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2001 West Vacation - September 4 through 15, Part 1 of 5


My 2001 West Vacation - 12 days, 5400 miles.
Days 1 to 4, Home to Glacier National Park.

Background / Planning

It had been three years since I last went out West. In between that time there were... uh... three trips to Disney World, so I decided it was time to go West on a real Road Trip.

By this time I had experience in digital video, taping and documenting Walt Disney World. Computers and non-linear editors were just getting to the point of becoming powerful and versatile enough that video was doable.

I did try to document this trip with both, and some of the images suffered because they were taken on a TRV-20 camcorder.

My destination would be Glacier National Park. The first third would essentially be the first leg of my 1996 vacation and the last third would be the last leg of my 1998 vacation.

The middle third would touch Glacier National Park, and I would also touch the last three states in the lower 48 I hadn't been to, and the anal retentive completionist in me could finally be satisfied.

But my 2001 West Road Trip turned into a bittersweet affair. Glacier National Park was spectacular, even with the snow that prevented us from getting to Logan's Pass our first full day. I drove Jo nuts by going to The Whitman Mission, which had some significance back on the Oregon Trail a couple of hundred years ago. I drove though Washington and Oregon, and completed my 48 lower United States quest in Jackpot, Nevada, where I lost $40 to the slots and poker machines. That was September 10, 2001.

From then on, the trip took on a surreal quality to it. I normally wouldn't even have the TV on, but Jo wanted Cubs scores, or something like that. When the first tower got hit, you hoped it was an accident. But then the second tower was hit. Someone had declared war on us, and we didn't know who.

I went to check out, and the entire breakfast area was hushed as everyone watched the updates on TV. We stuck around the hotel longer than we normally would, just to watch the coverage.

We had no choice but continue on our trip. We were 1600 miles from home, and had reservations in West Yellowstone that night. There was no one on the road. That could have been because we were in the middle of nowhere, but when we got to Jackson, Wyoming, the visitors center was closed, the normally bustling tourist town was almost deserted, and the restaurant we had lunch at had the news playing on a boombox instead of music over the speakers in the ceiling.

On September 11, 2001, I was on Gooddales Cutoff, 140 years after oxen drawn covered wagons travelled this part of the Oregon Trail, and a hundred years after Horatio Nelson Jackson drove through here on the first coast to coast automobile trip. I stood on a black plain, a colorless landscape as far as the eye could see. I stood in front a technological achievement that would see the first peaceful use of nuclear power, even if it was only to power a light bulb. I saw my first moose in the wild that didn't have a squirrel attached to it. And the park rangers wrote down license plate numbers of all the cars that left Yellowstone that night...

On the road again... - September 4

As always, my first day of a road trip is to get as far away from Chicago as I can. Jo couldn't use her work excuse and did the drive with me, since there really weren't any airports she could fly to that I'd be passing by...

It was nothing but a power drive up I-94. We made it to Bismarck, North Dakota. 835 miles, a full 200 miles farther than I thought we'd get, and to that time a personal record. The Maxima was a larger, quieter, and more comfortable car, which over a day was less fatiguing than my previous cars.

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North Dakota - September 5

Sunrise over I-94 in North Dakota.
We hit the road early, since it would be a couple of hours before we would stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I saw a sunrise in the making in the rear view mirror, and pulled into a truck only stopping area to get a couple of pictures.

North Dakota
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Theodore Roosevelt National Park - September 5

We stopped in at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the second time we'd been through this part of the I-94 corridor. We wouldn't go to the North Unit, like we did in 1996, but we did stop in at the Painted Canyon rest area. We also stopped in at the South Unit, but half of the scenic loop was closed for maintenance. Bummer.

Cross Cabin, Theodore Roosevelt's first cabin when he we here in 1883 has been relocated to the South Unit as a whole, including some of TR's personal possessions he had left behind. I didn't get to see the inside, but I would in 2006, when I snuck in with a special tour group that happened to be there. Hey, I'm a taxpayer too! Heh. (Only got video. The interior is so small, pictures were impractical.)

This is also the first time I started taking pictures with the intent to turn them into panoramics. I had had success at a couple of previous attempts, but nothing serious until this trip. Most were done with the TRV-20 camcorder, since I was still experimenting and 35mm was still expensive and relatively bulky in terms of rolls of film.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
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Makoshika State Park, Montana - September 5

My notes say we got to Makoshika around Noon, and I admit the brain cells that held that information died long ago, so I arrived at Noon!

We were in new territory here. In 1996, we had gotten off of I-94 at Wibaux, Montana, and went South to the Black Hills. This time, we were taking I-94, where it ends and merges with I-90. Sadly, the Montanabahn was closed down, and we had official speed limits of 75mph. sniff.

Makoshika was founded in 1953 as a Montana State Park, and its name is a variant of the Lakota phrase meaning Land of Bad Spirits. An appropriate name as you look over the badlands that stretches to the horizon.

65 million years ago, this was a sub-tropical floodplain, where dinosaurs roamed and flourished. Snakewater, Montana, the fictional city where Ellie Sattler and Alan Grant dug dinosaur bones in Jurassic Park, would have been located around here. Heh. Up to 10 dinosaur species has been found, from Triceratops to Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Makoshika State Park, Montana
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Montana - September 5 & 6

We passed through Big Sky country, the flat open plains of Eastern Montana. Around Rosebud, Montana, we crossed paths with William Clark, who piloted and mapped the Yellowstone River 200 years before. We overnighted in Billings, Montana.

The next morning, we left I-90 just past Bozeman, and went North toward US-2, through the Little Belt Mountains.

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Blackfeet Reservation / US-2 - September 6

I was already afternoon when we got to US-2, and decided to by-pass the park and get a fresh start in the morning. US-2 skirts the Southern Edge of Glacier National Park.

Blackfeet Reservation / US-2
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Glacier National Park - September 7

I've always described Glacier National Park as one of those parks you really have to want to visit, since it's so far from any major city. Kalispell is the closest, a city of 20,000 that caters to the tourist crowd and farming communities.

This park is also known as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site, but personally, I think Canada cheaped out on their portion of the park... :-)

Despite common belief that Glacier is named for the glaciers within the park, it is not. Glacier is named for the work that the last ice age did to the mountains 20 thousand years ago. It's a million acres of ice carved valleys, knife edged mountain peaks, and deep blue, clear lakes.

It was the railroad that primarily made this park, when the Great Northern Railway arrived in 1892, bringing homesteaders, miners and tourists. The creation of the National Park in 1910 is generally credited to George Bird Grinnel, an early explorer of this part of Montana.

We would spend two full days in the park. In 2006, I would spend four and a half hours here. But I was on a different mission then.

Our first full day in Glacier started at the Rangers office, with an ominous warning. It had snowed overnight, and the road to Logan's Pass was closed. But that wasn't going to stop us. Well, not until we got to the closed and locked gate across the road. That was kind of a show stopper.

But we took the road anyway, and stopped at a few places for pictures. The closer we got to the Continental Divide the worse the weather became. We stopped at the Trail of the Cedars, a short trail that leads you though an old growth forest with a slot view of Avalanche Gorge.

Toward the end of the trail you passed by the campground, and a bear came sauntering down the path. While everyone else scrambled, I shot video. Anyway, it was heading toward the campground. This is why you don't keep food in your tent.

Glacier National Park, Day 1 - Part 1
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End 2001 West Vacation - Part 1 of 5.

Jump to: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

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