Saturday, July 27, 2019

Montana Drive - Day 10 - Bozeman

Last day in Montana. Have nothing else to do but drive to Bozeman to the airport. Breakfast at Quality Inn was nice. Huge room and good spread. Not much to do here in Butte so left for Bozeman.

The day is quite okay. The drive on I-90-E is still pretty. That is one thing I have really like in Montana is that the views everywhere are just beautiful and driving is a pleasure. Traffic is not too much, speed is high but I don't have to drive at 80 mph. Went through mountains and curves. My flight is at 11 am and I got to Bozeman by 9 am. I had to fill up gas and then return the car to Budget. Both things went smoothly.

Check in line at Frontier was long, but I had plenty of time. Then it was just waiting here and then at Denver. It all worked out and I got to Columbus by 9:30 pm just a little late.

Overall my trip went really well, as planned, except for that major hiccup of the first day, everything went smoothly. It was a little bit more expensive of a trip than I had thought it would be, both air fare and car rentals were higher. Hotels were all on average $90, which really all adds up with tax and all. I think I spent the least on eating. There were hardly an entry fee for any of the places, just the national park and rides that I took.

I hope everyone gets to go to Montana at some time. It really is a beautiful state.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Montana Drive - Day 9 - Butte

Last day in Washington and in Montana. Got up early at 6:30 am to leave before 8 am. Went to Incrediburgers for breakfast. They had the best avocado toast!! Despite the $5 I had from the hotel, I still had to pay $5. Expensive place! 

Left before 8 am. But I had forgotten that I would lose 1 hour. It was yet again a pleasant drive. I was on I-90-E all the way. I had one detour today on Hwy 93-N to see the Thousand Buddhas. It was about 22 mi north of I-90. It was a beautiful place. How did they think about making this in the middle of nowhere (just like the sculptures in the wild). It was peaceful and beautifully maintained. There were the thousand buddhas, all radiating out of the center Buddha. There were 6 spokes in the circle. All six points had some meaning. We are supposed to walk clockwise (as we always do anyway in temples). At all the six points, there were some buddha statue with a beautiful garden and in one case a beautiful pond. All in all, very nice place. And I got there at perfect time, as I was leaving, so many people came and with kids. All were noisy. Good timing. 

I got back on the highway. I always made sure to have a full tank of gas wherever I could. And here also I did. It was a nice Travel center on the junction of 93 and 90. I was not going to have lunch today as I have to eat at Pekin Noodles in Butte. 

The drive on I-90 E was all scenic. There were mountains all through and 90% of the time there was a river or stream parallel to the highway. There was some construction or other going on, but still got to Butte around 3 pm. 

Berkeley Pit
First stop was going to be the Berkley Pit. I passed it first and had to come back. A small building/gift shop etc. was the entrance. $3 entrance fee to see a pool of water. Really!! Why are Americans making money on every little thing?! Went through a little tunnel to see the pit. It was interesting. I could see the mining from even 1-15, when I was going to Helena, but since the pit is deeper, it is not possible to see the water from anywhere but this particular location. This water has a ton of minerals dissolved in it and is highly acidic pH 2.5. The mine is producing only copper now. Butte is an old mining town, more than 150 years old. It was mining, gold, silver, molybdenum and so much more. When pit mining started, then this pit was created. Slowly water collected in it and dissolved all the minerals, good and bad. It is very toxic at this time. 

Could see the Madonna from almost everywhere in Butte.
Our Lady of the Rockies
Next stop was the Memorial. It was a somber place, dedicated to more than 100 miners who died earlier in 20th century. I could see the mining operation from there, but not Berkeley Pit.

Next stop was the mining museum. that was last on my list as I don’t care too much for museums. But now I wish I had gone there earlier because I missed the tour of the mines. Oh well. I still had an hour and a half to see the resemblance of a mining town. Some of the buildings were original, but a lot were replicas. The most interesting part was the machinery. I cannot imagine how they would have made all these in 1900s. Just wow! Mining is a really complicated process and the owners are never really bothered about safety for the miners. It took about an hour to see all this.  

