EASTWARD HO! TOWARD BIG SKY COUNTRY

This post, second in a series regarding a recent trip to Montana, talks about going there.

I’m somewhat of a bag lady, myself.  Having been born during the Great Depression and raised (by parents from two large, hungry families) many miles from the nearest grocery store, but where folks from “down the valley” liked to come for Dad’s trading and Mom’s good cooking, I learned early to  “make sure there’s enough”.   My daughter, Mary, laughs at me because of course grocery stores are all around, but early training tends to rule.  And of course we were heading for Montana, where grocery stores aren’t always just down the street.

So I added a bunch of stuff to Kathy’s already well-stocked motor home cupboards, cargo bins, nooks and crannies –not forgetting, before we had gone far, to tuck in a 50-pound bag of Walla Walla Sweet onions.

Kathy’s many years of experience with motor homes made her the designated driver.   My many years of this-n-that made me the self-proclaimed navigator.  Ahem!   Well, we didn’t argue ALL the time… the steering wheel was in Kathy’s hands.

As itineraries traditionally include time constraints, so did ours, of course.   Kathy’s first big Montana goal was Bozeman and her high school class reunion over the July 4 weekend.   Although I’m not deliberately a foot-dragger,  it does take me a little time to change gears and direction.  Especially since my son, Steve, and grandson, Skyler, were visiting me, and Steve was working through my “honey-do” list.  All in all, as Kathy’s invitation to travel had caught me by surprise, I took 2-3 days to get ready.   Kathy didn’t pace the floor and grumble, but the itinerary waited impatiently.

As I recall, right after prayer for safe journey for us and safe road-crossing for the deer in our path, Kathy asked the first navigation question, “Shall we go by Tri-Cities or Colfax?”   Steve, had said that the Colfax route to Spokane was shorter and took less time.  So Kathy turned eastward on Interstate-12.  We were on our way from the Walla Walla Valley toward Montana’s big sky, traveling backward along the Lewis and Clark route.   

Kathy’s next navigation question was,  “What road shall we take over the Rockies?”  As you might have guessed, I’m for scenic.  So I told her about the three northern routes with which I am familiar, perhaps emphasizing the scenery along the third option.

(1).  I-90:  through Spokane and a couple of relatively low passes over the Rockies.  The good commercial road — 4-lane, fast, but not overly scenic.  And she had gone that way before.

(2). A route I found on the map several years ago.  That trip was a horror story all by itself, and I wouldn’t even tell Kathy where the road crosses the Divide.

(3).   I-12 and and Lolo Pass:  scenic but crooked road, and more of the Lewis and Clark route.  Not having traveled in a motor home before, I didn’t think to tell Kathy that this highway is 2-lane and narrow-shouldered, as well as crooked.  She turned off that way,  to my delight, but found it miserable for motor home driving!

The Clearwater River — which I remembered as placid, and apparently very nice for canoes  (see 2009 photo below)                          Clearwater River in early morning mist,  August 13, 2009

— was on a tear this time.  The water, remarkably clear considering that its was the result of rapid snow melt in the mountains, was very high and galloped wildly beside the highway.  I wanted SO MUCH to record those scenes with the camera, but there were few spots for parking a motor home.  (Hence, the numerous 2009 photos in this post.)

Steep steep, evergreen covered Bitterroot Mountains -- Aug 2009 photo

Historical Marker near Lolo Pass, 2009

As for Kathy, the crooked, narrow road necessitated slow driving, and she was just eager to get out of the mountains and on toward Bozeman and Mt. Ellis Academy.

The Lewis and Clark expedition had come westward up the Missouri River.  Then, when they encountered the three forks (which they named “Gallatin”, “Jefferson”, “Madison”) forming its headwaters, they continued into the mountains via the Jefferson.

We were traveling the other direction, of course, down the eastern slope of the Rockies.   Kathy’s graduating class had planned a raft float on the Gallatin as part of their weekend fun.  However, the same snow melt conditions that sent the Clearwater tumbling westward toward the Columbia and the Pacific Ocean also swelled the rivers flowing eastward toward the Missouri, Mississippi and the Gulf.   They were out of their banks with chocolate milk-colored water.  WAY out of their banks, and the Gallatin River float was cancelled.

Unfortunately, I didn’t record which rivers is shown below, but this is what we saw a lot of as we drove through the Three Forks basin.

On-the-road window shot of flooding upstream from Three Forks

Stay tuned for the next leg of our trip, Mt. Ellis Academy.   Oh, wait!  I can’t resist giving you a window glimpse of the Big Sky and a sundown rain squall there.

Sunset rain on the window.

:}  Smiles

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This entry was posted in History, Montana, Nature, Photo Essay, Travel, western United States and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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