Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 11: Seattle Center

Our focus today was to see the sights in Seattle Center, which is where the Space Needle, the monorail, and the Experience Music Project are, among numerous other attractions.

We drove up from Puyallup and arrived around 11 am. We poked around a bit, and, feeling undercaffeinated, we stopped at the Starbucks – actually our first Starbucks experience in Seattle.

The EMP at Seattle CenterThe Experience Music Project was what we most wanted to see while in Seattle, so we headed that direction. We started by walking around the entire building just to take it in. You’ll see from the photos that it is a very unusual building. Those who are familiar with architect Frank Gehry will already know all about this project; the rest of you may be surprised by the cacophony of color, shape, and materials. It’s hard to describe, challenging to photograph well, and difficult to come up with an answer for the question, “Why?” Ultimately you just have to accept the building for what it is, let the experience happen to you – much like the museum itself. When we first walked in, there was an interactive kiosk that explained how the building was designed and built, which we found interesting and helpful.

Video Wall inside the Sky ChurchEntering the museum itself, the first place you enter is the Sky Church. It’s a tall, open space with perfect acoustics and a huge video screen (read a more detailed description by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer), where a wide variety of recorded music is played all day long. Stand in the middle of the room and it’s a great place to just experience the music – a great way to start the museum’s overall experience.

Just inside the turnstile was a small case with a tribute to Michael Jackson, displaying the white sequined glove and a black sequined jacket, with a short eulogy. Very appropriate.

Beyond that, in the middle of the museum’s center space, was a sculpture called “Roots and Branches”, a 35 ft cyclone-shaped structure made entirely of guitars and a few other instruments. It actually plays itself – it is computer-programmed to play the 600 instruments that compose the structure, and the music it makes is surprisingly enjoyable.

After entering, we turned our attention to the Jimi Hendrix exhibit, which was really spectacular. It was a really great mixture of artifacts, text, video, and audio. It provided a lot of info about Jimi while also giving visitors a chance to really experience his music. We were impressed. Adjacent to this exhibit was a video screening room that shows a loop of several videos about Jimi, which we sat and watched for about 10 minutes (the entire playlist of videos would require nearly an hour of one’s time).

We then checked out the Guitar Gallery, which was a slightly more conventional museum exhibit, displaying explanations of the evolution of the electric guitar along with examples of rare guitars to illustrate each milestone. In the center of this exhibit, though, was a video looping through various famous guitarists, giving the visitor a chance to hear and see the evolution as well.

The next gallery featured the evolution of music in the Northwest, which was also very well-done, informative, and enjoyable. Believe it or not, it was not just about the grunge movement of the late 80s-early 90s, though the gallery basically culminated with that. Dave and I spent a lot of time in that part of the exhibit. *smile*

Across the hall was an exhibit of oral histories by perhaps hundreds of musicians and other artists, telling their stories about their experiences. This was also very interactive – a number of computers with headphones are set up, each focusing on a different topic, with different video clips that the visitor could choose from to illustrate that particular topic. There are also audio-only versions that one can listen to on iPods, as well as at least one video screen playing to a space in the corner of the room. There’s also a little booth where you can record your own oral history of how music has impacted your life. (Not something Dave and I were really interested in doing.)

Upstairs was the sound lab, which is set up with a number of stations to allow visitors to try out different rock instruments. The stations have an interactive computer tutorial to walk you through what you need to do to play the drum kit, guitar, keyboard, mixing board, etc. There are also a number of tiny rooms along the walls with various instruments where you can go inside by yourself (or with a couple of friends) and just jam. The whole place was very overwhelming, because there were a whole lot of people (especially children) and everyone was queuing up to vie for one of the spots. I also suspect that this is probably a lot more fun and interesting for those who don’t see musical instruments and/or A/V equipment often. Of all of the things offered in this room, the drum kit was the only thing that Dave and I don’t either have at home or have regular access to. I lost interest pretty quickly, and spent some time listening to the guitar sculpture while Dave played with the drum kit.

Space Needle Reflection 2We had been in the museum for a few hours and it was getting to be mid-afternoon, so we left the museum and went over to the food court for lunch. Dave had Chinese while I got teriyaki, and we were glad to have a chance to sit still and eat for a bit.

After eating, we walked around outside for a little bit, taking photos. It had been overcast all morning, but we thought it would have burned off by this time (it was after 3 pm). Since it was still quite overcast, we determined that this wasn’t a good day to go up in the Space Needle, so we decided to save that for tomorrow.

