Glacier National Park (day 2) @West Glacier, MT

Glacier National Park is HUGE, as in you can’t really see and enjoy the whole place in one day, not even if you’re going to do the whole thing by car. It is just too big. This was my second day, when I explored the western half… and then wished I’d allowed myself a full week at the place.


Warning: If you arrive at the park early in the season (I was there at the very end of May) the “Going to the Sun” drive which connects the east and west segments and travels through the middle of the park will most likely STILL be blocked with snow. If it is you’ll be forced — as I was– to leave the park and circle around via lower altitude roads.

I learned later that the full road isn’t actually opened until LATE June or even mid July, depending on weather conditions — there is even a web page dedicated to updating tourists about how much of it the plows have opened for traffic. Apparently about Oct. 16th is when the road closes down again because of expected snow accumulation… one of these days I will go there again in September after the kids are back in school so I can drive through the highest elevation parts…

I stayed two nights at Brownies Youth Hostel and Restaurant, which is near the eastern side of the park. I had found it via Airbnb, but had then contacted them directly and made the booking by phone in order to ensure that I got the specific room I wanted (a private and across the hall from the ladies bathroom). It was the ONLY Airbnb near where I wanted to be, as close to the park as possible but not far off the highway I was going to take up to Calgary, and every hotel I found in that same area (note: I was not yet truly skilled in the ways of finding high quality mom and pop motels yet, so this price was compared to the larger hotels, etc) were asking WAY more than I wanted to pay. Here at the hostel, a bunk-bed in a shared dorm room is $22/night, and a private room with a double bed is $65 — utterly reasonable prices. I really enjoyed my stay there and met a bunch of really nice college kids who were roughing it, as well as a really nice married Indian couple who were both young professors (one taught business, the other psychology).

My bedroom at Brownies

I will say the only unexpected (it is a hostel and not a hotel) downsides of Brownies were 1) the WiFi in my bedroom sucked to the point of useless; the modem was down the hall where the shared spaces were — kitchen and living room and was good and fast there, but the signal just didn’t really reach to my room. And, 2) while the rustic log cabin walls were cute and provided visual privacy, they resulted in small gaps between the interior and exterior walls with the result that they did not block noises from the other rooms pretty much at all. This would not really have been a problem were it not for the fact that the college dude sleeping in the bed on the other side of it had a snore like a freight train (thank the lord I ALWAYS travel with an ample supply of top of the line ear plugs). He was in a group of guys who were bicycling their way across America (raising money along the way), and we all kidded him about he’d have to do something about that snore if he ever wanted to get and stay married.

After breakfast I headed around south and then west along route 2 through the Marias Pass to the other end of the “Going to the Sun” road, which I had not been able to reach the yesterday due to snow and ice still blocking the roads at the higher elevations.


To quote Wikipedia:

“The pass traverses the Continental Divide in the Lewis Range, along the boundary between the Lewis and Clark National Forest and the Flathead National Forest. The pass forms the southern limit of the Continental Ranges….. The Great Bear Wilderness in Lewis and Clark National Forest is south of the pass and Glacier National Park is to the north. During the winter, the pass is the only way to cross the Continental Divide by road in the United States north of Montana’s Rogers Pass (to be distinguished from British Columbia’s Rogers Pass), because of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.”

Note: I passed through the Canadian Roger’s Pass a few days later while driving the TransCandian Highway

So, on the way there I passed through the Louise & Clark National forest, which is yet ANOTHER stop of the Louise & Clark trail… and get this, it’s May 28th, and it is SNOWING! (no wonder the higher elevations are still blocked with snow). Off to the side of the road there was an area with two big memorials, and one tiny one:

The obelisk is a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt, constructed in 1931
Note the Cargo Train running behind the statue

This statue is in memory of John F. Stevens (25 April 1853 – 2 June 1943), an American civil engineer who helped to build both the great Northern Railroad and the Panama Canal, [the following is according to the highly faded and barely legible sign that was standing in front of him, sad] “was charged finding a suitable rail route across the Continental Divide. In December of 1889, Stevens located and recorded the pass which had been used by area Native Americans for many centuries” i.e., what came to be known as Marias Pass.


