"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rafting the Flathead River

Rick and I liked this so much a few weeks ago, that we did it again. Rick took these pictures with his waterproof Sony Cybershot DDSC-TX10. (It even takes incredible HD video, but I don't think we can post those on this blog.)  You can view some great shots of our raft at this photo link on the company's website.

This is our guide Donald, from the Flathead Raft Company. He's quite a remarkable young man, who is also a ballet dancer and geology student. I'm especially partial to him as he was very quick about pulling me back into the boat after I popped out going over one of the trickier rapids.

This is the view looking back at one of the rapids. Fortunately, after a stretch of rapids, there was often a flat section to catch our breath and look around.

I'm trying to see a bald eagle, which in this shot is a tiny white speck in the upper right hand corner.

After the rapids are all over, we got out of the boat and floated/swam down the river in our life jackets, which is my favorite part.  Heaven, I want to be a fish in the Flathead River in my next life please.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Perfect Day

Although our adventure started off with the disappointing discovery that the road around Hungry Horse Dam was closed, we headed off in another direction, and ended up in my perfect day. We took Camas Road north from West Glacier. It passes right through vast areas that were burned in forest fires, resulting in a strange landscape of grey toothpick trees. Once you get used to that initially off-putting view, it reveals the land in a new way. The new green undergrowth is beautiful, as are the mountains in the distance.

Glimpses of mountain meadows made us stop and explore. They were full of butterflies and mosquitos. 

While trying to take a picture of a butterfly, I had a surprise really close encounter with this lovely lady.

At the end of Camas Road we took a dirt road heading back toward Columbia Falls. Rick is not especially fond of dirt roads, but he was game for this one, probably because it follows the North Fork of the Flathead River, our favorite. We stopped at a picnic/fishing/camping area and dabbled along the river.  This was the best part.

 Kona got to swim. 

I got to wade in the water and take pictures of the rocks.

It was totally quiet except for the water sounds. It was just us and a few fly fisherman drifting down the river in their mini-pontoon boats. The water was icy and crystal clear. The scenery was awesome. 
No bears.

To top it all off, my son Mark called. Perfect.

Western Espresso Kiosks

Those of you from the east or the midwest may not know about these. I didn't. There are very few Starbucks here in Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. But they have something better. Every town, even the really tiny ones, has at least one of these little espresso houses. Polson has three. And they are each one of a kind, with the owner's creative touches in evidence, from the names (like Pony Espresso), to the architecture (mini log cabins and chuck wagons), to the landscaping.  Some are little trailers. They are all drive ups, with one person working inside. They have air conditioning in the summer, and I assume they have heat in the winter. 

They all serve up their own version of the same kinds of things Starbucks mass produces, plus sometimes smoothies or ice cream or bagels or pastries. They're big on flavors in their lattes here. They can hardly hand a plain latte out their little windows without begging you to add a shot of huckleberry syrup or something. They really get espresso. Good espresso too, which makes me happy. 

There are a few other things that the rural Western communities we've encountered also really get.  Little burger joints (instead of McDonalds). Local bakeries (instead of Dunkin Donuts). Good, friendly customer service.  Clean restrooms. Whole wheat bread. Outdoor sculpture. RV's. Irrigation. Petunias and dahlias. Practical shoes. 

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Latitude 48 in Whitefish, Montana

A few weeks ago I raved about a restaurant at 147 Central Ave., Whitefish, MT but neglected to include their website, so here it is: http://www.redroombasementbar.com/latitude.php

They have a bar in the basement that I can't comment on as we haven't visited it yet. We went back a few days ago for another dinner and it was just a delicious and entertaining as last time. Here's a picture of the chefs at work:

Unfortunately they all have their backs to the camera here, but you can get a sense of the kitchen space and the chefs bar. We will definitely go back again if we can.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Goofy Hikers

That's us. We are not experienced hikers and the idea of a hike is not the same as the real thing. I really wanted to take a hike in Glacier to access some of the quiet places you can't get to by the one main road (The Going to the Sun Road, which is spectacular but crowded).  So I picked out a modest hike to start our hiking experiences: the Avalanche Lake hike that starts at the Trail of the Cedars.  But by the time we got there, there was no parking at that trailhead even though it was pretty early in the day.  After driving up and down the road a bit we finally found parking at McDonald Lodge, poked around there a little and settled on a short hike up to McDonald Falls and back, called the Johns Lake Loop. The trouble was that the only ways to get from the Lodge to the Loop were either the road or the horse trail, so we wisely picked the horse trail over the road. But we couldn't even find that trail from the minimal information on the map, so we hiked the wrong way for awhile. Once we found it, it was a stinky and not very scenic couple of miles.  But we did finally get to the falls, which was a lovely sensory reward in every way.

