The words “Montana” and “nature” kind of go hand in hand. Why? Well, Montana is the 4th largest state in the USA and contains the 44th largest population so, you see, there is a lot of room and not a lot of people. Lots of cattle, though. But maybe that’s beside the point.
When I went to Montana a couple of weeks ago for a music festival in Missoula, (see my post Travelers’ Rest Fest for more details on this glorious and wondrous time), we made time to visit two of Montana’s state parks: Travelers’ Rest State Park, in Lolo (a small town 10 miles south of Missoula), and Lost Creek State Park, in Anaconda (a small town 20 miles northwest of Butte). We would’ve liked to have popped up to Glacier National Park for a day or so, but alas our schedules did not allow for this. We made due with visiting the location at which Lewis and Clark made camp during their expedition west, which is now a state park, as well as a super off-the-wall state park that was rather hidden back in the mountain-y hills.
Nothing too thrilling happened at either state park, we just spent our time wandering around, collecting rocks, and taking photos of the beautiful nature surrounding us.
First up, photos from Travelers’ Rest State Park:
We spent a good hour or two at Travelers’ Rest before heading back to Missoula and to the second day of Travelers’ Rest Fest, the music festival put on by The Decemberists. Which was amazing. But I’ve already mentioned how utterly stupendous the festival was in this post, plus I have a whole separate post dedicated to its awesomeness. Check it out, if you’re keen.
On Monday, after we packed our things and headed out of Missoula, we drove through the curves for about 80 miles before exiting I-90 and heading southwest, toward a little state park called Lost Creek State Park. Sara and I speculated that the name came about because some person found the creek, and then was unable to find it for some time, and maybe even had his/her children or grandchildren out searching for it (much like what happens in the movie Holes, when Sigourney Weaver’s grandpa makes her search for the treasure which is why she has the juvenile delinquents digging holes all the time.) before they finally found the “lost creek” and then they thought that would be a good area for a state park so the gave the land to the state. One theory among many, I’m sure.
Anyway. Lost Creek State Park was a lovely little place that had no other people in it while we were there. A good place for a potential quadruple homicide, if one had been in the mind for it. We parked the car and walked around a bit. We decided not to venture off of the main road, for fear of there potentially being an individual lurking in the woods who had quadruple homicide on the brain. It just seemed like the logical thing to do.
The hills here were not obscured by smoke, which was nice, and the flowers were oh-so-pretty. The following photos are those that I took at Lost Creek State Park:
We spent a decent hour or so exploring this little state park. It was a nice break to get out and stretch our legs after driving for two hours and with only ten more to go… Seriously, what a jaunt! Attending the music festival was worth it, though. Totally worth it. And the state parks and flower photos were a nice added bonus. 🙂
During the second weekend in August, I had the opportunity to drive to Missoula, Montana and spend two days listening to some of the most amazing indie folk bands around. It was an outstanding, life-changing experience, one that I can hardly put into words. Tears would make more sense, but those have already been shed over the sheer wonderment that was this weekend, so I shall attempt to sum up what I experienced with a few words instead, even though they will hardly do it justice, as I have mentioned.
Our journey from Jamestown, North Dakota to Missoula, Montana took us in much of the same route as the classic pair Lewis and Clark, on their exploratory trip across the upper western part of the USA. Before it was the USA, obviously. But this is not a history lesson. Well, actually it kind of is, because the name of the music festival, Travelers’ Rest, is named after the location of a camp Lewis and Clark and Company spent some time at. This location is now a State Park, one that my fellow travelers and I had the opportunity to visit. Photos and anecdotes from this visit can be found under the blog post “Montana, Naturally.”
Getting back to the task at hand: describing the magical weekend that was this music festival. I went with my sister Sara, and two of our friends from UND, Suzi and Nicole. We took Suzi’s car Gary (who appropriately has a sticker of Gary from Spongebob located upon its interior), a feisty little green Toyota Prius, which handled very beautifully around the curves between Billings and Missoula. I think I had too much fun driving her car.
We left Jamestown around 8:30 on Friday the 11th, and after a nice detour into Theodore Roosevelt National Park (see my post A Visit to the Desert of North Dakota) we continued on our merry way into Montana. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever driven across Montana, but it sucks. There’s no other way around it. Not to say that North Dakota is any better, but at least it is half the size of Montana so you don’t have to spend nine hours driving across it. Blech. We made it to our hotel around 11:30 pm that night, and we immediately got ourselves situated in our beds and fell asleep.
I’d like to say we awoke to the smell of chocolate chip pancakes and scrambled eggs and waffles with fruit and whipped cream and blueberry muffins and all of the good things that are breakfast, but instead we were treated to the shitty Motel 8 breakfast. At least it was free. And they did have waffles. No fresh fruit, though. Or whipped cream. After filling our bellies with sub-par nourishment, we decided to explore Missoula a bit. We made our way downtown and found a lovely Farmer’s Market and some fun shops to spend time in. Soon, however, it was time to go back to the hotel and get ready for DAY ONE OF TRAVELERS’ REST FEST. We took an Uber there the first time, which ended up being 10 dollars so Sara and I resolved to walk the two miles from the festival to the hotel and vice versa. We made the trek three times over the course of the weekend.
So. We got in the gates, got these fancy little pamphlets that had a nice map of the Big Sky Brewing Company setup, with the stages and the drink/food stands and the merch tent and such. The pamphlet also had the lineup of bands for both days, and a description of each band. Needless to say, I got more and more excited as I looked through this pamphlet. It just made it all so much more real!
We sat for some time in the sweltering 95-degree weather. It would have been so much worse, though, had there not been clouds of smoke from nearby forest fires obscuring the sun. Although it did give the area a bit of a greenhouse effect and did a really good job of preventing us from seeing the lovely mountains surrounding Missoula, which was just too bad. Anyway, we sat on the lawn in front of the main stage, and Sara and I wandered off to purchase two t-shirts and a poster (I bought the shirts – one was for Travelers’ Rest and the other was for The Head and the Heart, and Sara purchased a nice poster for The Decemberists’ summer tour with a tree on it).
Front of my lovely t-shirt, designed by Carson Ellis!
And the back, which make sense, as most t-shirts that have a front also have a back. This has a nice display of the lovely bands which performed at Travelers’ Rest.
After some more time passed and the bands had started banding, we noticed that a lot of people had these fancy paper fans on a wooden stick, and we were jealous. Because, along with the 95-degree weather and smokey greenhouse-effecting sunlight, there was no wind. So, Sara and I went in search of these fans so that we too could feel the artificial breeze produced by these fans.
