. I squealed in delight as we almost passed the sign for Willow’s HuckleberryLand, The Sweet Treats At Willows HuckleberryLand In Montana Are Exquisite (onlyinyourstate.com) begging Hubs to stop. He accommodated my ridiculous request pulling into the gimmicky pitstop and local icon that has been operating for almost a century specializing in everything Huckleberry-the official berry of Montana. Did I mention my new Huckleberry obsession/addiction? Hubs chose to remain in the car- a choice he later regretted. I went into Huckleberry hysteria, at some point, the excitement overtook me, I think I blacked out. Returning to the car moments later, I proudly shared my possessions with Hubs. The less than 10-minute fugue acquisitions included a Tomahawk, 3 sling shots, pellets for the sling shots (why not?) and everything Huckleberry I could get my hands on, including soap. My one regret that I did not get was a slice of Huckleberry pie. During my research, I have learned that the pie with huckleberry ice cream makes this place in the summer impossible to get a seat in their dining area-which on this day was completely empty. Entering the car with the tomahawk, sling shots, jelly and candy-Hubs just shook his head in exasperation-not sharing the same gusto. Later, driving back ravenous hunting for food futilely, I deeply lamented over not having secured that delicious rare iconic Huckleberry pie.  

We continued driving on through Whitefish Whitefish, MT | Official Website (cityofwhitefish.org). This charming family-oriented community and resort town has a population of 7,000 people. Wealthy lake houses dot the perimeter, each one more fabulous than the previous. I fantasized about a life here as we passed a thriving hospital. My dream sequence ended abruptly as I envisioned my first winter, snow, ice and forget driving in these elements. I most likely was seeing Whitefish on one of the most sublime weather days of the year.

We started off at Swift Creek Loop Swift Creek Loop – Montana | AllTrails which started off in a spellbinding forest thick with soaring pine trees. The soft ground beneath us that we walked on felt like plush velvet. The herby fragrant smell from pine and other native plants scented the air in aromatic splendor. Blue Montana sapphire stone indigenous to this region paved the way in scintillating uniqueness. We came to an overlook with a view of a receding lake. The path continued to an open field with dainty wild lavender-colored flowers profuse with leaping camouflaged Ninga grasshoppers. These pesky insects and their wiry antennae have left me with Grasshopper induced PTSD.  I can still hear the distinct buzzing and creepy crackling sounds produced from their wing casings as they terrorized me. Leaping and flying (yes flying!) taunting me with those beady eyeballs as they sprung and catapulted risky hopscotch at my thick hiking boots as I attempted to dodge their flinging intimidation. (Here’s some fun footage for you) Grasshoppers invade western US in largest swarms in decades, plaguing farmers and ranchers – Strange Sounds. I shall never be able to eat grasshopper pie again.

 We reached the summit and rested on a conveniently placed bench as we noshed on the packed peanut butter and huckleberry jam sandwiches I packed. The day had progressively heated up and we both began to peel off layers as we were only halfway through the 6-mile hike.

We made our way back around stopping briefly at Swan Lake Swan Lake Montana – Swan Lake. We completed the loop and as a parting gift an angry blister began to emerge on my tender heel now throbbing. Back in the car, we headed back. We began to search for dinner options. This was a very peculiar and disturbing trend we were starting to see often. We stopped at several places. One of which was very popular and rated well but closed due to “lack of staffing”. We tried a few more places as our options were dwindling. Finally, we found a real dive, one parking spot left-a real hole in the wall complete with pool table, a smoking section! And a waitress with alarmingly red leg wool sweater warmers (it was 70 degrees) up to her thighs who greeted us with “sweetie, honey” Packers RoostPackers Roost – Drinking Establishments – 9640 Highway 2 Bar E (hub.biz)  what Packers did bestow was greasy bar food that later I deeply regretted. It was cheap, quick and open which at this point was our only criteria. Flies, ambience and tummy aches were complimentary. Guts gurgling, sun setting-we made the hour voyage back to our cabin for our final night in East Glacier.

