Coeur d'Alene and Glacier

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 15:30
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glaclead I really have to watch that Ken Burns “National Parks” documentary sometime soon, because these places are spectacular, and it’d be nice to get some backstory. 

 My trip to Coeur d’Alene was brief, but enjoyable. Coeur d’Alene is a medium-sized town up in the pointy part of Idaho, dominated by Lake Coeur d’Alene, and with a history of fur trading by the French (hence the French name) and mining. Today, the town is almost entirely about tourism, recreation and skiing. The lake is great, and the downtown area is nice, with plenty of quaint little shops and restaurants…it’s sort of ‘town enough’ to not just be a tourist trap, and ‘touristy enough’ to have nice places to go and things to do.

I was hosted at another Airbnb stay, this one about 10 miles outside town on a short dirt road. The couple hosting were really friendly and inviting, and the house was roomy and comfortable. They had four sons who were all out of the house now, so there was plenty of room for everybody, and there were two other couples also staying there through Airbnb while I was there. We hung out and chatted quite a bit, both over breakfast and in the evening over a glass of wine. Definitely one of my better Airbnb experiences.

Since it was a comfy house, I used a fair amount of my time there to catch up on some bills and other items, update the blog, and generally do a little life maintenance, so I didn’t get in quite the amount of exploration that I’d usually embark on, so sorry for the lack of CdA photos and stories. It’s definitely worth visiting, though.

I left Coeur d’Alene and headed back north toward Glacier National Park, where I planned to spend the night. That involved  little backtracking to Sandpoint  to pick up Route 200, which would take me through some nice back country to Kalispell, MT (add another state to the list), where I’d then be able to head north again into Glacier. There was an omnipresent haze all around from the various wildfires in the area, and that unfortunately detracted from some of the views. The countryside was beautiful though; many lakes and rivers, and lots of wildlife. I saw my first osprey of the trip, which was pretty neat, and I’m still hoping to see an eagle at some point.  The weather was your typical funky mountain weather, where it’d be perfectly clear and sunny for a while, then a cloudburst, then clear again. I drove through most of the short cloudbursts with the top down as they weren’t too bad, but I probably put the top up and down six different times during the drive.

One of the many lakes in that area of Idaho An osprey. Wish I'd had my long lens... Some roadside spectators

I arrived at Glacier around twilight, which made for a pretty drive into the park. Finding a campsite at the “Avalanche” area, I set up for the night, had a little dinner, and turned in. It rained for a good portion of the evening, which was actually kind of nice; the sound on the tent put me to sleep, and the car needed a good rinsing off anyway.

You're in bear country now...still haven't seen one. A quick rinse, courtesy Glacier Nat'l Park

Back on the road a little after sunrise, I made my way along the Going-To-The-Sun highway through the park. Glacier is kind of an interesting park, in that there’s no ‘main feature’ to it. At Yosemite, you’ve got El Capitan, in Sequoia there’s the trees, and Yellowstone has all the geothermal stuff, but Glacier seems to just be overall breathtaking scenery throughout, and doesn’t have a ‘centerpiece’.  As you can guess from the name, the glaciers were the defining feature of the park when it was founded. In the mid-1800s, there were about 150 glaciers throughout the park, but now there are only about 25 left due to the warming climate. However, the evidence of their passing is everywhere—deep gouges and high moraines form beautiful valleys, and lakes that fill the troughs surround all of the mountains. The largest lake in the park, Lake McDonald, was formed mostly by ancient glacial activity, when a large glacier carved out a huge gouge in the mountain and pushed a big terminal moraine in front of it. When the glacier receded, that moraine became a dam, and the melt water and precipitation gradually filled the gouge. The lake is ten miles long, and over 450 feet deep.

Lake McDonald, and smoke haze in the background The air was hazy, but the water was crystal clear

I tried to get some good photos of the scenery, but the haze from the wildfires made it a little tough. Some of the terrain also showed signs of the big fire the park had in 2003, when about 13% of the park burned.  I took a few quick hikes here and there along the way, admiring several of the waterfalls and smaller lakes, and appreciating just how green everything was—it seemed like the park had way more green foliage and ground cover than anyplace I’d visited so far.

One of the many awesome vistas in the park


More crystal clear water Waterfalls and rapids everywhere I didn't hike out to this waterfall
Green and awesome all around One of the cooler waterfalls so far The bare parts are from the 2003 fires
Happy Birthday National Park Service! More fire damage, with fire haze behind Crazy colors in some of the rocks.