As we journeyed to the tent that held these breeze-makers, I saw a someone and I thought it was the person that I thought it was and I was right even though Sara tried to tell me it wasn’t the person that I thought it was. She was wrong, obviously, because I was right. It was Carson Ellis, esteemed artist and illustrator for many children’s books, including those written by her husband, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. After we procured the fans, I spotted Carson again and I told Sara I was going to go talk to her and Sara tried her best to dissuade me but I was not to be dissuaded! I went up to her and said hello and that her artwork was amazing and unique and that I really enjoyed it. We chatted for a bit, although Sara said it was more like I word-vomited at her, which seems likely. I was very excited. So excited, in fact, that after we bid our adieus to Carson and sat down by Suzi and Nicole again, that I announced I was going to find Carson again and have her sign my Travelers’ Rest pamphlet. Sara refused to come with but gladly gave me her pamphlet for Carson to sign. So, I set out on my search, and she wasn’t hard to spot because she was wearing an all-white jump suit and she has nice red hair with bangs. So. I found her and asked her for her autograph, and so on mine she wrote “Hi Anna!” and on Sara’s she wrote “For Sara!” and it was a lovely experience. She is such a nice lady. I am not ashamed to say that I hardcore creep on her through Instagram.
After the excitement of seeing Carson was over, we realized that we were all pretty thirsty. Suzi volunteered to stand in line for water, while the rest of us listened to Offa Rex, a band created between the pairing of The Decemberists and English singer Olivia Chaney. They have an album out, called The Queen of Hearts, that focuses on British Folk tunes of the 60s and 70s. They had a lovely sound, and I enjoyed their music. After their set finished I went to find Suzi, and she was in an extremely slow-moving line for the water fountains. Like, extremely extremely. As in she waited for an hour and a half to fill up two cups for water. When we finally made it to the fountain, we each filled up a cup, drank it, and then filled it up again for Sara and Nicole. The people behind us were like, you waited in line to fill up two cups?! and we were like yeah well needs must. And so we finally got to go sit down again, but only for a bit as it was nearly time for Shakey Graves to come on stage. At about 6:00 we all got up and moseyed our way into the standing crowd in front of the stage. We got a good spot just to the right (or left, if you are a band member facing the crowd) of center stage. Shakey Graves came on at 6:30 and played until 7:15 pm. Damn, was he talented! He has such a voice and uses his musical talents very well. His concert was much enjoyed by all, I’m sure.
After Shakey Graves, there was some waiting as the last band on the smaller stage performed, and then The Head and the Heart came on. Oh my god, every song they sang gave me goosebumps. I just could not handle the sheer musical beauty that was this band. If you haven’t heard of them, I would suggest you stop whatever you are doing, including reading this blog, and look them up. Ugh. SO. GOOD. ‘Let’s Be Still’, ‘Rhythm and Blues’, ‘Hallelujah’, and ‘All We Ever Knew’ are some of my favorites. You won’t be disappointed.
UGH IT MADE ME SO HAPPY TO SEE THEM LIVE I JUST WANT TO GO TO ALL OF THEIR CONCERTS AND SING SUPER LOUDLY TO ALL OF THEIR SONGS WHICH I ALREADY DID BUT I WANT TO DO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.
After the brilliant performance by The Head and the Heart, we all waited patiently for the main event: The Decemberists, who proceeded to put on a stunning two-hour long show. They like to do this thing where they leave the stage about half an hour before the scheduled ending time for the concert like they are actually done and make the crowd chant and cheer before coming back out onto the stage. Of course, this concert was no exception. They had a wonderful lineup of songs, and Sara and I belted out nearly every tune. We were standing one person behind the gate, so we were directly in front of Chris Funk, the guitarist. I’m not entirely sure how we managed to end up so close to the front, I guess we’re just really good at sneaking in through the crowd.
For the encore, Colin Meloy came out with another man, one whom he introduced as Gibson Hartwell, a member from Colin’s first band, Tariko. This band formed in the late 90s, while Colin was going to school in Missoula, and broke up in 1999 after Colin moved to Portland, and then The Decemberisits were formed, and the rest is history.
I try not to be so creepy but sometimes I can’t help it..
Anyway. Colin and Gibson sang a song from their band Tariko, which was super amazing to hear due to the fact that they’re not technically a band anymore and one would have never imagined to hear them live again. Sara and I have an album by them, so we were one of the few people in the crowd who could sing along to this particular song. Very neat.
The concert ended around 11 pm, so Sara and I meandered our way back to where Suzi had been lounging in a hammock (Nicole had taken an Uber back to the hotel a few hours prior), and we made the two mile trek back. It was a good opportunity to rehash what we had just witnessed and also to move our legs after standing in (basically) one spot for five hours.
We made it back to the hotel and Sara and I were feeling quite dehydrated so we opted to take Suzi’s car and drive to Walmart so we could buy a jar of pickles each. We ate the pickles and drank the juice in the hotel parking lot and it was the most refreshing thing I have had in a long time. Apparently pickle juice after standing out in the hot, 90 degree weather for eight hours (and also not eating food during this time) really hits the spot. After our pickle juice refreshments were finished, we headed inside for bed.
Sunday was, in short, a really really really good day. To start the day, we got up and made our way to Travelers; Rest State Park, about an eleven mile drive from Missoula. We walked around this little area, took a lot of photos, found a creek and snatched some rocks, and chatted with the park rangers. It was a nice time (if you would like to see more on our adventures in Travelers’ Rest State Park, please see my post “Montana, Naturally”), and after we were finished we made our back to Missoula for lunch and to get ready for TRAVELERS’ REST FEST ROUND II. Sara and I walked to the festival, so we arrived there a little after 4:00 pm. Because priorities, we sought out the ice cream booth and each got a small cup of Montana-made ice cream. So good. We then stood at a table and mainly people-watched, until Suzi and Nicole found us. Then we looked at the tents they had set up; there was a tent dedicated to people test-running the new board game The Decemberists developed, called the Illimat, and there was an artist who could do portraits on this material called Tintype, and there was a tent selling vinyl records and CDs of the majority of the bands in attendance.
The main reason why Sunday was such a really really really good day was because we actually got to meet The Decemberists, like face-to-face, and chat with them, and get their autographs. It was purely and utterly magical. Alas, there was a sign up that said they would only be signing vinyls and CDs, so Sara and I were like okay fine, and we each bought one. I got ‘The King Is Dead,’ one of my favorite albums by them. It was also the first album I had heard by them, the one that made me fall in love with Colin’s voice and Jenny’s accordion.
At 6:20 pm we went to go stand in line (after resuming our stance at the table, this time with beer and peanuts – see above photo), and the line was a decent length but we weren’t too far back. We stood there and tried to eat peanut with one hand while holding a beer in the other, all the while holding onto the vinyl records (which are rather large), and it was just an all-around struggle. Eventually, at 6:40 pm or so, the line began moving. People went into the building relatively normal and came out with tears or hyperventilation.
The anticipation grew.
To make the anticipation matters worse, some lady came around and stopped three people in front of Sara and myself and was like, “Okay so The Decemberists have to leave at 7:20 to get ready for the show so there may only be time for 50 people which puts the line right here.” And then this lady goes past Sara and I and the guy behind us and was like, “Anyone past this point, you can stay or leave but I just don’t want you to be too disappointed.” So then I said to the couple in front of us, “Wait, so where does that put us? Do we get to see them or do we have to be bitterly disappointed?” We were in the definition of a gray area, and it sucked. Obviously, we did manage to make it into the building with the illustrious members of the beloved band were lurking, but until that point I was in distress. And then it was basically just heart-pounding word vomit that occurred once I actually came face-to-face with Chris Funk. He asked how I was and I told him about my mini heart-attack when the lady told us that we might not get to see them. And he was like, oh shit I’m sorry and I was like it’s all good, since I did make it in. And then I saw Jenny and didn’t really answer Chris’s question about how the line was, and instead I told her about how much I love her accordion bit (although I was so flustered I first called it a harmonica!) in the song ‘Rox in the Box.’ Here’s a link so you can listen to the song and understand why (her solo starts at 2:00 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Waz7PMZHeg
Jenny told me it was an old Irish (or perhaps Celtic) jig that she had adapted her solo from. Either way, it is amazing and I told her so. I am sorry to say that I was so busy gushing over Jenny’s amazing-ness to Jenny herself that I skipped right over Nate Query, the bassist. I did smile and thank him, though, for his autograph.
