Saturday, July 23, 2011

Montana Part 3

You know how there are some people who are really book smart and yet not very street smart? Those people who can ace the SAT and then walk out and get hit by a bus because they forgot to look both ways? I am kind of one of those people. Except that I'm really not that book smart. I live under the constant threat of being exposed for the idiot that I really am. You are about to see why.

So... the bear spray. Let me tell you something about bear spray... It's um, well, it's kind of like pepper spray. You spray it at the bear when it's attacking you. Seems straightforward enough, right?

You might remember that we opted to forgo the bear spray when we went to Montana because I thought it was a waste of money. And the reason that I thought it was a waste of money was because all along I thought that bear spray was bear REPELLANT, like something you spray on your clothes to keep the bears away. Ha ha. Oops.

And so, in my state of paranoid idiocy, I agreed to let Brent pack along a different form of bear spray. And by this I mean that we brought a G-U-N. I know! Yikes! Scary, right? (And no, of course we don't have a G-U-N ourselves, but we have friends in high places who can get you a roof box or a firearm whenever you need one. Oh yes, good friends indeed.) Now you are probably smart enough to know that bringing along a G-U-N to ward off bears is a bad idea, but we are not, and so that was what we did because I was not about to fork over $45 for bear repellant.

(When we got to Glacier we noticed that EVERYONE had bear spray on their person AT ALL TIMES and we were even scolded by a BEAR ATTACK SURVIVOR for bringing our kids into bear country without any protection. Little did he know.)

Right. Moving on then.

You know how when you are stuck in the car for long periods you start to find unique and often stupid ways to pass the time? Brent and I tallied up all the roadkill and live animals that we saw on our journey. This is the Big Sky Brewery Dead and Live Animal Count (not to be confused with the Coors Light Deadliest Catch Crab Count. Remember, it was a loooong drive).

1 coyote
7 deer (sob!)
1 porcupine (?)
1 badger
1 squirrel

Live Animals:
1 bighorn sheep
1 falcon sp.
flock of magpies
1 great blue heron
1 moose (or possibly an elk- it's best to keep your eyes on the road rather than to know for sure)
1 red fox (!)
1 picture of a 200 pound mountain lion

We also retained our sanity on the drive to Glacier by doling out gummy Coke bottles whenever anyone saw an animal. Those kids stay pretty alert when there's candy at stake.

Oh, and just how many different license plate options do Montanans have? We counted at least 25.

And why is that sky so big? I mean, it's truly an enormous sky. Kind of like in Salzburg, Austria where those hills really are alive with the sound of music. How do they do that?

Obligatory tourist photo opportunity of kids drinking obligatory tourist huckleberry milkshakes.

And then there was Glacier...

I'm not going to lie- I was disappointed at first. It's all very sanitized and RV friendly if you stay on the main road and hit up the major attractions. Sure you have your dramatic landscape scenes, but you have to fight through the crowds to get your shot.

But Brent being Brent had another idea, which was to go up further on the western side of the park to Polebridge, which was supposed to be less touristy because most RVers are scared off by 20 miles of gravel road.

(Yes, I said 20 miles of gravel road. 20 miles of bumpy, windy, dusty gravel road. The kids were pretty much over the Dead and Live Animal Count by this point and spent that stretch of the drive fighting over toys and whining in unison.)

At last we arrived in Polebridge.

If you go, and you are about to see why you should, make sure you stop by the Mercantile for a huckleberry beer. We cracked that sucker open and drank it right there under that big blue sky. The kids had been confused by that whole National Park thing and after that treacherous voyage in the car, I guess they were expecting the park to be a playground. So they had been looking for swings and slides and so forth and did not seem to give a rat's ass about the dramatic landscapes. Lo and behold, there is a playground behind the Mercantile.

Some people came in behind us and reported that a 200 pound mountain lion had been spotted on the side of the road. We had missed it by ten minutes.

And then we drove up to quite possibly the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my life: Bowman Lake. Wow. Seriously.

We set up camp, hiked around, met some fellow travelers (all of whom were wisely equipped with bear spray), fought off mosquitoes, took millions of pictures, and I befriended a teenage photographer who had gotten an incredible shot of the mountain lion.

