MontanaRon

Just another ordinary English teacher eclectic expat blog about nothing in particular.

Month: October 2019

USA Trip — In Montana

Great Falls

After a wonderful few days in lovely north-west Oregon, Randy, Whitney and I flew to Great Falls on the morning of Aug. 18th. It was a short hop up to Seattle and then a quick flight to Montana. Great Falls is the city where I lived as a teen, and went to junior high school and graduated from Great Falls High (go Bison!). When I lived there, it seemed like an exciting place to grow up, but after returning now (and three years ago), I thought it seemed a rather sleepy place, where downtown closed shop around 6 o’clock. Granted, high school wasn’t in session when I was there, so perhaps it’s livelier when the kids are back in school and running around with their friends in the evening.

I stayed at the Midtown Motel, which isn’t a bad place to spend a few nights, and it’s connected to Perkins Restaurant, a good, convenient little eatery. Although the restaurant didn’t open until 7 a.m., I, early riser that I am, was able to get a pot of coffee from the check-in desk of the hotel at 5 o’clock. Nice! Though the motel and restaurant are good, the location is a bit sketchy; there are a lot of homeless people wandering around here, so walking alone at night might be something to avoid doing, though the denizens of the area seemed harmless enough. Still . . . This is the Great Falls that I never saw when I was a kid. Have the homeless always been in this part of town? This seemed very different from back then. I don’t recall ever seeing homeless folks when I lived here. Is this something new, a sign of the times? Or is it something that we overlooked way back when?

Anyway, later that evening, my brothers and Whitney and I met up with a niece and her husband and a few of their kids at a Great Falls Mexican culinary institution, El Comedor Restaurant. The restaurant has been around since 1970. Of course, the food is wonderful. Give it a try if you’re ever in Great Falls, and, especially, try one of their justifiably famous fluffy tacos.

 

Glacier National Park

Then, back to the motel and to bed early, because the next day, in the wee hours, we were driving north to one of my favorite places in the world, the beautiful Glacier National Park. It turned out to be a gorgeous, clear day, and the approximately three-hour drive is far from boring. If you’re in a big hurry (and you shouldn’t be), you can take I-15 up to Shelby and then go west to the park. But the best drive is north on US Highway 89, which follows the incredible Rocky Mountain Front all the way to the park.

Once in the park, it’s up, up, up to the Continental Divide on one of the world’s most spectacular roads, the Going-to-the-Sun road. There are many places along the road to stop, get out of the car, hike, take photos and just be out in the fresh air. This was the highlight of my visit to the ‘States. It always is. I backpacked here a few times back in the day, but there are many short hikes along the road. We stopped and hiked three miles or so to St. Mary Falls, a beautiful, easy excursion. Lots of folks along the trail, as there usually are in August.

We stopped again for about an hour at (packed) Logan Pass, atop the Continental Divide, then drove down the west side to McDonald Lake and Lodge, then west out of the park, and south and east around the southern boundary of this marvelous area, and then back on US 89, we returned to Great Falls. It was a long day, but well worth the effort.

The Loss of a Friend

One thing dampened this entire trip, however. I learned that I high school buddy of mine had died recently. We had kept in touch all these years and we were able to meet up every time I had returned to Great Falls. I hadn’t heard from him in some time, and, in the back of my mind, I feared the worst. And so it was. He had died of cancer a mere month or so before this trip. We were bowling buddies from a long time ago and he was also friends with my mother before she died. In high school, we worked together as pinchasers and hung out at the long defunct Skyway Bowl, but we also bowled together at other bowling centers around town. The only center remaining in Great Falls from that time is Little’s Lanes, which is just a couple of blocks from the Midtown. After returning from Glacier, I walked to Little’s and had a couple of beers, going over old memories and reflecting on the past. Many very good memories. Rest in peace, Ken Larson.

I’ll complete part 2 of this leg of my journey in another post soon, our trip to The Gates of the Mountains. More later.

Here are a few photos of the park, just a few. I took many more and perhaps I’ll put them in a gallery when I get the chance. I’ll let you know.

Montana butte formation

This was an early morning trip, but I tried to take pictures from a moving car of some of the butte-like formations along the way to Glacier Park. This was about the only successful shot. There are many of these isolated hills, including Square Butte, one of Charlie Russell’s favorite subjects.

Rocky Mountain Front

The drive north on US 89 follows the Rocky Mountain Front the entire way. This entire area features the vast plains crashing into the Rockies to create some amazing, chaotic and awesome vistas. The several towns along the way deserve a stop, historic places like Choteau, Fairfield and Dupuyer. And don’t forget to spend some time in Browning, just outside the park, to visit the Museum of the Plains Indians.

Rocky Mountain Front

Another view of the Rocky Mountain Front along US Highway 89 on the way to Glacier National Park (Again, from a moving car, so the quality could be better).