And then came Colin. He looked up and me and was like, “Hi.” And I just kind of stared into his eyes and was like, “Hi. It is so amazing to meet you.” He kind of laughed and said that it was nice to meet me too. Honestly, I can’t remember if I said anything else to him. Or if he said anything to me. I was just so awestruck to be in his presence, staring into his fact, with approximately two feet of space between us. And then all of a sudden I was facing John Moen, the drummer, and he was like, “So how’s the festival?” And I said that it was amazing and that we drove 15 hours from Minnesota to come to it (a little white lie, true for Nicole but Jamestown is close enough to MN to count!) and he was like, oh cool I was born in Brained, MN. How neat is that? Anyway, I told him that it was neat, and then I exited the building. Sara was waiting for me and we both began doing this weird hyperventilating/crying run (yeah, we got both) to where Suzi and Nicole were sitting. Oh my god were we ever excited. I could barely contain my sheer joy. And then I was like, wow I should have said so many better things to these people. Not for them, as they would likely not remember a single word I said to them, but for myself, because when I thought back to what I had said it was a bit foolish. Oh well, perhaps next time (if there is a next time), I will say something super profound and wise. Sara told Colin that she loved him, and he was like no, you don’t but Sara was very insistent and told him that yes, she does. I’d say that is rather profound.
After we had calmed down a bit, we left our vinyls with Suzi and a promise from her to defend them with her life. I think she did a pretty good job taking care of them, as she texted me later to tell me that she had already stabbed two people and punched one to guard them. 🙂 Sara and I made our way down to the standing crowd in front of the main stage in time for Belle and Sebastian. They are a super iconic Indie group out of Scotland, and were pretty big in the 90s and early 2000s. I knew a couple songs by them, and it was very cool to see them live, but I wasn’t really all that invested in them, not like the lady behind Sara and myself who asked us to switch spots because she was unable to see and has been waiting 13 years to see them in concert. She told us this and we were like, oh damn, do you want to come in front of us because we don’t mind, and she said she was fine but we should have insisted. And also taken her to the front when Sebastian was telling people to come up on stage with them and dance. She should have danced. Sara and I should have used our crowd-sneaking skills to sneak this lady through the crowd to go dance with the band she has been waiting 13 years to see. Ah well. My one regret.
After Belle and Sebastian, it was once again time to wait for The Decemberists. Sara and I used our sneaking prowess to get to the front as the crowd was readjusting from people leaving the previous concert. We ended up one person behind the gate again, and this time we were directly in front of dear Colin Meloy. Oh, were we excited.
Colin came on stage wearing the Montana state flag and looking majestic as all hell. It was a sight to behold.
This concert began in much the same fashion as the night before. Sara and I stood there and sang the words to nearly all of the songs again, so much so that I very nearly lost my voice. I was cheering and screaming and whooping so much, I just couldn’t help it. There were several times where I would whoop at Colin because he was doing something worth whooping for, and a number of people would take up my cry and echo it. That made me feel important. There was also a couple times where I would cheer when it was pretty quite and I think Colin looked at me, probably because the cheering was annoying and he was trying to do something spectacular. But honestly, he doesn’t even really need to try to do spectacular things because typically whatever he does is spectacular. 🙂
Sunday night’s concert was somehow better than Saturday night’s concert. Unsure how. Everyone was so into it. And The Decemberists really put on a show! At one point, all of the band members were lying on the ground and Colin was standing there shushing us and telling us to crouch down so, of course, we crouch down as well as a group of people packed together like sardines can.
They sang so many good songs, and I had so much fun. During one song, a group of us in the beginning started singing where the song normally starts on the CD and Colin looked at us like, who do you guys think you are? But he let us go for a few words before stepping in and starting the song for real. It was amusing.
The last song that The Decemberists sang, as their encore finale, was The Mariner’s Revenge Song. It is an odd song about a Mariner who is seeking revenge on the man who wronged his mother, and they end up in the belly of a whale together. So, of course, much as we are members of the crowd we are participants in this curious musical number. We are asked by Colin to scream like we are being eaten by a whale when Chris Funk gives us the appropriate signal. This was where I completely lost my voice, when it cracked as if I were a 13 year-old-boy going through puberty. It was embarrassing but I did not care, as I needed to scream as if I were being swallowed by a whale. It was imperative.
They began the song and we all sang the words, and then they brought out the giant whale made of metal and fabric, and one by one, it “ate” the “crew” members.
Once the crew had been chewed alive, the song continued from inside the stomach of the whale, where its ribs were ceiling beams and its guts were carpeting. At this point, Colin was laying on the ground and so he needed a microphone brought to him by one of the stagehands, as you can see depicted in the photo below.
If you ever get the chance to see The Decemberists live, I would highly suggest that you do so. Their music is excellent on CD, but there is just such a different vibe to their concerts, especially the ones where you can stand right up in the front and practically touch them.
In short, this two-day musical festival, Travelers’ Rest, in Missoula, Montana, was probably the two best music-related days of my life. Yes, even better than the day I played the bari sax for the first time, or the day I joined marching band at UND. Hard to top those, I know, but it happened.
Thank you to The Decemberists for putting on such an amazing, Indie music-filled festival and for introducing some new band loves into my life. 🙂 🙂 🙂
North Dakota? Home to a desert? Who would have guessed that. North Dakota is fairly well known for it’s immense flatness and subzero coldness, which doesn’t quite fit the bill for what is traditionally thought of as a “desert.” Okay, so maybe North Dakota doesn’t quite have a desert, but it does have some pretty spectacular-looking Badlands in the southwest corner of the state.
This past weekend, I went camping in the Badlands of North Dakota with this guy named Dan. Dan and I have been hanging out for the past few months, and I think I can safely say that he is basically my only friend in Jamestown at the moment. Well, technically he is my boyfriend but that’s beside the point. Not that I’m 100% clear on what the point here is. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been working here since May and I haven’t made any friends other than the dietitian (who was also my preceptor at the State Hospital this past spring) I work with. And even so, she’s more of an aunt-like figure in my life rather than a friend. Making friends is hard, especially when you don’t have a great affinity toward most people, like I do.
Okay so now that we have covered the fact that I don’t have any friends, let’s get back to the camping trip.
