Thursday, February 9, 2017

WI to AZ 2016, Part 1

from Wausau, WI to Ellensburg, WA
During the summer and fall of 2010, our second year on the road, while on our way to wintering for a second season in the Rio Grande Valley, we passed through the Pacific Northwest with an eye to visiting the Canadian Rockies (yes, yes - we rarely travel in a straight line).
However, after losing an awning during a severe thunderstorm in Minot, ND, and our subsequent month's long efforts to replace it, we were forced to skip Canada. This time we were hoping to rectify our missing the chance in 2010. We also targeted parts of southeastern Oregon, western Utah, and eastern Nevada, areas we had somehow neglected in previous travels west. Whether or not we would do anything in California was still up in the air.
We had agreed to another interpretive work volunteer position at a different state park: Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, AZ. But we were not formally due to arrive at BTA until mid-October so we had what seemed like plenty of time to play along the way.

This would be our third trip (and Tom’s fourth) to the PNW. In September 1996 we had flown to Portland, rented a car, and spent two weeks exploring the entire Washington coast and much of the Oregon coast (as far south as Coos Bay for a fall shorebird festival) as well as visiting many vineyards along the way. We were eager to get back.
On July 23, we crossed over into Minnesota on Hwy 2 around 12:30 P.M., and arriving at our first overnight, Ogston’s RV Park not far from Saginaw, MN by mid-afternoon. With a fair amount of daylight left, we drove several of the roads in the Twig, Minnesota area and skirted parts of the Sax Zim Bog, a popular hot spot for wintering owls. As this was not winter, unsurprisingly, there were no winter owls. But is was interesting to see what the landscape looked like sans snow.

Larimore Dam Recreation Area site
Continuing on Hwy 2 across northern Minnesota, our second night stay on the road was at the Army Corps of Engineer's Larimer Dam Recreation Area. Big spacious sites and 3 1/2 miles of paved bike trails connecting the recreation area with the City of Larimore, ND. While we’re not golfers, adjacent to the recreation Area is the Larimore Golf Course. The course features 9-holes of challenging golf with plenty of water hazards. All we needed was a place to park for the night so no biking and certainly no golfing.

site at Lewis and Clark SP, North Dakota
We expected to revisit a few of the stops we had made during our 2010 tour across the upper tier of states. The Lewis and Clark State Park near Epping, ND, was one such stop. We had recalled a lovely park tucked away along the shores of Lake Sakakawea in the North Dakota Badlands where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark camped in April of 1805. Lots of interpretive trails and a destination for area fishermen. However, as lovely as the place still was, now, six years later, everywhere we looked were oil rigs. The fracking of North Dakota was in full swing and sadly, the scenic charm in the countryside surrounding the park had decidedly lost is charm. And heavy truck traffic did make it any better.

Fort Peck COE site
Our driving days up to this point had been longer than usual so we were ready to sit for a few days. Fortunately, another Army Corps of Engineers recreation area filled the bill: the Downstream COE Campground located just below Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River in northeastern Montana was just the ticket.

Fort Peck Interpretive Center
Large spacious sites with hiking and biking trails. Very quiet on week days although with the nearby Fort Peck Lake, the weekends tended to fill with weekend fisherman.
The park's impressive Fort Peck Interpretive Center, was dedicated to the history of the construction of the Fort Peck Dam and Lake, the Charles M. Russell NWR, and prehistoric dinosaurs. In fact, for those with a paleontological bent, North Dakota has fourteen separate museums collectively known as the Montana Dinosaur Trail. Several were located along Hwy 2.

Fort Peck Interpretive Center; power plant in background
During our three night stay we scoured the museum, toured the Fort Peck Dam Power Plant (the power plant generates an annual 1 billion KWH of hydro power for many of Montana’s rural cooperatives), birded the hiking trails, and even found time to get the bikes out to ride the bike trails (essentially the same paved hiking trails).