Glaciner National Park south

The southern reaches of Glacier National Park. As you get nearer to the park, the views become ever more amazing. In certain locations on the highway, the hidden mountains seem to all of a sudden spring out of the prairie.

St. Mary Lake

We’re in the park now, and this is THE iconic photo in Glacier National Park, St. Mary Lake, looking toward Wild Goose Island, which is just to the right of the tall trees in the center of the photo. Also to the right, in the sky, you can see the moon. I thought that I might remove it, but no, that’s where it belongs. It’s difficult to take a bad photo here. It’s an amazing view and it represents everything that GNP is.

Grizzly warning

You’ll see these throughout the park. Heed them! I’ve never seen a grizzly on a backcountry trail, but that doesn’t mean they’re not around.

St. Mary Falls

This is the main waterfall, but there are smaller ones above this, and you can climb up a short, steep trail to reach them. There were lots of people here, so getting a good shot of the falls was a bit difficult. Even though it might be crowded, it’s still worth the trek to see this beautiful cascade.

Doug, Randy, Whitney

Doug, Randy and Whitney at the falls. Don’t know where my brother Bob is at–he’s probably looking for birds–that’s his hobby, a good one to have.

St. Mary Falls trail parking lot

The view from the St. Mary Falls trail parking lot is pretty awesome, too. There are so many spectacular views to be found everywhere in the park.

Glacier Park panorama

This is a panoramic shot taken on the way up to Logan Pass. I stitched a couple of photos together in Lightroom to create this, trying to give a sense to how utterly beautiful the park is.

Logan Pass

Logan Pass is quite crowded this time of year, so it was a bit of a hassle finding a parking spot. Some folks were parking farther down the Going-to-the-Sun-Road and walking back up to the pass.

Logan Pass

Another view from Logan Pass. I’ve been here in earlier months, even early July, when very large snowbanks filled the paved parking area. Fun for the kids, and adults, too, especially if you’re from the South. Snow? In July?!!

Logan Pass

Doug takes in the view from near the Logan Pass visitor center. There’s a nice gift shop here, so stock up on souvenirs. They take credit cards and accept donations to help improved the area.

Logan Pass Info Sign

Lots of signage at the pass. This one’s an information sign.

Head Bangers sign Logan Pass

In addition to the straight information signs, there are several whimsical signs around. Head Bangers, for example.

Cliff Hangers sign Logan Pass

Some more whimsy–Cliff Hangers. You can see a lot of these sure-footed creatures on the various trails leading out from the pass.

Lake McDonald

Beautiful Lake McDonald near the west entrance to the park, at the bottom of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. There are a lot of burned acres around the lake from wildfires in recent years. If you’ve ever seen the lake in past years with its lush forests, yes, the fires have created quite a blight on the landscape, but the area is still gorgeous.

Red Jammer Bus

Another park icon, the Red Jammer Buses. I’ve never been on one, but it looks like a great way to see the park, with their open tops and a driver serving double duty as a tour guide. They’re not free (I think), but they’re probably worth it.

Jammer info sign

A somewhat chopped-off Jammer info sign. Sorry, I couldn’t fit the entire sign in.

Ron at GNP entrance sign

This is near the west entrance to the park. Do I look tired? I think I was a bit. Tell you what–just let me sit here for a while and come back and pick me up next year, OK?

USA Trip–In Oregon

 

Introduction

I’m finally getting a few posts up of my visit to the United States in August. While there, I spent some time in Seaside, Oregon with my brothers Randy and Rich, who lives in California. Then Randy, his daughter Whitney and I flew over to Great Falls, Montana, where we were able to hook up with brothers Bob, from Great Falls, and Doug, from Ft. Worth, Texas. Finally, I ventured alone to Las Vegas, Nevada, Sin City in the desert.

Off I Go

In this post, I’ll write about the first part of the journey, to Oregon. I flew out of Vientiane to Bangkok on a Thai Smile Airlines Airbus A320, which carries about 150 passengers. On this particular trip there were only 25 passengers (I counted). If this is typical, Thai Smile must be losing a bundle of money on this 55 minute flight to Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok.

From Bangkok to Taoyuan airport in Taiwan aboard an EVA flight took about three and a half hours (the plane was quite full) and the EVA flight to Seattle took about 11 hours. Again, the plane was full, but at least I had an aisle seat so it was easy to get up and walk around. Best to try to avoid deep vein thrombosis on these long flights. Seattle to Portland was basically a short hop, about 30 minutes in the air.

In the Beaver State

Earlier, when planning this trip, cheapskate (thrifty?) me looked for the lowest-priced tickets I could find that had reasonable layovers. So, I got into Portland a little after midnight and stayed in the airport until 10 a.m. because Randy couldn’t pick me up any earlier. No problem; I’ve spent longer times than that in worse airports. (The Portland airport is a wonderful facility, especially if you have to spend a long time there, which I would do on a later flight–more on that when I get my Vegas post up.)

