Archives

Circus Trip 2018: Pompeys Pillar NM

Day 9, Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Livingston, Montana was just a one night stopover, although I would have liked to have spent more time around Bozeman and Livingston.  I had already been in Montana for a week, and although I could have been happy exploring there for several more weeks, the purpose of my trip was to see more than just Montana!  So, moving on…

I got on the road about 9 am, and headed east on I-90.  I did stop at a rest area in Grey Cliff, Montana to sort out a few medical insurance details, and talked to a friend on the phone.  It is nice that it is so easy to stay connected these days!

My destination for the day was Pompeys Pillar National Monument.  I imagine many of you haven’t heard of it, so here’s the scoop.  Pompeys Pillar is one of the smallest national monuments in the United States, encompassing only 51 acres, and protecting a natural sandstone pillar that juts out from the flat land around it.  It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and upgraded to a National Monument on January 17, 2001.  In case you are wondering, Pompeys is officially spelled with no apostrophe – let that get your inner grammar geek worked up!

Pompeys Pillar Sign-posing

But why is it so special?  Pompeys Pillar marks the spot with William Clark and his crew – half of the Lewis and Clark expedition – stopped on their way back east during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  He came down the Yellowstone River after making it all the way from present-day St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean via the overland route, and found this place.  He and Lewis had split up for a few weeks; Lewis and a team of 9 men further explored the Marias River while Clark continued down the Yellowstone River.  They were to meet up again in early August.  It’s exact location may never have been known, except Clark carved his name into the pillar, along with the date – July 25, 1806.  It is the only known visible evidence of the expedition that remains today.  I was there a day too early for the anniversary!

 

Pompeys Pillar was named for the son of Sacajawea, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, a little boy who came along on the expedition strapped to a cradle board; he carried the nickname Pomp, or Pompy.  Clark originally named the site Pompys Tower, but the name was changed in 1814 when the official history of the expedition was published.  Native Americans have been using the area for about 11,000 years; it is located about 25 miles northeast of Billings, Montana.  Native Americans had carved on the pillar too – pictographs of animals in the area and other symbols.

The day I was there was another scorcher, but despite the 90 degree temps I still climbed the steps to the top of the pillar – the views are incredible!  It is 150 feet high, so you can see the river and the landscape for miles around.  I saw the spot where William Clark inscribed his name and date; it is protected by a plexiglass plate now.  Previously, it had a metal grate protecting it; that grate can be seen in the Visitor’s Center today.

Me with William Clark’s Inscription

 

William Clark’s Inscription

It was threatening rain when I was wandering around outside, but I still walked down to the Yellowstone River after I climbed the pillar.  There was so much sand on the banks – I wasn’t expecting that.  And even though the signs promised snakes; I didn’t see any. There were a lot of mosquitoes though!  It started to rain as I was headed back to the Visitor’s Center, so I feel like my timing was great!

Me on the bank of the Yellowstone River

 

Dark clouds over the Yellowstone River

When I left Pompeys Pillar I continued on my way to my destination for the evening – Sheridan, Wyoming.  The GPS took me on a shortcut to get back to the freeway, and I spent about 15 miles bouncing along slowly on a well-maintained but dusty gravel road.  The road had some great photo ops, with abandoned homes, prairie sunflowers and birds.  It was cool!

 

I crossed into Wyoming a little after 6 and stopped to do some sign posing – Wyoming has a pullout so you can park and get out for pictures with the sign – thanks Wyoming!

I made it to Wyoming!

I checked into my campground shortly before 7 and chatted with my neighbor – a woman traveling solo from Cincinnati, Ohio.  She looked and dressed like a hippie, but complained a lot about the hippie culture of Oregon, where she had been most recently.  You can’t judge a book by its cover.  She was a bit odd, but it was nice having some company while we drank some wine.

It was a nice day, and I was now in my 4th state of the trip!