It was about 6 pm. Decided to check into my room before going for dinner. Again this hotel does not have an elevator! What are they thinking?!! I am on the 2nd floor and had to have some take my suitcase up. I was so tired of all the driving. Room is really good though. Checked into my flight for tomorrow. So far so good. 

Dinner was at Pekin noodles, the first Chinese restaurant in Butte. It was interesting, instead of having one big room, they had small rooms/compartments for 4 people. I had chow mein. Not very good. maybe it was, I just don’t care too much for Chinese food, except fried rice. I thought I would try something different. It was not very expensive though. 

Then I found a Walmart to return all the stuff I had bought as backup just in case. That is it! Now time to clean up and pack. I will try to get to Bozeman by 9:00 am. 

Montana Drive - Day 8 - Spokane

Started late this morning, nothing much on the agenda. Went for breakfast at the Incrediburger place next door. Had a bowl of potatoes, eggs with toast. Really tasty bread. Came back and had tea at the hotel and then laid down for a while.

Reflection Pool
Left around 10 am for Manito garden. It was easy to find. It was a pretty start to the garden by the pond. I walked around a bit and thought – is this it? Then I walked towards the Lilac garden, which really wasn’t much, probably because nothing was in bloom. I knew from the Google map that there is a Japanese garden, so I kept walking. I did find it. It was a tiny garden made because Spokane’s sister city is in Japan. There was an American family that was so noisy in there. Japanese gardens are places of peace and quiet. In any case, moved on….time to go to the conservatory. 

Before I got to the conservatory, I saw the Rose garden. Oh my God!! That was not even on the Google map. The Rose garden was smelling well, like roses! The flowers were really blooming. All colors! It was not a huge garden but still good size. It was arranged very well and really beautiful. I spent a lot of time there. It was getting a little hot and of course it was sunny, no clouds at all. 

From the rose garden, I saw the next garden, the Perennial garden. It looked even prettier. After I finished the rose garden, I crossed the road for the Perennial garden. I was really missing my water bottle. I had not realized there was so much more in this garden. Google did not do justice or I did not read it carefully. The perennials were just beautiful. The landscaping itself was just beautiful. The colors, the flowers and blooms, it was all just too good. I made my way around the garden slowly. I wanted to soak it all in. Then it was time to go to the Conservatory. 
Perennial Garden
But before I could go in there, I saw the Duncan garden and it just blew me away. It looked like a European garden, arranged in geometric fashion. Just gorgeous. The flowers were super colorful, all dahlias, marigolds, and so many other bright colored flowers. It was just gorgeous. And there was a fountain in the center. I walked all around, it was too hot otherwise I would have stayed longer and absorbed it all. 
Duncan Gardens
Now finally the conservatory. There were two sections in it, one part was dry desert part, cacti and succulents and the other was tropical, all bromeliads, orchids etc. Very much like Florida! Both sections were small but they were designed really beautifully.
Cacti in the Conservatory
All in all the garden was just a pleasure for the eyes…too good, I had not expected all this. I spend over 2 hrs here. I walked back to my car and went to see St. John’s church. It was okay, nothing spectacular but still nice. Now at 1:30 pm it was time for lunch. Thought about going to Subway, but saw a local burrito place and decided to get a burrito. Came back to the hotel and ate, it was a good burrito. She did not put enough hot sauce. 

The heat had gotten to me, so I decided to stay in for the afternoon. I don’t really have much to do today anyway. Around 6 pm, I want to the Riverfront again to see the toy store and see the Spokane falls. the toy store was closed. I walked all the stairs down to see the falls. it was worth it. I just love waterfalls! And this one is really powerful, they use it to generate electricity. 
Spokane Falls
And that was my day. I am done with Spokane and ready to hit the road tomorrow for Butte. Will need to start early in order to see all that I want to. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Montana Drive - Day 7 - Spokane

Time is going by so well. I feel lucky that everything has worked out great so far. Just for a few minutes in the morning I was wondering if I had overextended myself by making this Spokane trip. I had breakfast at the Glacier coffee place. Little pricey but good quiche. Good to start with coffee today. 