There was also a third, very small memorial … just a big chunk of pink rock with a plaque embedded into it which I actually found kind of touching:


There’s a story (found it on the cite I linked to Morrison’s name, see below)), about how “John F. Stevens, credited by the Great Northern Railroad with the discovery of Marias Pass, spoke at the dedication of the Stevens statue at Summit. In the course of his speech, Stevens told of hardships in searching out the pass over the Continental Divide. He explained that it was December, and he had nearly perished in a blizzard at the pass. At this point, Morrison spoke up from the crowd: “Why didn’t you come over to my house? I was living right over there,” he said, pointing to his cabin.” — makes me smile

Anyway, you have to think, here’s this old guy who is apparently highly educated, who didn’t have any kids (that he knew of) to leave his land to, and knowing that they had established a huge National Park across the street (Established 1910 by President Taft, although much of it’s infrastructure was built as part of the Roosevelt’s depression era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) .. think “New Deal”), and that realizing that a lot of tourists would be passing along that street, he probably realized that his best bet at any sort of immortality/legacy lay in donating his land for this purpose.

Again, there was a very faded sign in front of the memorial (that was even LESS legible than the last one) with more information:

William H. “Slippery Bill” Morrison was a mountain man who had “squatters rights” on 160 acres at the Marias Pass summit. He donated a portion of his land for the site of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial monument.
Morrison was a frontier philosopher who would often expound on his favorite theories to anyone who would listen. Morrison spent most of his life as a trapper and prospector.
Slippery Bill diet in 1932 at the age of 84. According to his wishes the balance of his land was transferred to the federal government after his death.”

All of which was followed by a very faded sketch of the old guy:


As I approached the park, firstly I realized that there were way more people here than had been at the other end of the park, and second — after driving over an hour to get here — I realized I had better fill up before entering the West Glacier Park entrance, because those places almost never have gas stations inside the park boundaries. Also, it was SO FRIGGING COLD (may 28th and it was SNOWING) that I decided to try to unload my trunk and dig out the down coat, winter hat and gloves that I had buried in the compartment designed for the spare wheel.

Granted, this made them kind of inaccessible, but they were there for emergencies just like this one. My overall goal with these trips is to structure my movements so as to never need see full winter, but, that said I had had the forethought to bring them just in case. Let’s face it, even southern Florida occasionally gets a cold snap. I also lug around a big thick down blanket in the backseat of my car, for the same reason, and have had a few days when I needed it. My car actually is loaded with food (nuts, olives, etc), loads of water, and a heavy down blanket just in case the car should happen to break down in the middle of no where on a cold night. Yes, I’m a planner.

Anyway, since my massive suitcases were still in there, and I needed help in order to remove them, I spotted a guy standing off to the side with a handful of papers and called him over asking him to help me. Turned out his name was John Marshall and he was from the University of Montana and was doing a research questionnaire about tourism at the park, and in exchange for my scratching his back (answering the very long questionnaire) he helped me unload and then reload my car, and we got to talking…

As we were talking the question of the local Blackfeet population came up (I forget why), and I told him about the heavily graffiti-ed obelisk I had passed on the way to my hostel, just the day before; so, he was the one actually gave me the heads up about the confrontational history between the local tribes and Louis & Clark; and he was also the one who told me to look up Elouise Cobell, and how she had brought a case titled, Cobell v. Babbitt against the United states Department of Interior based on her own investigation of their practices (that she said “revealed mismanagement, ineptness, dishonesty, and delay of federal officials”of Indian trust assets … money owned by the government but held in trust for Native Americans… to the tune of $176 billion).

Apparently he had not long before attended her funeral, so she was active in his mind — and I got so distracted in talking to him that when I finally got into the park I realized that in all that moving, packing and talking that I had completely forgotten to actually pump any gas. So I had to leave the park after having just entered (yay for my National parks pass) to go get gas (again). At which point I realized it was already lunch time, and that I was hungry …. so I stopped at the West Glacier Restaurant and got myself an elk sausage (seriously, elk!), tomato Florentine soup and cup of a huckleberry tea (am saving room for more huckleberry pie for tonight) — it was supposed to be served in a kaiser roll type thing but I asked them to hold the carbs, and the french fries, and give me more veggies instead



And then FINALLY I got into the park!


Leading off of the lake and up into the mountains is this river, which is full of a lot of picturesque twists and turns, and rapids, etc… which the “Road to the Sun” follows alongside of, heading up into the mountains… or at least at this time of year up until the road conditions become unsafe….
and multiple times along the river you come to narrow bridges you can often drive across, but at the other side you usually find some limited parking and hiking trails (of course with my painful hips, knees, and plantar fasciitis — feet — this was not something I was going to do, that and I didn’t have proper hiking boots, just a pair of Crocs, because of the plantar fasciitis).



