MOUNTAINS AND PRARIES
ROAD TRIP – WEEK 3: September 27-October 3, 2016
BANFF NP- WATERTON LAKES NP – GLACIER NP – MISSOULA – SALMON – BOISE
Tuesday September 27, 2016
This morning the sunrise over Two Jack and Minnewanka Lakes was so stunning it drew hundreds of photographers lakeside. We drove from our campsite around Minnewanka Lake. It was early, there were flocks of big horn sheep grazing by the lake.
After a stop at Lake Vermillion near Banff, we continued back north along the Bow Parkway hoping that it would be less busy then it was over the weekend. Unfortunately Jackson Canyon was still way too crowded, we could not get a parking spot anywhere near it so we continued on to Lake Louise and Morain Lake. Both locations were still really busy but it did not take much effort to get away from the crowds. So beautiful to be back here. We would love to stay long enough to see the lakes freeze over.
We drove back to Banff and had a very late lunch at the Maple Leaf Cafe. Nice food and very relaxing. It is very frustrating not to be able to do much hiking. It is just as well that both Jasper and Banff are perfect locations for car touring. We left Banff and headed east staying overnight at very ordinary lodgings at Dead Mans Gap just east of Canmore.
Wednesday September 28, 2016
We left our accomodation at Dead Mans Gap and drove south through the Rockies in Kananaski county before joining the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) south to Waterton NP. Most of the morning we felt like we were the only car on the road. Crossing over the stunning Highwood Pass we dropped down onto the plains east of the Rockies. Dramatic grey blue skies framed the ranchlands of the Cowboy trail, punctuated by brilliant yellow cottonwood stands. We stopped for lunch at the Chain Lakes Provincial Park picnic area. Half way through lunch we were startled to see a moose wandering right by us. Always surprises me how quitely they move for such a large animal.
We finally arrived in Waterton NP on a lovely sunny afternoon. Friendly staff at the visitors centre suggested a couple of hikes. Unfortunately the southwestern access road in the park is closed for roadworks so acces to many trails is limited. We camped at the town campsite as it is the only campground still open. Spent a glorious later afternoon by Wateron Lake watching the light disappear and the quite descend. Sadly the quiteness of this gorgeous town did not last. Our campsite neighbours carried on like shrieking banshees late into the night. We could only think that at least one of the three was not mentally stable. And with that thought we were much more forgiving for having our sleep disrupted.
Thursday September 29, 2016
This morning was an early start, before sunrise, to drive out and listen to elk/caribou rutting near Waterton Lake. It was a treat to get there in the dark and hear what sounded like fog horns. The bright red sunrise over the lake promised another glorious day. Once it was light we could see a herd of elk out in the meadow before the mist off the lake engulfed them and they disappeared. Such a great start to the day.
The air was super chilly – maybe because we were going in/out of a heated car. It was 36 degrees F. Drove out on the only open road in the park to Red Rock Canyon. We took a short chilly hike through the canyon.The canyon is quite unusual red sedimentary rock formed in an ancient river bed empying to a sea. The whole area is beautifully framed by the highest mountain peak in the park Mt Blakiston and the nearby Mt Anderson.
By the time we returned to Waterton the whole town was enveloped in mist that has rolled in from the lake. It looked so beautiful. I think I could last a winter in this beautiful small town.
As large sections of the park were already closed we headed towards Glacier National Park. This required a border crossing into the US. Our permit to stay in the US had expired yesterday so we needed another permit to be issued. We crossed at the Chief Mountain Border Post. And getting another permit was not so straight forward. We faced a lengthy interview to justify why we needed another 3 months. After providing a copy of our planned itinerary the Border Patrol officer seemed to relax a bit, as did we. Very helpfully she gave us permission to stay for another 3 months and 2 days, just in case there were problems with the returning flight. Phew, that was a relief.
Half an hour later with our passports stamped we re-entered the US and drove south towards Glacier NP, St Marys gate entrance. The landscape was very rural with amazing rocky outcrops. Arriving at St Mary’s gate entrance we found that just like Waterston, Glacier Park was in closing down for the season mode. The park gates were being remodeled so there was no entry fee and almost all campgrounds in the park have closed for the season.
The flags in the park were all half mast as a mark of respect for the death of Simon Peres, a past Israeli prime minister. It was a beautiful sunny day as we drove south along the Going to the Sun road. Such an amazing drive especially on such a lovely day. This road is an engineering marvel. And at this time of the year with the golden autumn foliage sparkling in the afternon sunshine, it was simply breathtaking. We ended up camping at Apgar campground where we had camped before when we visited the park two years earlier. It was lovely to come back especially as it was not busy. The lakeside walk at sunset was amazingly quite and peaceful.
Friday September 30, 2016
It was a lovely sunrise this morning despite a little bit of rain overnight. We stayed in the tent reading for a while.
After a late start we drove back east along the Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass. From here we hiked the Hidden Lake trail to the overlook and on returning to the Logan Visitors Centre we did a section of the Highline Trail. This is also a part of the Continental Divide Trail. The early section of this was a bit scary as the trail passes along a narrow path just above the road. We returned to Apgar Campground and camped for another night. The walk along Lake Mc Donald was just as peaceful as last night.
Saturday October 1, 2016
Rain poured all through the night. We hoped it would lass so we could pack up but there was no respite. We packed up and were very grateful that today we didn’t have to carry a wet tent in our pack. Car camping is so easy.
Rain followed us for most of the morning as we drove south towards Missoula. By the time we reached Flathead Lake the sun was back and the scenery no less interesting than the high mountains of the past few days.
Before reaching Missoula we stopped at St Ignatius Mission Village. Such an interesting period in local Montana history.
Last time we visited Missoula was on July 4th two years ago and the city seemed deserted. Today in the sparkling autumn sunshine it seemed that this University town was alive and kicking. We had a late lunch at Tamarack Brewery and walked around town for a bit. So pleased we came back.
Sunday October 2, 2016
We spent most of the morning walking around town and visiting a few bookshops. There is nothing nicer than walking into a bookstore. The smell, the silence and all those other worlds you could enter by opening the cover of a book. There were so many books I wanted to read if only we had room to carry them.
After lunch we were back in the car and driving south into Idaho following the Lewis and Clark trail. We drove through a town, Hamilton, that for miles was lined by people holding signs protesting against abortion. Such a curious sight.
It started to rain again and the mist closed in on the surrounding views. Temperature dropped to around 5 degrees C. These were not good camping conditions so we decided to stop for the day in a motel in a small town, Salmon.
Monday October 3, 2016
Yesterday afternoon we had intended to camp in the Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness and perhaps do a hike. But I think we are getting a bit soft. The low temperature and rain were enough to deter us. We are so pleased that we stopped in Salmon. A lovely lady ran the Sakajawea Inn where we stayed last night. It was more like an old fashioned Bed and Breakfast than a motel.
After a delicious cooked breakfast at the motel we drove south towards Boise. Such a surprise to drive over several mountain passes and to see so much snow. And even more surprising were the thermal springs at Sunbeam. We pretty much followed the Salmon River and its tributaries all day and were almost the only car on the road. It was a lovely relaxed scenic drive passing areas of rich geological history. The rain came and went and the snow disappeared as we headed down towards Boise.