The road to Glacier Park from Idaho took me through Missoula, where I spent a day caching up on things like laundry and grocery shopping, and decided to stay over for a night in an actual motel since there were many cheap ones and I could shower (and dye my hair which was in dire need), charge up everything, and stay for dinner of good pizza. Let me say, you get what you pay for. Probably the worst hotel experience of my memory but it got the job done.
Anyway, the next day I was well positioned to head north, along the beautiful Flathead Lake where I stocked up on some cherries grown in one of the many orchards lining the lake, and up past Big Fork to the edges of West Glacier at Columbia Falls, home of the Montana Vortex- a ridiculous roadside attraction claiming to have several spiraling energy areas making people seem to grow and shrink, shifting gravity, all kinds of fun. It was silly but I did come away with a tip to visit the farmer’s market that evening for some live music and food trucks along with the market. I’ve missed events like that.
I found a great camp spot up the forest road by the Hungry Horse Reservoir next to a stream and surrounded by wildflowers and enough downed wood for nightly fires. The reservoir has a huge dam that was cool to walk across, and looked great for boating and swimming and all that fun. It was about 30 minutes from the West Glacier park entrance and served me well as a base while exploring the national park. I think this was the place I’ve spent the longest camped in one place on the road.
After enjoying my time in Glacier I took off along the southern edge of the park, watching the landscape change from green, tree-filled, wet and mountainous on the west side to dry and more prairie-like on the other side of the continental divide. There were very nice rest stops along the way and I took advantage of one to make some quesadillas and watch the trucks go by before arriving in Great Falls. It was still early so I went to a riverside park on the Missouri, and in the evening went to a magical gem on my roadside attraction list: the mermaid bar.
The Sip ‘n Dip Lounge is a teeny dive tiki bar in a motel downtown that utilizes the hotel pool as it’s very own mermaid tank in the evenings. A local member of the Montana Mermaids performs for 4-hour shifts most nights, donning a mermaid tail and performing for patrons who snap photos at the window into the pool. It was a surreal experience. I loved every minute, and I think the mermaid was excited to have someone wave back and clap like a 6 year old at Disney.
Not far outside town is the First People’s Buffalo Jump state park where they have an exhibit about how the Native Americans lured buffalo over the cliff to hunt them. It was all very ingenious, and even cooler to imagine when I walked out to the cliff. It was then that I realized I’d forgotten to go to the shortest river in America while in Great Falls that morning. Bummer.
Next stop on the central Montana tour was Butte where I camped out at the top of the Big Butte and did the little hike up in the morning, drove by a closed brothel museum, visited the gravesite of Evel Knievel, then went on to the Ringing Rocks. The ringing rocks are a formation a few miles into the hills up a rutted dirt road, so I walked the last mile when I saw a giant pothole. I think I could have made it since the rest of the road is fine, but it was a nice walk. These rocks make a bell-like ringing sound when hit, and they even have a bunch of hammers there for people to use. I tried to figure out a tune but it didn’t quite come together. Later on I stopped off in Helena to drive by the state capital and find a place in the downtown square to watch a few speakers in this online conference I was doing that week, and continued on to Bozeman and Big Sky for the night. I spent a little time in this area along north Yellowstone last time I was out here and it was just as beautiful as I remember. I love the vibe of this place, and it was a fun way to leave Montana for now. Back to Wyoming next!