We stayed in a campground outside of Medora, ND. If you’re wondering where Medora is, just find I-94 on a map and go approximately 25 miles east of the Montana-North Dakota boarder. It’s a good distance (as in 130 to 330 miles) from basically all larger cities besides Dickinson, but even Dickinson is 40 or so miles away. Medora sits right on the southern edge of the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Which is the only National Park in North Dakota. So that’s neat. National Parks are always fun. I honestly don’t know if people actually live in Medora or not, or if it is basically a summer tourist-trap town and people commute every day or live in housing during the busy season. Totally unsure. I guess I could have asked someone, but that would require interaction with another human being. So I’ll have to settle with never knowing. Which is fine.
Dan and I left Jamestown around 11 am on Friday morning. We arrived in Medora (after Google Maps took us on a super random dirt road that we definitely did not need to drive on, there were a lot of cattle on the road, which made for difficult driving. The scenery was breathtaking, however.) around 3:00 or so. And actually, we were planning on staying at Sully Creek State Park, which was about 2 miles south of Medora, but when we got there the park ranger told us that all of the campsites were full. Everything out there is non-reservable, and is on a first-come, first-served basis. Apparently there was some big bike race that weekend, and there were people from all over there to ride their bikes in either the 25 mile or the 100 mile bike race. Now, I enjoy riding my bicycle, but 100 miles seems excessive. If I were to hop on my bike right now, without any training, it would probably take me about 9-ish hours to go 100 miles. And that would be 9-ish hours without stopping. So, good for those people who spent their Saturday riding their bicycles for an inordinately large amount of miles; I spent mine sleeping in and looking at colorful dirt hills. But more of that in a moment.
Dan and I set up the tent, which was much easier to assemble than the tent that I had when I went on my road trip out west with Sara and Jennifer. And Dan had totally offered us his tent but we decided to go with someone else’s tent, which was great but it definitely leaked. Dan’s tent, we found out that night, does not leak, which is a nice characteristic for a tent to have. It also has a fancy little porch area, screened in, of course, in which all of the shoes and dirt from the shoes can gather. This porch area also get super full of water when it rains, as the rain fly does not cover that particular part of the tent, but the designers of the tent kept this in mind and made sure that there is a handy way of removing any puddles from inside the tent. So, to make a long story short, Dan’s tent is a good tent, and does not leak. Actually I think this is the first time I have slept in a tent and not gotten wet. And I’ve gone camping a lot. I guess we just had bad luck with tents.
Okay, so tent was assembled, and we were hungry so we walked to town. Oh, yeah. So since the Sully Creek State Park sites were all full, we asked the Park Ranger where else we might stay. He gave us a few suggestions, and Dan called these suggestions. We managed to find a place to stay, at the Medora Campground. Which was conveniently located about half a mile from its namesake. So, Dan and I walked to the town and wandered around a bit. We had already decided that we would eat at a place called Badlands Pizza, because Dan loves pizza and requires pizza at least 2 times per week. We got there before the dinner rush, and we had nothing to do for the next two hours, so we got a pitcher of Summer Shandy and drank that, and then we got a bottle of Moscato, which we also drank. I am not a beer person in the slightest, but Summer Shandy was tolerable. The wine, however, was delicious. We ordered a pizza with vegetables, and it was spicy, so I did not enjoy it. I’m sure the average person would have not thought anything of the spice, but as the saying goes: “Swedes think milk is a spice.” I guess that fits, because I do not like spicy food. But my mom, who is 100% Swedish though and through, loves spicy food, so much so that she probably doesn’t even notice when it is spicy and so I have to specifically request that she not make food spicy to which I receive an eye roll and a mini-lecture on how spicy food is good for me. Yes, I am aware of the health benefits of spicy food, but that doesn’t change the fact that it hurts my tongue. So, for now, I will avoid spicy foods, lest my tongue fall off in protest.
After pizza and beer and wine (does pizza go with wine? We weren’t sure, but we also didn’t really care.), we made our way to the Medora Musical. Since we had been drinking, we decided to walk. It was only like, a mile and a half, but this mile included a rather large hill, which we had not been anticipating. We were offered a ride, once, but we declined. The walk was good for us, and it only took about half an hour.
The Medora Musical is a musical (who would have guessed) that is held every night during the summer. They do a different show every year, but the same show every night. It’s kind of a big deal, like, multiple-billboards-along-major-interstates-in-North Dakota-and-probably-Minnesota-and-maybe-South Dakota-kind-of-deal. Yeah. So, it was an experience, and my first time attending the Medora Musical will likely be my last. The singers were good, but it just wasn’t really my style. Too much country. Which I probably should have expected, but to be honest I didn’t really know what to expect. Anyway, I can now cross the Medora Musical off of the bucket list of things that I didn’t know I would ever have on a bucket list.
So after the musical concluded, Dan and I walked back to our campsite. It was cold but we survived. Going downhill is incidentally much easier than going uphill. We made it to the tent, and shortly thereafter it started raining. Which is very pleasant when you know that the tent isn’t going to leak.
On Saturday, we got up and had breakfast and eventually got our act together enough to go do something. We decided to drive through the Theodore Roosevelt National Park since it was possibly going to rain more and we also had no idea what else to do in Medora. We could have played mini golf. Or real golf. But those require effort and besides, I’m not really good at golf, real or mini. So driving through the national park, to observe the beauty of the world while polluting it with carbon emissions from the vehicle, seemed the better option.
T. R. National Park is a lovely place, though. So many hills and so much dirt. Colorful dirt, though. I believe the rock that this area is known for is scoria. It’s a fancy red volcanic rock. Lovely. So, side note: I collect rocks, quite avidly. Not for any particular reason other than to clean them and place them in a jar with a label. I have approximately 70 some jars of rocks from places I have been. No clue what I am going to do with them, but for now I have a good shelf at my parent’s house in Minnesota for them to rest upon. Anyway, the national park. It was a good 40-ish mile loop around the South Unit of the park, and we stopped occasionally for photos. We stopped at this one place, called Wind Canyon. It was, you guessed it, a canyon with the Missouri River flowing through it, and several rock formations with fancy holes in them from the wind being powerful and windy and forming said holes. It was rather neat.
Probably the most-neat part about this little area was the fact that we could get down to the river. It was about a quarter-mile trek along a cow-path, which quite possibly could have been fraught with rattlesnakes but that did not even cross my mind. I was super focused on collecting rocks. Now, I realize that this probably wasn’t the most legal thing I’ve ever done, seeing as I was trespassing on protected land and such. But hey, needs must. I collected my rocks and we made our way back to the car, sans rattlesnake interference, and continued on our merry way. We drove around some (mega) curves and Dan was like, why do you speed up when you go around a curve and I was like, because it’s awesome. So that’s how that went.
Please enjoy these photos featuring the North Dakota Badlands.
And because I can’t go anywhere without taking pictures of flowers and/or grass:
We made it back to our campsite and decided to nap, which turned into a 2.5 hour sleep. And then we were hungry so we went back into town for more pizza. And we had the same waiter from South Africa. And of course he remembered us. Also we happened to sit in the same booth as we had the night before. But the pizza was 100% times better, as we got a cheese and mushroom pizza, with half pepperoni because Dan needed to have meat on his pizza. Which means it wasn’t spicy, so my mouth was happy. We had more wine and got pleasantly drunk. We were walking around Medora at like, 10 pm and “apparently” I was being “rambunctious” because I was doing “crow pose” in the “street.” Improper use of quotation marks? Of course not. But maybe.
