Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day 5 - 7 June 2009

After a chilly night with rain and a meager breakfast of Cheerios, tea, and coffee we departed for the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center on the banks of the Missouri River.

I had read the chronicle of the Lewis and Clark expedition and was looking forward to seeing their journey documented. I was not disappointed. The exhibit is exhaustive and reinforced everything I had read about the expedition. I was put into the right frame of mind as soon as we entered the facility. My senior citizen pass acquired at Glacier National Park got us into the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center for free. There, a nice elderly man helped us plan our trip after leaving Great Falls by giving us explicit information about how to get to Yellowstone Park and what to see there.

After a small lunch in the camper and a short hike along the Missouri River to Big Spring, a place where lots of clear water comes out of the ground and flows into the Missouri via a short river, we headed for the Charles M. Russell Museum. The museum is located in a residential area and at first glance doesn’t reveal all that it presents. The museum consists of the Russell homestead, a log cabin studio where the master worked, and a modern building which doesn’t show it from the outside, but contains an extensive collection of paintings and other works by Russell and other artists, a fabulous gem collection, Western and Indian artifacts, a Bison exhibit, and gift shop. The building could not be better designed architecturally and is suited well for this museum.

The collection and exhibits were so extensive that we cried “uncle” after about three hours and just skimmed over the last few rooms of the museum. After all, we had already done the Lewis and Clark Center and two museums in one day usually exceeds my limit. This one I left reluctantly but our feet were saying - enough!

We managed to make it back to our camper and after a quick trip to the Malmstrom AFB commissary to lay in some supplies we were back in the Malmstrom campground. My friend made a good dinner despite the strenuous “museum day,” she also did some laundry and wrote some post cards. It is a nice sunset, the sky is clearing after being very changeable all day. Let’s end day number five here.

Day 4 - 6 June 2009

The weather forecast was right - it snowed during the night and on and off again during the day. Even the lower elevations got some snow. We had about three inches of wet snow on our camper. Although the outside temperature was not extremely low, it was nice to have a toilet in the RV which eliminated the obligatory walk to the facility provided by the park. In reference to the four kids from Vermont, there was no bear alert during the night, but some of them ended up sleeping in the car, probably because of the wet snow.

We left the park where we came in (there was no other way out because the pass over the Continental Divide was closed due to snow) and drove to another park entrance, this one at St. Mary - a small gathering of gas station, supermarket, gift shop, and motel. Luckily I decided to fill the tank there because the gas stations in that part of Montana are rare.

We bought a few groceries and proceeded into the park. There was nothing there but scenery. The full extent of the scenery was denied us because the low clouds obscured the mountain peaks. We did see some gorgeous sites under the clouds such as “Goose Island,” don’t ask me how it got the name. It is a little island on one end of St. Mary’s lake - just picturesque, I guess.

We left the park again to go down the winding road to “Two Medicine.” At that entrance to the park there isn’t even a collection of houses to qualify as a village but a sizeable log building housing the “Cattle Baron Supper Club.” It was before noon and there were several pickup trucks parked outside. Maybe the owners of the trucks were getting an early start on supper or were still working on their dessert from the night before. I would have liked to see what it looked like inside, but due the shape that the observed pick up trucks were in, no telling what the “Cattle Barons” looked like.

Two Medicine was another scenic dead-end drive at the end of which is a small gift shop. Most interesting about all that was that when we got out of our camper at the gift shop, a woman approached us and asked how we liked our RV (a small RV called “Pleasure-Way”). We told her that we liked the “Roadtrek” we had once before better. She was comparing Roadtreks and Pleasure-Ways, because she wanted to buy one or the other and wanted someone’s opinion other than a salesman’s. In the course of the conversation it turned out that she was a retired Air Force nurse (the sticker on her windshield identified her as a colonel) and that she knew someone I had once known in the Air Force - small world.

After that we left Two Medicine and drove through part of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation toward Great Falls. It was quite obvious when we were in the reservation. There were no fences and no fields, just open prairie. There were widely scattered rectangular dwellings, usually in disrepair, with a number of rusting vehicles scattered around the buildings. The one small town we passed through was equally as bad, causing me to remark that this part of Montana looks better in the winter when everything is covered with several feet of snow.

Once out of the reservation we had a nice respite in a little café in the town of Choteau where we had coffee and pie in front of a blazing iron stove which was very welcome because of the chilly temperatures outside.

We arrived at the Malmstrom Air Force Base (AFB) Campground, where we were greeted cordially by a fellow Air Force retiree and hooked up our camper. After a wonderful meal cooked by my friend and some TV (one channel) we retired for the night - in our sleeping bags. This ended day four.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 3 - 5 June 2009

We departed the Buffalo Plains RV Park at 8 A.M., but not to the “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump,” but back toward Fort Macleod because we discovered that the interactive center at the Buffalo Jump did not open until 10 A.M. We thought that we might as well use the time to see the fort museum at Fort Macleod and then come back after the interpretive center opened.