We went back to the Sky Church, where they were scheduled to play the video of Jimi Hendrix doing the Star Spangled Banner. (This is something they have scheduled at specific times over the course of the day.) We carefully stood in the middle of the space so we could get the full effect. It was incredible – I highly recommend it. Overall, I highly recommend the Experience Music Project – it really is what the name suggests.

The EMP is actually the EMP-SFM, which is “Experience Music Project – Science Fiction Museum”. Also featured currently is a traveling exhibit called “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World”. I had been meaning to see this exhibit when it was at the Smithsonian a while back, and was glad to get the chance to finally see it. This exhibit is really enjoyable, interactive, and informative – if it comes to a museum near you, don’t miss out.

We were running out of time, so we breezed through the Sci Fi Museum’s exhibits, which were surprisingly of a more conventional museum design. Yes, there were some videos and a couple of interactive exhibits, but mostly it was a lot of artifacts stuffed into cases, and a lot of text. We were pretty fatigued at that point anyway, and less interested in the subject matter.

We left Seattle Center around 5 pm and headed to the Capitol Hill area to meet up with our friend Shana at the Elysian Fields Brewpub. Dave enjoyed a couple of selections from their beer menu, and it was great to catch up with Shana, who we hadn’t seen in a long time. It was a quick happy-hour visit, because we all had dinner plans.

Bridge TrollDave and I then drove up to Fremont to see our friend Susanna. She took us on a walking tour of various public art installations around Fremont, which was really fun. We saw the Fremont drawbridge open for some sailboats to go under, and then we walked along the canal to get to dinner. We had dinner at Brouwer’s Cafe, a spot well known to beer lovers. Dinner was delicious, the menu featured a number of beers that were unknown to Dave (surprisingly), and it was really great to hang out with Susanna.

It was a late night, and a long drive home. Surprisingly the State Patrol tally for today was only 4… largely because we just weren’t on the freeways much.

Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 10: Driving tour of Seattle area

Today was a lovely day. We slept in, attended to some household things (such as laundry), and generally took our time. It was overcast and not particularly warm, but the weather report promised that the sun would come out by mid-day.

We drove up I-405 on the eastern side of the Seattle metropolitan area, aiming for Snohomish County. On our way, as we drove through Redmond, our curiosity got the best of us, and we had to take a detour to see if we could find Microsoft. The AAA Tour Book said that there was a visitor center, and listed the address. We found the address, Building 127 on the Microsoft campus. It was unassuming and gave no indication of being a visitor center. (It would appear that AAA gave us wrong information about which building is the visitor center.) We drove around a bit more and found more and more Microsoft buildings – indeed, just like a campus, with a special Microsoft shuttle bus and lots of people coming and going to lunch, meetings, etc. It was a little surreal, and we actually got lost a bit before we finally found our way back onto the highway.

Maltby CafeBack on track, we drove up to pick up our friend Kim, who is living on her aunt’s farm in a small town called Maltby. For lunch, Kim took us to a cute diner in the tiny town’s center, called Maltby Cafe. The portions are huge (their cinnamon roll itself could probably serve 8 people) and the menu covers a lot of options. It had been over a year since we last saw each other, so it was good to catch up and also to have some yummy lunch. After a couple of hours of a leisurely lunch, we dropped Kim off at home.

On the way back to the interstate, we saw a couple of unmarked State Patrol cars that had pulled over another victim. Total tally for today: 5.

As a little tour of Puget Sound, we took the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston. The timing was great – the ferry was there and ready to be boarded, and it wasn’t too crowded. The trip across the Sound is 35 minutes, and we stood on the sun deck and enjoyed the ride, the weather (sunny by now, though hazy), and the beautiful views.

Puget Sound

Mt. Rainier from Puget SoundOnce across the Sound, we drove down the Kitsap Peninsula (part of the way on Miller Bay Road, which of course we enjoyed). We then crossed the Agate Passage bridge onto Bainbridge Island. We stopped at a couple of spots to take photos. Once we got to the ferry terminal, we decided that it would be faster and easier to cross again than to drive the entire way back to Puyallup. Of course, the real reason to take the ferry from Bainbridge to Seattle is that it’s an incredible view of Seattle, and really the best way to get good photos of the city.

The timing was perfect again – a good thing this time, since this ferry runs somewhat less frequently. Once across, we decided to head back to Puyallup. We made good time driving down the HOV lane on I-5, and had a nice dinner at home with Madison and Kim.

Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 9: From Idaho through Washington

La Quinta InnThe La Quinta Inn in Coeur d’Alene was quite decent overall. Pluses: soft, comfy beds; excellent breakfast bar selection; good customer service; easy-to-find location off the highway; clean. Minuses: slow internet connection; hot tub not hot; shower curtain was hung in a weird way so that it didn’t close all the way. Really not much to complain about.

We were up by 7:45 am; made it to the breakfast bar around 8:45 am (and thankfully it didn’t close promptly at 9 am, the advertised time); and were on the road around 9:30 am.

We crossed into Washington State and fairly shortly got off the highway in Spokane Valley to do a bit of shopping. When we got back on the highway, Dave commented on how much traffic there was. We shortly found out why: there were several State Patrol cars driving around enforcing the 60 mph limit. Yikes! I then remembered from previous experiences that the speed limits in Washington State are diligently enforced.

The tally of State Patrol cars we saw today: 11. And most of them had someone pulled over.

Washington State is a fascinating place to drive through. At Washington’s eastern edge on I-90, you drive through typical suburbia in going through Spokane. Outside the city are forested gentle hills for a bit, which then give way to miles and miles of wide open spaces. In some places it is almost desert-like. Most of it is pure farmland – cattle grazing land and lots of wheat and other grains.

Crossing the Columbia RiverWe drove for a long time, carefully driving no more than 5 mph over the speed limit, with no incident. Around quarter to 1 we stopped at a “scenic overlook”, not really knowing what we would see. It was a good stop -an excellent view of the Columbia River Gorge. We will see the Columbia again when we cross from Washington into the Portland area.

Carol's - Yum!About half an hour later we stopped for lunch. It was a place called Kittitas, and if there was a town there, we didn’t see it. There was just a gas station and this place called Carol’s. We just barely saw the billboard for it 1/2 mile before the exit, which said “eat in – take out – drive thru”. We didn’t know what to expect, but we figured it would work. Well, it was quite delicious. It was basically a diner but the service was quick enough to beat Wendy’s for brevity-of-stay. I had probably the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had. Dave had a BLT that was good, and they served us Pepsi. I love the ubiquity of Pepsi (as opposed to Coke) here in the Northwest.

Cascade MountainsBack on the road, we drove through a bit more farmland, then crossed through some hills, drove through another valley, then finally got to the mountains. We also drove through some road construction, but it didn’t slow us down much. Two of the highway construction projects had stimulus project logos; and all of the Washington road construction signs say “Washington Jobs Now”.

We stopped at an outlet mall in North Bend to do some shopping around 3 pm. When we got back on the highway, we were only on I-90 for a bit longer before we turned off on to Rte 18 to start heading south.

It was at this point that I remembered that the Seattle area has some of the worst traffic in the country (though not #3 as I had thought), and here we were, traveling just as rush hour was starting. It took us an hour and a half to go 47 miles.

Finally we arrived at Puyallup at 4:30 pm and were greeted cheerfully by our soon-to-turn-4 niece Madison and her mom Kim. We hung out and played in the backyard with Madison. We went out to dinner at The Ram Restaurant and Brewery, a small chain that recently opened a location near Kim’s house. Then home to read Madison some bedtime stories and call it a night!

Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 8: Montana to Idaho

Today was a leisurely day, compared with the last couple of weeks. We slept in a bit, getting up after 8 am. Instead of cooking our own breakfast and having to wash up, we went to the Many Friends Cafe, which is located within the campground. In the evening, the space is used as a BBQ joint, so the setup is more in keeping with that – more like a picnic shelter than a building, with picnic benches and a hanging firepit in the middle. It was another beautiful day, though, and they had some groovy music playing (G Love with Lemonade, I was told). The menu features omelets and egg sandwiches primarily made using locally grown and/or organic ingredients. I got some delicious vanilla bean tea (made by A Mighty Leaf – I will have to check them out again); then we ordered at the counter and sat down at the picnic bench closest to the firepit to wait for our food. Dave got what was essentially an omelet on a croissant, and I got a berry-granola parfait which was the freshest thing of its kind I’ve ever eaten. We also shared an apple coffee cake that was light and fluffy. If you’re ever in West Glacier, even if you don’t camp at Glacier Campground, I recommend having breakfast at this place.

We went back to the camp site by about 9:30 am, took down the tent etc, and were on the road by 10:30 am.

