Glacier Trip: Provo to the Park, West Entrance

Note: This is the 2nd in a series of entries in my Glacier National Park travel photo journal. If this is new to you, please start with the first one for the full story of our adventures.

September 6th. Departed Provo, continued north on the 15. Eventually we crossed into eastern Idaho. It was considerably less scenic than Utah, mainly rolling golden hills. Sounds pretty, but try staring at golden hills for a couple hours straight. I was trying not to fall asleep at the wheel. Heather got ginger beer at a convenience store, and I realized I’d never actually tried it before. Discovered it’s got a nice kick.

We crossed the Continental Divide as we approached Montana and soon crossed into Montana itself. Being in the same state as Glacier made it feel like we were practically there, despite the park still being many hours away.

The original plan was to stop for the night in Butte, but boredom had given me a lead foot and we made it to Butte early enough that we decided to push on to Missoula. It had been a very dull 9-hour drive, but Butte looked uninteresting and Missoula would leave us an hour or so closer to Glacier the next day. Plus, as it turns out, Missoula is a cool little college town, a bit like Austin. It wasn’t what I expected. I pictured Montana as a land filled with rugged Marlboro men wearing cowboy hats and shit-stained leather boots. Turns out in Missoula it’s half that, and half OWS-style 20-something college students. Missoula really is just about evenly balanced between these two very different cultures. We had dinner at a little pizza joint downtown. When we returned to the hotel, my muscles were like steel cables from two days of driving. I took a hot bath and Heather gave me an awesome backrub.

(Note. I didn’t take photos of the road trip, hence the lack of photos as yet. That will change. Here’s a taste of what’s to come.)

Waterton National Park, Alberta, Canada. (Click to enlarge.)

September 7th. Left the hotel. Gassed up the van. Tonight we’d be camping in the park, so we stocked up on food. Maneuvered past road construction. Departed Missoula and drove north. It would take us less than half a day to get into Glacier, so we took a slightly more scenic route, hugging the western shores of Flathead Lake and passing through Kalispell.

Soon we arrived in Whitefish. It’s a very pretty little mountain town. In the downtown area we discovered a local craft brewery, The Great Northern Brewing Company. I had an excellent IPA there. Ok, two. I had no idea how well established microbrew is in Montana. It is good. The tasting room bartender suggested we eat lunch at Jersey Boys, a local pizza joint just a few blocks away, a favorite of the locals. I can confirm, it was awesome.

And we drove on. Soon was West Glacier, the west entrance to Glacier National Park. We went in. It was obviously gorgeous, but we figured we’d take in the sights and go exploring after we got settled in, so we set up camp at the Apgar site, loop B. I unloaded the van and Heather set up the kitchen. We reviewed our maps and plans.

One thing I now know is that if you go to Glacier, bring firewood. You can have campfires, and in the morning you will want one. The problem is, you’re not allowed to use wood you find in the forest. I asked a ranger about firewood. The only approved source in the park is buying plastic-wrapped bundles for $6 each; an offense on two fronts. But he was a cool ranger. It turned out there was a secret cache of wood, a huge pile actually, that had been culled from the forest already by the rangers and was intended for firewood use. He told us where it was and with a wink, let us pick from it. So we hiked over there and grabbed as much as we could carry.

Here’s where it got a little awkward. Other campers saw us emerging from the forest with armfuls of wood. We looked like assholes, despite having unofficial permission. I was unsurprised when a 2nd ranger appeared and scolded us. We were ratted out. I didn’t want to get the first ranger into trouble, so I let the 2nd one retain his smug ignorance of the facts. Anyway, it wasn’t like we’d be thrown out of the park. Plus we found we had friendly neighbors, who even gave us some of their firewood unasked. That evening we had “breakfast” dinner by the campfire. It had been a long day, but a lot more fun than the day before, and crashed early.

By the way, in anticipation of the road trip, we did a number of upgrades to the van before leaving and it all turned out very well. We put in a new custom ceiling modeled after a gypsy vardo and added two new, extremely bright LED dome lights. This made all the difference when unpacking in the dark. I’d also added two step bars to the van that were originally designed for pickup trucks. I had welders add custom mounting brackets to attach them. And then there’s the truly awesome new sound system: new head unit with hands-free speakerphone and bluetooth iPhone support; new 6 1/2″ Image Dynamics component speakers in front, replacing the horrid factory speakers; two 6″ component speakers in the upper rear corners of the van tailgate; a 10″ subwoofer in a custom wooden enclosure; and a 4-channel amp mounted to the side wall. It sounds incredible, and good music really makes the trip. (I’m going to do a little show-and-tell of all the van upgrades in a separate post.)

At last, we were at Glacier National Park. The true adventure could begin.

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