On the way to Fort Macleod we changed our minds and decided to save any further perusal of Fort Macleod and the visit to the “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump” until we came back to Calgary at the end of our trip since we have to come by this way anyway.

We decided to go on to Waterton Lakes Provincial Park. We drove through part of an Indian reservation which had all the earmarks one is shown of Indian reservations - small run-down dwellings with lots of rusting cars and pickups around them. On the other hand, there were clean little Western towns like Fort Macleod or Pincher Creek that stood in contrast to the blight around them.

When we arrived in Waterton Lakes Provincial Park, we took a one hour hike along one of the lakes to Bertha Falls, water gushing down from Bertha Mountain. We tried to have lunch in style at the Prince of Wales Hotel, the finest address in town, but the place was closed. Extensive renovations were under way; later I found out that it would not open until the 15th of June - I guess we were a little early. So we had lunch in the RV. That is the nice part about an RV, you always have your home with you - like a snail or a turtle. A prerequisite is that you always have food in the refrigerator.

The only wild animal we have seen so far was a solitary deer on the way to the Prince of Wales Hotel.

After a short nap (another plus when traveling per RV), we set out for Montana and the Glacier National Park. When we got there the nice lady at the park entrance told me that as a senior (US) citizen I could get a lifetime pass to all the national parks and any other park operated by the US government for only $10. I jumped at the chance because we planned to visit a number of national parks during the rest of our trip and the entrance to all of them would be free, to say nothing about the lifetime aspect of the deal.

We drove to the Many Glaciers Hotel and hiked for more than an hour around the lake near the hotel, had dinner at the hotel, and found an adjacent campground. The campground was cheap - actually free - because a nice young man offered us the space he had paid for without accepting any money. He and his good-looking female companion had changed their minds about staying there. Maybe they preferred the luxury of the hotel.

The campsite only cost $5 and soon we found out why; because there were no hook-ups, that is, no electricity or water (maybe that is why the young couple decided to move on). Good enough, we were self-sufficient in our RV. There are bathrooms in the park, but no showers. We will not take a shower in our RV (the provision is there) because you can hardly turn around in the bathroom which becomes the shower and everything gets all wet.

We (or at least I) will not go to the public toilet at night because there are signs warning about bears everywhere. Each campsite had a “Food Storage Container” beside it. These are metal boxes like safes, for tent campers to store their food in so as not to attract bears, or to occupy the bear with the strong box rather than to rip the tent and its contents apart.

Four young kids from Vermont just set up their tent across from us, started a fire, and cooked some food. I’m expecting a bear alert tonight.

By the way, it is supposed to snow tonight. Thus ends day three.

Day 2 - 4 June 2009

I called the RV rental place and told them that we were here and scheduled a pick-up for 11 A.M. We were picked up, processes our paperwork for the rental, got a briefing on the vehicle, and were on our way at 12:45.

We didn’t get far because we had to stop by a supermarket to lay in some victuals. That done, we had our first lunch in the camper, a quick nap, and we were on the road south toward the town of Fort Macleod.

In the town of Fort Macleod there actually is a fort and it is called Macleod. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the place was closed; that is, the fort, which is now a museum, closed at 5 P.M. and we were there a little after 5 P.M. We walked along the main street of the town, a typical street of a Western town, except this one is immaculately clean.

While driving down from Calgary, my friend admired the scenery or dozed a little up to a crucial point which will become obvious later when she started reading the guide book and discovered that off to the northwest of Fort Macleod there is a place that is on the World Heritage Register, or something like that. The point at which she started reading the entry in the guide book to me aloud was precisely as we were passing the turn-off to the scenic spot at over 60 mile per hour. So, after proceeding into Fort Macleod, good natured as I am, I offered to drive the few miles to the “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Center,” yes, that is the place that is on the World Register. Of course, by the time we got there, this place too was closed. So we backtracked a little and stopped for the night at the Buffalo Plains RV Park and Campground. It is a nice little campground with a great view of the plains and the foothills of the Rockies and if one strains, a bit of the real Rockies can be seen.

The nice lady at the campground office had me stick a pin on her wall map indicating where we were from and recommended “sunset garden” which they have set up to watch the sunset - unfortunately, there was no sunset to watch as a weather front was approaching and it's advancing clouds nixed the sunset.

Tomorrow we plan to visit the interactive center with the “smashed-in-heads” and then press on further southwest to Waterton Lake National Park.

