We arrived in Montana and the lovely but packed Glacier West KOA. We had cancelled our Xanterra Redbus Tour for Going to the Sun Road (GTTSR) as we received notification that the road was still not open and unlikely it would be until July, and very possibly not until after the 4th….it would be like going to an Adele concert with no Adele. Since we weren’t going to the GTTSR, I blew off needing a reservation from Recreation.gov…had I read the fine print or committed further critical thinking to the matter I would have found out it doesn’t matter whether the Going to the Sun Road is open – you need to be registered to get into the park: This is in addition to the Park Entrance Fee (we have the National Park Pass so no issue for us).
When we arrived we were stopped by the GTTSR Road Rangers saying we needed a reservation for the not open GTTSR. We said we just wanted to go to Apgar and kayak Lake McDonald as the road wasn’t open – that didn’t matter – we either needed a tour operator or the Recreation.gov GTTSR reservation. She directed us to Glacier Outfitters, we had to turn around and drive for about fifteen minutes to find a cell signal. Luckily Glacier Outfitters were very accommodating and got us a digital reservation to go kayaking on Lake McDonald. What also added to my confusion is the other boat tour operator – Glacier Boat Tours – that is listed on the National Parks site, doesn’t take reservations and when I called them they said they would take walk-ins. The NPS for Glacier keeps changing the web site so it’s a good idea just to get the GTTSR reservation if you can.
When we got back to the entrance I flashed the reservation that they didn’t even read. And I suppose if we didn’t have our RV we could have driven the GTTSR after our kayaking trip if it had been open. So word to the wise – get online when the tickets are first available because they will probably be gone in a day or so: You have to nail down a date. Otherwise book a tour or lodging within the park. And go mid-July through August. It will be packed but this is the way of things now.
It has to be difficult for these outfitters as they are now limited on the amount of walk-ins and they had a fair amount of kayaks available when we finally made it through.
Sadly, this was the second time we tried to do the GTTSR, last time we didn’t see much due to wildfires. You can’t have everything – but we got a nice two-hour kayak in and watched a deer roam around the village. We also stopped off at a local kiosk and bought huckleberries and Rainier cherries – summer has officially arrived and the day was saved!
We bid farewell to Glacier, traveling through the alpine forests of the Flathead National Forest, stopping for tea at a lake north of Seeley. We could have easily dry camped there – the entire area was pristine with only a few people, and the summer air was so inviting. Seeley itself was a charming town with a lovely outpost that did decent lattes.
Soon the Bitterroot Mountains appeared in the distance, framing the open ranges filled with yellow and purple wildflowers. The rolling hills were vast and verdant with the occasional century-old collapsed barn to add to the quintessential rustic views.
We passed over the Continental Divide, strewn with massive granite boulders that spiraled onto the vast plains and plateaus, winding our way through the open ranges then settling in Bear Mountain Campground outside of Bozeman. It was too close to the interstate that seemed noisier than others we had overnighted, and the trains were interminable. Regardless, it was a beautiful evening and we stretched our legs along the backroads that overlooked the farmlands. This region is prone to passing thunderstorms and can get pretty windy as we soon found out as the thunder rumbled overhead.
We headed for Greybull, Wyoming the next day. We crossed the Big Blackfoot River of a “River Runs Through It” fame, where you can imagine yourself lazing along the riverside chewing on a piece of grass – yeah like the song.
As we were skirting east of the Yellowstone National Park (closed due to flooding but we had already, thankfully, done Yellowstone) we crossed the said river a few times; it was swollen and violent, taking down the fragile “tree islands” that were probably stable during a normal season. The endless ranches of the Crow Indian territory disappeared into the snow capped peaks of the Custer and Teton ranges in the distance: I try to imagine what it was like before white man came here, when the buffalos roamed free and the Indians lived on the plains.
We settled for the evening at the quiet Greybull KOA, skirting yet more thunderstorms. Otherwise, all you could hear was the wind and the cooing of pigeons and I got a good night’s sleep. It is a nicely kept KOA that I would recommend.
The next morning we explored the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite outside of Shell, WY.
The Bighorn Basin is home to some of the most astounding fossil discoveries in the country. We sure had fun looking for 167 million-year-old tracks and I was able to collect (legally) some broken bits of fossilized ammolite, some with insect indentations on them.
This area used to be part of the “Sundance Sea,” and the tracks became fossilized from the dinosaur sinking its feet in mud on the shoreline. I can understand how one can become obsessed with archeology and doing these digs!
The Red Gulch itself reminded me of the Painted Desert in Arizona – the whole area was quite a revelation: We had no idea how stunning the Bighorn Scenic Byway was – it unfolded like a mini Grand Canyon! As we drove down into the canyon there were signs depicting the year of a particular archeological stratus; the lowest was the “pre-Cambrian” period dating back 2.5 billion years. As we gained elevation we saw different signs until we got to Triassic and then Jurassic periods. Then a steep climb revealed a granite gulch and river thundering down its harrowing precipices.
We eventually found ourselves at 9000 feet passing over Granite Pass. The alpine meadows had moose, elk and deer meandering about, oblivious to our presence. I didn’t think there were moose in Wyoming, but like the buffalo in Canada I’m getting quite the education.
Once back to a suitable elevation, we were now in quintessential cowboy country; watching them saddle up in the fields, a cowboy was herding the cattle into the ranch. From the rolling red and green plateaus mounds appeared bearing no logic in their unique presence.
The wind picked up, which seems to be a thing here in Wyoming, settling in Sundance on a clear evening at the Mountainview Campground not far from the Devil’s Tower. They have great Wi-Fi and we were backed up against the mountains.
We had huckleberry pancakes for breakfast and headed to Devils Tower. When we arrived at the visitor center we were turned away as there was no RV parking spaces left – there was only room for about five rigs: Per the park ranger, no tows are allowed and any cars who stole RV spots were being kicked out. We turned around and drove about a mile down the road and turned off onto a gravel road, that, as it turned out, was the trailhead for the Joyner trail. It had a perfectly clear view of the tower – our “misfortune” turned into one of those situations where we made out like bandits.
We hiked down the Joyner trail taking in the killer views with virtually no one else around, passing by the prayer bundles tied to the trees – placed by the local Indian tribe and thank god this area has been protected. We went down the gulch and ran into deer, listening to the echo of blackbirds against the still meadows. The temperature and blue sky allowed for lingering and letting your thoughts wander like a wildflower; the impossible tower looming in the background – one of America’s great geological and cultural treasures.
The trail eventually connected with the Redbed Trail and its beautiful red rock, then back to the crowded visitor center. All in all it was around three miles on a balmy Sunday.
We left the visitor center and took the road back down to the trailhead.
We watched as RVs came up and then back down as there was no space. Some turned off to the Joyner Trailhead, others simply aborted altogether. If you want to do the Devils Tower in an RV then it’s a bit of crapshoot – if you are in the LTV you’ll be allowed if there is room – otherwise take an incredible hike around the tower = unforgettable. We stopped off to indulge in some well-earned ice cream on the way out and headed on down the road to South Dakota.