We made our way back to the tent and then it started raining, again. And the tent did not leak, again. Which was nice. And then Sunday came and we packed everything up and headed back to Jamestown. It was a good adventure in the desert-y hills of North Dakota, the existence of which I feel the majority of people are not aware of.
Another thing you may or may not be aware of:
NORTH DAKOTA GROWS ITS OWN CACTI. LIKE, WHAT? They were the cutest little cacti and I really really really wanted to take one but Dan said no. He said that it wanted to stay in the ground and that I would likely kill it during transport from its natural dirt home to a new fake dirt home. So I reluctantly moved on. After taking some pictures, of course. 🙂
We began our long and arduous journey home at 10 am, Pacific time, after a weird and somewhat cryptic conversation with the store keeper. We preferred his wife, she was a nice woman. This dude was odd as heck. Anyway.
We woke up at 9 and packed up the tent and repacked the car, and then we were off! On the road back out to Ilwaco, we saw A MAMA BLACK BEAR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. Oh boy did we get excited. And then, we looked to the right and there, in the tree, just chillin’, was a little black bear cub! We died, he was so cute. We sat there for about 3 minutes, and then he climbed away and we also climbed away, except we were in a car so it was more like we drove away.
We drove north on Highway 101 for a while, and then I think we took something that may have been a highway 18 or a highway 7. Either way, it took us to I-5, which led directly to I-90. After that it was a straight shot west; it could not have been any easier. We stopped on occasion to use the bathroom, to get some food, and to stretch our legs, which usually happened because the one of the first two were occurring. I drove from literally the coast of Washington all the way to Billings, Montana. A solid 17 hours of driving through two and a half states (I’m totally counting the 80 miles we drove in Idaho as a state) under my belt. After a brief stop in Billings, we continued on our merry way. Jennifer drove from Billings to Dickinson, ND, and then I continued dirving all the way back to Grand Forks. In retrospect, that was probably not a great idea, me driving for like, a bazillion hours with little-to-no sleep. But hey we didn’t die, so score one for us!
We made it back to Grand Forks around 5 pm on Saturday, and by 8 pm we were back on the road. Sara was driving this time; we packed her car and took off for the cities. I curled up in the back seat and slept for about an hour and a half or so, bringing my grand total of hours slept in the past 36 to about two. Woo!
The three of us made it to the cities around 1 am, and after Sara and I said our goodbyes to dear Jennifer, we made our way south to our MN home. We arrived around 3 am, and we didn’t even bother to unpack any of our things. We practically fell into our beds and passed out until 1 pm on Sunday.
The following week was one of rest and recuperation. Sara and I didn’t do much, other than go on long walks and watch American Horror Story: Hotel. If you haven’t seen it, you definitely should. Lady Gaga is queen.
And with that, the saga of our super epic road trip is done. It was a really freaking awesome week, full of mountains and forests and oceans, and while I did put 3700 miles on my Jeep I’m gonna go ahead and say it was totally worth it.
Thanks Jen and Sara, for proving to me that we are adult enough to handle a road trip on our own. Till the next one! 🙂
Oh yeah, here are some more photos of flowers. You’re welcome.
On Thursday morning we awoke to a wet tent. It had rained during the night, and our pillows and most of Jennifer were decently damp. Mildly annoying.
We ate a spot of breakfast, and then we got dressed and ready for the day. Since this was our only full day at Cape Disappointment we decided we were going to do every trail. Which is exactly what we did.
We started out with the coastal loop trail that brought us next to the Columbia River outlet, and we could see the town of Ilwaco, Washington, from across the.. bay? River? Giant water puddle? Unsure, but the logistics are unimportant. What is important is the fact that my camera died during the middle of this hike. I was quite saddened by this, but I quickly moved on and started taking photos with my phone instead. Thank goodness for the fancy cameras that smart phones have these days!
After moving through this trail, we headed over to a parking lot, where we parked the car (who would have thought!) and hiked up to the old Cape Disappointment lighthouse. We passed by the Lewis and Clark interpretive center, and we might have stopped there if it hadn’t been for the two-bus-fulls of smallish children who made a bee-line straight for the center. So we avoided that place like the plague. Which was fine, we did a bit of interpretations regarding Lewis and Clark on our own. I don’t think I’ll get into that on here; some things are just better left un-typed.
We made our way to the lighthouse, and it was a lovely old lighthouse.
So we hung out with the light house for a while before making the trek back to the car. We headed down to the beach to sit on driftwood while Jennifer ate her apple. At least I think it was an apple. Was it an apple, Jen?
So after our brief hiatus on the driftwood of the beach, we decided to move on and do the last trail. This trail would be the longer of the three that we were doing, and it definitely proved to be the most difficult as well. This trail would lead us to the North Head Lighthouse, and the path was fraught with salamanders and mud. The trail was in the process of being updated, and by that I mean there were piles of lumber hanging out in the woods. So in the mean time, we had to forage our way through this trail which had more tree roots sticking out than was necessary.But! We survived! It was only about a 2.5 mile hike, but it took much longer than it needed to because of the less-than-ideal trail conditions. The rain the night before also did not help to make the trail more ideal. Oh, well.
As we approached the ocean, we heard a curious barking noise, and then we all got so super excited because we were hearing SEALS! The fellas must have been hanging out on the beach, and were just chattering away! We ran about 10 feet in our excitement before realizing that running was a dumb idea, as it would likely result in us not getting there any more quickly and just ending up with a twisted/sprained/shattered ankle and/or knee. So we continued walking at a pace that was appropriate for this somewhat awful and slightly dangerous trail. After some more time passed, we did make it to the lighthouse. Which was also under construction. How typical.
There was a couple sitting on a bench near this area, and they had a pair of binoculars and were “ooo-ing” and “ahh-ing” at something. They turned to us and told us that there were a couple of whales out in the distance, and proceeded to borrow us their binoculars so that we too, could “ooo” and “ahh” at the whales. They were quite lovely; having never seen a whale in the flesh before, I thought they were quite extraordinary, as well. The couple (hailing from California) also pointed out the seals to us, frolicking down in the waves. Oh they were just so cute! Gosh.
After we had our fill of whale- and seal-watching, we decided to head back. We made a solid attempt at going down the cliff-side to get to the beach, which would have ended up being a shorter route back to the campsite, but the path got real sketchy real fast, so we just went back the way we came. That’s right, all 2.5 miles of death-trail.
That may be a bit melodramatic. In reality, heading back did not take nearly as long as it did heading to the lighthouse. That’s usually how it ends up being, though.
We made it back to the car, and with muddy shoes and wet socks we headed back to the campsite. Two-thirds of us took showers, and then we hopped back in the car and drove on down to the great state of Oregon. Astoria, to be specific.
I had made the connection between Astoria and the fun-loving, adventuring-having 80s movie The Goonies, when we were eating Mexican food on drive from Sol Duc. Oh man, did we get excited. Because the movie was shot in Astoria, the house that Mikey and Brand lived in is actually still there, and is currently occupied by some crotchety people who don’t allow visitors.Once we crossed the excessively long bridge that linked Washington with Oregon, we made our way down the somewhat confusing streets of Astoria to the Goonies House. Where we immediately became intimidated by the signs that said “DO NOT APPROACH WE WILL CALL THE POLICE” and so we parked about three blocks away and got as close as we dared. Which wasn’t very close.
