Friday, September 8, 2017

Into Montana

This is my second “catch-up” entry on the blog and covers September 3-5.

On Sunday morning, I can’t say we were sorry to leave Yellowstone, as beautiful and vast as it is.  Labor Day Weekend was not the best time to visit.  As we left by way of the west gate, we passed long lines of cars, RVs, motorcycles, etc. waiting to get in.  It was much too crowded!

We drove north along the Gallatin Mountain Range and river and through Big Sky country.  The sky was becoming hazier and smoky from the Montana wildfires.

Our campsite for the night was at Missouri Headwaters State Park near Three Forks, Montana, northwest of Bozeman.  When we set up camp, we were shocked at how hot it was—101 degrees!  The campground area had very little shade and only two water spigots and two pit toilets for more than 20 sites.  Not very inviting.  

However, the more we learned about the area, the more interesting it became.  Also, as evening set in, a light breeze picked up and the temperature cooled (somewhat).  The most inviting spot of the campground was the nearby Madison River, where people were tubing on the water.  We wished we had come prepared for that!

The name of the park (Missouri Headwaters) came from the fact that Lewis and Clark had camped there in 1804 and called the confluence of the Jefferson and Madison Rivers the headwaters of the Missouri River.  The Gallatin also flows into the Missouri less than a mile away.  In the nearby town of Three Forks, there’s a lovely small hotel named for Sacajawea.

This park had warnings about moose in the area, instead of bears.

At about 2:00 in the morning, a front came through with such strong winds I was worried our tent might be ripped apart or the entire camper flipped over.  It continued for about 3 to 4 hours, but by morning it was calm again and cooler.  A red sun rose through the smoky haze.

On Labor Day Monday morning (September 4) before moving on, we hiked up to Fort Rock and saw some of the other interpretive, historic sites. 

This small cemetery holds the graves of settlers' children who died from Black Diphtheria in the 1870s.

There was a flock of these birds, which I at first thought were robins, but are larger and thinner and have a speckled ring around their necks.  Does anyone know what they're called? (Photos courtesy of Doug)

We drove further north and west, through the Beaverhead–Deerlodge National Forest to Helena, the state capitol, and then west to Placid Lake State Park in Missoula County.  The skies grew steadily smokier as we got closer to the wildfire locations.  This park was a beautiful, serene setting, and our site was close to the shore of the lake.  Most other campers had left as the holiday weekend ended, so we had it almost entirely to ourselves.  The camp host told us that a couple of nights earlier they could see flames on the ridge across the lake. 

Grizzly bear warnings were back, and we had to store everything (including toiletries, such as soap and toothpaste) in our car or a bear-proof container. However, we had no sightings.

On Tuesday morning we woke to 45 degrees and a light coating of ash on everything, as well as another red sun rising.  We packed up and drove north toward Glacier National Park, already knowing that part of the park was closed due to wildfires.

All along Rt. 83 there was wildfire activity.  We passed a huge campsite, set up with countless tents and large tractor trailers with sleeping units inside. Dense smoke darkened the area, and signs warned not to stop along the roadway.

Orange swimming pool-like cisterns were placed along the roadway, as well as handmade signs saying, “Thanks Fire Crews!  Stay safe!”

Also cardboard signs with numbers at the entrances to residences and hose trucks at the ready.

When we reached Glacier National Park, the west entrance of the “Going to the Sun” road was closed.  We drove halfway around the bottom of the park to our campground for the next three nights—Glacier Haven RV Park—hardly a haven now with the heavy smoke. It’s also sandwiched between a highway and railroad tracks! I could tell we had noisy nights ahead.  By this time, poor air quality was really bothering me, and I wondered how anyone with asthma or any type of lung condition could handle the situation.

We set up camp and drove on to make the most of the late afternoon from the East Glacier entrance to the park.  Amazingly skies were clear and blue.  We stopped for a short hike to Running Eagle Falls, which flows out of a cave…

…and on to Two Medicine Lake.  I can see why Glacier National Park is considered one of the most beautiful!

Next—more of our two days at the park…

As I post this, I am sending positive thoughts and prayers to all my friends and family in the path of Hurricane Irma and to all those who were affected by the flooding of Harvey!  I grew up in Coral Gables, Florida (just south of Miami) and weathered a number of hurricanes, but nothing like this one!


  1. Have you seen that insurance commercial about a moose and a campsite? Between the wild animals, wild weather, and wild fires, you've had quite a trip so far. Enjoying your posts very much. Armchair travel has the benefit of letting someone else deal with all the wild things!

    1. I think I have seen that one, Cathy. Thanks! I'm glad you're enjoying the posts!


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