I went on 89-S for a while and then on 28-W. Soon after a few miles all my doubts about going to Spokane vanished. The drive was just beautiful. I had songs on and beautiful views to look at, and an empty road! What else does one want? I stopped to get gas at one spot. The gas price has been consistent throughout so far – $2.79 for most part. 28-W to Sandpoint was such a scenic drive. First it was the mountains on both sides and then the lakes started appearing, each lake was more beautiful than the other. It was a pleasure to drive, such a treat for the eyes. I stopped at a few places to take pictures. Had to stop at a gas station to use the restroom (there are no restrooms in any of the state highways). Got some coffee also. The goal was to sit near a lake and drink coffee and have some junk food but it turns out Sandpoint was just 2 miles away from where I had to take 95-S. 

First I was thinking of skipping it, but when an exit came for downtown and I took it. Drove into downtown, very nice little town. I saw a Thai place and decided to eat lunch there. parked a block away and walked to the restaurant. I got some basil fried rice. It was perfect, just the kind of hot food I needed. Soup and a vegetable roll was also part of the lunch. I had some left over which I got packed for dinner. 

What was interesting is that I crossed into Idaho on 28-W and was in Idaho for about 40 mins. Sandpoint was in Idaho. 

Did not stay much in the town. It was after 2 pm and I wanted to get to Spokane. Kept on 95-S until I got to I-90. There was a lot of traffic near Handley. It was a shopping street for about 5 miles. All stores possible were here. Gas price was lower here than in Montana. I got on I-90-W and within 5 miles there was a rest area. I stopped there and then moved on. There was a lot of traffic going west. It feels like I am back in civilization. I found my hotel easily and checked in. The hotel has interesting character. The rooms are red and outside the building had wonderful murals of musicians. 

Part of Spokane Falls
I rested for a bit and then suddenly realized that I had moved back one more hour! I have an extra hour of vacation. Around 4pm went to the river front. It was about 4 blocks walk from my hotel. There seems to be a lot of construction going on in the river front. It created a lot of problems for me. The visitor center guy was hopeless in explaining where I could see the falls. I walked around a lot to see the falls and could not figure out if that was it. I kept going here and there across the Spokane river a couple times. I saw two different falls but could not tell if they were it. Ultimately figured out that there was one main one still ahead. I wanted to see the sculptures also so I went for a huge walk first and then decided to take the sky ride to see the falls. 

The sculptures were interesting and dispersed over a mile of loop around the river front and convention center. I made to almost all of them. It was a lot of walking for me today but I enjoyed it. The weather was perfect. I did not sweat a drop. 
Some of the Sculptures
As promised to myself, I took the sky ride to see the falls. It is $7.25. America definitely knows how to make a buck. Close all other routes to a good view of the falls and then have a ride and charge for it!! The view was great and yes, this was the main falls. There are about 3 tiers of falls within 0.25 miles  now I have seen it all! Tomorrow I can come back and walk the route to see the falls from a different angle. 
Spokane Falls
It was a great day. Good drive and good downtown tour…and great lunch!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Montana Drive - Day 6 - Glacier National Park 2

The big day! This is the highlight of my trip – driving the Going to the Sun Road. Of all the things I have read about it, I was a bit nervous, but knowing that there are Red Bus tours and park shuttles gave me some hope that I could drive this mountainous road. I got up and was out of the hotel by 6:45 am. I keep thinking I am smart, but I forget everyone is smart too. I wanted to get into the park before 8 am – well so did everyone else. The drive was as miserable – Hwy 49-N was not bad, although lots of curves and switchbacks and on top of that some ranchers' cows were grazing freely on the road. I was the only one on the road for miles and speed limit was 35 mph, so I could break easily. First I thought I had seen a black bear, but then it turned out to be cows. Hwy 89 was miserable again with the gravel road. And the horses were still there! 