 

 

Advertisements

Circus Trip 2018: Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS

Day 7, Sunday, July 22, 2018

Near Deer Lodge, Montana, there are a lot of working cattle ranches.  There is also the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, a working cattle ranch that dates back to 1857, and is now a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Johnny Grant came out west and began grazing cattle here in 1857, decided to stay permanently in 1859, and built a home in 1862.  Despite that “permanent” intention, Grant found that once gold miners arrived in the area, life became a lot more difficult for him because he spoke French and the miners spoke English.  He decided to sell the ranch in 1866 to Conrad Kohrs and head back to Canada.

Kohrs was born in Germany, moved to the United States at the age of 22 and earned his wealth following the gold rush to different areas and selling beef to the miners.  Back then, cattle were grazed on the open range, but the winter of 1886-1887 was devastating to cattle ranches across the west, as the brutal cold and storms killed off more than 50% of all of the free range cattle.  Many ranchers went bankrupt, but Kohrs was able to secure a bank loan to keep him afloat.  He modernized his ranch, building fencing to contain the cattle and growing hay and other fodder to feed the cattle during the cold winters.  These changes meant success for the ranch and he was able to pay off the $100,000 loan in less than four years.

Kohrs also modernized and added onto the house that Grant originally built.  Kohrs added a large wing in 1890 and built many outbuildings, including a bunk house, blacksmith shop, horse barns, etc.  In 1970, descendents of Conrad Kohrs were still running the ranch, and struck an agreement with the Park Service to sell the ranch, provided that it remained a working cattle ranch.  The site was opened to visitors in 1977, and 17,095 people visited in 2012.

The ranch is free to visit and you can sign up for a ranger-led tour of the ranch house – there are no self-guided tours.  From the outside, the home looks simple and unadorned, but I would certainly recommend the tour, as the home is lavish inside!  Conrad Kohrs had the finest of furniture and housewares shipped to Montana for his wife, and no expense was spared.  When the home was no longer being lived in as the children and grandchildren wanted something more modern, all the furniture was left inside and sold to the Park Service with the ranch.  You can see exactly how the Kohrs lived!  The home had all the modern amenities of the time, including electric lighting and indoor plumbing, and beautiful Victorian furniture.  I really enjoyed the tour, but sadly, no photographs are permitted in the house.

 

You can also wander the grounds at your leisure, and taste cowboy coffee at the chuck wagon.  I enjoyed talking to the woman at the chuck wagon, and she was very interested in hearing about the details of my trip.  The coffee was actually pretty decent too, but leave the last swig in the bottom of the cup, because it can have coffee grounds in it!  The method of making cowboy coffee is interesting.  You boil the water, and add the ground coffee directly to the kettle, then use cold water and/or eggshells to get the coffee grounds to settle to the bottom after it steeps.  You don’t strain the grounds out, so you have to be careful about pouring the coffee to make sure you don’t end up with grounds in the cup.  It was interesting to see and taste!

Chuck wagon and cowboy coffee

I saw the blacksmith shop, and the horse barn where they have a collection of historic carriages and wagons.  Mrs. Kohrs also kept a beautiful garden, which has been restored and maintained.  I saw Texas Longhorn cattle, horses and chickens; the ranch has many more cattle out on the 1200 acres of the ranch.  When you visit, you may see the ranch hands hard at work, doing things the way they did in the late 1800s; harvesting hay, feeding cattle, rounding up cattle, branding them, or taking care of the other animals.  I didn’t see much activity when I was there, but I’m sure spring and fall are busier times.

 

 

 

 

 

At first I didn’t know what I was looking at, but after talking to someone, I learned that the ranch used (and still uses) a beaverslide to stack hay.  The beaverslide was invented in Montana, and allowed ranchers to stack hay up to 30 feet tall.  In this arid climate, hay could be stored outside in the weather, without having to worry about it getting too wet and rotting.  I had never seen a beaverslide before; what an interesting invention!

