With East Glacier National Park still closed and West Glacier attractions exhausted, we extended our footprint and made some wild discoveries.
At 564 feet high and 15 miles from West Glacier, Hungry Horse is Dam one of the largest concrete arch dams in the United States, and its morning-glory spillway, with water cascading over the rim and dropping 490 feet, is the highest in the world. The visitor center was closed, but after reading the interpretive poster, Eric the engineer tried to explain the inner workings of hydroelectric power production while Sheri tuned into the photo op.
Best cookie ever?
Robbed of the ultimate Going to the Sun Road Glacier Park experience, we took the opposite Camas Road trek to Polebridge. Every ranger offering their ideas of what to do in a mostly closed park included a indulging in the “most amazing” chocolate chip cookie or huckleberry bear claw from the Polebridge Mercantile.
En route to cookie we took a detour to find Big Creek Campground in the Flathead Forest as a possible 10 day hangout to see if East Glacier might open on July 1. The Blackfeet tribe controls access to the Eastside and as a high-risk Covid community, they’ve been spared with no cases and want to keep it that way. After a wrong right turn onto a gravel pot-holed road leading to Moose Lake, Eric got 15 miles of off-roading in Boss with some spectacular shots of Montana wild. While we never made it to Moose Lake, we did find Big Creek just a 1/4 mile down the paved highway after the wrong right and decided 10 days was way too long to wait.
Polebridge is a tiny, solar-run wild-west type town 20 miles from the closed Canadian border with a saloon, mercantile, rentable cabins and a 2 mile stretch of gravel road to the North Fork unit of Glacier National Park. Part tourist trap, part north Glacier outpost, Polebridge is where you go when you’re still sore from hiking Mt Brown. It appears to be genuinely off-grid with large solar panel installations, industrial looking water reclamation apparatus, livestock and barns that support the small community living there. A steady stream of tourists (like us) with license plates from all over the United States come for the cookie and leave with a pizza slice, souvenir and picture in front of the replica frontier saloon.
From Polebridge, it is quick access into the North Fork section of Glacier Park. Geographically isolated from the popular Apgar/Visitor Center section, the North Fork is dirt roads and wilderness, dead ending at Bowman Lake. Launching Boss in 4WD, we drove in past the rudimentary Ranger Station warning of one lane narrow and winding dirt roads. True dat, we met other off-roaders in white-knuckle passings with one of us wedged in the forest and the other nearly off the cliff’s edge, inching past, side-view mirrors folded with hand shake door handles. Six miles in we found the remote Bowman lake which is probably the location for most mountain lake postcards, movie sets, and tourist brochures. When the icy wind off the 40 degree water finally drove us back into the truck, we reversed course to the Ranger Station in another thrill ride.
With scenic vistas from the top of Mt Brown and roadside pics of lakes and rivers, we shifted focus to seeing Glacier from the fishies’ perspective. The crisp 46 degree waters required wetsuits and splash gear for a 13 mile whitewater float and raft with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft company. The tame trip down the Middle Fork came with historical and nature insights and an organic riverside lunch served by guides Elena and Luke.
A pair of Sheric kids joined us for week 2 of our Glacier adventure, camping in our REI Grand Hut 4 outfitted with King Cots and serviced by Roxie’s kitchen and Wayfarers bathhouse. Despite the unpredictable range of weather, it was the perfect week of hiking and biking, campfires and cold craft beers mixed with stalking mountain goats, bears eating fawns, party boats and Bigfork bonding.
The huckleberry is to Montana what the peach is to Georgia. There are shakes and ice cream, hard seltzer and hand lotion. But the most coveted is the pie. At the Huckleberry Patch, 70something Erna bakes 45 pies a day during tourist season. We picked one up, which is no easy task since it weighed about 34 pounds and is priced accordingly. Tasting like a blue-black-raspberry blend, the huckle balances tart with sweet in a the homemade buttery crust that we heated and smothered in vanilla ice cream. That’s Glacier Gone Wild!