After our excursion to the Goonies House, we needed to find food. We ate at a place called the Wet Dog Cafe; not a super appetizing name, but that didn’t really matter because the food was absolutely amazing. I had a salmon burger. Super double yum.
To top off the night, we decided to get some ice cream, so we found this little place that puts potato chips on top of their ice cream sundaes. An odd yet delicious combination.
After the ice cream, we decided to get gas, because it was cheaper in Astoria than any place we had seen in Washington. So, I pull up to the pump, get out, and proceed to put the card in the thing. Then all of a sudden, this guy jogs out to my Jeep and was like, “I’ll get that for you.” Which leads me to stare at him blankly, because I am perfectly capable of filling up my own gas thank you very much. Had this happened like, 5 years ago I would have been like, heck yeah you can definitely fill up my gas and I’ll just take you with me so that you can always fill up my gas. But it wasn’t 5 years ago, it was right now, and I was confused. The man, his name was Stephen (but may have been pronounced like Steven), said to me, “Did you forget you were in Oregon?” Like I was some sort of person who forgets where they are. No, I did not forget I was in Oregon, I was apparently just very ignorant of the state-wide law which banned civilians from pumping their own gas. They have special people who do that for them, to prevent explosions I think.
Needless to say, I was mildly embarrassed and thoroughly confused when I got back in the car, which caused Sara and Jennifer to also become thoroughly confused. Jen used her handy-dandy phone to look up why in the heck I was unable to pump my own gas, and that’s when we discovered that we were in one of two states that ban people from this activity. Weird. The other state is New Jersey. Who knew!
After the gas-pumping fiasco, we made our way back to the campsite and promptly went to sleep, on our more-damp-than-dry pillows.
On Wednesday morning, we awoke to the toasty sunshine beating down on our tent through the trees. It was a gorgeous, albeit rather chilly, morning. We (and when I say “we,” I am referring to Sara) packed up the sleeping bags and tent, and reorganized the car. Jennifer and I wanted to take showers, but due to the fact that there were no actual showers in the vicinity, we had to improvise. I filled Jennifer’s water bottle with ice-cold water from the pump outside of the bathroom and, with much diligence, poured it over her hair inside the bathroom, as it was around 50 degrees outside and 9:00 in the morning. Not to say that the bathroom was all that much warmer, but at least we didn’t look like weirdos to everyone in the camp. There was also a drain in the bathroom floor, which is another reason why we chose to go in there. When Jennifer’s hair was sufficiently wet, she shampooed, during which time I filled the water bottle again. I rinsed her hair, and then she conditioned, followed by another rinsing. She then followed the same procedure with me. It was cold. But effective.
Aren’t you a better, more well-rounded person for knowing these minute details of our salon-camping experience? You’re welcome.
Sara had the car packed up when we finished washing our hair, and then we took off, south down Highway 101. Remember when I said that Highway 93 in Montana was the curviest road I had ever driven on? Yeah, I take that back, because Highway 101 in Washington definitely takes the cake. Curves for days.
Incidentally, we realized that Highway 101 going south out of Sol Duc would lead us into the little town of Forks, Washington. That’s right, home of Edward, Bella, and the rest of the gang. I’m not sure if you should know just how excited we got when we found out that we would be driving through this town. Or maybe you should. We’re not ashamed, Stephanie Meyer managed to captivate millions of people with the Twilight Saga, whether you ended up being Team Edward or Team Jacob. I think our general consensus, after a lengthy and rather in-depth discussion, was that we were Team Edward for the books and Team Jacob for the movies. I mean, is it anyone’s fault that Edward ended up being really creepy in the movie? Other than Robert Pattinson’s, of course. Not to say he’s a bad actor, he was just a bad vampire. Also, helloooooo, Taylor Lautner! 😉
We found Forks, Washington, took a hurried and somewhat embarrassed photo in front of their welcome sign, and continued on our trip south, toward the ocean.
We reached Cape Disappointment (yes, that’s the cape’s real name and we’re not entirely sure why it was named that – we have several theories regarding Lewis and Clark that may or may not be historically accurate) around 4 pm on Wednesday the 31st of May. Sara and Jennifer jumped right out and started setting up camp, while I stood there watching and eating Cheerios. I also climbed a pine tree, which was in no way beneficial to the group, and resulted in me getting tree sap on my hands.
Camp was successfully erected sans my assistance, and then we went off in search of the ocean. But first, it was necessary to climb this giant rock. Obviously.
We heard the ocean well before we saw it; it sounded like a busy highway but was way better than a busy highway because it was the Pacific Ocean.
After exploring the black-sanded beach and playing in the what we later learned to be “dangerous” waters (thanks, cryptic store keeper), we headed back to camp for food and sleep.
Washington, another state I had never been to before this trip, has officially stolen my heart. Sorry, Minnesota, you may have a bit of competition! The mountains, the forests, the lakes, the fog, the rain, the everything. My photos did not do this state justice.
We drove the last six hours to Sol Duc, the campground where we would be spending the night. Sol Duc is located in the Olympic National Forest, in Washington’s beautiful Pacific Northwest region. Or, as Sara liked to call it, the GNP (Greater North Pacific), which should not to be confused with the GOP (Grand Old Party). We pitched our tent, a feat which all should be thoroughly impressed with. It took a bit of effort, but we did manage to make it stand up (by itself!) in the end.
We then decided to hit up all of the trails that we could. Sol Duc is home to a gorgeous waterfall, appropriately named Sol Duc Falls. We wanted to make our way to the falls, and then on the trail to Deer Lake. To reach the falls, we went on a path called Lover’s Lane. Not sure why it was named this, as the path was terribly maintained and would likely cause lovers to unlove each other due to it’s ability to cause tension and arguments regarding which way to go. Luckily for us, we didn’t like each other very much to begin with, so Lover’s Lane did not have the disastrous effects as it would on people who do actually like each other.
After what seemed like an year and a half, we made it through Lover’s Lane and out onto the super-fancy, super-nice path that led to the falls. We followed this path for about a mile, all the while hearing the falls roaring in the distance.
It was a bit chilly and rainy on our walk, and the spray from the waterfall only assisted with making us more damp. It was a lovely waterfall, however. Even though it got my camera all wet. Sad day.
Just past the falls was the path for Deer Lake. We had read about Deer Lake in little pamphlet that the park ranger had given us upon check-in. It was about a 4-mile hike, which sounded like a good way for us to get out and stretch our legs after driving for the last 9 hours. We started the hike, and it was really uphill and rocky. The path was essentially a dry creek bed that they had somewhat improved by strategically placing rocks and/or building some steps and bridges. And I use the words “dry creek bed” lightly, as the majority of the creek bed had some water running through it, i.e. wet socks, wet shoes. Everything was so squishy damp. So squishy damp.