As twilight came upon us we heard some shouts and a scuffle and soon the park ranger arrived to inform us that a red fox was lurking around the campground and that, in fact, bear spray does not work against foxes. (Good thing we had our G-U-N.) Brent and Sawyer actually saw the fox but they reported that he seemed more like a playful dog than a blood thirsty predator.

(And in case you are wondering, I did have to pee in the middle of the night and it took me a good twenty minutes to work up the nerve to get myself out of the tent to go and do the deed. But I did, and I survived. So there.)

The next morning I took Sawyer down to the lake and we started chatting with a fisherman who was just putting his boat into the water. I told him that my husband fished and without missing a beat he invited Brent out on his boat and they fished together for a good part of the morning. So now Brent has a fishing buddy in Montana.

On the drive back to the cabin, we stopped in Polebridge once again and picked up some huckleberry bear claws, huckleberry macaroons, and a few huckleberry beers to take home as souvenirs. What can I say? We are fans of the huckleberries. We saw a crowd gathering behind the Mercantile and discovered a Bear Fair with free food and giant stuffed bears and all sorts of informative bear related booths. Jack went nuts for all of this, Brent got in line for a pulled pork sandwich, and Sawyer trolled around gathering up all of the freebees he could find. We walked out of there with full tummies, frisbees, coloring books, temporary tattoos, and the unneeded further proof that we are idiots for traveling to Glacier without bear spray.

Are you tired of seeing beer pictures? Sorry.

A pit stop on the way back to the cabin for Flathead Lake IPA and pizza. We ended up chatting with the pub owners who gave us the scoop on where to go in Missoula for good beers, convinced us that Montana is the best place in the world to live, and then they gave free cookies to the kids.

We spent one last restful night in the cabin and then packed up the next morning to head out. Brent had read about a bison range on the way to Missoula and so we arrived with two very excited kids and some binoculars and saw...

Bison horns.

Some family photo opportunities.
Another obligatory tourist pose for the kids.

And not a single bison. Maybe next time.

Missoula was hot. We spent the afternoon walking around and trying to placate two grouchy and overheated kids. Thank god for the carousel, which happens to be one of the fastest (if not the fastest) carousel in North America. Which meant that I was almost barfing by the time the ride ended, but the kids loved it and so I suppose a little motion sickness is par for the course at this point in the game.

Beautifully detailed horses aplenty and Jack went right for the only dragon.

We visited some relatives and walked around Greenough Park, checked into the Holiday Inn, swam in the icy hotel pool, and then hit up the Iron Horse for some local beers and dinner.

By this point the kids were well versed in brewery protocol and we all sat around as the sky grew dark and chatted with some other tourists. Missoula seems like somewhere we might like to live. We'll see.

Sawyer is a kid who requires a lot of sleep. He was constantly playing catch up during the trip and it took him about a week to get back to normal when we got home. Relatively normal, that is.

And thus concludes the epic tale of the Ross Family Montana Vacation of 2011. The drive home was fine. We camped another night at the mouth of the Deschutes and the only exciting thing that happened was that we had to move OUR ENTIRE CAMP over to another campsite because those campground hosts had made a reservation error. Oh, and Sawyer had a dance party in the tent which resulted in my glasses getting broken. Anyway, it was dumping down rain when we arrived back in Eugene and Brent and I were so disgusted with the weather that we almost turned the car around and headed back to Montana. Almost.

And as for the roof box, it was nearly decapitated by yours truly as I attempted to enter a parking garage downtown later that week.

So as I was saying, book smart maybe, but street smart? Definitely no.


  1. Polebridge is great! My friends got married there. Did you ever drive up to Logan Pass to the continental divide? I was surprised to read that you weren't all that impressed with the park... there are some very touristy places, but the drive up Going-to-the-Sun road and up to Logan Pass never fails to take my breath away and I've seen it several times. It sounds like you had lots of other great adventures and that's the most important part. :)

  2. Bowman Lake?! Oh my! Seriously, if you wanted to sell anyone on the idea of moving to Montana, these are the pictures to show them. I want to go there. Now. Love the family photos too!