Oh yea, my friend complained that the “Roadtrek” (a similar RV) which we had in British Columbia was roomier, better designed, and better built than the “Pleasure-Way” RV which we have now. It looks nice, but I too find that the arrangement of the interior was better in the “Roadtrek.” We shall see if we get used to it. This was day two.

P.S.: Seen at the Buffalo Plains Campground:

“Outhouse Rules:
1. Be neat.
2. Leave it as you want to find it.
3. Put the lid down.
4. Leave paper for others.
5. Close the door so the chickens don’t get in.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rocky Mountain Trip Day 1 – 3 June 2009

Nothing is worth doing unless you do it early in the morning – I heard say. So we got up at about 5 AM, departed for the airport at a little after 6 and arrived at the airport in plenty of time to get bored before our 11:15 flight to Calgary via Montreal. The flights were uneventful except that on the “puddle jumper” that took us to Montreal we only got a small bag of peanuts and a cup of coke. On the bigger airplane that took us to Calgary they had a more extensive menu (and I mean menu – they handed you one). The drawback was that whatever you selected you had to pay for. The items they offered weren’t anything “to write home about” – this was the first time that I didn’t finish a sandwich!

We stayed in a typical Holiday Inn, had a few beers and some very good food and thereby closed out the first day.

The Rocky Mountain Trip

For years now we had wanted to take a trip through the Rocky Mountains since some friends made this trip and told us about it. In fact, we used their itinerary as a starting point – the route, the sights to see, etc. – in planning our trip.

The itinerary calls for us to fly to Calgary in Canada, to rent an RV there, to drive south into Montana, through Idaho and Wyoming into Utah and back north through Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana and back to Calgary, seeing all the scenic places along the way. The crowning glory is to be a three day stay in Calgary to take in the annual rodeo called the Calgary Stampede, a giant event with all the requisite horsemanship and cowboy skills and thundering chuck wagon races – so we were told. After years of putting it off we committed ourselves to actually do it this year. So, here goes.

P.S.: I intend to report my observations and impressions periodically from the road. It won’t be real-time because I won’t always have the opportunity to write about the day’s events or won’t have an Internet connection at every campground.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Am I Being Too Hasty?

Last week we had a visit by our daughter and her family. They brought along their two dogs - an old one and a young one. The old dog has had a tough life. Our daughter adopted Jessie from an animal shelter. It appears that prior to coming into our daughter’s life, Jessie had been misused and perhaps abandoned, had been hit by a car which damaged her hip or hind legs or both. The injury never healed properly, probably because of lack of care, causing Jessie to limp. Now that she is old the old injury plus age-related joint problems make it almost impossible for Jessie to navigate stairs. She can manage one step, but usually collapses in the process. If there are any more steps, she has to be lifted. I didn’t say so, but I wondered to myself if it wouldn’t be better to put Jessie to sleep to spare her any more suffering…

That reminded me of the two dogs we had in succession in our family. Both were Boxers, one was a male, the other a female. They were part of the family and I still dream of them even though they have been long gone. Koko, the male, was with us from 1976 to 1986 and Kyra, the female, was with us from 1989 to 1999. I was told that a Boxer’s life expectance was between 7 and 10 years. I felt lucky that both of our Boxers made it to the ripe old age of 10 (70 in human years). But when each of them started to become feeble and it appeared that their quality of life had deteriorated to the point where I thought they were suffering I had them put to sleep. Koko had a heart problem and collapsed several times. The veterinarian could not give a definite prognosis - a shot of some medicine might perk him up for a week or so, but would not make him well. For the last visit to the vet I had to physically drag Koko out from behind some bushes. I had the impression that he went in there to die. Kyra developed a lump in her throat which was variously diagnosed as a tumor and then again as a sore throat. She became weak because she could not eat and the prognosis again was not good for the long term…

A couple of weeks ago I had a tree expert come and examine the trees on our property where we have a summer cottage. The cottage is near the ocean and sometimes the wind blows pretty strongly. I had been concerned about these old trees for some years, especially one that, if blown over, could fall squarely unto the cottage, causing (in my estimation) irreparable damage. The tree expert suggested trimming some of the branches out of most of the trees to let the air pass through more freely - as he put it. He agreed with me that the tree which I had in my sights might damage the cottage some day. It was dying he said, it seemed to be partially hollow near the top where birds had pecked holes into the trunk, it had apparently been damaged at the bottom by a construction vehicle some time ago and ants had settled in the break in the trunk. He never said that the tree had to go, but whatever he said reinforced my desire to eliminate it. The tree was felled. I had a slice of the trunk cut so that I could count the rings and determine how old the tree was. I counted 60 rings - a ripe old age - time to come down, I thought. But the trunk didn’t seem as ant riddled or hollow as I wanted to believe…

My friend and I are approaching age 70! Am I being too hasty?