Flathead LakeThis time we went along the west side of Flathead Lake through Kalispell. It was fun to see the town and to take another route, but it was no less slow than Saturday’s drive had been. It still took us three hours to get back to I-90 – not just because of the construction on Rte 93, and this time not because of the weekend traffic. It’s just a slow drive.

We finally got back to I-90 around 1:30 pm, then had to backtrack to Missoula for lunch, realizing that there wouldn’t be many options as we headed west. We ate in at Quizno’s, where various families that came in for lunch gave us some pretty entertaining people-watching.

We were back on the road heading west by 2:30 pm. The weather was sunny and warm as it had been, but the air quality was much hazier today. As we drove through the mountains in western Montana and into Idaho, the scenery was masked a bit by what was likely either smog or smoke pollution.

We entered Idaho just after 4 pm, though crossing at that point into the Pacific timezone meant that it was now 3 pm. Unlike in South Dakota, when the time on our cell phones took about 15 minutes to change, in this timezone the display changed right away.

Once across the Idaho border, the drive was all downhill. Idaho is not very wide this far north. We came to, and crossed, the Coeur d’Alene River, and then to the edges of Coeur d’Alene Lake. We arrived in the city itself at 5 pm and checked into La Quinta Inn. We were excited about the availability of internet and showers (in that order).

We regrouped in the hotel for a bit, made a few phone calls to arrange next steps in our trip, then went to check out Coeur d’Alene a bit.

Lake Coeur d'AleneCoeur d’Alene is a cute lake resort town. The lake is pretty large, so a lot of people own homes along the banks, and/or have boats to go out on the lake and go waterskiing or whatever. The downtown area is scenic and typical of any resort town, with restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels right on the water. Coeur d’Alene boasts the world’s longest floating boardwalk, which forms a circle around part of the harbor. We poked around a bit – first driving up a hill overlooking the lake (where the sun was really too shiny to see much), then walking around the boardwalk and the lakefront in the downtown area.

For dinner, we went to the Coeur d’Alene Brewing Company. Dave enjoyed some of their craft brews (apparently the Centennial Pale Ale is quite good) and we amused ourselves by listening to the groups at the other tables. The people sitting next to us on the patio had their small chocolate lab, a sweet girl named Mazzy. It made me sad, of course, but she was a cutie and it was fun to pet her when she came sniffing at our table.

We headed back to La Quinta Inn by 9 pm, chilled for a while, then checked out the hot tub. Unfortunately it was not very hot, but it was worth a try.

Some photos of Day 8 are posted here.

Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 7: Glacier National Park

If you ever visit Glacier National Park, I recommend the following:

  • Spend the night before somewhere relatively nearby on the eastern side, such as Great Falls
  • Download the podcast audio tours of the park, which you can listen to while on the Going to the Sun Road shuttle
  • Enter the park on the eastern side, at the St. Mary Entrance, early in the morning while the air is clear
  • Your first view of Glacier National Park will be the iconic view of St. Mary Lake in the glacier valley also called St. Mary, surrounded by tall craggy mountainsView from St Mary Lake
  • Take the boat tour across St. Mary lake, get off at Baring Falls, and hike from there to St. Mary Falls and on to Virginia Falls, then take the shuttle from St. Mary Falls along the Going to the Sun road to Logan Pass, the highest point in the road
  • Then take the shuttle back to St. Mary Visitor Center, get your car, and drive through the park from east to west

We did not do any of the above, but now having been to Glacier, this is what I would have planned, if we had been able to make other choices. It didn’t matter, though, because our day really worked out perfectly.

View from Logan Pass Visitor CenterA brief orientation: Glacier National Park has only one road that goes across it, called the Going-to-the-Sun Road. From east to west, it starts at St. Mary Visitor Center (at the tip of St. Mary Lake), where the prairie ends. The road climbs past some glacier-topped mountains to a pass – Logan Pass – at 6646 ft of elevation. From there it winds its way downward and across the park, hugging the mountains, then McDonald Creek, and down to Lake McDonald. You can drive across Glacier along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which takes a couple of hours. Or you can take two shuttles – one that goes from St. Mary Visitor Center to Logan Pass, and then another that goes from Logan Pass to the Apgar Transit Center at the western end of the park.

There are a number of other areas of Glacier that are not accessible from the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Rather, you have to drive up the east or west side of the park and take roads across to get into the mountain areas of each of these zones. We didn’t visit any of these areas, but no doubt they are beautiful.

Check out our Glacier photos from Day 7 here.

