If you've been reading chronologically, you know that Day 7 started with a jolting bear encounter (see Part 3 here if you need to catch up). The plan for today was to travel over the border into the United States and drive the famous Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. But sometimes the world just has different ideas as to how you spend your day...
We successfully crossed the border, but not without relinquishing some fruit. Oddly, that beautiful California orange that we purchased in Calgary wasn't allowed back in its home country.
The entry to Going-To-The-Sun Road was only another 30 miles south in the town of Saint Mary, Montana. Upon our arrival, we were met with some large signs telling us that the road was closed due to snow and ice. Now, as New Englanders, we just assumed the snow and ice would be a distant memory by the end of May. Poor planning on our part! If we'd done our research more thoroughly, we would have known that this scenic road really has no solid opening date, that it's all weather dependent, and that, most years, the road isn't fully open and accessible all the way through Glacier until late June.
We were bummed that we wouldn't be able to drive such an iconic road, but so thankful to see that the Saint Mary Visitor Center was open for business (and conveniently located right next to the closed road). Andy went in and grabbed some pamphlets of things to see nearby because this road closure was going to significantly alter our plans for the day.
Pro Travel Tip: Visitor centers are essential, especially if you are traveling without much cell service. Talking to a real person about cool things to do in the area is really the best way to go sometimes. If a Visitor Center isn't apparent, we've found that grocery store cashiers have some pretty good knowledge to share too.
In the parking lot, we talked out our options and ultimately decided to head toward Lower Two Medicine Lake on our way to something called the Goat Lick Overlook, (case in point: a cashier at the grocery store told us this would be worth it). Basically, a bunch of goats licking the rocks near the river for their minerals. The very literal titles for everything around these parts is so refreshing.
Okay, with a new plan in place, we hit the road. Highway 89 would bring us down to our turnoff for Lower Two Medicine Lake.
In July of 2006, the Red Eagle Fire burned over 34,000 acres along Highway 89. The fire affected the land of Glacier National Park and that of the Blackfeet Tribal Land to the east of the park. The devastation here when we arrived (nearly 9 years later) was still clear as day. There was another big wildfire in the same spot only 2 months after we visited.
We rounded a corner and pulled over so that Andy could take some photographs of Glacier's mountains in the distance.
The scorched trees were haunting and surreal.
I wandered a bit down the road and heard Andy yelling my name. When I turned toward him, he silently motioned behind me and I was struck with fear that we were going to experience another bear encounter. When I turned around, this is what I saw across the road.
A curious bull moose was perched on the hill, just watching us. I know moose can be dangerous, but we felt pretty safe. The moose was up on a hill with a steep incline. And we had a road between us. We got to spend a few solid minutes looking at each other. He made a few attempts to come down the hill, but ultimately retreated into the woods behind him. (Side story: I sent the above photo to an oil painter to recreate this photo in a rainbow of colors. The painting hangs in our living room and we have since named the moose Herman.)
A few more miles down the road and we came upon more four-legged friends.
At first, Andy and I romanticized these horses as being wild and free. But then we spotted their branded butts and knew that wasn't the case. Still, what a bunch of beauties!!
This mama and her foal were straight up supermodeling for Andy's lens.
On the road to Lower Two Medicine Lake, we were treated to spectacular views of Glacier National Park.
To top it off, we also spotted a fox and some wild dogs close to the lake. All in all, a banner day in terms of animal sightings!!
Just off Route 49, we pulled off the side of the road to view the lake from above. Down a small path from the road, these two crosses marked the area where Native American ashes had been scattered.
A drizzle became a straight up torrent and I think we passed Goat Lick twice before deciding there was nothing to see there in that kind of weather. So we circled back toward Browning, Montana, which is where we would be laying our heads for the evening.
A sign on a house in East Glacier caught our eye as the rain let up a bit: WORLD'S LARGEST WOODEN SPOON SHOP. I mean, you have to stop when you see that, right? So we did.
We dodged some giant puddles and went up to the rickety porch of small cabin. A sign on the front door said to ring the bell. Eventually, a man named John opened up the door and led us into The Spiral Spoon. Every wall was covered in wooden spoons for sale. They are all made right there on premises by a small crew of wood carving folks. There's a video about their whole operation here, if you care to know the whole story.
For us, the place was magical. I don't think Andy or I ever fancied ourselves spoon aficionados, but we really appreciated the craftsmanship behind these spoons, not to mention the passion these folks had for spoon-making. We handled a LOT of spoons (each one was different in its own way) and ultimately bought a flat-edged hickory saute spoon and a walnut coffee scoop that John said was "guaranteed to be 100% inaccurate every time".
He lifted his 10 gallon hat with a "ma'am" when we left. It was a beautiful Montana experience. At nearly $70, we joke that is the most expensive spoon we'll ever own. They have an online store here. If you're in the market for a beautifully made wooden spoon, The Spiral Spoon has what you're looking for.
Our hotel in Browning was, I thought, conveniently located next to the Glacier Peaks Casino. Browning is part of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and there's really not much to do or see there. So we took a soak in the hotel jacuzzi, then headed next door to the casino for what I thought might be a fun night of good food and gambling. Well, the good food did not exist there. And the casino was so choked with smoke, it was unbearable to stay more than 10 minutes. Quickest $40 I ever threw away.
When we woke up early the next morning, all we wanted to do was get the hell out of Browning. The bed had been incredibly uncomfortable, and showering hadn't done a thing to get the ashtray smell out of my hair. We made a bee-line to the rental car.
About two hours north (and back up over the border in Canada), the town of Lethbridge awaited our arrival. Andy wanted to photograph a bridge there. Route 62 in Alberta was a painfully boring drive dotted with occasional bewildered commentary by one of us. "Who lives out here?" "I think that's an oil field." "Where do people get their groceries?" "FedEx probably takes longer to deliver around these parts."
But we made it to Lethbridge and ate a proper breakfast at Mocha Cabana, where the brunch menu was fabulous. The waitress was sweet as pie but gave us some bad intel as to how to get to the famous bridge in Lethbridge. So we spent some time meandering along Old Man River...no, really, the river was called Old Man River...to see if we could locate it ourselves. We eventually asked some people on the banks of the river if they knew where the big railroad bridge was and they guided us a couple of miles downriver.
The fog kept the mood just right around this massive bridge.
Andy and I climbed a few trails to get some different vantage points of this beast. Impressive isn't even the word - we felt like tiny ants next to this thing.
On our way out of town, we spotted a Real Canadian Superstore* and instantly knew we had to conduct a very serious mission. It was time for Operation Chip Ship.
*For those not familiar, a Real Canadian Superstore is a mega grocery store chain.
Ever since we visited Nova Scotia, we've been obsessed with President's Choice brand potato chips. The flavor options are off the hook. We found the chip aisle and loaded up with so many new fun flavors: Maple Bacon, Buffalo Wing & Blue Cheese, Jalapeno Popper, Baby Back Ribs, Sriracha, and (my favorite) Canadian Burger. We quickly realized there was no way this amount of chips would fit in our suitcases, so we flagged down an employee who graciously went out back to fund us a big box.
Long story short, we spent a buttload of money FedExing ourselves these chips. A week or so after we had arrived back to Boston, the box gloriously appeared on our doorstep and everything in the world was right.
In the final entry of our Canadian Rockies adventure, we'll: ...stand on a glass floor 626 feet above Calgary ...recreate the scene in Pee Wee's Big Adventure where Pee Wee and Simone sit inside the mouth of a dinosaur ...and cause $9,000 worth of damage to our rental car!