So we hiked uphill on this dry creek bed for a long time, and eventually we were like, “Wait, is this another mountain?” And sure enough, we doubled checked the pamphlet from the ranger and it said that Deer Lake was indeed a mountain lake. Meaning that it is a lake hidden in the mountains. The snow was a bit of a give-away, as well.
Okay, so the elevation was only about 1700 feet vs. the 4200 feet of Mount Brown (refer to my post “The Story of Mount Brown” for the full story of Mount Brown), but seriously who accidentally climbs a mountain, not once but twice in one week? Apparently, we do.
We really need to start reading the fine print when people give us information.
So we made it to the top of this mountain, and we found Deer Lake. Sara, our line leader for this expedition, shrieked with excitement when she saw the lake, which spurred Jennifer and myself on. We were thrilled to be off this weird trail.
The lake was absolutely gorgeous. We sat on the wooden bridge for some time. Jennifer ate an apple and a granola bar. We all took a few hearty swigs of water. After a few moments, there was some fog that began to form. It was lovely fog, all heavy and wispy at the same time, and it came down from the mountains and covered the trees across the lake. I had never seen fog descend on a place like that, so that was pretty neat. I got a few neat photos too.
Sara and Jennifer had continued on the path; we were going to attempt the trail to Mink Lake, which would then lead us back to out campground. I think. I wasn’t 100% sure on the logistics of this hike. I was more focused on taking photos of the trees and the moss and the water. Which I did. I just followed Sara and Jennifer, and trusted that they knew the way. Or at the very least that they could interpret the map.
So I was busy taking pictures of the fog while Sara and Jennifer forged ahead on the path, and about six minutes later I hear Sara yelling at me, asking me what the hell I was doing. So I was like, yeah yeah I’m on my way when in reality I was still snapping a photo or two. Oops. 🙂
I did make my way to them, however, and the path had effectively disappeared under the snow. So much snow. We made our way across a slough covered in snow on the south side of Deer Lake, and then there was just an open field of snow with no tracks from previous hikers. We were effectively screwed. Sara and Jennifer really gave it their best effort, in their attempt to find the trail.
We wandered around for about half a mile before resigning ourselves to the fact that we will just have to go back down the dry creek bed trail. I groaned inwardly and sighed outwardly, but since going downhill is easier than going uphill I was mildly okay with it. I tried being the line leader for about two minutes, and I ended up falling down and getting my shoe severely stuck in the snow. Jennifer had to retrieve it for me, which was harder than it sounds because my shoe was really stuck in there. I was a little embarrassed so I just went back to my usual spot in line, bringing up the rear. We ended up running down the mountain path again, but this one was much more rocky and dangerous so we stopped after about half a mile.
After what seemed like a forever amount of time spent walking (you know, it’s really hard to keep going when your butt and thighs and calves are sore and you haven’t slept more than an hour and a half in the 28 hours), we finally made it back to the waterfall, but then it was still quite a jaunt back to the entrance of Lover’s Lane. Apparently we were feeling quite spry when we began our hiking adventure earlier, and practically sprinted through the path because it seemed much shorter the first time. We reached the entrance of Lover’s Lane but we had already decided that we were not going through that shit-show of a trail again, even though it was quite lovely and very Jurassic Park/Star Wars-esk. It was fun to traipse through the woods and rediscover the lost path, but we just did not have the energy for that. Hiking up and down a mountain in squishy damp shoes with sore butts, thighs, and calves can really put a damper on one’s attitude for adventure. We were also hungry. So, we walked out to the parking lot and decided to walk along road back to our campground. Which was fine, it just took an extra mile or so to get back, bringing our total for the day up to approximately 12 miles. Woo!
We found the campground, and we cut through the small bit of woods between the road and the campground to get back more quickly. I saw a giant log on the ground, and of course I decided to sit there and count the rings on the stump to see how old it was.
262 years old, in case you were curious.
So after this brief tree-ring-counting-detour, which took about 10 minutes, I made my way back to the campsite, where Sara and Jennifer were preparing their food for supper. I tucked right in, and after a hearty meal of sandwiches and s’mores and Cheerios and chickpeas, we went to bed. I was pooped. Which makes sense, because by that point I had slept for approximately an hour and a half in the last 36. Not a great track record.
We fell asleep listening to the sound of the breeze rustling through the moss on the prehistoric-looking pine trees.
And subsequently awoke to the same prehistoric-looking pine trees.
We woke up later this morning, due to the fact that we had just climbed 10 miles up a mountain the previous day. We packed the car in record time before heading out to the Glacier National Park visitor center. We caught the free shuttle to the Avalanche Lake trail head to do some more hiking before moving on with our journey west. We spent a fair amount of time hiking to Avalanche Lake, as we were doing our best to waste as much time as possible. I was allowed (Thanks, guys!) to take photos with my camera, and so I took full advantage of that. 🙂
We finally made the 2.5 mile walk (5.5 miles round-trip) to Avalanche Lake, and boy was that a sight to behold. Crystal clear water surrounded by trees, mountains, and more trees. I could have stood there all day.
Alas, we eventually had to move on, and get back on the road. We stopped in Whitefish to have a picnic in a park and eat some delicious ice cream. My flavor was Montana Huckleberry. It seemed fitting.
I was the driver for the four hour trip to Spokane, Washington. We drove along Highway 93, and that was seriously the curviest road I have ever driven on, I felt like a NASCAR driver. With a Jeep. In the mountains. Montana really is something, landscape-wise. We merged onto Highway 200, which turned out to be a neat little drive through the Montana countryside. It brought us right into Idaho (the panhandle, to be specific), a state I had never been to until this trip. It seemed oddly like western Montana to me. How curious.
The sunset we were chasing was absolutely gorgeous. I had been begging to stop at almost every scenic turnout, but I was turned down by my passengers, and was told to “take a mental picture.” Even though I was driving. You’ll just have to believe me when I say that the sunset, silhouetted by the mountains and reflecting off the water, was lovely. Everything about this trip has been lovely so far. I was (grudgingly) allowed to take a photo of the sunset, and so here it is, in all of its sunset-y glory.
The three of us made it to Spokane (a rather surprising feat, for there were some foreboding signs on Highway 200 in Montana about big horned sheep and 433 killed and 55 mph. We’re still not entirely sure what they mean; 433 big horned sheep killed? Or have the big horned sheep caused the death of 433 humans? Also, this was over the course of a 19-mile stretch, and so that seems like a very specific area to have had so many deaths. The deaths per square foot must be incredible. Additionally, what is the time frame that we’re looking at; for the last year? 10 years? 50 years? So many questions, so many theories and speculations, so little knowledge about big horned sheep and their death rates.) around 10:45 p.m. Pacific time and stopped at Walmart for a couple of camping necessities. We also stopped for gas and coffee, found I-90, and headed west into the night.
It was just Sara, me and the semis awake on the road. We drove for two hours before needing a brief nap. We stopped at a rest area, saw that there was a homeless lady sleeping on the cement outside of the women’s restroom in a sleeping bag and decided to drive 40 miles to the next rest area, where there was no homeless lady sleeping on the cement outside of the women’s restroom. We managed to sleep in the car for a solid hour and a half. After shutting my eyes for what seemed like a second, it was 4:30 a.m. and I figured we should probably keep going. So, we kept going.
