Tag Archives: montana

Your car is your cage

Driving from the east coast to Walla Walla, we stayed in all manner of hotel accommodations. The overdone casino hotel on the reservation in Niagara Falls to the bare but tidy room in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, we had pretty much seen it all, or so we thought. Spending one night in the lodge on McDonald Lake in Glacier National Park, we drove down and under the park, coming out on the other side in East Glacier, Montana.

The innkeeper was decidedly pessimistic about the likeliehood we would keep our reservation.

“We’re just opening up for the season, so we don’t have the cable TV working yet,” she said. “It’s okay if you want to stay somewhere else.”

That would have sounded self-sacrificing if it weren’t for the fact that there were no other hotels open that weekend in East Glacier, and that she had left out one little issue that was actually much more important than the lack of television.

The entire town was under a boiling water ordinance because there was too much particulate matter in the water. Apparently it was safe to shower in and brush our teeth. But who wanted to chance that? I lied under the top sheet later that night, trying not to think about the water the linens had been washed in, and how many microbes were immune to the heat of the dryer, and now staking land claims on my skin. Helpfully, exhaustion from hiking set in, and I slept soundly on the listing mattress, and then we were off to Canada, the next morning. O, Canada!

We had time to look around a little while we traveled. Our favorite (?) parts of Montana, other than the truly majestic beauty of the park, were the town of Hungry Horse and the “Bear Safari” west of the park. It is one thing to name one’s town after emaciated livestock, but quite another to use the town name in logos for local businesses. It just didn’t have quite the same cache as say, fat pandas do for Chinese restaurants. Nobody in our party wanted to eat at any grill featuring horses with exaggerated rib cages.

The Bear Safari was a wild idea, the Wild West’s version of an alligator park, I presume. The idea was you drive through an enclosed area where someone has purposefully placed some number and variety of bears. Real bears. The tagline, “Your Car Is Your Cage,” did not instill us with a sense of comfort. Perhaps if we had been driving a Hummer. And even then, I still wouldn’t drive into that. I should see how long this place has been around, or stake out the opposite side of the street to observe which crazy people actually pay admission to this thing.

more photos from our trip

Here are some more photos of Lang on my Flickr account:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/evmaroon/sets/72157606911832888/

And here are some shots driving through Montana:


Montana mountains

Montana mountains

I’ve only seen things like that in photos on well meaning but irritating motivational posters. Quite another thing to see them in real life, I can attest.


Prairie and clouds

Prairie and clouds

Again, even though the prairie got somewhat monotonous, it was still incredible and all that sky!


Montana as a storm rolls in

Montana as a storm rolls in

This was the start of a storm that I mentioned in a previous post. We got to see quite a light show up in the Rocky Mountains at real western saloon place named Trixie’s, where Susanne used the one and only outhouse we saw on our trip. I asked how it was and she rolled her eyes at me, because isn’t that OBVIOUS. Well, yes, it is. But as I wasn’t going to use it myself — I think I’d rather die of a bladder explosion — I only had her eyewitness testimony to describe it for me. So I’ll just go on my possibly condescending, limited stereotypes of outhouses to imagine the experience. Thanks a lot, Susanne. 😉

Now then, we left the picturesque West for entry into our new abode, which is best summed up thusly:


Our new toilet

Our new toilet

Let’s just say we’re cleaning and unpacking and it’s a bit overwhelming but we’re getting there. Baby steps, people, baby steps. Will post more later about a few things we’ve done since showing up in this town.

Next up: Walla Walla farmer’s market, our first trip to Sonic, and a speech by Chris Gregoire.

The loooong state of Montana

Eastern Montana and Western Montana are like old friends who don’t get together so much anymore. As we drove past a 60-mile long Indian reservation (and wow, the US Government really did give them some of the worst, most untenable land in the country), there were a lot of flats and a few rolling hills, the sky reaching down all the way to the horizon. I noticed that a funny thing happens when it does this. It seems to change color, kin of in a hazy way, kind of dusty, kind of purple, kind of Photoshopped. Fascinating to someone who’s only seen sky, buildings, and ground.

Eastern Montana gradually gives way to what can only be described as the Old West, in what eventually comes across as the west’s version of people who still want to live in the old Confederacy. At least they echo each other to me. We saw more mountainous terrain, the CR-V climbing up some 4,000 feet of elevation, and the towns became more frequent and more populated. I also started to see a preponderance of Lounge/Casino/Restaurant establishments, sometimes three or four to a town that had only one general store or grocery. As we made our way west, we started hitting the Rocky Mountains which, shockingly, have a lot of rocks. I’d actually never thought about that! We drove through a mountain pass on our way to Missoula, which was something like you’d see in a spy flick: curvy two-lane mountain road, mountain on one side, balance-beam-wide road (which are 4 inches across, by the way), and cliff. Don’t these people believe in guard rails? Holy shit, we could drive right off into the river below, people! Where is the local chapter of MADD?

(Editor’s note: pictures of all of this are on Susanne’s camera, so when we have a chance we’ll edit this post.)

Missoula was nestled in some of the mountains, down in the valley. Were this California or anywhere on the East Coast, there would be tons of houses up in the hills as well, but the people out west here have a shitload of space, and they’re not anywhere near to using it up yet. And it’s kind of in clumps that are like mercury droplets that haven’t merged together yet — town droplet, space space space, town droplet, etc. We saw as we were driving down, a huge thunderstorm several miles away. The only time I’ve ever seen a storm and not been it it is from the window of a plain, so again, the sky is huge out here. We drove down to our hotel after 10 hours of driving through Montana, only to find that their power had been out for two hours. We gave my friend Anna a call and met up with her for dinner at a local restaurant, and chatted about grad school and crazy people. Ah, it almost felt like home!