Trails West site
Refreshed and revitalized, we hit the road again getting as far as Shelby, MT and the Trails West RV Park. This wasn’t one of our typical RV park stops. It was associated with the Best Western Shelby Inn and Suites. To pay for the site we did in fact use the front desk of the hotel. We wondered if this would catch on nationwide? The sites were located behind the hotel - gravel with not much of a view but easy in and out and it was just for the one night.
We regretted missing Banff and Jasper National Parks in 2010 so visiting this time was part of our plan. However, the more we talked with other RVer’s and making inquiries as to available parking RV sites, we became more and more discouraged and dissuaded. Part of the problem for our not making reservations (often such reservations have to be made a year in advance) had to do with not knowing precisely when we would be leaving Wisconsin owing to not knowing how long the RV repair would take. Plus, we knew how crowded these parks can be even if we did have reservations. Ultimately, reluctantly, we decided to take another pass on these Canadian crown jewels.
However, not all was lost. We were confident about seeing Glacier National Park. And there was another option for another national park in Canada we had been contemplating. But first, we had to find a place to park near Glacier and as we had been discovering, unreserved RV sites were scarce.

our sites at Mountain Meadow View
Finally, we were able to get into the Mountain Meadow View RV Park outside Hungry Horse. We’d stayed in the Hungry Horse area before but the park we had previously used appeared to be out of business. Mountain Meadow View had space available for two nights, and due to a recent cancellation, a second site for a third night. We had figured three nights were needed in order to take in what we had come to do and see.

Now. The name “Mountain Meadow View” might conjure up scenes of sprawling mountain meadow views. And true enough - the view from the office and general store/cafe area offered just that. The RV sites, however, were buried in the woods on steep slopes. No views of meadows or mountains. The interior roads were narrow, dusty, and twisting (and honestly, not very well marked). It took a good deal of agile parking skills to eventually balance our RV in our assigned site. The other site we were offered for our third night, we were assured, was their “longest pull-thru".

Our location was only a ten mile drive from the west entrance to Glacier National Park. The day we arrived in 2010 was the first day that the “Going-to-the-Sun-Road” to the Logan Pass Visitor Center had re-opened for the season (cleared of snow). How lucky, we'd  thought because we were excited to see a riot of Spring mountain wildflowers in bloom. What we found instead was a roadway, open, yes, but lined with snow. The parking lot around the visitor center was still piled with several feet of snow. The wildflowers? Oh they were there alright. Just not in bloom, buried under tons of snow that wouldn’t be melting anytime soon.

Avalanche Creek and Lake
But now? It was late July and much of the snow had already disappeared. And the road was as scenic as ever - this time with wildflowers. Over the next few days we hiked Avalanche Creek Trail to Avalanche Lake and the Hidden Lake Trail to the Hidden Lake Overlook from the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Wild wildflowers were certainly in bloom, but so too, were large crowds of tourists. If our 2010 visit had taught us anything, it was that one had to arrive early in the park to secure a parking spot at ANY of the trail heads or be disappointed with no parking at all. Thank goodness not everyone is an early morning person!

Hidden Lake Trail and Hidden Lake Overlook
A number of Canadian friends (as well as a very enthusiastic young female host in the Canadian Tourism Center) had suggested that we visit Waterton Lakes National Park and take one of the daily boat cruises out of Waterton, Alberta, up Wateron Lake. The drive to Waterton was substantial. At 160 miles (one way) it was daunting. But looking at the cruise schedule, we came to the conclusion that we could make the drive up and back and still have time for the 2-hour cruise and explore the town.
Waterton Lakes National park was established in 1895. Glacier National Park was established fifteen years later in 1910. Due to the two park’s adjoining one another, in 1932, the Canadian and United States governments linked the two parks to become the world’s first international peace park, the Wateron-Glacier International Peace Park, eventually adding the title of World Heritage Site in 1995. The joint effort has given rise to several wildlife recovery programs supporting the wolf and trumpeter swan.

drive to Waterton Lakes
We followed the Going-to-the-Sun-Road over Logan Pass and down to St. Mary, Montana, where we snagged breakfast at the Park cafe. From there we drove Hwy 89 until we turned northwest onto Chief Mountain International Highway (Hwy 17 in the U.S.) which became Hwy 6 once we passed through the U.S./Canadian border crossing (only open in the summer). Turning onto Hwy 5, eventually the majestic Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site came into view and not long after, we arrived in the town of Waterton with about a half hour’s time to spare before the cruise ship left the dock.