Back to our adventure: we had stayed on the west side of the park because we believed we were more likely to find a campground on that side. This is likely true, and as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, we ended up at a lovely campground just outside the western entrance to the park. We left our campground at about quarter to 8 in the morning and got to the Apgar Transit Center just barely in time to catch the 8 am shuttle to Logan Pass.

Heaven's Peak, as seen from the Going-to-the-Sun RoadWhile on the shuttle, Dave snapped photos and we chit-chatted with the driver and some of the passengers. The driver shared that she had seen a bear when she got into her bus that morning. The bear saw her, and she carefully slipped into the bus, and there was no trouble. =)

Travel up the Going-to-the-Sun Road was a bit precarious – it is a rather winding road, and the surface and shoulder were torn up in a few places due to construction. We were so glad to not have to be the ones driving.

Dave and Jenn in front of Jackson GlacierWe arrived at Logan Pass at about 9:20 am, made use of the restroom there at the top of the road, and took a few photos. Then we caught the 9:30 am shuttle toward the St. Mary Visitor Center. We got off two stops later at the Gunsight Pass Trailhead. At this spot is a perfect view of the Jackson Glacier, so we took several shots here before hitting the trail.

We also took a few moments to honor Lucas, as Dave clipped Lucas’ dog tags to my backpack. I wept for our absent hiking companion as we started down the trail.

Reynolds Creek - Deadwood FallsWe started hiking around 10 am. The trail was perfect for us – relatively flat and shady. About half an hour into the hike, we came across Reynolds Creek’s Deadwood Falls, and admired the beautiful water in the sunshine. Fortunately this was also an opportunity to be passed by the youth group that had been trailing about a hundred yards behind us.

Overgrown trail - Gunsight Pass TrailWe continued hiking, and the trail at times was very overgrown. A few times, the tall flowers were higher than my head! We were thankful that it was warm and sunny, but not too hot that we felt uncomfortable wearing pants – it would have been awkward wearing shorts in such overgrowth.

St Mary FallsAt 11:30 am we found ourselves at St. Mary Falls. There were a number of people coming and going, and Dave ended up taking photos for a few of the groups. I told him he should work for tips.

Jenn and Dave at Virginia FallsWe then continued up the trail to Virginia Falls. It was a deceptive trail: it climbed a bit, then there were some falls, then it climbed some more, then more falls, etc. I noticed that a lot of hikers seemed to think they had reached the Virginia Falls when they got to the first set of falls. Fortunately Dave checked the map, and we knew we got to the “real” Virginia Falls when we arrived at a bridge that crossed the creek. Also, it turned out there was a sign that pointed toward the Virginia Falls overlook.

We arrived here around 12:15 pm and had lunch under a tree growing out of the rocks next to the river that flowed beneath the falls. It was a peaceful and scenic spot to have lunch. We took a few photos and then got back on the trail by 12:45 pm.

All in all, we probably hiked about 5 miles – a good hike for us.

Our aim was to get back to the road and take the shuttle onward. We had to double back past St. Mary Falls, back to the original trail, and then follow the signs to the Sun Road. However, when we got there, the only evidence of the shuttle stop was a tiny (2 in x 2 in) sign on the side of the trailhead post with a shuttle symbol and an arrow pointing to the right. We were in the middle of a parking lot beside the road, where there was no shuttle stop sign. We took a few steps in the direction indicated by the arrow, but didn’t see anything. We walked back to the other end of the parking lot, where a middle-aged couple was just hanging out in the shade. They acted surprised that we didn’t know the shuttle stop was in the other direction. We hiked back that way and about 100 yards away from the parking lot, but saw nothing but the road curving away. We walked all the way back to the previously mentioned couple, where they gave us more detail: the shuttle stop was perhaps another 1/4 mile down the road.

Tour boat on St Mary LakeSo frustrating, but we finally found it, and the shuttle came about 10 minutes later, at approximately 1:35 pm.Our next aim was to take the 2 pm bus tour across St. Mary Lake, but as the bus poked east along the road, we were really wondering if we were going to make it. The shuttle came across the bend at Rising Sun Boat Dock, and we could see that the boat was still at the dock. As we pulled into the parking lot and got dropped off at the shuttle stop, we were amazed to see that the boat still hadn’t pulled away, and it was after 2 pm! We ran toward the dock and asked the woman on the shore if we could get on the 2 pm tour. At first she told us no, because the boat was full, but then she went to double-check the numbers and came back to tell us that we could! She made it a point to emphasize that we must pay once we returned, but that she was glad we could squeeze on.