By then I was ready to head back, but we didn't want to take the stinky trail again, so we took the road. The walk was kind of stressful as there was no shoulder to speak of and traffic was a little heavy. The sensory experience was not inspiring, as you can imagine. It was much shorter and we did get back to the where we started in one piece. All in all, a goofy hike. Not what I imagined.  If there is a next time at Glacier, we'll take the lovely shuttle to Avalanche Lake trailhead.

By the way, we did carry our bear spray with us. The bicyclers and park staff we saw commended us on our well placed, accessible bear spray. The only wildlife we saw was a hummingbird. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

No prizes

Well, there were many creative guesses for the photos, but no correct answers. The first photo was of mayflies, looking like bats or birds. The mayflies swarm along some of the shores of the lake. No wonder there are so many fish in the lake.

The second was of yaks! Turns out there are quite a few yak farms in Montana, Idaho and Canada. Native to the Tibetan Himilayas, they do well in high altitudes and cold weather.  The literature says they are smarter, cuter and more playful than cows, and hardy like buffaloes. They can be used as pack animals, and are raised for their long hair and for meat.

There are no answers to the other two mysteries. The heartworm pill never showed up and the pictures are still tilted. I assume it's the way I'm holding the camera. It does have a really comfy grip on one side and not on the other, which may cause me to tilt it.

Here is the consolation prize for us all. (Corrected somewhat in Picasa for the tilt.) Notice the tiny line of irrigation sprayers at the bottom.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Morning of Mysteries

It started when I was getting Kona's heart worm pill ready. I opened the little vacuum sealed envelope, took out the pill, threw away the envelope, got out half a dog biscuit and peanut butter (to sweeten the pill for her) and the pill was gone.  Remember that our kitchen is basically one counter and a sink. Not on the counter, not on the floor, not in the sink, not in the garbage, and not in Kona. (She never takes it without the biscuit and peanut butter) And certainly not in me! Mystery number one.

The next three are not actually from this morning, but are just for fun. What is this a picture of?

Next, what are these?

And finally, why do the pictures with my new camera all turn out tilted?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Catch-up Days

Today is a catch-up day. The weather here has been so gorgeous and we do so much adventuring that it's hard to find the time to stay inside, take care of chores and write the blog.  I have to say this is a very nice problem to have. I would prefer to write little entries more often, but this week I'll do a big one to cover some of what we've done recently.  Rick will probably wash the truck while I do this.

This week seemed to be all about water, so I'll start with a little orientation to the bodies of water around here. We are in the Flathead Valley, which was formed by a glacier in the distant past, and was once the massive prehistoric Lake Missoula.  North of the present day valley is Glacier National Park, which has a few glacier lakes of its own, including Lake McDonald.

Flathead Lake, which is fed by the snow and glaciers via the Flathead River, is at the center of this huge beautiful valley now.  It is also drained by the Flathead River out the south end. It is a natural lake, but is now regulated by the Kerr Dam. The next four photos are of the Kerr Dam and the Flathead River flowing out of it.

Pretty dramatic.  Notice the water color? That is typical glacial water. We've been told that the tiny rock and clay particles created by the glaciers are suspended in the water and create this color somehow. I don't quite get this, as the water seems crystal clear to me, like the water in the Caribbean.  But I trust the sources who know a lot more about this that I do.

We took a rafting trip down the Flathead, which we didn't get many pictures of. It's kind of hard to take pictures while you're paddling down class 3 and 4 rapids.  After the heavy paddling we floated sans boat, 
along a flat stretch in that heavenly clear turquoise water. Saw several bald eagles in dead trees on the shore line. I'd say this rafting trip was a high point.