Came through the St Mary’s entrance by 7:50 am. The visitor center will open at 8 but restrooms were open, so of course, I had to make a quick stop. The drive from there on was just one beautiful stop after another.  It was still good to come even at 8 am – as there were not that many people there. all the pull outs were open with parking available. And I stopped at all of them! I had to take pics of every mountain, lake, river, stream, waterfall or flower I could see. Some of the spots were just magical! 
The Jackson glacier overlook was nice. The Siyen Bend was beautiful – lovely stream with flowers all along. People were hiking along the shores. 
Then came Lunch Creek and it just took my breath away. I thought I was in some magical land. The stream was flowing from the top of the mountain and it had flowers on both sides of its shores – the white ones. I wanted to spend more time there, but no time would be enough there. it was just too pretty! After this point the ascend started for Logan’s Pass. It wasn’t too bad. 
Logan’s Pass parking lot was full even at 9 am! So I did not waste time there and decided to keep going so at least I see the park in good time and then I can come back using the shuttle. The drive from Logan’s Pass to the tunnel was a little bit of a nail biter. I was on the mountain side (as I had read going East to West is easier as that is mountain side). But the mountain was a little too close and the other drivers were trying to get across the median since they were driving on the edge. I focused on my driving, while also looking at the views. I was still able to make some stops to take pics. There was not much traffic. Also this part of the road was all downhill.  After the tunnel MacDonald stream came into view. Oh what a view! The stream was calm for a while, but then it hit rocks and slope and turned into a happy stream and in a few places waterfalls. I stopped at a few key points to take pictures. Really pretty! By this time the Sun Road was flat with speed limit to 45 mph. 

I got into the MacDonald Lodge and luckily found a parking spot just opposite the shuttle stop. (I realized later how lucky I was – parking was going almost to half a mile). The shuttle would take us to Avalanche Creek, from where we would switch into a smaller van for Logan’s Pass. The first shuttle driver did not let me in – could have! And then I had to wait another 30 mins for the next one. And then I saw an American couple do something I have never seen Americans do – cut line to get ahead. The drive to Avalanche Creek was about 15 mins. I got the shuttle almost immediately for Logan Pass. I am glad to have taken the shuttle, I just sat back and enjoyed the views, took photos. The drive takes over 30 mins – it is all uphill. 

Logan Pass was still full. It was super crowded. There were some really scenic views around. If it hadn’t been 1 pm and bloody hot, and if I had company, I would have done the 3 mile round trip hike to see the hidden lake. But when I saw the photo of it in the gift shop, I thought, seen one mountain lake, just about seen them all. Unless there is a difference in color or mountains. I don’t think I missed much. I bought myself an insulated mug. So far I have bought only one magnet for myself. This mug will get used. 

I took pictures to my fullest and then took the shuttle down to Avalanche Creek. The driver this time was quiet for a bit but then we started chatting. It was me and her in the shuttle. Even though she was driving slowly, I did not realize that we were at the Creek. (Theory of Relativity!!). 
I got the next shuttle to the Lodge and got back on the Sun Road. I still had about 12-15 miles to go. Luckily there was not much in spectacular views from then on. Lake MacDonald was pretty, surrounded by mountains, and very clear. It is about 220 ft deep! I did stop at a couple places to make sure I did not miss anything. Last stop was Apgar Visitor center. I had to use the restroom, fill my water bottle and see what this was about. There was not much inside, so left quickly. 

Exited the park and got to Hungry Horse where there was a wonderful place to eat. Well, they had a bunch of huckleberry products, so I thought of stopping there and getting something for Bhaiya. I decided to have lunch also there (yes at 4 pm). I had a huge salad and huckleberry pie. I did not care much for the pie.  It was kind of like blueberry. I found some jelly for Bhaiya.  The next stop was the Vortex place but it was closed even though it said open on the street. Oh well. 