View from St Mary LakeThe boat tour was very relaxing after hiking 5 miles. It was informative – the tour guide shared information about how the lake had been formed glaciers millions of years ago.

She also talked about much more recent history, when the park was first developed for tourists. The original owners of the park created a series of chalets, and one of them had been on a point that jutted into the lake. Visitors arrived by boat and were taken up to the chalets in an elevator system. Once the park service gained ownership of the park, including the chalets, it burned this one down and bulldozed it into the lake. I was highly amused by this.

Baring FallsThe ride across the lake took about 40 minutes, and then we pulled into a dock where we were encouraged to take the very short hike (5 minutes max) up to Baring Falls. Dave and I had originally considered hiking to these falls as the final leg of our morning hike, but this was much easier. The port stop was about 20 minutes, long enough for everyone to poke around and get some photos of the falls. Then it was a leisurely 30 minute boat ride back across the lake.

Back at Rising Sun Boat Dock, we waited a long time for the shuttle. It finally arrived around 4:15 pm. We had to watch our time, to be sure we caught the shuttle westward early enough to make the connection at Logan Pass to take us back to our car at Apgar. We told ourselves that we could spend no longer than an hour at St. Mary. Once we got there, we found that this wasn’t even a concern. There was really very little to see at the Visitor Center. We poked around, bought a few postcards, admired the osprey nest, etc.

As we waited for the next shuttle back to Logan Pass (they run every 30 minutes), we had ample time to admire the view. As I mentioned at the beginning, the scene at St. Mary Visitor Center truly is the iconic view of Glacier National Park. It was starting to get a bit hazy by that point in the afternoon, but the water in the lake was still an incredible blue, and it was a marked contrast next to the mountains and the glaciers above it. As I watched, I noticed curvy streaks in the sky, evidence of the airstream there on the edge of the east side of the continental divide.

Logan Pass Visitor Center, with Reynolds Mountain in backgroundSomething must have been going wrong with the shuttle bus and/or drivers, because it wasn’t until after 5:15 pm that a fairly surly guy came out to start up the shuttle and get us all going. After that, though, the trip went really smoothly. As soon as we got off the first shuttle at Logan Pass, there was a shuttle to Apgar ready and waiting. We got on that shuttle and it left immediately – leaving enough spaces in the bus to pick up additional passengers later on the route. It would have been a good opportunity to nap, except that the ride was so bouncy. It was better to enjoy the scenery anyway, and to listen to the amusing conversations of the other passengers.

We finally arrived at the Apgar Transit Center at 7:15 pm, having been on buses for two hours straight. Still, we couldn’t complain – at least we didn’t have to drive! We were thrilled to realize that we probably drove a total of 3 miles today – a big contrast from the previous several days.

We did a bit of shopping there in the Apgar Village, and got back to camp around 8 pm. Our camp neighbors across the road had a very rowdy but good-natured game going – something that involved tossing little disks into holes in boxes. They were amusing to listen to. We had hot dogs and beans for dinner, then make a campfire and watched the wood burn for a while. We were too sleepy to do much else, and were in bed around 11 pm.

Cross Country Trip

Road Trip Day 6: Drive to Glacier National Park

Montana Skies #3This morning we got up at 7 am, and after showering, we were treated to a nutritious and delicious pancake breakfast home-cooked by Kristen’s dad, topped with homemade chokecherry syrup and fresh strawberries on the side. Yum! Unfortunately we couldn’t stay to have fun adventures with our friends, because we had to get ourselves to Glacier National Park as early as possible, knowing there was a very good chance that we might not get a campsite for the evening. We drove off at 9 am, waving goodbye as we drove out the gravel road, while the kids chased us as far as they could run.

We fueled up in Hardin, and then drove for as long as we possibly could. We got as far as Livingston, MT, where we took a bathroom break and got some groceries at Albertson’s. We got back on the interstate and realized that there wouldn’t be many options for lunch once we passed Bozeman (which was just a few miles after our stop in Livingston), so we got off the highway again there. We got lunch from Dairy Queen, and topped off the gas tank. We ate lunch in the car so we could continue to make progress across the great state of Montana.

Montana Skies #2This section of I-90 may be the most beautiful. It follows the river known as Clark Fork as it snakes around and through several different mountain ranges. The river, the pine-covered hills, the different sets of snow-capped mountains in the background – it is all breathtakingly gorgeous. There was one spot where there were a few different people bicycling along the side of the interstate. Seemed crazy to me, but they looked like they were traveling through – with packs tied to the back of their bicycles.