As I traveled around the park I kept running into this film crew who said they worked for a German TV station, they had this big red van and sometimes sometimes would prop the cameraman and his rig up over the top of at… the last time I saw them was when I was about to leave, and a park cop and pulled them over, lights and all, which made me think that maybe they didn’t have the proper permits… either that or he wasn’t pleased to see the cameraman perched on their hood



At one point I came to this place, where there were all sorts of cars parked to one side, only there was no parking for me, so I parked as far off the road as I could on the side where there was no designated parking (hoping it wouldn’t earn me a ticket.
img_0743When I initially parked here I was the only car not on the side with designated parking spot, but instead on the wrong side of the road pulled off to the side as much as possible… I came back five minutes later seven cars (two not visible) had already followed my lead


I kept driving up as far as I could, but about 45 minutes in, as the elevation started to rise, snow and sleet started to come down, I had started to approach, but hadn’t gotten anywhere near the area called
At this point the weather was definitively nasty (I actually ran into one of my fellow youth Hostel guests up there), and there was a massive road block… so there was no choice but to return the way I had come…  only this time I took one of the many side roads that led back around the lake to the other side






After driving around a while I came to a section of the park that was all shops and restaurants, and a hotel complex within the park for visitors. In one of the shops I found this, and … well…. my new car is in dire need of some new bumper stickers:

I am the proud owner of a new bumper sticker!


Finally, I headed home and after stopping off for dinner, where I got myself that piece of Huckleberry pie, I headed back to the Hostel, at which point I realized that it was 10 pm and it is still light out… WTF?!  How far North am I?


Graffitied Monument: near Camp Disappointment, Browning MT

Situated along the return route of the  Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, this site is very near another, more historically significant, site that marks the northernmost point on their trip on the same Marias river known as Camp Disappointment (reason explained at this other blog I wrote)…. an event that happened there explains why this monument is so heavily graffitied.


I passed this ‘monument on a hill’ as I was driving at 80mph (the speed limit) towards Glacier National Park. I stopped, backed up the car (happily there wasn’t much traffic on that road), and took the barely marked, pot holed, uncared for gravel path up to it — worrying about possibly needing to get my tires re-aligned after, or worse getting a flat. Once I got up there, and not yet knowing the context behind its defacement, let’s just say I wasn’t happy about what I saw. But here’s what the whole thing is about.

Back at the National Park’s Lewis and Clark Center, in Great Falls, MT., I had learned how, on their way back to see President Jefferson, after trying to find a tributary of the Missouri river that would travel across the 50th parrallel Captain Lewis’s portion of the expedition met up with a group of eight young Pikuni Blackfeet” warriors on July 26 on his way back from Camp Disappointment to meet up with Clark’s half of the group. After Lewis’s group met this group of Blackfeet, they had sat down to a friendly dinner, that apparently had a included a foot race and some friendly gambling. This is where the agreement among whites and Blackfeet diverges with regards to what happened next.

The next morning the “braves” (whom Native Americans argue were just young boys), are said to have tried to steal the expedition group’s rifles (at least according to Lewis’s men). A fight broke out and two of the Pikuni were killed in the only violent encounter with any native Americans during the whole expedition, part of whose goal was to open up trade and good relations with any tribes they might meet. This incident, however, had the opposite result, with the Blackfeet closing off their territory to whites for the next 80 years — till it was opened again by force. And then, to add insult to injury, from their perspective, Blackfeet became one of the ‘go-to’ tribes (along with others, like the Pawnee) for “bad/violent tribes” in American myth and movies.

As such, what happened to the monument was not just wanton destruction (although it is) but rather is evidence of the repercussions of an historic event (albeit one not described on the monument) that to most of the Anglo population of America is just a footnote in history, but to the Blackfeet is a source of constant grievance regarding how they are displayed in the historical narrative of America.

I think it is highly relevant that I learned all of this NOT at the visitors center, but rather later, after mentioning to a professor I met near Glacier National Park about what had been done to this monument. He was the one that told me that the Blackfeet tribal members are STILL seriously pissed off about this incident and blame it completely on the “invaders”.

That said, I will note that on the American side there is a single interpretation of what happened, while on the Blackfeet side there are multiple and conflicting ones, with one story saying that during it was there had been gambling and racing and that the warriors were in fact boys who were as young as 13, who had been led to believe they had ‘won’ the rifles, and were just taking what they’d believed was theirs… While another story says that Lewis’ men had said they would be distributing rifles (as trade goods) to other tribes that unbeknownst to the Anglos were in fact enemies of the Blackfeet (and the braves in this story are not described as young, as they are in the other account), and that the braves decided they needed to keep that from happening, by stealing said weapons., etc.


That said, when you consider an ‘ancient history’ like this, with more recent events, graffiti like this becomes a bit more understandable, if no more acceptable.

