The day Sarah and I decided to hit the road and drive to Montana, the weather turned gloomy and started to pour rain. It was like the weather was mirroring my sadness that our trip through Yellowstone had finally come to an end, but I we also saw it as a sign that we should take the day off and go to one of Jackson Hole's famous spas for the day! So we went to the Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa and had a much-needed massage and soak in their spa. Being able to be flexible and change your mind and plans on a whim was yet another reason why road tripping across the US is the way to go.
The next day we took off for what would be the longest stretch of driving we had attempted in one day on this trip, about 9 hours. We drove over the stunning Teton Pass into Idaho, took back country roads as far as possible to avoid the 90 freeway and eventually drove all the way up to Flathead Lake in the North Western part of Montana near the border of Canada.
Along the way, the sky just opened up into sprawling farms and ranches and we drove through these amazing old frontier towns (population 100), one of which was called Virginia City. Since I was born and raised in Virginia, I decided we should stop and check it out. I was pleasantly surprised by how cute and quaint this town was. It consisted of one Main street with shops on either side and a little country store and they still had stagecoaches and old farming equipment from the 1800's lying around. I saw a sign in the window of one shop that said, "I Sell Stuff", so I was intrigued to find out exactly WHAT stuff they sold. Sarah and I ended up finding a couple of little treasures that I bought; an old camera from 1931, a fossil trilobite, and a vintage Montana belt buckle.
It consisted of one Main street with shops on either side and a little country store and they still had stagecoaches and old farming equipment from the 1800's lying around. I saw a sign in the window of one shop that said, "I Sell Stuff", so I was intrigued to find out exactly WHAT stuff they sold. Sarah and I ended up finding a couple of little treasures that I bought; an old camera from 1931, a fossil trilobite, and a vintage Montana belt buckle.
We continued on our drive, just marveling at how the huge sky dwarfed the trees and everything it covered. There is something magical about Montana. We drove all the way up to Flathead Lake and finally settled in with my girlfriend, Alyssa's dad on his ranch in Big Fork, Montana.
Up here, the sun doesn't set until close to 10:15 at night, which was so bizarre, because everywhere else I had been on this trip, the sunset more than an hour earlier! We would eat dinner at 11pm at night and my internal clock was definitely confused.
Alyssa's dad, Harold, was my old soccer coach growing up and like a second Dad to me. He and his wife took us under their wing and decided to show us the best parts of Montana in just 4 days. We went to Polebridge, a little town near the Canadian border where people are truly living off the grid! People live there in cabins or camp during the good weather months and they have plays on a little wooden stage next to the Polebridge Mercantile store.
Writers come to give talks and they have their town activities written on a piece of paper tacked to a bulletin board in the middle of town. At 4pm, their only bar The Northern Lights Saloon opens and it becomes the town hang out. I walked around and loved to see how the townsfolk lived and took pictures of the little cabins with antlers in place of door handles. The town will be celebrating their centennial next year in June, so it should be a huge party:)
One of my favorites moments of the trip was learning how to fly fish! We joined a bunch of locals who wrap their own personal flies, jumped on a series of pontoon boats down the river where I caught 4 rainbow trout and drank some local beer. I even jumped off the bridge in Big Fork (to say I did) and walked around the town, marveling at just how many coffee shops there are in a town that consists of one street..my kind of town!
We went horseback riding through the 160 acres of their property and did chores around the house and then had drinks on the porch in the evenings. I read an entire book in 4 days, which is amazing when you think about how much time you actually can have to do other things when the internet is non-existent. The highlight of my trip, though, was finally getting to see Glacier National Park and to drive the famous Road to the Sun, which is only open a few months out of the year due to the harsh storms and snowfall.
Glacier National Park used to have over a hundred classified glaciers in the park, but since 1850, the glaciers have been shrinking due to global warming. A glacier has to be 25 acres and moving in order to be considered a glacier, so in the last 150, most of them have been declassified and now only about 30 are left. We were there during the two-month "golden time", where all of the rivers and lakes are this glowing green-aqua color.
I asked a park ranger and she said that it is a phenomenon due to the glaciers pulverizing the rocks as they move over them into a super fine dust called "Loess". The dust is so fine that when it get washed into rivers, it doesn't actually settle at the bottom and stays suspended, which then causes this color of the water when the sun reflects off these particles. By the end of the summer, it will all be washed away and the water turns a deep blue again. Amazing.
We drove up the Road to the Sun, past the cute red vintage wagons that carry tours, up to the top where you can then hike over to a hidden lake and have a spectacular view. Along the way, even though it was hot and mid-July, we were walking through slippery snow and sliding all over the place. We saw groups of Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats just hanging out and the scenery was like we were at the top of the world.
On our way hiking back, we saw a huge storm heading our way fast and we ran fast to our cars, slipping and sliding the whole way. We made it just in the knick of time to our car before the rain hit us, but we found out later that three hikers got hit by lightning who were right behind us! Up here these storms can form and hit out of nowhere fast and again I was humbled by how powerful and mysterious nature seems to be in this part of the country.
On our last day in Montana, Sarah and I decided to go Antiquing and fossil hunting. In this part of the United States, stumbling across ancient marine creatures and dinosaurs from the Jurassic Period 300 million years ago is not uncommon. I was just planning on window shopping, but then I came across the most gorgeous Ammonite Fossil I have ever seen. I have never seen one two feet in diameter like this one and it looked more like a carved spiral statue than an ancient predatory sea squid back when the world had no land creatures.
I had to buy it, so I did...and after hauling this 150 lbs. rock into the passenger seat of my car, it became our traveling companion, soon to be on display in my home. It's so strange to try to picture the fact that these ancient animals once ruled the Earth.
After 4 days, which felt like a couple of weeks in “Montana Time”, we sadly said goodbye to our Montana family and hit the road again to drive across the entire state and make it back down to the Montana entrance of Yellowstone on the South Eastern side of the state and then all the way back home. We drove the most dangerous, famous stretch of road in the United States, the Bear Tooth Highway. This was our last item to check off our list before we could feel like our epic road trip was complete.
As we drove along the twists and turns of the Bear Tooth highway, (a road so famous that many car commercials have been filmed on it), our jaws were dropped at the sheer beauty of what we had witnessed over the past two weeks on the road. We drove on the edges of sheer cliffs and saw waterfalls and bears. It was like every day was a new mysterious world to uncover and more surreal and dramatic than the last.
But this was AMERICA! We weren’t in a foreign land, we didn’t need to learn a new language, and we didn’t need a passport. Yet we still came back with some of the most beautiful photos and experiences I have ever had on any of my exotic, international adventures.