Day 14 East Glacier National Park, Montana-Big Fork, Montana Final Day

This night proved to be supremely frightful. We essentially awoke to a cyclone- or what seemed like it. Hijacked from our dreams we arose to the groans of the cabin creaking, the sopranic howl of the 30 mile per hour gale winds. As I lay hunkered under the covers, I murmured to Hubs “are you awake?” In a sleepy monotone, he mumbled “no.” We peeked out the blinds and to our dismay, the American flag outside was whipping forcefully. I have endured numerous hurricanes in Florida and have never felt Mother Nature’s ferocity this intensely. I assume that as winter approaches, the Northern winds from Canada and above bring in these systems and this is nothing new for this region. But, for us-we thought we were in a typhoon ready to be impaled by a fallen tree crashing through the cabin roof. For several hours, this persisted until finally it slowly faded out.

By sunrise, there was no signs of what we had encountered. I would have believed it to be a fever dream-if I had not had Hubs with me. To think that the Hubs initially wanted to camp in a tent outdoors as he had as a young boy! I argued with him vehemently in the planning stages of this endeavor that there is a time stamp for such pursuits in life. For me, if it doesn’t have a sturdy roof, a shower or a bed-I have made peace with I won’t be sleeping in the great outdoors in a tent. 30 mile per hour winds shut the door for me- for good on that one.

We packed up and vacated Whistling Swan Motel. This was much more than a motel for me. Being on the Black Feet Indian Reservation was a cultural immersion lesson in life. I learned the Indian way of life. The Native American Indian philosophy can be applied to almost any season in life. All things are interrelated-everything is connected. Change is inevitable. Both the physical and spiritual world are real. People are accountable for their fullest potential. Staying in the modest cabin Mark the owner from Whistling Swan provided us-I learned to do more with less (minus the Huckleberry situation). I learned that the people that showed up to work are the ones who matter. I learned that even a scary grasshopper can hold beauty within its wings. I learned food is substance, fuel and delicious when you have worked hard for it. I thoroughly loved and savored the discussions we had with Mark adding incredible insight of the struggles, challenges and achievements of the hardworking people of Black Feet Indian Reservation. East Glacier National Park was one of the most visually astounding places on Earth I have ever been to. Whistling Swan Motel was not just a place to lay my head after a day of hiking. It was a place to make sense of all the brilliance I was able to see. It was literally an anchor in the storm, and refuge in the truest sense. The elements are harsh in East Glacier National Park. There is a level of respect that this area deserves. I will forever appreciate the transparency that this area commands. It is not for the lighthearted. The paths are narrow, the mountains are imposing, the weather is extreme. Everything in East Glacier National Park is extreme and epic. The Road to The Sun-is no exception-and for me it was the most spectacular visual experience I have ever witnessed.

We left East Glacier and preceded to our last stop on this 2-week national park pilgrimage. We stopped in Kallispell, Montana Kalispell, MT | Official Website– the first real signs of civilization. We found a Starbuck’s and sat by a fireplace as Hubs savored his first real coffee in 14 days. We eventually made it to our last hotel  The Islander Inn – Take a Break by the Lake (sleepeatdrink.com) in Bigfork – Montana. Named after the fork where two rivers meet- the Flathead River and the Swan River flow into the Flathead Lake.

The Islander Inn is a small hotel with a handful of units all named after Islands, directly across from the immense Flathead Lake Flathead Lake | In the shadow of Glacier National Park. Our unit was spacious and had many amenities. We would only be here a short time and we were going to try to take advantage of everything this stunning area had to offer.

We settled in and took a walk along the street. Unable to get to the beach as it was all private access. The waves were thunderous on turquoise glistened water. Bleached driftwood covered the sandy shore. Beautiful alpine style beach chalets flank the lake with mountains way off in the distance and scaling rock bordering the homes. The seaside nautical life abundant.

We came across The Raven The Raven (ravenbigfork.com) a neighborhood bar and eatery. We sat at a table overlooking the turbulent lake. The sun was bright, the winds were hair whipping and the waves created white capped ripples. When we arrived, a rowdy bunch was full of celebrations. But they soon disappeared, and it was just Hubs and I-relishing our last final moments of this truly memorable trip. We ate humble salads and focused on the view, this moment and the finality of this journey.

As we walked back, hand in hand to The Islander Inn preparing for the reality of packing, airplane travel, work return-I took a moment to reflect on all the beauty I had seen in this incredible country of ours. I was spellbound by the patriotism and splendor of Mount Rushmore, the kind souls of South Dakota, the bizarre and extraordinary wonders and mysteries of Yellowstone and the grandeur and magnificence of Glacier National. For the first time ever, I have no trips in the queue for now so the memories made will stay in my heart and continue to enrich my soul and stay with me forever.

Until next time…

~F&B~

see ya!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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