The next day we drove through the rest of Montana — how could there be more? — and through Idaho into Washington State. More scrubland, more wheat fields, the start of long lines of wind energy mills, along the tops of the hills. They almost look over you as you go by, far away automatons that could someday descend into town and chop us all into little pieces. So be nice to your neighborhood wind mill, people!

The drive on the last day was only about 6 hours, which for us is a breeze now. The last leg into Walla Walla takes us by a paper mill on the Columbia river which I swear is manufacturing spoiled broccoli, because that’s what it smells like. not spoiled spinach or spoiled anything else green vegetable. Or even spoiled artichoke, which I have personally drunk in the awful form of Cynar, an Italian liquor to avoid AT ALL COSTS. Definitely broccoli.

We rolled into town and showed up at the college to collect the keys to the house and sign the lease. And here is where things went more than a bit downhill. Next post for those details, because I really have to include pictures with that.

But hey, we made it! Final mileage count, 3,550. 27.2 miles per gallon, so we bought 130 gallons of gas, and at an average cost of $4.80 per gallon, that comes out to $625 in gas. We saved a bunch on hotel costs, though, spending three nights for free at various relatives’ homes, and only spent an average of $120 on hotels the other nights. The best shower was at the casino in Niagara Falls, which was a dream. The worst was the little motel in Saskatchewan, but even that was preferable to the disgusting cavern called a shower in our present house. Let’s just say we spent $150 yesterday at Target buying cleaning supplies…

Back online for the moment…

A raging thunderstorm in Missoula took out the Internet connection of our hotel, and we haven’t had Internet here in Walla Walla until we had the chance to stop by a Web cafe today, so this is my first chance to update the blog. I’ll start back at Lang, Saskatchewan, where my Mom grew up. (Please note that WordPress won’t let me rotate vertically-shot photos! I don’t know why…) It’s as small a town as she suggested. Here are some shots:





Train driving through Lang

Train driving through Lang




Grain storage in Lang

Grain storage in Lang



United Church of Canada

United Church of Canada

It was a lot dustier than I’d imagined, though just about as flat as Mom had told me. Emphasis on “flat.”

We barely made it through immigration the evening before, the Canadian officer asking us “Why Lang,” as if to say, okay, I’ll bite, this ought to be good. Susanne did all the talking. We made it through, thinking crap, we shouldn’t have gotten rid of all that wine (each person can only take two bottles across) because three times through, nobody looked at anything other than our ID. But four times is the charm, as I’ll mention later.

The towns were very small in the flats of Saskatchewan, but none smaller than tiny Ralph, which apparently consisted of one house. One. Probably Ralph. I had this image of a stubborn farmer who went to the provincial monthly hearing insisting he get his own town name, and 30 years later, he had a sign on Highway 39. That persistent Ralph! Wish we’d taken a picture.


Grain silo in SK

Grain silo in SK

So the plains were interesting, lots of farms, steer, farms, steer, farms, steer . . . and by the 14th hour it was much less interesting. I suppose people are born there and live their whole lives there. Every so often we’d pass a graveyard right next to the state highway, in North Dakota, Saskatchewan, or eastern Montana, marked only by a wrought iron gate with the name of the cemetery. For being such an Easterner, it seemed very lonely to me out there, in the same way that being used to lots of green suburban lawns made me find Phoenix, with its miles and miles of desert dirt, seem unfinished.

I wonder how long it will take to adjust.

We spent about twenty minutes driving through Lang, where we didn’t see another person, but they must have seen us. I can only imagine what a big guy and little lady in a car from Washington DC who kept getting out and taking photos of random things looked like to the townsfolk. We’d have gone into the local grocery but it wasn’t open for the day at that point.

We turned around and headed back down Hwy 6 into the very eastern corner of Montana, and alas, they pretty much looked through the car, checking the amount of wine we had and calling out Chuck, their agriculture “specialist” to read the label on our cherries that we’d bought back home.

Chuck: Where’d you get these?

Us: In the states. At Costco.

Chuck: Where?

Me: The Pentagon City Costco, in Arlington, Virginia.

Chuck: Oh.

Other Customs Guy: Do you believe them?

Chuck: Oh, I believe them.

Me: That’s also American ice in that cooler.

At that point I felt Susanne’s virtual foot kicking me in my virtual shin. So I shut up. They let us into the US, cherries, wine, and all. I think after telling them about how we got married, they thought we were on the stupidest honeymoon they’d ever heard of. If only they’d seen us on the Maid of the Mist!

We pulled into Montana and my camera battery gave out. Susanne’s got some photos on her camera, so hopefully I’ll upload those soon.

Meanwhile, another list of animals we saw from SK through Missoula, Montana:

porcupine (combing his hair like a narcissist)

several elk

many, many cows

young buck deer and female deer following him


two prairie dogs on separate occasions



bison (! amazing !)

Miles traveled by the time we pulled into Missoula: 3,140.

Next up: driving through Montana, the state with no fixed identity, and Trixie’s restaurant at the top of the storm, Missoula and late dinner with Anna, driving across Idaho

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