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Trip report - early Fall NW Montana/Glacier National Park
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IdahoDoug
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 24, 2014 8:30 pm    Post subject: Trip report - early Fall NW Montana/Glacier National Park Reply with quote

So on Thursday my wife and I decided the weather forecast was simply too tempting to pass up and spontaneously took the Vanagon to Montana. We packed it up with just clothes and sleeping gear, but no food prep other than a cooler for drinks. Being a tintop, we have a huge floor space and also brought a porta potty and the Big Buddy propane heater.

On the way out of town, we also decided to borrow a couple kayaks from a buddy just in case we got the urge to paddle. Boy was that a good call.

The van did great over the big passes and the continental divide, though we were not particularly heavily loaded without the kids and the rooftop tent that would have required. We were overtaken by dark about halfway to our destination on the south end of Flathead Lake, and I was glad I have the headlamp harness upgrade from Jay Brown as the deer were everywhere.

At 11pm we pulled into a small campground and scored a primo spot next to a gurgling stream. We'd set up the bed before leaving with a down comforter, luxurious pillows, reading lights and even had our books sitting on the pillows. So after about 5 minutes to put up the reflective window covers, we were kicking back and listening to nature sounds and marveling at the stars. This was our campsite the next morning as we walked off to stretch our legs before driving into Bigfork, MT for breakfast:
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When we got there, we discovered they had an art contest going on. Large squares on the pavement of the main street were cordoned off for artists to create in with chalk. They were amazing. We watched with amusement from our breakfast table as group after group stopped to look at the Vanagon and take pictures.

We strolled around Bigfork, admiring the shops and picking up a few things before heading off to paddle. Echo Lake was our destination, and it lived up to the billing from the local sport shop counter guy. Along the way, we stopped for a picnic down a dirt road in some shade (lots of these). We saw a lot of wildlife from the kayaks, and enjoyed the deep bays and undeveloped shores at the north end. Here's a picture as we were getting ready to leave after several enjoyable hours:
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We had dinner at an Italian restaurant near Bigfork that was absolutely first rate. It's hard to find Moroldo's but you will not soon forget it. It was the best meal I've had in all of 2014 and that is saying something. After a short walk, we freecamped near Bigfork rather than driving to Whitefish at night and missing all the scenery.

The next morning, we couldn't resist seeing how all the street art turned out and enjoyed breakfast for the second day in a row at Pocket Stone on the main drag. First rate food again. Somewhere between the omelettes and 3rd cup of coffee, we changed our plans and decided to check out Glacier National Park. Walking to the Van, there was yet another group looking at her and taking pictures. Glacier entrance:
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The drive to Glacier is very scenic, but you can tell when you enter the park that the scenery goes up yet another level. We were planning to paddle Lake Macdonald but when we stopped at the south end, it looked kinda boring with its smooth and uninteresting shoreline. The mountains across it were cool, but we didn't think it worth paddling. I know - spoiled, eh? So we drove on into the park to hike at Avalanche Lake. Last time we did this hike, a large black bear confronted us about a quarter mile from the trail end. He meant business and we retreated for several hundred feet while he kept coming with his ears pinned back and obviously meaning business. I had my sidearm out and it was pretty hair raising, but ended well. So this time we got to see what the other end of the lake looked like and it's a real worthy hike.

Here's Mango with a distant relative. These coaches are from the 1930s I believe, and recently fully restored by Ford Motor Company:

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After the hike, we went to the Macdonald Lodge for dinner and ran into some friends from home. Small world. They shared their table with us and even offered to have us come back to their room to shower and such. Without really discussing it, my wife and I politely declined and I think we were enjoying the van life enough that somehow that felt like cheating. Dark fell while we chatted around the huge fireplace in the lobby.

We left for Whitefish, MT at about 9pm and only lasted about 15 minutes before recalling yesterday's decision not to drive in the dark and miss the scenery. Just then, a campground in Glacier appeared, so I put my blinker on and we pulled in. Perfect spot, nothing but a few coyotes yipping and a screaming sound in the middle of the night I recognized as a mountain lion. It's pretty dramatic the first time you hear it because it can sound very much like a screaming girl. I got up to pee in the wee dark hours, and couldn't resist pushing the window cover and sliding window open and admiring the stars for a bit. It felt good to be in a steel box...