Meeting My Long-Lost Brother

Of course, after an 11-hour flight, I was pretty bedraggled as I headed down to a lower level of the airport to get my checked baggage, so I was unaware of just about anything that was going on around me. My mistake! After hanging out at PDX all night, I waited outside the terminal for Randy, who pulled up just around ten o’clock. I went to toss my bags in the back seat and when I opened the door I got a shock. There was a fellow back there holding up a sign with my name on it. What the hell! It turned out that this was my older half-brother Rich, whom I’d never met before. It turns out that he had planned a surprise for me and had been at the airport around midnight holding up that sign as I arrived, but I hadn’t noticed it. He didn’t see me either, since he thought I’d be wearing a NY Yankee baseball cap, which I didn’t have on. He had reserved a room at one of the local hotels, so I could have stayed there instead of the airport. But, I totally ruined his surprise, much to my chagrin.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get much time to hang out because he had an early afternoon flight back to California. I’m grateful that we got to spend an hour or so together–he’s a great guy and I really thank him for the time and money he spent to go up to Portland to meet me. The next time I’m able to get back to the ‘States, I want to make an effort to hook up with him for some quality time together. We had a couple of beers at the hotel, getting to know each other, then it was time for him to go and time for Randy and I to head over to Seaside, a 90-minute drive. Sorry, Rich, that I ruined your surprise.

Randy, Ron and Rich

From left to right: Randy, Ron and Rich.
Taken from Randy’s iPhone just before we dropped Rich off at his hotel. Unfortunately, he had to catch a flight back to California.

Fishing on the Mighty Columbia

I spent four days with my brother and his daughter, Whitney, at his beautiful home in Seaside. He had promised to take me out on his boat to do some fishing on the Columbia River, so after buying an Oregon fishing license online, I found myself at his boat dock at a marina near Astoria early the next morning, around 7 o’clock. A friend of his, Vern, would spend the morning with us out on the choppy river, trying to hook into a salmon or two or three.

A very strong tide was working against us, though, dragging us toward the Pacific ocean. We went with it for a while, then headed back upriver until Vern caught a nice fish, though my brother, who mainly handled the boat, and I were skunked. We called it a day around noon and put back into the marina. The next day we started out a little later to avoid the outgoing tide and the water was less choppy, so the ride was much easier. Joining us were John and Don, a couple more of Randy’s friends. This day, John would get a nice-sized salmon, but the rest of us were shut out. I had one on my pole, but it spit the hook out just as it was about to be netted and hauled into the boat. Sigh. There was quite a crowd on the river, with dozens and dozens of boats joining the hunt. Again, we put in about noon. I like to joke that I came half-way round the world to catch a Columbia River salmon and all I got was one lousy picture of a salmon. Sheesh. Maybe next time, whenever that will be.

Fishing boat

This is my brother’s fishing boat. It’s larger than it looks here, but I wouldn’t take it deep-sea fishing. Notice the color scheme and other little details? Yup, he’s a huge University of Oregon Ducks fan.

We’re heading out to the Columbia from the marina. Lots of boats docked here. The marina is about 30 minutes from my brother’s house.

Fishing the Columbia

This is the second day out. I believe that’s Don on the left. As you can see, there are lots of boats trying their luck/skills.

Cleaning the fish

Back on the first day, Randy and Vern are cleaning Vern’s fish. Kind of an unwritten rule is that you share your catch with your boat mates, so Randy got a nice filet and we ate salmon for dinner.

Early Morning Surprise

Anyway, I had a great time with my brother and my niece. We drove around and took in some of the sights, though the area was very crowded with tourists. Randy said that after Labor Day, Seaside and the surrounding environs would be back to normal, a situation he could hardly wait for.

Oregon coast

This was taken at Ft. Stevens State Park, the most north-western point in Oregon. Beautiful afternoon!

My brother and his daughter

Still at Ft. Stevens, my niece, Whitney, and my brother Randy.

I spent a few relaxing days at his home, which has a beautiful back yard with a very large vegetable garden, so we ate delicious fresh veggies, salads, salmon, clams and other local delights; my brother is, seriously, a wonderful cook and a great all-around guy. He even forgave me for setting off his house alarm early one morning. (It’s quite loud, believe me!)

A Bigger Surprise

The one surprising (to me) thing about Oregon is the state’s liberal marijuana laws. You can legally smoke it in your home and you can grow up to four plants in your yard as long as they are hidden from public view. Head shops (dispensaries) abound, but many tokers are baby-boomers who grow it in their yards and roll their own. Awesome. I didn’t have the chance to try any, and I’m not sure I would have, even if I had been offered some. It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve partaken of the herb, and I’m not sure if I’d want to start again. But, who knows?

OK, that’s Oregon. Next post I’ll write about the few days I had in Montana. See you then.

© 2019 MontanaRon

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