When you travel primarily using frequent flyer miles, you can get great deals and it also can spark some creative solutions. And this is the case for our trip to Montana and surrounding areas. We wanted to visit a friend who lives in a small town north of Missoula, MT called St. Ignatius (population approx. 850). We decided to use our Southwest Airlines miles, and the most reasonable flights we could find from San Diego, California landed in Spokane, Washington. From there, it is only a 3-4 hour drive to our first destination, so it seemed like a good way to go.
We rent a car and drive east through northern Idaho. Northern Idaho is especially beautiful. It is not what I was expecting, since Idaho is known for their potatoes; I assumed we’d be driving through flat potato farmland. But instead, most of the trip is alongside a National Forest, including a beautiful lake near Coeur d’Alene.
We don’t have time to spare as we are meeting friends tonight, but maybe we can find the time to stop by the lake on the way back.
It’s our first evening, we head to Flathead Lake to watch the sunset. It is a peaceful place, one where you can easily get lost in meditative relaxation.
The sun is setting behind the mountains over a lake, and Mission Mountains/Range is in the background…. it’s so peaceful in Montana.
A Few Bugs
As the sun sets, the insects become active, by the thousands (millions?). It is a marvelous sight to see.
Interesting that these little bugs attached to our clothing – I think they are mating.
Fortunately, none of the insects are particularly bothersome, aside from flying in ears and noses.
National Bison Range
When you stay with locals, you not only get a feel for their way of life, you also get special tours that you wouldn’t otherwise know where to go or how to get there. Our friend takes us through the National Bison Range where we drive past all sorts of wildlife, including bison. 😛
The Columbain ground squirrel is a rodent, but a cute one.
Canada geese are found in Canada, the United States, and northern Mexico, and has been introduced in Europe and South America.
Mule deer are found in abundance in Montana.
American Bison, for which the National Bison Range is named, can weigh up to 1,000 kg. You can see that some of them are shedding their fur
We spend the afternoon enjoying the view, sipping some beer, climbing some rocks, and exploring the area. That night, we are invited to a neighbor’s backyard bonfire. Their house is amazing, all “Montana” themed – furniture, décor, etc. They live just next door to a lovely Amish family. We enjoy s’mores under the stars with good friends and new friends. In the countryside, the stars are amazing. Photos don’t do it justice, but on a clear night like this one, you can actually see the milky way! After spending two nights with our friends, it is time to continue our journey. We don’t know exactly where we are going to go but knew we at least want to see Glacier National Park, and if there’s time we want to see Yellowstone National Park.
Glacier National Park
It is a short drive to Glacier National Park West side. We spend time exploring the lake and hiking.
We drive to the south side of Glacier, then on to the east side where we stop for a while to take in the sights. To be surrounded by such beauty inspires the soul.
This area is as pristine as we imagined it would be. Few other tourists, and wildlife everywhere.
Yellowstone National Park
After leaving Glacier National Forest, we drive through Helena and Butte (pronounced bYoot), to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. We don’t want to enter Yellowstone so late in the day, so we spend the night in a small town called Gardiner, which is the closest lodging before entering the National Park. It is a quaint little town, and tonight there is an energy blackout. There’s always an adventure when traveling! We are still able to purchase our necessities and enjoy the time away from hussle-and-bustle.
The next day, we wake up, pack, and it is time to move onward! We finally make it into Yellowstone.
The first stop is Sulfur Springs. As the name indicates, it is STINKY.
But if you can get over the intense smell, you can also enjoy the intense beauty.
The photographs show the beauty — you’ll have to imagine the rotten-egg smell. Unfortunately, there are many road closures today in Yellowstone, so we don’t get a chance to see “Old Faithful”. 🙁 But we enjoy tooling around the park throughout the day. As it starts getting late, we exit via the west entrance. Overall, we are not as impressed with Yellowstone, especially compared to Glacier. (Too many tourists — like us.) But we did see cool things and I’m glad we had the opportunity to visit.
We continue our road trip until we finally stop in Missoula, Montana. We check into our hotel and head out to explore.
We find Greenough park, full of trails — which we particularly enjoy after being in the car so much. The air is cools and the sound of the river is soothing.
We come across the Van Buren Street Footbridge, where folks attach padlocks. Unfortunately, we have none to add to the civic art work.
Looking down, we see young men in the cold, cold water, in what appear to be a male bonding ritual. We walk down to talk to them. They tell us they are football players and this is how they “ice” their muscles. They do it together to provide support because the water is so very, very cold.
We continue walking and see a bride posing in a pedestrian tunnel. Awwwwwww…
There is something very “Missoula” about this moment.
In the evening, we put on our dancing shoes (yes, we bring dancing shoes, just in case…) and go out for a night of dancing! After spending so much time in nature, it is nice to go out for some nightlife. We both love to dance Argentine tango, and we found a milonga (tango dance event) to attend. The local tango community is quite welcoming — they always are — and feel right at home.
Finally, it is time to head back to Spokane. We leave our hotel in Missoula early enough to give us time to stop at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – the lake we noted at the beginning of our trip. Hmm, they have seaplanes…we’ve never been on a seaplane….hmmm. So we decide to take a tour with Brooks Sea Planes! 🙂
City Dock at Independence Point in downtown Coeur d’ Alene. Our seaplane awaits.
The microphone is voice activated, so we have to say “aaaaaa” before speaking, like the astronauts used to do.
The pilot points out the homes of the rich and famous, most of whom we are unfamiliar with.
The landing is surprisingly smooth. We expect bumps and bruises, but it is as smooth as, well, landing on water. This is really cool.
We are again in Spokane, Washington and this time we have the leisure to explore. So let’s explore bridges!
The Post Street bridge sits aside the Washington Water Power substation. Just downstream, the water spills over the power dam.
At completion in 1911, the Monroe Street bridge was the largest concrete arch bridge in the U.S. and the third longest in the world.
The Riverfront Park footbridge connects Canada Island with the mainland.
We are in the right place at the right time to see a standing rainbow. Sweet.
We wander, and come upon the Fort Wright Totem Pole, carved by art students and designed by Paula Mary Turnbull, Professor of Art. It is an impressive sight, majestically standing among the trees.
Bearing It All
We have experienced a lot during the approximately 1,200 miles of driving since last Saturday. We’ve seen quite a bit of wildlife, including bison, elk, whitetail deer, mule deer, squirrel, black bear, pronghorn antelope, bohemian waxwing, and even a bald eagle! But one of the best wildlife moments was when we were about to cross a bridge in our car, and realized a mama black bear and her two cubs were crossing the same bridge toward us.
Bears always have the right of way!