Sunday, July 18, 2010

Big Sky Country

We are in the Big Sky Country of the Great State of Montana. We came out of Yellowstone and headed up US 287 to the Madison River Valley. We passed Hebgen Lake, a man made lake from the Hebgen Dam Project. Following that we ran into the most God-awful place that we had seen in a long time. A small lake had drowned out all the trees and the whole mountain was scarred. We thought it was another dam project gone bad, but it turned out to be earthquake damage. There was a huge earthquake in 1959, the 4th worst in US history. One side of Hebgen Lake dropped 20 feet and it created a 35-foot wave that overflowed the dam. Everyone though the dam had burst. That earthquake also caused a landslide that bought one whole side of the mountain down and the debris rolled half way up the other side. That dammed up the Madison River at this point and created Earthquake Lake. Thankfully this is a lightly populated area, but it still stranded hundreds of people and killed scores. The amount of material that slide of that mountain to create this dam is calculated to be ten times the amount used to create Hoover Dam.

Further down the valley we stayed in the town of Ennis. The river valley here was carved long ago by glaciers and it over 20 miles across surrounded by huge snow capped mountain peaks. The river is king here and Ennis is one of the fly-fishing capitals of America. Also along the river are numerous rafting and kayaking companies. Our group stayed dry, except for the libation.

We enjoyed a day trip over the western mountains to the old mining towns of Virginia and Nevada Cities. Adler Gulch created a boom with placer gold discovered in the 1860’s and once had 35,000 people living along its banks. Nevada City is a ghost town now, but still has an operating inn, bakery and saloon. Virginia City now has few hundred residents but continues in the 1800’s motif. Both are worth a visit if you are in the area. We also did a day trip over the other side of the mountains to Big Sky Ski Resort and had a wonderful lunch at the top of the mountain at the beautiful Moonlight Peak Resort.

The highlight of our Montana trip had to be our stop in Helena. It is the state capitol and a beautiful little town. We stayed at our first “free” campsite at the local Wal-Mart. That free night cost us over $1000 in prescriptions, groceries and miscellaneous junk we put into our cart as we toured the store, not once but three times.

The highlight of Helena however was not our Wal-Mart experience, but dinner that night with Suzanne Bessette. Suzanne’s whole family dived with us all over the world for many years. We watched Suzanne grow from her early elementary school days. She is now a practicing environmental attorney in Helena working with wind power issues. We had not seen Suzanne for almost 15 years and it was wonderful to catch up on what has been going on in her and her sister Jeannine’s lives. Jeannine is just finishing a master degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Michigan. Suzanne says that she will be returning to her hometown of Ann Arbor and take the Michigan Bar exam. If you know of anyone who is looking for professional help, we can highly recommend both of these ultra intelligent, highly experienced ladies.

Our next stop on our way north was Glacier National Park. Here we drove the Going to the Sun Road, the backcountry dirt roads and experienced the bike paths. All were wonderful and offered fantastic and varied views of this national gem. Many of the peaks still support glaciers and the valley walls are steep and deep. The glacial runoff produces clear turquoise lakes. Mule deer roamed our campground as well as all along the road. On one bike trip we had a brown bear cub only about 50 feet off the trail. Of course we did not have a camera. We were a bit concerned about where its mother was, so we did not disturb it and continued on our way. In the high mountain passes, we saw a number of mountain goats and even one big horn sheep in a construction area. The park was extremely busy, but we still really enjoyed it.

We all know that it is a women’s prerogative to change her mind. After issuing orders last week, that the coach would turn around at Glacier and head back south, the General now says, “North to Alaska, Let’s go, Let’s go, Let’s go.” So tomorrow morning (Monday, July 18th) we will cross the Canadian border head towards the Alcan Highway on our way to Alaska. We have no internet or cell service now and we are not sure when we will get this message out. We will not have any cell service in Canada and we will there for about 8 days to two weeks. We are going to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory before we hit Alaska. We do hope to have some internet service along the way taking advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots. If you need to get a hold of us, please try first by e-mail and if unsuccessful please call Jim Richards at Rec Diving, 248-549-0303 and he might be able to get a hold of us with a computer call.

We hope that you have all had a wonderful week. We have more photos of Montana posted at:

Take care, Love,

Linda, Jake and the Fat

PS We have not told Jake yet that we are driving another 3000 miles north.