Beaverslide

It was a great visit, but I still had more sightseeing to do that day!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Last Day in Glacier

Day 5, Friday, July 20, 2018

On my last day in Glacier I got up early and left the campground about 7:30 am.  I was going to be driving up the Going to the Sun Road one more time and exiting out the east entrance of the park.

Since I had already seen some of the sights along the west side of the park, I just drove until I got over to the east side.  I stopped at some of the viewpoints and did a short hike from there.  On that hike, the trail ended up narrowing sharply and going through quite a bit of tall shrubbery and I was completely alone; I got a bit nervous that this might be prime bear habitat so I ended up turning around.  I did find a beautiful creek coming through a gorge near there though and took some photos.

 

 

 

I passed by St. Mary Lake and stopped to take in the view and take some photos.  St. Mary Lake is the second largest lake in the park, at 9.9 miles long and 300 feet deep.  It has a small island, Wild Goose Island in the lake.  There are boat tours of this lake too, and it would be fun to go on one someday!  Interesting, the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was shot at St. Mary Lake.  In case you want to refresh your memory, here it is.  The views are stunning.

 

On the east side of the park I stopped at the Visitor’s Center for my stamp and to check out the exhibits on the Blackfeet tribe’s use of the park’s land as part of their traditional homeland; they call the area the Backbone of the World.  The park and the Blackfeet have a partnership now that allows the tribe to continue to use the land.

Also on the east side of the park is a 1913 Ranger Station; it was used as a ranger station until the 1930s, when it became ranger housing.  They restored it in 1976.  The site also contains a barn that was originally built in 1926, and was later moved to this location.  There are a few hikes that depart from the Ranger Station through the grasslands on the east side of the park.

The Ranger Station – 1913

The 1926 Barn

 

Upon leaving the park, I stopped to visit the Blackfeet Memorial, a memorial consisting of metal tipis constructed by the tribe.  There are signs at the viewpoint explaining where the Blackfeet traditional lands once extended to, as well as information about their culture, way of life, origin stories, and Blackfeet names of the mountains visible from the viewpoint.  This area was burned by fire in 2006; the Red Eagle fire consumed over 34,000 acres within the boundaries of the Blackfeet Reservation and Glacier National Park.  It was an interesting stop!

 

The rest of the day was spent on a long, meandering drive through rural Montana towards Philipsburg.  I had about a half a tank of gas, and told myself that I would get gas when I next saw a gas station.  I had enough for about 30 more miles by the time I finally saw a gas station!  This is big country, my friends, and a lot of it is very sparsely populated.  Get gas when you have a chance!

An abandoned home

 

A very strange rest area sign – do they really want trucks to the right, where there is no road?

I rolled into Deer Lodge, Montana that evening for two nights at the Indian Creek RV Park.  They welcomed tents, but they weren’t really well set up for them – $45 for 2 nights.  They parked me in the middle of a grassy lawn, and I felt a little bit like I was living in a fishbowl, surrounded by all the RVs! I was the only tent camper there.  They didn’t have any picnic tables set out, just a small gazebo on the lawn, which I ended up setting up my cook stove in – you do what you have to do.  For dinner, I had rice, polenta and turkey sausage – yummy!  That night was the first night I set up my tent; it would have been awkward to sleep in my car because it was just parked on the road alongside the grassy area.  I learned that even though it was hot during the day, it got really cold at night!

A bunny at my campsite

 

Sunset at my campsite

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Glacier and my Marriage

One of the reasons for this trip was to shake off the painful end of my marriage and start fresh.  I don’t talk about it much, but perhaps I should.

Glacier National Park was one of the places that I had long talked about visiting with my ex-husband when we were married.  We never made it there.  At the end of our marriage, and during our divorce, I came to know another man in my husband, one so completely foreign to me that I wondered who I had actually been married to.  His behavior and his treatment of me was such a complete 180 from the early years, that I began to believe that it had all been a game to him.  I still don’t know who he really was, and I probably never will.