Another stunning view

I left the park hungry, as all I had for breakfast was a Clif bar in the tent, so I was on the hunt for some lunch. I made a wrong turn coming out of the east entrance, and a few miles later came across a small, quirky café called “Two Sisters” that was run and serviced by (you guessed it) two sisters. I figured I’d go regional, so I had the bison burger and a big piece of huckleberry pie. Huckleberries had been abundant throughout my travels through parts of Alberta, Idaho, and Montana, and they’re a big thing this time of year for the area. If you’ve never had a huckleberry, it’s sort of like a blueberry that grew up on the wrong side of the tracks—a little smaller, not quite as sweet, and a little bit tougher, but very tasty.

Seemed inviting... Kind of funky on the inside Huckleberry tastiness. A little heavy on the whipped cream, though.

Leaving the café, I drove the right way back down the highway, and a few minutes into the drive, I got a text from Jen, the woman I’d stayed with back in Eureka, CA. “We just passed you going over into the Blackfoot area. You were headed for St. Mary’s village,” it said.  “We are stopping at 2 sisters,” she added. I texted back that I’d just eaten there (and to try the huckleberry pie), and that I’d come back to say hi in person. Jen was travelling through the area with friends, and had recognized my car on the road. As a follower of the blog, she knew I’d be in the area, but I didn’t think we’d actually run into each other. I spent a few minutes meeting her friends and catching up, then we said our goodbyes and I started on my way to Helena to stop for the night.

Keeping with my tendency to stay on the backroads, I took Rt. 89 for most of the way down. I had entered the edge of the Great Plains here, and the scenery made an immediate shift from the mountainous environment of the park to the wide open spaces of the plains. The weather was similar to Idaho in that it’d rain for five minutes about every hour, but I just drove through those little cloudbursts with the top still down instead of stopping to put it up every time. I had also been trying to do fewer dirt roads to be a little kinder to the car, but 89 unhelpfully turned to dirt itself for about five miles through a major road construction area. I do always get a lot of thumbs ups from the road crews everywhere, though.

Welcome to the Great Plains A guided tour of a dirt road Pouring rain and sunny, simultaneously

There were some great little western plains towns that I passed through en route to Helena, but by ‘great’, I mean great from a scenic standpoint, not necessarily from a healthy town standpoint. Several of them seemed to be just hanging on by their fingernails, and there were old abandoned buildings everywhere. 

Only 1 mile away! Some less plain Plains I had to outrun a T-Rex at one point...
School's out. Alice Cooper would approve. Permanent recess One of the many little towns along the way
Wacky weather has its advantages The view over the hood  Managed to stay out of the way of this one

Montana is Big Sky Country

I got to Helena just before dark, and drove out to my Airbnb stop for the night, a modern home built into a hillside overlooking the city. It was about a mile and a half up a dirt road (again), but the view was spectacular. It’s actually for sale, and Cindy who greeted me on arrival was the caretaker, not the owner. She was a frequent traveler herself, and had been renting the rooms out on Airbnb for cheap in order to help out other travelers. I had actually thought the listing was a typo when I first saw it, as it was a great private room and bath in a beautiful home for $45, but that was for real, and it was a really nice stay.

Next stop: Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, where I get to visit Wyoming for the first time.


+1 #1 jhump 2013-08-29 18:30
Another great post Scott. I had to laugh at the picture of your car and the T-Rex. It looks like the T-Rex is about to stomp on your car. Stay dry and be safe
#2 danabart 2013-08-29 19:03
My mom's best friend lived in Sandpoint until her passing and Brittany attended school in Clark Fork, a town of 445 twenty miles from there. Been there a bunch. Beautiful country.
#3 Datsun.Dave 2013-08-29 20:20
Keep on truckin! How is the tranny holding up? No news has to be good news! Some beautiful pics and still marvelling at the scale of your adventure...
#4 admin 2013-08-30 07:52
How is the tranny holding up?
Doesn't seem to be making any new or louder noises, so that's good. The downshift to 2nd is indeed better with that Kendall oil, although still not perfect. I'm still suspecting input shaft bearing; not sure what else would make those kinds of noises in there.
#5 laceytrynn 2013-08-30 09:20
beautiful as usual... I'd love to have that pic of the stones in Lake MacDonald to hang on the wall!
#6 Mom 2013-08-30 14:35
amazing are awesome!
#7 Mom 2013-08-30 14:36
keep that shot for tray of the stones would be an awesome poster type..
#8 lectacave 2013-09-01 00:18
Wow. The word "awesome" gets thrown around a lot, but in this case, and yours, I have to agree with your mom and say it suits! I wonder how many guys named Conrad drive by that sign and think it was painted just for them. Glad you had no trouble from bears, or the T-Rex for that matter.

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