We stopped briefly in Butte to grab some Starbucks, where the extroverted barista told us that Glacier is the best national park, and pshawed Yellowstone.

Finally we got through Missoula, and exited the interstate at Rte 89 around 3:45 pm. We stopped at the travel plaza for the usual bathroom and gasoline break, then started heading north toward Glacier.

It was a LOOOOOONG drive. Just a few miles north of I-90 there was a serious road construction project going on that had the entire road torn up for 14 miles. Some of the driving was actually more like off-roading. It was slow going. Finally past the construction, we were able to go full speed for a little bit, and then came up over a hill to see a spectacular view of Flathead Lake, a beautiful and quite large recreational lake, on which Kalispell is located to the west. We took the eastern route around the lake. This drive was painfully slow – after all, it was Saturday, and there were a lot of people going to and from their lake homes, etc. I just wish they could all learn to drive the speed limit instead of 10 mph under. =(

FINALLY we arrived at the west entrance to Glacier National Park at around 6 pm, only to learn that all of the campgrounds in the park were full. So discouraging! We stopped at the visitor’s center for a quick restroom break and then turned around and headed back out the park.

Our Campsite Outside of Glacier NPI was anxious that we might spend the rest of the evening playing the “no room at the inn” game. However, God took care of us – the first campground we came to, about a mile outside the park, had plenty of tent campsites. It was a really nice, shady site in the woods. The tent spot was a tight squeeze for our big tent, but it worked. After we got everything set up, we discussed the option of pulling up stakes in the morning to try to get a spot in the park. Ultimately we decided that this campground was very nice, AAA approved, had good bathrooms, and was convenient, so there was no reason to move. Dave went back and paid for a second night, and we settled in.

For dinner I made stir fry with tuna, bellpepper, and onions, over rice. It was a light healthy meal. We were so tired we didn’t even bother making a campfire. We chilled out in the tent for the rest of the evening before going to bed around 10:30 pm. Here in the northwestern part of the Mountain time zone, it wasn’t even completely dark by the time I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

A few more photos of Day 6 can be found here.

Cross Country Trip, Service Projects

Road Trip Day 5: South Dakota and Montana

Sunrise at our Campsite - HDRI had set the alarm for this morning for 6 am, and when it went off, it was still dark. The sun had not yet risen over the mountains just to the east of us. We had slept fairly comfortably given that our tent was set up on soft grass, but it seemed very early and we were really tired. I hit snooze a few times, but we finally got up and got ourselves going, and were able to enjoy a lovely sunrise. Dave took lots of photos of the early morning sun on the Crazy Horse Memorial.

About an hour later I looked at the clock on my phone and had to double-check twice.

“Dave, I have to tell you something that you’re not going to like,” I said. “What?” he asked. “I accidentally got us up at 5 am. Sorry.” All he could say was, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Obviously we had reset all the clocks for Mountain Time *except* for the alarm clock. I made sure not to let that happen again.

The dew had started to fall last night before we were even done eating dinner. At 6 o’clock in the morning, as the sun started to rise, our tent, camp chairs, and the picnic table were soaking wet. It was apparent that it would take a while for it all to dry out.

Crazy Horse from the VC Parking LotOnce we got ourselves together, we drove back to the Crazy Horse Memorial, which opened at 7:00 am. Even though we were there a half hour after opening, the woman at the entrance gate made a comment about us being early birds. I told her, “We’re awake, we figured we should take advantage of it!” We were glad we did, too, because there were very few people when we arrived, and it started to get really busy as we were leaving just a couple of hours later.

We watched the orientation video about the Crazy Horse Memorial project’s history and current status. We wandered around the visitor center for a while. At 8 am, Dave went out to make a few phone calls to try to organize our next activity. We were hoping to visit Jewel Cave, but as Dave made phone calls, we found that all the morning tours were booked. He also called Wind Cave and learned that we could get in on a first-come, first-served basis. We decided to take our chances with that.