I would never have been able to afford this trip if I had remained married.  Getting divorced meant a level of financial (and emotional) freedom that I had not known in years.  My ex was an incredible drain on my finances, because he didn’t pull his weight financially and he was a huge spendthrift.  That was the one fight that we had over and over and over in our marriage, because his spending was bleeding us dry.  It was at the point that I was considering not allowing him to have his own credit card, and just giving him a cash allowance.  What is the point of being married to someone if you feel like you are treating them like a child?  I know he wasn’t happy with the situation either, but for whatever reason, he was just never willing to rein in the spending.

Long story short, getting divorced meant I was able to save a lot more money.  The drain on my life was gone.  Additionally, if I had still been married, he probably wouldn’t have been too keen on the idea of me taking several months away.  Let’s be honest, he probably would have wanted me to get a new job right away (or not leave the old one), so he could continue wasting all our money.

So, even though getting divorced was not what I had wanted for myself, and even though that year and a half was the most miserable time in my life so far, it was a blessing.  I am happier now that I don’t have his negativity and contempt weighing on my soul.  Someone else can have him be a drain on their finances and clean up his messes.  Someone else can listen to his lies.  I’m way better off.  I had a friend who told me that he looked at photos of my ex and me, and saw a woman trying to make it work, trying to be happy, and a man standing next to her who didn’t care about her at all.  He was right.  I don’t think my ex cared about me.  At least not at the end; I’ll never know if he ever did.

Before I went on this trip, I had never hiked alone.  Realistically though, I probably had.  My ex never actually hiked with me; instead he consistently walked between 20 and 50 feet in front of me when we went hiking.  There was rarely any interaction.  I have more pictures of his back, hiking in front of me, than I do of the two of us together.  So when I took this trip, I thought about that.  I had been hiking alone for most of my marriage.  This wouldn’t be any different – I got this.

 

I have told the story of the hat that he gave me. That hat that he had purchased for the girlfriend he was with at the end of our marriage, then decided to give to me instead.  The Avalanche Lake hike in Glacier National Park was the first hike I wore that hat for.  I thought I would hate it, but that hat grew on me.  It was a way to turn around the past and empower myself – to find my joy.  This was just the beginning of that new life, of feeling like I could travel by myself, hike by myself, and make my own way.

Me at Avalanche Lake

Glacier was just the start…

Circus Trip 2018: Avalanche Lake Hike

Day 4, July 19, 2018

Today was day 2 in Glacier National Park!  I got up at 7, and got ready quickly and skedaddled at 7:30 am after accidentally setting off my car alarm…  Oops!  Sorry campers!  You know you wanted to be up early to hike!

That morning I went to do the Avalanche Lake hike – it was 4.8 miles round-trip.  This is a busy hike, for good reason, because it is beautiful, so go early and pack your patience to get a parking spot.

For me, the hike to Avalanche Lake is very much like the hikes at home, a dirt trail with roots and big rocks along the side of the trail.  It is a moderate hike, mostly in the shade – which was perfect on a hot day!  At many points along the trail you can see evidence of past avalanches and landslides that have taken down more than a few trees.  It is not unusual in these mountain areas.

The hike is fairly popular and I could see and/or hear other hikers at most points on the trail.  I was surprised by the number of people that didn’t have bear spray – given that Glacier National Park is heavily populated by grizzlies and given the fact that the bear I saw the day before didn’t seem scared of humans AT ALL, I felt more comfortable carrying it, even with the people around.  I also have a bear bell on my backpack, which jingles to warn animals I’m coming.  If you hike alone, they say you should talk or sing to yourself, but let’s be real, who wants to do that for several miles in the wilderness?  My bear bell seemed to do the trick – which was apparently to get the attention of every man within a half mile radius, many of whom commented on it or asked what it was.   So there you go – if you want to meet a man, consider getting a bear bell?  Don’t hike?  Maybe just wear it around the office!?  Or at the grocery store?  I digress.