SCENE: Mount Brown, Glacier National Park. Sunday, May 28, 2017. 10:30 a.m.
Sara – our fearless line leader and choir conductor.
Jen – our amusing conversationalist and in-house animal expert/eye candy.
Anna – the laggard bringing up the rear and company photographer.
Those two guys who made us feel bad about ourselves because they were sprinting up the mountain – they also showed us mountain goats.
Pink Shirt Guy – at first, he was amused by our quirky antics but soon got really annoyed and quickly passed us by.
The Elderly Snientist – an optimistic gentleman who showered us with words of encouragement, which we ignorantly believed, and also made us laugh with his tales of lost chainsaws. We also think he may have been a snow scientist, but this fact was neither confirmed nor denied.
The Pesky Mountain Goats – so cute! But so annoying, as we are humans in their territory and are advised not to approach. Hard to do when they are standing on the trail and won’t leave.
Special Guest Star: The Snow that Wouldn’t Quit – first made it its appearance as a small patch along the trail and we were like, aw look at that snow and then it became 6 feet deep and were like what in the actual heck, snow. Why.
Narrator: (Dramatic voice) On this day, three girls accidentally climbed a mountain. You may be wondering, just how dumb do you need to “accidentally” climb a mountain. Well, all you need is a bit of blind ambition and a lot of blissful ignorance. Mount Brown is home to a rather formidable trail, one of the most difficult in Glacier National Park. It ascends over 4200 feet in 5 miles, so you can imagine that the trail is steep. What you may not imagine is the fact that there is also snow on top of a mountain. Or maybe you can imagine that. If that is the case, then you would have been better prepared than these three girls. Good for you.
It’s not as if these girls did not have the means to be prepared to climb the mountain. In fact, they had a magazine (which they evidently did not read very closely before attempting to climb said mountain) that stated Mount Brown was indeed a difficult hike; in fact, it was labeled as “strenuous” in the magazine. Now, these are relatively smart girls, two with college degrees and the other beginning her junior year in college this fall, but apparently they decided to interpret the word “strenuous” as “oh, this will be a super nice hike with awesome views of the mountains and stuff” rather than “yeah you’re about to hike up a mountain.” It’s all about the context, I guess.
This is their story, the story of Mount Brown and how they potentially possibly could have maybe died but didn’t.
Oh sorry, spoiler alert.
We started our day with a hearty continental breakfast from the hotel. We made our way to the Glacier National Park visitor center, located on the Going-To-The-Sun Road, where they told us that parking at Avalanche Lake would be extremely limited. We were feeling optimistic, however, and decided to try parking there. Apparently everyone else wanted to park there too, so we were forced to come back and park at Lake McDonald. This worked out just fine, and we decided to hike up Mount Brown. You would think, with a name like Mount Brown (emphasis on the “Mount”) we would have realized that it would not be a simple hike up a hill. We were literally in the mountains of Montana, for God’s sake!
We began our hike at the Sperry trail head, which started right across the road from Lake McDonald, and went up a fairly gradual incline for a solid mile and a half. We found the Mount Brown trail head and thus we began our ascent. Within 10 minutes we had to stop again, our butts and thighs were dying. But this was just the beginning. We hiked for a long time, back and forth up the switchbacks (thanks, expert hiking [aka mountain-sprinter] guys who helped us figure out the mountain lingo) and stopped periodically for water and air. We made it to a lovely little overlook, and we figured we should be fairly close to the top. Boy, were we wrong. We hadn’t even encountered the snow, yet!
The snow started out as a small patch in the woods by the trail, and we thought it was just the cutest little patch of snow we’d ever seen. And then said snow patch multiplied in number and size, and soon everything was covered in a six-foot snowdrift. We learned later that this snow does not disappear until mid-July. Lucky us. It was during this snowy trail era that we ran across (whom we believe to be) the snow scientist. He was sitting in the snow using a little saw to cut into the snow drifts. So, he was either a snow scientist or an elderly guy who liked to sit on the side of a mountain and investigate the snow. Rather curious. He told us we were doing a great job, climbing the mountain. He also gave us directions to get around a particularly giant snow drift which was coming up in our path. This snow drift was probably close to 10 feet tall. We had to skirt around it, so thank goodness there had been people going on the trail before us so we had footprints to follow in.
We trekked through the snow, slipping and sliding as we went along. Luckily we had started our journey early enough in the morning so the snow was still pretty solid during our ascent. No one had any major spills down the mountainside, but Sara and I did fall much more often than Jennifer (and I fell more often than Sara). Jennifer does parkour (hard-core parkour!) as a hobby and thus has fairly decent balance and footwork, which I am sure contributed to her lack of falling. She’s so fancy.
We were so full of optimism and blind ambition. We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we started our journey up Mount Brown. However, I think it was this total unpreparedness that allowed us to get as far as we did. If we had 100% knew we would be climbing up a mountain, we honestly probably would have given up. It was the lack of us knowing just how steep and arduous this hike would be that allowed us to almost reach the top. I say “almost” because we did not actually make it to the top. We were probably about half a mile from the top, where it apparently became pretty flat and there was a nice building in which to sit. However, to get to said “top,” we would have had to hike crawl up the mountain side, by holding onto the snowy footholds made by previous (and more courageous) hikers. We stopped because we honestly feared for our lives. In fact, Sara was sitting in the snow for some time, contemplating her life and was about 83% sure she might die. However, the odds were in her favor and she survived. We all survived, in fact, and we are stronger for it. I also got a few super sweet photos, so that was a bonus!
Sara and Jennifer refused to go any further, but I decided to try, and climbed about 200 feet up the mountain before calling down to my companions that yes, they were right, it was absolutely terrifying and if they could be so kind as to not rub it in my face that would be great. So I channeled my inner mountain goat and crawled back down. It was a bit of a struggle, to be completely honest, but I made it without dying! Now it was just the rest of the mountain we had to descend.
Going down the mountain was much easier that going up. It helped that we were fueled by adrenaline and had just been staring our almost-death in the face. We traipsed our way through the snow drifts, and finally (finally!) got back to the no-snow-trail. At this point we started full-out running down the mountain path, which was actually a lot of fun and probably pretty dangerous, but none of us died or twisted an ankle or anything so that was good.
We also made some friends on the way down the mountain; the two guys who sprinted up the mountain also sprinted down (how, we still don’t know) who introduced us to the pesky mountain goats who just would not get off the path, and the guy in the pink shirt, who we later developed an undeserved (yet extremely personal) vendetta against. Unsure why this vendetta became so strong, but it provided a solid source of entertainment for the rest of the week.
We finally made it down the mountain, feeling more than a little sore, tired, and hungry. We reconvened at the Jeep, determined that we had hiked (or bear-crawled) approximately 10 miles in 5 hours, and grabbed some water and food to replenish our bodies and souls. We meandered down to Lake McDonald to rest our feet in the cool mountain water.
Along the way, we paused to appreciate Mount Brown from a distance. It was really high. We were like, wait we just hiked up that?
We fell, we laughed, we wanted to sit down and cry, we almost made it to the top of the mountain and we have no regrets. Having never climbed a mountain before, I think we did a bang-up job of doing it.