However, the issues come close to home than that. While most Americans know nothing of this, in the not too distant past, the late 1990’s, a now deceased Blackfeet tribal member by the name of Elouise Cobell brought a case titled, Cobell v. Babbitt against the United states Department of Interior based on her own investigation of their practices that she said “revealed mismanagement, ineptness, dishonesty, and delay of federal officials”of indian trust assets (money owned by the government but held in trust for Native Americans… to the tune of $176 billion — with a B. Not that long ago, 2010 a government approved settlement was finally reached of $3.4 billion, making this the largest class action settlement against the government to date; of course some of this money will go to compensate individuals, such as the lawyers who worked on the case, as well as tribal members who paid out of pocket to bring it forward, however, the rest will be used to buy back tribal lands Native Americans have been forced to sell away to pay off debts (placed on them because of the remunerations they were not receiving), and to set up a $60 million scholarship fund.


Talking Penguin Statue, Cut Bank MT


Located off the side of Highway 2 on the way to Glacier National Park, I hadn’t actually found this on any my traveling apps, just happened upon it while heading to my hotel. Upon later research I learned that, assuming it is working — which it often is not, this statue is supposed to talk — “bleating out the slogan, “Welcome to Cut Bank, the Coldest Spot in the Nation!“. The title of coldest spot in the Nation is apparently contested, and I suppose it kind of depends on the year.

Sip ‘n Dip Lounge & Tiki Bar

There is a mermaid with bright purple hair swimming in the tank in front of me; seriously. Sip’n Dip was named the #1 bar on earth by Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ) in 2003 (I shit you not)


This place embraces everything that is tacky and garish; It has patent leather yellow and blue furniture, woven palm fonds on the ceiling (along with bamboo) and folks drinking lots of fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them. It is Americana that hit it’s heyday back in the 1960’s (shortly after Hawaii became a state), that then almost disappeared, only to revived again in the 1990’s:

I present to you a Tiki bar where girls in mermaid costumes swim in front of you.


I ordered a shrimp cocktail and an herbal tea — is it me or does the shrimp cocktail remind you of the movie Beetlejuice

Unfortunately, Piano Pat who was 79 in 2013, may have passed away, as I didn’t even SEE a Piano in there

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

Well developed National Park Center; Explains all about the Lewis and Clark (government funded) Expedition, May 14, 1804 – Sept. 23, 1806, their ‘scientific discoveries’ along the way, and some of the issues they came up against. This location along the Missouri River, in what is now Great Falls Montana, marks the first major hiccup in the expedition — the falls themselves.


For those who don’t REALLY know their US history, let me set the context: An issue I didn’t see discussed in much detail at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center (eeeie what a mouthful!), nor anywhere really (and that includes high school US history books), but one that’s highly relevant to understanding the Lewis and Clark Expedition has to do with the boundaries of the Louisiana purchase… because the fact is they were more than a bit vague. Everyone now a days assumes that Jefferson of course knew what he was buying, but the truth is far from it. Neither the French, nor the Spanish had ever carefully mapped what the thing was when passing it back and forth between them, and other than it’s eastern boundary being marked by the Mississippi River (whose northern end was as yet uncertain) but included various French settlements along it, and in the South by the Gulf of Mexico, it’s northern and western borders were kind of a murky topic — so that when the U.S. bought it, they had agreed to a contract of sale that had very vague language in it.

For the purposes of Lewis and Clark, one of the western/northern boundaries included in the contract was the entirety of the Missouri River — whose limits were UNDETERMINED!!! The further west and/or north they could mark it, the greater the size of what President Jefferson had purchased. Jefferson in fact went one step further (taking advantage of the contract’s vague language) by claiming that because of how the language in the contract was written, the western boundaries would include any and all rivers that drained into the Mississippi (so not just the Missouri, but also any of the waters that drained into it). As such, Lewis and Clark’s expedition also had to try to mark, by Jefferson’s interpretation of the language, just how far north and west that boundary lay.

In other words, BEFORE President Thomas Jefferson had even completed the purchase of the Louisiana territories from France in 1803, he had already begun the process of commissioning multiple explorations to map and explore the contents and boundaries of those unknown and newly acquired lands — as delineated by his definition, which was not likely to be accepted by our geographical neighbors. Lewis and Clark’s northern expedition, which extended beyond the purchase, to investigate what is now the ‘American’ west (territory that, at that time, hadn’t been claimed by anyone — think Oregon, Washington, Idaho and parts of Wyoming), was therefore only one of many groups of explorers that Jefferson had sent out, albeit the must famous of them. In large part, he was hoping that they would find the long fabled (they’d been hoping to find one since Columbus) ‘western passage’– a practical, and easily negotiable route (preferably a waterway) across to the Pacific Ocean; but more importantly, he wanted to send settlers so that America could establish a presence in those unclaimed territories before the other European Colonial powers managed it. And of course, since they were going to be out there anyway, they were to document the resources that came along with those lands, new plants, animals, geography, and if possible open up trade with various tribal groups they met along the way.