The lake was gorgeous!  It was so clear and you could see the fallen trees at the bottom from past avalanches.  I walked at the edge of the lake for a bit and sat and had a snack and just enjoyed the scenery.  Even though I wasn’t alone, it was very peaceful just sitting alongside that lake.

After I got back to the car, I made a peanut butter and honey sandwich and walked over to the creek near the parking area and sat on the stone wall to eat.

After lunch, I drove down to the Lake McDonald Lodge and wandered down to the lake shore.  Lake McDonald, at 10 miles long and 500 feet deep, is the largest lake in the park.  It is beautiful with the colorful rocks on its bottom, and the mountains rising above.  The valley where Lake McDonald sits was carved by the glaciers that existed here, and the valleys between the mountains are also evidence of glacial activity.  The lodge itself was constructed between 1913 and 1914 in the Swiss Chalet style.  I love these old lodges!  I parked myself in the shade, and even dozed off on the shore until some bratty kids came along and were knocking down all the cute little rock cairns that people had built.  I watched the boat tours go by – one day I would like to take one, but I just wasn’t feeling in the mood that day.

On my way back to camp, I stopped by the Alberta Visitor Center and checked it out.  Glacier National Park is so close to Canada it makes sense for them to have a Visitor’s Center there!  I have said it before, but I really want to see the Canadian parks north of Glacier!  There is never enough time to do everything though.

I also visited the historic Belton Train Station.  Belton was one of the stations where trains came to deliver visitors to the park in its early days.  It was constructed in 1910 by the Great Northern Railroad and enlarged in 1935; the same railroad also built the Belton Chalet Hotel across the road.  It would have been so cool to have the experience back then!

Belton Train Station

 

Ground squirrels at the Belton Station

I went back to camp and relaxed that evening.  I deserved to take a break since I had logged over 20,000 steps!  I also spent some time talking to the young guys at the campsite next door to me.  They were from Savannah, GA and Kansas and had met there for a guys trip to Glacier.  It was nice to have some social interaction and I enjoyed my time sitting around their campfire.  And apparently both of them slept through my car alarm that morning – whew!  It was a nice end to another great day!

 

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Hidden Lake Hike

Day 3, July 18, 2018

Today I was going to see Glacier National Park!  I was so excited!

I got to the park about 9 am and went to the Visitor’s Center to get my passport stamp and postcards.  Then I started driving up the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  The views were spectacular!  I ended up going all the way up to Logan Pass, stopping at some of the viewpoints along the way.  Pack your patience for parking at the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center!  Eventually, I got a space, and got out the things I needed. Backpack, picnic lunch, and my parks passport for another stamp!

I ate my lunch sitting behind the Visitor’s Center in the shade.  I talked to a couple who were on a motorcycle day trip – they looked like they were having fun!  After I ate, I started my Hidden Lake hike, which goes out from behind the Visitor’s Center.  It is a 3 mile round trip, out and back hike.  I made it about 50 feet when I came upon a Park Ranger who had the trail closed.  There was a Grizzly Bear eating camas bulbs in the meadow right behind the Visitor’s Center!  The bear didn’t seem bothered by the presence of about 50 tourists staring and him (or her), and was just peacefully rooting around in the meadow.  I was able to see his hump and back as he moved further away across the meadow – what an amazing experience!

After the bear moved on, they reopened the trail and I set out.   Pretty soon I started seeing Mountain Goats in the distance, sitting near the patches of snow.  As I continued on, there were even more!  Some of the trail was still covered in snow and ice, and I had to pick my way carefully over the ice at a few spots.  This trail is very popular, so you do have to wait at times for people to get through an icy spot.  Near the Hidden Lake viewpoint, the Mountain Goats were walking right on the trail – I had to move off of the trail to let one go by!  Thankfully he wasn’t aggressive and didn’t seem bothered by the people, but I did my best to give him space.