cruising and docked at Goats Haunt
The duration of the cruise was just over 2 hours, which included a 1/2 hour stop at Goat Haunt, the northern gateway to Glacier National Park. We debarked at Goat Haunt and in that short span of time, visited the interpretive center (exhibits park history, flora and fauna) and listened to a brief live lecture on the area by a park ranger. Goat Haunt is a United States Class B Port of Entry, so anyone planning to stay beyond the standard 1/2 hour stop would have to clear customs. The most popular hike at Goat Haunt is Kootenai Lakes. Kootenai Lakes is only 4 km from Goat Haunt and is considered some of the best moose habitat. We didn’t see any moose lingering around the dock, however.

M.V. International
Our ship was the M.V. International (Waterton Shoreline Cruises, Inc.) which has been in service since 1927. And the weather was absolutely clear and calm. As the ship cruised both shorelines we were regaled by an informative and entertaining commentary given by very friendly and experienced local seasonal tour guide.

strolling Waterton and making friends
Afterward we strolled around the Waterton downtown and waterfront. It reminded us a lot of some of the small tourist towns in Door County, Wisconsin. Carol posed for a photo with an RCMP in full uniform, we lunched at Zum’s Eatery, scored ice cream at the Big Scoop and Ice Cream Parlour and before leaving town for the long drive back, picked up a large coffee to go from the Starbucks Glacier Bistro where they served Starbucks coffee but it wasn’t an official Starbucks (so no star awards for Tom!).
Remember - during our stay at the Mountain Meadow View RV we had to move our RV to a second site for our third night - the so called “longest pull-thru” site. Unfortunately, the site was occupied the morning we needed to move and we didn’t want to wait around for some late risers (not everyone is like us). But ,we also needed to vacate our site before heading back into Glacier since someone else was supposedly coming in later in the day (as it turned out they didn't!). The temporary solution was to move our RV down to the large parking area in front of the the office, leave it parked so we could go off into Glacier, then move the RV into the new site later in the afternoon after it was vacant. That seemed to satisfy all concerned.
The “longest pull-thru” site? Well, it was indeed long. However, it was narrow and on another steep slope. Adding to the difficulty was that actually ‘pulling through’ would be impossible since the turn at the bottom of the site (the 'pull-thru' end) was too tight.
The morning we left, Tom had to back our RV completely out of the narrow ‘pull-thru’ site (uphill - thank goodness for 4WD) in order to exit the park. That said, the staff at the park were very friendly and accommodating. We were fortunate to have been able to find a place to park given the high season and not having any reservations. The park was quiet (although the roads were dusty). We even had a gray fox saunter through our site barely six feet away. Unfortunately, though, not having reservations would be cause for further headaches and frustration down the road.

road down to and our site at Twin Canyon
Calling ahead we were able to secure a site in Twin River Canyon RV Resort near the small town of Moyie, Idaho, just over the border from Montana off Hwy 2. Trying to make a reservation had taken a couple of frustrating days due to poor phone reception - at the park's end, not our's.  We’d been to Twin River before so we knew what we were getting ourselves into which meant towing the RV down a narrow gravel road with hairpin turns.

Kootenai NWR
But, it was a beautiful location, situated at the confluence of the Moyie and Kootenai Rivers and well worth the effort. Just as we had remembered. It was quiet with good birding opportunities and not too far from the Kootenai NWR and the fascinating town of Bonners Ferry. Fascinating because there is a very good local brewery, the Kootenai River Brewing. Good beer and good food. And yes, the town has several interesting shopping opportunities. I know so because whenever Carol says, “Oh - Marge would love it here!”, that's code for good shopping opportunities.
local brews in Bonners Ferry
Our drive from Mountain Meadow View hadn't been long so we indeed had time to visit the wildlife refuge, hike a few trails, sip some local brew, walk/shop through Donner’s Ferry.
The distance to our next destination, the Yakima River RV Park in Ellensburg, WA, was short. It afforded us time to bird the Kootenai River shoreline in the morning before we had to depart (Lots of Lewis’s Woodpeckers, a bird we don’t get to see all that often). We wound our way back up the hairpin gravel road to Hwy 2 and then we were off to Ellensburg to reconnect with some dear long time friends.

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