October 1, 2010

Indian Summer in Northern Montana

Whitefish, MT - The sun is shining and the surface of Whitefish Lake is calm enough to reflect the surrounding mountains that rise up from it's shores. The intermittent boat comes and goes across the lake, out enjoying indian summer in Northern Montana. Aware of the forecast for rain in the coming days, we enjoy an afternoon at sandy City Beach. Our boys play with their toy tractors, digging, creating, imagining. The water is cool and refreshing yet the autumn color reminds us that summer is over. For what is probably the last time we try to make the most of this sunshine in this serene setting.

What was that sound?

Driving out of Missoula last night we passed into indian territory, or at least the Flathead Indian Reservation. The public Forest Service roads leading off from the highway disappeared, and as the skies darkened and the stars grew brighter, the more desperate we became to find a place to pull of and set up our ECamper. Eventually we found a dirt road leading off into the forest and decided to give it a shot. After about a half a kilometer, we finally found a spot that looked flat enough to serve our purpose and we hopped out to get set up. After a couple minutes fiddling around, a loud grunting sound and bit of thrashing came from the forested slopes just below us. I tried to ignore it. About a minute later, the same sound could be heard, only this time much closer. In the middle of the dark, in the middle of Montana, I didn't know what to think. But my first reaction was that I wasn't really sure I wanted to find out what it was. My first thought was grizzly. Nothing else I know of makes any kind of similar sound, or tromps around in thick forest in the middle of the night. The flashing grizzly bear crossing sign about a half hour earlier might have also influenced our reaction. Regardless, we put the pop top back down in a hurry and I jumped into the drivers seat and took a deep breath. We debated whether to stick around and see what it actually was, but decided against it. So we'll never know...

We ended up in a hotel that night, which considering we hadn't showered for a few days was a nice after a few long days on the road. We made it up to Whitefish for lunch under clear blue skies and enjoyed the afternoon lazying around on the beach. Traveling this time of year, we missed the summer crowds and it was still a couple months until skis season transforms Whitefish back into a resort town. We got to hang out with the locals, and feel less like tourists. Unfortunately, the local microbrewery was closed for a few days for fall cleaning, so we missed out on sampling the local brew, but Montana Coffee Traders was across the street so we strolled over and sampled fresh roasted coffee instead.

With glacially sculpted mountains looming over we were relieved to have made it this far north and looking forward to visiting Glacier National Park. Including our detour through the Sawtooths, our journey north had gone quickly yet we were able to do more than just sit in our car and watch the scenery pass by. The diversity of the American West and it's vastness reminded us of the differences between ideology when it comes to resources and open space. It's hard to fathom what living off the land in the middle of Montana is like for someone cooped up in an office in San Francisco. Hopefully be seeing these places, and experiencing them, we have a more open view to the plight of people everywhere and an appreciation for diversity. In places like Whitefish, there seems to be a balance between those that live off of the land and those that solely recreate on the land. Yet, both share a respect and understanding of the need for sustainability.

Whitefish left us wishing we had more time to spend, and that we could experience the area with snow. But for the one day we had there, we relaxed and immersed us in the beauty that it presented us with.