The Hidden Lake viewpoint is spectacular!  The lake is beautiful!  There is a trail that continues on from there, but that part of the trail was closed due to bear activity the day I was there.  Honestly, it was probably the bear I had seen earlier near the Visitor’s Center!  I stood at the viewpoint for a while, taking in the scenery.  As I left the viewpoint, I was greeted by the most impressive sight; this Mountain Goat posing perfectly with the mountain in the background!  Incredible!  I saw a mama and baby goat too!  They were so cute!

On the way back, I saw a herd of Bighorn Sheep in the meadow where the Grizzly Bear had been earlier.  There were about 25 of them; all males.  Some people were getting a little too close and the sheep got spooked and ran across the trail.  Luckily no one got hurt.  It is a good reminder though – these are wild animals, they are big and unpredictable.  Don’t get too close!

I headed back down the Going to the Sun Road and stopped at a few viewpoints, including a swimming hole where people were jumping off a big rock.  It looked fun, but the water was probably freezing!

That evening I had leftover pasta and sausage for dinner.  I had worked up such an appetite from hiking that I was too hungry to heat it up!  This was such an amazing day; one of the best days hiking ever!

 

Glacier National Park History

Glacier National Park was created in northwestern Montana on May 11, 1910 by Congress and President William Howard Taft.  There are over park 1 million acres (4,000 square kilometers) within the park’s boundaries, and parts of two mountain ranges (they are part of the larger Rocky Mountains).  The amazing scenic beauty and recreation make it one of the country’s most visited national parks, with 2,965,309 visitors in 2018.  I was just one of them!

The mountains of Glacier National Park, called the Lewis Overthrust, are over 170 million years old; they contain some of the best early life fossils on Earth because the sedimentary rocks here are so well preserved. The mountains show evidence of massive glaciation, with the peaks and valleys, and studies of early maps and photographers led researchers to conclude that during the late 1800s there were about 150 glaciers here.  Sadly, only 25 active glaciers remained by 2010.  Scientists predict that all the active namesake glaciers may disappear by 2030 if we continue with current climate patterns.  Glacier is one of the places where scientists can study the impact of climate change in real time.

Glacier National Park has been lucky though, it still has almost all of its original plant and animal species; it hasn’t had the same habitat loss issues that so many wild lands throughout the United States have had.  There are grizzly bears, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wolverines and Canadian lynx, and hundreds of bird species within the park. Fish and a few species of amphibians are also common here.  Trees include western redcedar and hemlock, and the landscape ranges all the way from forest to alpine and tundra areas.  The elevation change within the park boundaries is over 7,000 feet!

Archaeological evidence shows that Native American habitation within the park stretches back about 10,000 years.  More recently, the Blackfeet tribe inhabited the eastern portion of the park; they ceded a part of their treaty lands in 1895 to the federal government.  The Flathead tribe occupied the western portion of what is now park land.

The Great Northern Railway provided access to the park in the early days, and a number of hotels and chalets were quickly built to accommodate park visitors.  Over 350 locations remain on the National Register of Historic Places today. The Going-to-the-Sun Road, considered to be a crowning achievement of the park, was completed in 1932, and is now designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  Sounds pretty fancy, doesn’t it?

Glacier National Park is unique in that it borders Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada—the two parks together make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  They were the first International Peace Park, designated in 1932.  They are also a jointly designated Dark Sky Park.  I didn’t make it across the border on this trip, but it would be fun to see Waterton Lakes!

There is a lot for visitors to do within the park.  Hiking (both day hiking and backpacking) are popular, and there are lots of back-country trails.  There are several campgrounds and also lodges within the park.  The scenery is stunning from the park roads too!  You can take a boat tour or just hang out at one of the 130 names lakes within the park.  You will likely see a lot of wildlife if you venture off the main road at all (yes, that is a spoiler alert for when I tell you about my visit!).  Fishing is also popular and you don’t need a permit, but you have to release any bull trout you catch, because they are a threatened species.  You can also rock climb if you are so inclined.  In the winter you can snowshoe or cross country ski, but don’t take your snowmobile – that’s not allowed.

I have been wanting to visit Glacier for years, and I was finally going to see it!