The next day (Monday) we headed for LuLas in Whitefish for breakfast. As we pulled up - what's this? A really well setup army green Syncro Westy right in front of the place. I parked right behind it, and we walked inside making a bet to see if we could pick out the Vanagon owners. I surveyed the scene for about 30 seconds, and approached my first choice - a handsome couple at the counter looking *slightly* scruffy like you do sleeping in a vehicle. Yep - guessed right. So we sat down beside them and yakked while the food was made. Here's a picture:
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They are from New York and left in early August. Their destination from here is Utah, then California and a loop back up into the NW. It's a Subagon van and they were very happy with it. He mentioned a clicking sound and I suggested he stop on his way through Missoula to see if Scott at DragonFly Vans could take a look. Description sounded like CV.

After breakfast we went back outside and found a group looking at our Van, and one guy walked up and said "You have the coolest car in town!" This in a town full of built Jeeps, Land Rovers with full trail kits and rooftop tents, and the typical tony assortment of rich peoples vacation cars. I was stoked.

We headed off to a little lake called Talley Lake which is about 5 miles down a dirt road. Totally pristine and worth the drive, the water was surprisingly warm. So we found a secluded beach and went for a swim before continuing our paddle. There are cliffs halfway down the lake where Osprey and Eagles hang out. We also found a cool river halfway to the cliffs we wanted to explore but there was a guy in a canoe flyfishing within our sight as we got to the mouth. We left it to him out of respect and continued.
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A random scene as we left the lake:
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Late in the afternoon, we put the kayaks back on the roof and headed into Whitefish for dinner. Lots of choices in that town. Really good food. In the gathering dark, we drove down the western shore of Flathead Lake, the west on Route 28. It's a great drive during the day, but we dodged a few deer and enjoyed the steady beat of the waterboxer as we listened to music and enjoyed the last bit of warmth in the late summer air with the windows open.

We pulled up at home about 11pm and haven't touched the Van since. It's still sitting out there with two kayaks on the roof and much of our gear still in place. Tomorrow I will grudgingly break it all down and put stuff away. We really, really love traveling this way and the Van space and size seem absolutely tailor made for a couple in casual traveling mode.
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luVWagn
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 24, 2014 10:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Applause Fantastic, and interesting to see the contrast between the low-riding tin-top, and the high-riding syncro westy!
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 12:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My, oh, my, that is beautiful. What a wonderful trip.
I hope you minded the sign here:
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Laughing
And the yellow van looks spectacular in the nature shots!
With color coordinated kayaks, no less.
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WestyBob
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 12:40 am    Post subject: Re: Trip report - early Fall NW Montana/Glacier National Par Reply with quote

Excellent mini-trip report and great pics. Your rig looks real sharp too. Cool
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 3:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sounds like a great trip!
Great photos and stories.

My Daughter now lives in Great Falls, I'll be out that way soon!
Hopefully in my "Weekender" Smile

Dave
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dhaavers
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 3:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report, Doug - makes me want to be there!

As always, I enjoy your writing and perspective on many things: vans, camping, travel, life priorities... Cool

Man, I need a free weekend before the snow flies...!!!

Thanks for posting!
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 10:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Smart idea on the sidearm, this valley is no place to be without it, especially at dawn and dusk. Glad you got to enjoy the area, pretty quick here it will be winter for like 7 months... Shocked
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 10:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the great trip report. I love these.
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dobryan
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 11:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

kalispell365 wrote:
Smart idea on the sidearm,


Hmmmm, considering your avatar........ Very Happy Very Happy
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 12:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

dobryan wrote:
kalispell365 wrote:
Smart idea on the sidearm,


Hmmmm, considering your avatar........ Very Happy Very Happy


Tha avatar id from The Big Lebowski, which ironically takes place in L.A.

My comment was because of the prevalence of bears both black and brown actively trying to feed for the quickly approaching winter. This year being one of the worst years Ive ever seen judging by the quantity of both bears and deer ripping apart the apple tree in my yard. My son has been confronted by a large black bear last fall in my yard and luckily he is bear aware and smart enough to evade the situation. This part of Montana has one of the largest populations of bear in the lower 48, and is the only location in the lower 48 where brown bear reside outside of Yellowstone Park. Living in the wilderness here, guns are a requirement, not a novelty, for self preservation.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 1:38 pm    Post subject: Why I Bought Winston Reply with quote

The campground at the job site is overrun with black bears that manifest almost no fear at all of the monkeys that occupy their territory for about two months of the year. For seven years I camped in various species of tents--and one night I woke up to the huffing and puffing of a very large bear just outside my tent--with only a thin sheet of woven nylon in the way.