Now it is time to go the hotel, Sunrise Vista Inn. Again, a nice small hotel with only 5-6 rooms. It is right on the lake! It is very pretty place. The room is big and comfortable. But like the other hotel – Singing Swan – there are no toiletries. So glad I have my own. But they do have coffee maker in the room! So first things first – coffee. It wasn’t really good, but I needed caffeine and something warm. 

The manager, Greg, is very talkative. He gave me some good ideas about tomorrow. He invited me to a place that plays Trivia. But I am so tired I could not learn anything at this time. And then it started raining a bit. I came in and went out later to the lake to just sit there, but then again drops of water from above. now it is just time to rest. I am exhausted. Luckily there is not much to do tomorrow but drive to Spokane.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Montana Drive - Day 5 - Glacier National Park 1

Left Helena around 8:30 after a heavy breakfast of pancakes. I-15-N was okay. I managed to see the Madonna on the hill. Nothing spectacular – just a white statue over the mountain. Then I took 287 N. these highways are two lane yet their speed limits are 70-80 mph. But then there is no one on the roads either. The drive was so pretty that was not bored driving. Although one has to pay attention a lot to road since there are trucks going in and out and the road will curve a lot! Usually I will see a car every 3-4 minutes. 

Getting to Browning was fine. Browning is a small town with not much going on. I had to stop at a gas station to get gas and use the restroom. After this I will be in the National Glacier Park. 

The drive on 89-N was getting prettier with the mountains. Most of the road was okay and then we hit gravel! For about 10 miles on and off there was construction going on and there were many portions of gravel road. Everyone was going so I also went – definitely not my first choice, but there was no other way. And on top of that there were 5 horses running around the road! Don’t know if they belonged to anyone. Soon I could see lower St Mary Lake. There was a beautiful pull out on the road and parked for a while. I needed a little stretch too after all the hectic driving. 
I can now imagine what the field of flowers in India would look like. This mountain area was covered with flowers. All colors, yellow, purple, white, red etc. It was just so wonderful to look at this amazing nature. And in the background were mountains and the lake. So scenic. And the flowers were aromatic. I just stood there and smelled the fragrant air.

Got back on 89 and then went on to Route 3 for the Many Glaciers entrance. Oh what a horrible road! It had so many pot holes! Had to really watch out. Park entry seemed to be restricted to hotel guests and anyone who had a boat reservations, which I did. Although the lady did not really check my ticket. Apparently the parking lot was full and they could not let many people in. When I drove in to the hotel, I could see why. There was not much else to do there. the parking lot was big and full. I got lucky as someone was pulling out just as I came in. it was about 1:30 pm. I had some time before my 4:30 pm boat ride. 

I went in to see the hotel and gift shop, confirmed my reservation at the boat tours. Took pictures. Many Glaciers hotel and lake are just too scenic. I don’t want to keep writing scenic but really everything about this park is beautiful. 
Many Glacier Lake
I walked back to see the falls I had seen on my way in. they were kind of small but the best part was that I got to see a huge brown bear! My day is made!! He was just strolling in the water and then went into the bushes just below where there were hiking trails. Lord help the trekkers. At about 2:30 pm I was on my way back when I thought about seeing if they can let me do the 3 pm boat ride if there is room. Apparently I am not the smartest one! There were 7 names ahead of me! But luckily there was room for me. (and there was still space for 3 more people). 