Scale Model of Crazy Horse - HDROnce we had that straight, we spent a little more time at the visitor’s center facilities at Crazy Horse. The place is laid out so that you drive up from the main road to the visitor’s center, which is a mile or so from the base of the mountain itself. The initial entrance fee is $10 each (or $27 per car if you have more than 2 people in your vehicle). Once you get to the visitor’s center, you find that you can pay an additional $4 per person to take a bus tour to the base of the mountain. And, if you really want to see Crazy Horse up close and personal – and really feel inspired enough to support the project – you can pay about $150 to take the special tour up to the top. This all sounds really outrageous until you learn that this multi-million dollar project is being funded exclusively through entrance fees, donations, and profits made by selling items in the various stores at the visitor’s center. Apparently the foundation has been offered federal funding at least twice, but the founder of the project was a free-market libertarian, so they will never accept government funding. It will probably take 200 years (my estimate) for the thing to be completed. Fascinating.

All that to say, Dave and I limited our enjoyment of Crazy Horse to the terrace at the visitor’s center.

We left Crazy Horse around 9:15 am and went back to the campground to take down our now-dryish tent.

Then we drove down Rte 385 south to Wind Cave National Park. We got there around 10:15 am, and the tour we wanted to take (the “Natural Entrance Tour”) was at 11 am. So we poked around in the visitor’s center a bit, learning about the history of the cave, etc. Then we went outside under a shelter, where the group gathered to begin the tour. As we headed to the cave entrance, I noticed a black line of clouds heading our way.

Wind Cave Natural EntranceThe park ranger, Justin, was personable and knowledgeable. He showed us the original entrance to the cave (the natural entrance) which was a hole that couldn’t have been more than 24″ wide. It was amazing to think that the original explorers of the cave would give tours to groups and require them to squeeze through such a tiny space. Needless to say, Justin didn’t guide the tour group down this entrance.

Inside Wind Cave #2The cave itself was pretty cool. Wind Cave is very unique for several reasons, the most geologically interesting of which is that it has formations seen in very few other caves. These formations are called boxwork. There are none of the stereotypical stalactites and stalagmites – mostly just lots of boxwork.

Another aspect of the tour that was fun was toward the beginning, when Justin gathered the entire group into a large space, and showed us what the lighting would have been like for the original explorers, who used a candle bucket. You can’t see much detail carrying just a candle, or even much of the floor. Dave and I were glad that we didn’t end up taking the Candlelight Tour, which we had been hoping to do rather than the Natural Entrance tour. After Justin showed us the lighting with the candle bucket, he then blew out the candle, and we got to experience the cave in complete darkness. It was remarkable – you can’t even see your hand a centimeter in front of your face. As Justin explained, this is complete darkness – your eyes can’t adjust to this kind of darkness.

The tour was about 1 1/4 hours long, and we were glad we took the time for it. After we came up (exiting the cave via elevator) and went outside, we found that it had rained, but was now clearing and becoming beautifully sunny. Perfect timing for us!

Deer @ Wind Cave NPOn our way toward the visitor’s center, we passed some prairie dog colonies, so of course I wanted to stop and watch them for a bit. As we drove back, we noticed a mule deer buck with a beautiful set of antlers. Dave took some photos and he stared at us the entire time.

Prarie Dog @ Wind Cave NPWe watched the prairie dogs play for a bit, then stopped at a turnout to have some peanut butter sandwiches. It turned out there were prairie dogs right at the parking lot there, so we watched them a bit and took a few more prairie dog photos.

Anna Miller Museum #2Then we headed toward Montana via Wyoming. We stopped briefly in Newcastle, WY to take photos of the Anna Miller Museum, to amuse Dave’s mom (whose name is Anna Mary). By now it was past 3 pm, so we didn’t have the time to enjoy all that the Anna Miller Museum had to offer. Instead, we got back on the road and headed back to I-90, which took another hour or so.

Check out our Day 5 photos.

Once on the interstate, we drove through Wyoming for about 3 hours. We saw many incredible vistas in Wyoming as we headed west toward the Rockies, and then stayed north as the interstate worked its way along the feet of the great mountain range. As we cut across the northeastern part of Wyoming, the corn and soy fields had pretty much disappeared. Most of the land we drove through was grazing land for cattle – not many crops being grown there. It has a very wide-open feel.

We crossed into Montana around 5:15 pm, and fortunately didn’t have much further to go to get to our friends’ house in Hardin. We got to their farm just after 6 pm, after managing to just avoid being struck by a long train hauling tons and tons of coal. (There are no RR crossing gates here in Hardin to warn you not to drive across!)

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and hanging out with our friend Kristen, her kids Hannah (7), Caleb (5), and Toby (3), and her parents Dave and Bonnie. We had a delicious home-grilled steak dinner, played with the kids, and had a late-night philosophical talk with Kristen. We stayed up a bit later than we should have, but it was great to have a chance to spend time with good friends.