We've HAD burst-throughs, not in our campsite, that I know of--yet--but more than one empty tent's been torn open and rifled--including one right next to where I camped last year! The bear literally just rips through the side of the temp and chomps down on the human's leg. I yelled at the bear and heard the noise retreat. My friends, whom my shouting woke up--I was BY NO MEANS off by myself--razzed me, saying, 'Rob, we know you have a .44 Magnum Redhawk next to your cot."

Shocked

That was quite true. My response was, 'Yes, but do you want to try and blow a bear off your leg at 4 A.M. in the morning?' I really didn't. The next year, I bought Winston.

Since then, I have woken up to the same sound, and the SMELL of a bear. I mentioned the tent in the next site. Bears have scratched themselves against trailers. I had a close encounter of the fuzzy kind when the sow was on one side of the trailer and I was on the other--we both agreed that running was a good idea. More than once I've seen golden eyes stare back in my flashlight's glare. It makes for... tension.

Shocked

So, I'm really quite understanding about the need for some projectile-capable insurance in certain areas, particularly at certain times. Don't leave home without it!

Oh--the one way I've heard of a bear getting into a Westy was through the skylight on the roof. THERE'S food for thought.

Best!
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 3:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I must say the area we were traveling (a triangle roughly between Missoula, Glacier and St. Retis, MT) is simply made for casual traveling in a Vanagon. The roads meander, every cool overlook has a little two car pullout perfect for a nap or picnic, and everybody's friendly. We had almost zero plans, yet every day was filled with unique experiences, beautiful camp sites, wildlife spotting, and great food. I could go do that again in a week. Really the kind of relaxing experience that a Vanagon can do for you perfectly if you're able to just turn the key and go with no reservations. Not everyone is like that, but if you are and you have a Vanagon then you are in luck.

For bears, I prefer to have a 12g if we are camping out of a vehicle or boat. I have a bear worthy powerful sidearm but there's no substitute for the 12g if the situation really warrants defensive actions. We also carry the large canister of the heavy duty bear spray. Because of that approach, we are both at ease in even the most remote and beautiful spots in this gorgeous world of ours.

DougM
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 3:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great trip report, glad to see all the hard work on Mango being enjoyed.
Thumbs up for taking responsibility for personal safety in bear country.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 7:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

IdahoDoug wrote:
For bears, I prefer to have a 12g if we are camping out of a vehicle or boat. I have a bear worthy powerful sidearm but there's no substitute for the 12g if the situation really warrants defensive actions. We also carry the large canister of the heavy duty bear spray. Because of that approach, we are both at ease in even the most remote and beautiful spots in this gorgeous world of ours.

DougM


I have always told my wife to carry a tin of old bacon grease and store it by another campsite. It will keep the bears away. Shocked

Just kidding....

Looks like a fun time. We love Montana!!! Wink
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 7:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great pictures! What a nice trip...
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2014 7:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

IdahoDoug wrote:
I must say the area we were traveling (a triangle roughly between Missoula, Glacier and St. Retis, MT) is simply made for casual traveling in a Vanagon. The roads meander, every cool overlook has a little two car pullout perfect for a nap or picnic, and everybody's friendly. We had almost zero plans, yet every day was filled with unique experiences, beautiful camp sites, wildlife spotting, and great food. I could go do that again in a week. Really the kind of relaxing experience that a Vanagon can do for you perfectly if you're able to just turn the key and go with no reservations. Not everyone is like that, but if you are and you have a Vanagon then you are in luck.
DougM


One of the main reasons we moved to Montana! Come back again soon, ya hear!
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2014 8:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Speaking of nice folks that live there, Saturday evening we passed a burgundy Westy on the side of the road. Reversed back with flashers on to find their coolant tank sender had failed and they were waiting for a towtruck. I had rescue tape and means to get them going but they preferred to wait and the tow arrived as we drove off. I think they were from Missoula. Hope all turned out for them.
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2014 9:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great trip Doug!

Sure is good to see Mango on an adventure. Tell the family hello. My girls are happy to see the pics of your great trip. Hellos from AK!
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