The boat ride started us from Many Glacier Lake and then we would hike about 0.75 mi to the other side and take the boat ride on Lake Josephine. It was all very nice and pleasant. The views were amazing. The lakes were so clear. I saw a number of waterfalls, some really thin streams of water while some were substantial. There are no glaciers here as they have all melted. The hike was also pretty. Again, so many flowers! Just beautiful. 
Lake Josephine
We came back by 4:15pm. This really worked out perfectly for me, since I had not expected gravel road on 89 so I knew I had to drive back on it and it would take me more time. One of the roads was not marked well, so I ended up taking 89 back to Browning and then took 2 to get to the East Glacier Village. Google was showing it to be faster but I thought the other one would be shorted. (I don’t think it mattered in the end). I got there by around 6 pm. It should have taken less but darn the construction. All the way I was thinking that I could skip my boat ride from Two Medicine Lake and just go to the park early because it would take me so long to even get there. The horses were still there on 89!

Ultimately I was right. Mark, the hotel owner also suggested going to the park early. One boat ride is the same as the next. And I had enough time that evening to visit the Two Medicine Lake area, which is about 15 mi from East Glacier Village. So without unpacking, I left right away. The drive was okay. Finally I was on 49 – the hwy I should have taken instead of going to Browning. Anyways….the lake area was pretty. One mountain lake is almost the same as the next after I have seen a few. Again the flowers were really pretty! I always get distracted by them. 
Two Medicine Lake
Drove back and checked into my room. It was small and with a really small bathroom. There was a TV which I never turned. Today I had mathri for dinner. I planned out my next day using the map the Park officials had given me. Mark also suggested to not worry about getting parking at Logan Pass, just drive on and take the shuttle. That gave me a good relief just in case I was not able to see all the sights also.

I was super tired today. there had been a short break of the boat ride, but otherwise I had not eaten proper lunch or dinner and had driven all day on mountain roads. And I know part of the way for tomorrow will still be gravel road, so I needed my rest. 

I slept quite well!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Montana Drive - Day 4 - Helene Excursion

I had to get up early today so I could visit the Helena Church. I thought the first mass was at 8:30 but it was at 7:30 am, so I got ready and got to the church by 7 am. Helena is so small that everything is just 5 mins away. The church is a Catholic church – about 100 years old. Really pretty with all marble columns and stain glass work (from Munich). Almost all work is original. I sat there for a while till before the mass started and then left. 

Went for breakfast at the restaurant in the hotel compound. I had a choice of 4 things from the menu. I had eggs and hash brown. Coffee was terrible and they gave only one slice of toast. Oh well…it’s okay. 

Came back to my room and slept for a bit since I had trouble sleeping at night. Drove to the Sculpture in the Wild around 10:30 am. It was a nice drive on 289-N and then 200-W. I had to pass the Flesher Pass, which is a mountainous drive of up to 6500 ft height. It was a little hard but got okay after a while.  The sculpture park was outside of Lincoln, in the middle of nowhere. It was a nice park. I was surprised to see other people there. it was a nice walk around admiring the sculptures. A lot of them were made out of natural materials, wood, logs, sticks etc. it took about an hour to see everything. 

There was only a portable restroom there, which I just cannot use. So I went out of the park to find another place and then came back to have my lunch. It was really nice to just sit there in the forest and enjoy my puris. Then it was time to drive back. For some reason, the drive back did not feel long or even scary. I stopped at a couple spots to take pictures. 
Flesher Pass
Got back to Helena around 3 pm. Went to the shopping area on Montana Ave to find a jacket. Found me a Ross store and a jacket from there. went to Target to see if they had any jackets, but no. I will never understand Target clothes. I did buy me a steel bottle from there. My water is getting warm in the car. I was in my hotel by 4:30 pm.  I belated noted that the Capitol building closed at 3 pm on Sundays. I should have seen this before! oh well, I will go later to at least visit from the outside. 
Montana Capitol Building
Planned my way for tomorrow. Downloaded some maps, although my cell phone coverage has been quite reliable so far. As much as I am ready for my drive, I feel that the roads here are really not marked well in some cases and I feel that I may be on the wrong highway – although it has happened only once, but still.

All in all another good day! I am looking forward to the park trip for the next two days.