As you can see from the above map, the total territory of the purchase, as ultimately marked out by the various explorers, including Lewis and Clark, using Jefferson’s interpretation actually crossed beyond the current 49th parallel borders over into the 50th parallel, or what is now Canada.

The attempt to get that little bit extra is what led to an historical incident between Lewis’s group and the “Blackfeet” tribe’s warriors, which for whites is only an interesting footnote in history, but for the Native Americans has continued to be a very sore point of contention to this day. As is often noted, history is written by the victors, and as such, the story, as told at the center, goes this way:

On the return trip (after having already crossed the Rocky Mountains and followed the Colorado River to it’s mouth) Captain Lewis’ group following the Marias River as far north as they could in an attempt to cross the 50th parallel. The farthest point north they got to was named “Camp Disappointment” because it didn’t go as far north as they had hoped. Retuning from their ‘disappointment’, they met a group of eight young Pikuni Blackfeet” warriors, who they had a friendly dinner with, but the next morning a fight broke out and two of the natives Americans were killed (shot in the back) in the only violent encounter with any native Americans during the whole trip.

However, as I learned later, the Blackfeet tribal members are STILL pissed off about this incident and blame it completely on the “invaders;” They in fact tell a different story of what happened, and the difference has let continuing ill will on the part of the Blackfeet tribe towards the American people. Additionally, the whole thing was for naught because the British, never accepted Jefferson’s headwaters interpretation of the contract and it remained a point of contention with the US government until the signing of the Treaty of 1818 (which actually has three more names, depending on whom you ask), by President James Monroe, at which time the agreed upon boundary was set to the 49th parallel, where it has remained ever since.


Returning to the attraction itself, apparently following the Lewis and Clark trail is a great favorite with the RV crowd, as I learned at this center, so the National Trails System has invested a lot of money into making the trip worthwhile for them. I also learned that this is not the only federally designated “drive,” but that there are in fact 30 different historic and Scenic ones (and no, I’m not including hikes in that number); Of those ‘drives,’ (other than this one) I’d only so-far spotted two.

The Trail of Tears, which is a bit amorphous due to it’s very nature; it wasn’t one trail; so, instead of a clearly marked path you get a load of signs located on pretty much every government road that existed at that time between the Cherokee territories and what is now Oklahoma, as well as a few waterways. As a result, I had spotted signs for it all over Georgia and Tennessee.

The Appalacian Trail, this one is sort of famous, with folks traveling from all over the world to either drive, or more often to hike it.

In the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center you will find the obligatory gift shop, an auditorium that hosts lectures, and shows two movies (one about the portage of the boats past the five waterfalls that give the town it’s name, and the other movie was especially made by Ken Burns for the center, and covers the whole history of the expedition). There was an elderly docent, who was a pretty funny guy, who also gave a not G rated speech about the expedition, that he said he’ll only do it when there are no kids in the auditorium (or they are with their parents). Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stay for that because sidewalks roll up in this town at 5pm and I had other things I wanted to see before then. 


Just about a mile or so west of the center are the first set of falls.  According to the national park staff person, when they built the dam they intentionally put it a bit back, behind the waterfalls so as to not destroy the “pretty” — there are in fact five of these along the Missouri River near Great Falls, MT (hence the name). These are what Lewis and Clark came up against in their attempt to find the source of the Missouri (which they believed would lead them to the non-existent ‘western passage to the Pacific Ocean’ that they were looking for). It forced them to pull their boats out of the river and move them over land till they got past the falls (uphill) …. only to discover the source of the river was the rocky mountains, and that they could pick up the Columbia once they got past there, but that there was no easy passage — as hoped.


After you leave the Interpretive Center you should also check out the natural spring just down the road (east) from it (see 2nd map)

It is a natural spring that Lewis and Clark found, and they were able to use the clean water from it to help Sacajawea get over a very bad illness that they were afraid it was going to kill her before they had reached her tribe (they needed her as a translator).

Located directly adjacent to the Missouri River, the water that flows from the spring  (if you look into it you’ll see the water bubbling up), flows to the Missouri River — making it it’s own river, which has been “named” by the Guinness World book of Records as being the shortest river in the world (but there are a few other ones in Europe 1/2 as long that would argue that).

My national park pass came into use again, also I leaned that if you gave a disability (and proof of it) for $10 you can get a lifetime parks pass, had not heard about that before.