Another day we drove through the Swan Valley, a smaller glacial valley running parallel to the Flathead Valley. Less developed, with more trees, so the views are closer, less expansive. We stopped at several lakes along the way. The above photo is from Salmon Lake State Park. The little yellow dash in the water is Kona.

Here might be a good time to relate that we spend a good portion of our time finding places for Kona to swim. Being a golden retriever, she lives to swim. As we travel this gives us great motivation to stop, get out of the car, dabble around, get us all some exercise and see some great sites we might otherwise miss. 

This was the same day we ate dinner at Latitude 48, which I wrote about earlier. Here's the sunset we caught on the way home.

A few days later we spent the day kayaking in Lake McDonald in Glacier Park. Sounds perfect, and it was, but let me tell you frankly, it was also a big friggin' deal.  Lake McDonald is about 2 hours away. We unloaded three bags of kayak parts, a bag of water gear, a bag of tarps and pads to kneel on, two coolers, a back pack with dry clothes, cameras and Kona. 

Then we had to assemble the kayaks, which is supposed to be a snap by now, but is not. After struggling for about an hour with mine, I was pretty darn cranky. But a little paddle out on this incredible lake in perfect conditions helped my mood a lot. The Folbot kayak I have paddles smooth as silk. 

Then we assembled Rick's and he got a paddle in. Because we had Kona with us we had to paddle one person at a time. (We're planning another paddle day with Kona in doggie day care.) There was no one around much of the time, with only a flurry of picnickers around mid-day. You'll see how different the light is between my paddle (early in the day) and Rick's (later). At the end of these long Montana days the sun shines on the mountains and makes them look almost bleached out and kind of surreal. But it's real. 

A thunder storm precluded much more paddling, so we packed up all our stuff (easy to say, but disassembling is as hard as assembling) and had dinner at Eddie's in Apgar, a tiny cluster of stores in the park at the tip of Lake McDonald. 

We have to find a way to do this kayak thing with less effort. Maybe we'll figure out how to transport the kayaks assembled - some kind of a rack on the truck? I sure hope so.

Anyway, after a nice drive "home" along the lake we caught another sunset back in Polson. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Best restaurant in Whitefish Montana

Latititude 48. We sat at the "chef's bar," a counter comprising one wall of the tiny kitchen (not much bigger than our RV kitchen), and watched five young men spinning and dipping in their designated areas - head chef, salad, pizza, grill and sauce - creating incredible dishes with grace, good cheer and remarkable coordination.  (What a movement study it was. The sauce chef was in wild free flow, I thought he was going to set the place on fire.)  It was all so entertaining, and then we got to the food! Perfection! I wish I had a video of those guys. But alas...

This was at the end of a very long drive through the Seeley-Swan Valley. There's no short way to go, just a long loop south to Missoula then up through the valley, ending in Bigfork. It's beautiful country, through lots of undeveloped forest land, but the views are not as good as the Flathead Valley because of all the trees.

For some reason we decided to go shopping in Kalispell and Whitefish after all that (we needed dog food and black water treatment chemicals). Glad we did, or we wouldn't have had the great dinner experience.

Here it is: http://www.latitude48bistro.com/latitude.php

Thursday, August 4, 2011


For every picture I capture of wildlife we've seen, there are of course at least 20 sightings I haven't captured. There is just no way to get that camera out, get the lens cap off, find the damn critter in the view finder, focus and shoot before the moment is long gone. And then you've missed the beauty of just watching and feeling the encounter. So lots of times I don't try. In addition to those I have pictures of, we have seen many bald eagles, osprey, pronghorned antelope, buffalo and deer, a few moose, longhorned sheep and elk. No bear. No mountain lions. No wolverines.

So the pictures I do get are usually of the animals that are somewhat habituated to human contact. In places like Glacier and Yellowstone there are often animals that hang out in or near parking lots and visitor's centers.  I won't tell you which of these animals are those kind and which we caught out in the wild. None are in zoos or game parks though.

Swans at Pablo Wildlife Preserve. Some of these guys have been tagged to track their movements.

Some kind of a ground squirrel type rodent at Glacier. Not a marmot. Too small.

Mountain goats at Glacier.

Pronghorned antelope at the National Bison Range.

Pronghorned antelope at the National Bison Range.
Today we are going to raft the Flathead River below the Kerr Dam. Should be exciting.