If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com you would be aware that I have been blogging and photographing about my 8-month road trip around the world in 2019. This is the final leg, my 4 weeks in the USA heading for the town of Bend and further into the wild west.
I headed out of Spokane early in the morning for my next destination of Kalispell in Montana for the night. There are plenty of different routes to make this journey, Id decided to head towards the town of Sandpoint in Idaho on the recommendation of a mate Id befriended at the Bend Brew Fest as he indicated the drive was very scenic… it certainly is.
Sandpoint is a picturesque small town, the shops all painted in bright colours and the architecture had an Old American West feeling to it. I headed into a café, grabbed a coffee and a bagel and headed down to Sandpoint City beach which sits on Lake Pend Oreille. The lake is surrounded by mountains, to my right was an extended rail track used for slow-moving trains crossing over the lake. There were also a few statues on a jetty including a man-sized copy of the Statue of Liberty, perfectly suited to the lush scenery surrounding me. I spent a few hours sunning myself on this amazing Idaho beach before hopping back in the car.
The scenic drive around Lake Pend Oreille was something special, the lake is the largest in Idaho at 148 square miles and mostly on my left was lush green pine and cedar forests. Along the way also were a few areas with old abandoned cars parked in a few quarries by the side of the road, I assume as some sort of tribute to logging or quarrying from years ago, not really sure. I then pulled over to the side of the road as there was a sign by the side of the road and a few parked cars indicating the Kootenai River. As I had a few hours in hand, I headed down a bush trail and half an hour later reached the Kootenai River suspension bridge. I walked across and had a view of the powerful Kootenai Waterfall; with the river and surrounding mountains, the entire area was spectacular. It’s nice what you can find unexpectedly on the side of the road.
I continued on my drive and after 7 hours reached my destination of Kalispell for the evening. Kalispell is the largest city in Northwest Montana and is considered the gateway city to Glacier National Park, it has a population of around 20,000 and was incorporated as a city in 1892. In the evening I walked around the Old Town area, I headed into a store selling cowboy gear and purchased myself a billfold (wallet), on the clerks recommendation I hit up a microbrewery for some tasty local beer and then headed to a dive bar. The dive bar was a very different experience to any other bar Id ever visited, there were no windows, the floor was covered in sawdust (I assume for mopping up liquids), there were stuffed animals mounted on all the walls surrounding the bar and half of the patronage were wearing cowboy hats. The bar was friendly, the beer super cheap and I spent longer in there than anticipated eating pistachios and talking with other barflies, it was my first cowboy bar.
The following morning slightly worse for wear I headed to a cafe for my “go-to” hangover cure of bacon and eggs. Please note American bacon whilst crisp and kinda tasty is also comparatively lousy in quality compared with what Australians and people from the UK are used to, so order extra bacon, every other breakfast treat in the USA is amazing and almost excessive regarding portions. After finishing up I headed towards Glacier National Parks entrance. There wasn’t much traffic and the mountain shadows started looming over the side of the road, the National Park Service (NPS) provided me with a map and I purchased a season pass. Tip this is a much more cost-effective way to spend money if intending on visiting more than one park. There are actually 419 national parks that this pass can be used for. I then continued on my drive to the Visitors Centre.
I always like head towards the Visitor Centre when entering a park. More often than not it’s a great place to get a coffee and some park information, but also good to go shopping for merch. This was my third road trip in the USA and every time I’ve focused on a theme, my first road trip was purchasing baseball caps, the second was collecting maps and for the third, buying a graphic t-shirt. I purchased my shirt and looked up my map, the drive from the west entrance to the east exit was 50 mile so I briefly planned out my day.
Glacier National Park borders Montana and Canada to the north, the “Going to the Sun Road” is aptly named, it covers 1600 square miles, has 200 lakes, 50 glaciers, full of alpine meadows and alpine forests, there are also 700 miles of walking trails. I kept my hiking to a minimum as my time was limited to a day and as previously indicated I am more of a driver than a hiker. After exploring some of the forests and walking down to a few lakes selfies I slowly progressed up the Sun Road taking every opportunity to pull over to take photos of the breathtaking scenery until reaching the top of Logan Pass, 6500 feet high (1980 metres) and crossing the Continental Divide. Most of the environment appeared relatively untouched and the air was clean and crisp, it was almost overwhelming the natural beauty of the environment. Glacier Park being so far north means the park was not crowded with tourists and getting around I found quite easy and with the very useful NPS helping out I can honestly say this nature experience has been one of my favourites Roaming the Globe.
I headed to the eastern entry of the park and the landscape changed quite drastically from the beautiful mountains to the Great Plains and the Blackfeet Indian reservation. I passed through the occasional town, I assume predominantly inhabited by Indians, mostly made up of houses in states of disrepair, caravans and old cars, mostly abandoned and a few appearing to be in working order. For the most part, it was open fields in every direction and very little traffic, I sped the car up to 100 miles an hour and wound down the window with loud music pumping out of the car stereo as dusk started to kick in and I was tired from my day of Glacier, hiking and general wonderment, a few hours later I made my destination for the evening of Great Falls Montana. I checked into my hotel, had a brief conversation about mermaids and fell asleep.
I work up an hour later thinking about mermaids, I was dead tired and should have stayed in but the desk clerk had mentioned there was a Tiki bar in town with mermaids. I got up, showered and went in search of the mermaid bar, I was thinking this had to be a joke as to why would there be mermaids in the Great Plains of Central Montana (or anywhere). Great Falls is around 60,000 population, I was staying downtown and there were few people about, most of the stores were closed and I followed my phone map to this alleged bar. I walked in, there was no one about and as I turned around to head out, I heard music coming down the staircase. I figured as I was here I should wander up, opened the door to loud lounge music, the room was dark, people scattered about and yep sure enough two mermaids swimming in a pool encased in glass behind the bar. I ended up there for a few hours talking with locals and other traveling “Road Warriors” talking about national parks, Australia and mermaids whilst drinking Hawaiian style cocktails with the occasional wave from a mermaid. After a while, I headed back to my hotel and fell dead asleep.
The following morning, I was up relatively late, I headed out to a café for mandatory bacon and eggs and planned out the following day, next up would be Bozeman for a rest stop and then north towards Yellowstone National Park. I took a look at the Great Falls, after all, it’s the cities namesake; series of 5 waterfalls on the Missouri River. It was quite the sight but after Glacier Lake relatively small in comparison. In Bozeman, didn’t really have time to do much though the city looked like quite a nice place with plenty of foot traffic, large parks and a vibrant downtown (unlike the amazing mermaid city of Great Falls). I headed to an antique store and purchased myself an old suitcase, TIP I always purchase an antique suitcase when overseas if practical as its cheaper than a new one and is a great way to pack any excess luggage such a graphic t-shirt that wouldn’t fit in my backpack. I then booked into a hotel nearby a roadhouse but was too tired to drink a beer so had a pizza, watched tv and fell asleep, tomorrow I’d be onto Yellowstone.
My road trip was approaching halfway and every mile further was getting more interesting. The drive to the “Western” city of Kalispell was an picturesque drive. Glacier National Park made it even better, such an epic-sized and untouched natural wonder, I feel totally gobsmacked (amazed) and privileged to have seen it. Then there was the surprise of Great Falls and its mermaids, it’s sometimes very strange what you can find driving America’s scenic byways.