Thursday, June 3, 2010

When fate says "Move along"

We spent the night at what might best be described as a rest area, right at the summit of Marias Pass on the Continental Divide (map). It is actually a Forest Service facility (as opposed to a state-operated rest area, where overnight stays are prohibited) with parking for cars and larger vehicles, a pair of vault toilets, and a 60' obelisk. The obelisk marks the great divide and is a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt; it once stood between the travel lanes of US-2. A few feet away is a statue of Frank Stevens, who "discovered" the pass for the Great Northern Railway, just across the highway from our parking spot.

Immediately adjacent to this rest area is actually a Forest Service campground, fittingly called "Summit." Our directory said it would be open from April onwards, but it was closed by locked gates when we arrived. There was no signage explaining why, but a document buried deep within the Forest's web site said it was closed until June 6th for replacement of the picnic tables. The tables look fine to us when we walked the loops later on.

We had previously stopped about ten miles west of the summit at another Forest Service campground, Devil's Creek, which was open, and empty save for the camp host. After circling the loop, we concluded we'd never get on line there, and the view was not particularly appealing, so we had opted to press on to Summit, not realizing it would be closed. (We'd likely have had trouble getting the dish on-line at the Summit campground, too, due to trees, but had no trouble from the rest area.)

After circling the rest area and reading every sign, none of which prohibited overnight parking, we reasoned we'd be safe just parking for the night. We did have company, with a big rig already there when we arrived (he pulled out at first light this morning), and a travel trailer and a pickup camper joining us later in the evening. We had a spectacular view of the mountains past the monuments and the train tracks.

It did get cold at the summit, and last night the winds picked up to 30kt or so, gusting higher. The NWS actually issued high wind warnings for the whole region which did not expire until just an hour ago. We were cozy in Odyssey, but after she went to bed Louise informed me that the extra 8" of rubber rain gutter molding we had left in place at Infinity was going to either keep us awake or drive us crazy. (The last time we replaced the molding, we cut it "just right," and it shrank over the next few weeks until it was 6" too short, so this time we left extra to account for it.) So I ended up clambering onto the roof in ~35kt winds, in the rain, in the dark, scissors in hand, to trim the rubber.

Yesterday after traversing a new-to-us section of US-2 between Columbia Falls and West Glacier, we turned north into the park to check out the Apgar campground, for a possible night in the park complete with dinner at one of the restaurants in Apgar. The town is just as we remembered it from five years ago, and the campground was open, mostly empty, and would easily accommodate Odyssey, notwithstanding dire warnings on the web site that only 25 (of nearly 200) spaces could fit a 40' rig. But the weather was terrible -- cold and raining -- and the park's main attraction, the Going to the Sun Road, is still closed for the season. Coupled with the fact that we'd never get on-line there and the amenities in Apgar are not National Park Grand Lodge caliber, we opted to continue east.

After our night on the summit we had been debating whether to proceed from there to the Two Medicine campground at the east edge of the park, so we could spend at least another day in the beauty of the mountains before heading to the plains. The forecast, however, is for highs in the mid-50s and lows in the mid-30s for the next several days, with rain on and off the whole time, as well as intermittent winds. In that sort of weather we're unlikely to even leave the bus, let alone take the scooters out and ride the 13 miles back to the Glacier Park Lodge for a nice dinner. At least we'd get on line there, and the lake is supposed to be lovely.

We decided instead to drive down the hill to East Glacier Park in time for a 1pm Red Cross conference call, since neither of our phones had a decent signal on the summit. We found a parking spot in front of an abandoned business here in town, across the tracks from the lodge (map). We deployed the dish and dialed in to our call, which ran over an hour, and then we walked the three blocks to what the road signage indicated would be an RV park, confirmed by a map I downloaded from the lodge.

That, too, turned out to still be closed for the season, not that it was at all appealing even if it had been open. But we'd do it if the price was right, just so we could take the short walk to the lodge for a nice dinner at the Great Northern restaurant. By this time we're thinking that someone is trying to tell us something. After a brief consult with the map, we decided we could have an early dinner here at the lodge, then drive the hour or so to Cut Bank, where there is an Elks lodge with parking. Sunset here is 9:30, so we'd still be making the drive in plenty of daylight.

So we walked over to the lodge to walk the grounds and to see about reservations, since I had not been able to get through on the phone all day. As it turns out, there is a good reason for that: the power went out in East Glacier Park just after 8am this morning, and it does not look good for having it restored before sundown. The lodge is cooking some kind of dinner on a propane grill for its guests; most of the other restaurants here in town simply have "closed due to power outage" on their doors.

We did enjoy very much walking around the hotel, taking in the majestic great room, with many guests huddled around the massive fireplace (with no power, the hotel has no heat). The gift shop was open, courtesy of some flashlights and one of those old-fashioned manual credit-card imprinters, and we bought a souvenir pin and a pair of chocolate-covered huckleberries. But with no reason to believe the dining room would be open for dinner, we've decided to just move along. In a few minutes we will stow the dish and continue to Cut Bank.

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