Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Badlands. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Badlands. Show all posts

Thursday, December 17, 2020

First Night in Glacier National Park

While I have visited Yellowstone National Park many times, I had never made the trek further north to Glacier National Park, until this summer that is. This last summer was a strange time to travel to say the least, but my wife and I were not going to be deterred. Our trip was modified significantly, of course, due to COVID-19. Neither of us had ever been to Glacier, so in some ways we don't really know for sure what we were missing out on. However, we were able to experience many amazing elements of one of the most beautiful national parks I have ever visited. 

The trip was in the works since 2019 and we had at least been talking about it longer than that. As we started to enter the window to make reservations for camping, I stressed and put forth a lot of time and effort. You see, camping reservations for Glacier National Park are difficult to obtain. For example, the reservations were released on a rolling basis 6 months in advance. Sites would literally book within seconds. If you were not online and ready to hit reserve at the exact moment the reservations were released, you could forget about it. 

In the first round of reservation availability, I snagged a campsite at Fish Creek for our first two nights, but failed to reserve anything beyond that. I tried day after day to get a campsite at Many Glacier, but it was not to be. Three months later, the second half of the campsites were released. By some miracle, I actually snagged a site for four nights at Many Glacier. The trip was starting to come together. Then COVID hit.

One of the first changes to our itinerary was when Glacier National Park announced that Many Glacier would stay closed for the duration of the 2020 season. In fact, there would be no access to the east side of the Park at all. While this seemed a bit absurd, there wasn't anything to be said or done. We debated cancelling our trip and trying again in 2021, but I knew this would be a great year to travel in terms of costs with gas prices so low. Finally, we did a bit of Google searching and found an alternative. Glacier Campground is a private campground just outside the west entrance to Glacier, and lo and behold, they still had some availability for the time we would be there!

We went ahead and booked a full week at Glacier Campground. Our trip plan involved a little over a week total at Glacier, then a jump over into northern Idaho for some more camping and fishing. My wife is super gracious and readily agrees to me getting some fishing in on these trips. A bull trout was on my bucket list and northern Idaho seemed like a good place to check it off without leaving the country. First, however, we had to get to Glacier National Park and enjoy some time there. 

Fast forward a few months, and our departure finally arrived. We took a northern route through Minnesota and North Dakota because I wanted to check another state off of the list. There's only a small handful I haven't visited. Time for an Alaska trip! 

Overlook of badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

While traveling through ND, we had to stop in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. One of my all time favorite presidents, Theodore Roosevelt spent quite a bit of time in the badlands of North Dakota and was inspired to start the conservation movement based largely on his time there. We were fortunate to spot some bison and enjoyed a great sunset. No trip out west would be complete without seeing some bison!

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Sunset in Theodore Roosevelt National Park


The next day, all that separated us from Glacier National Park was the state of Montana. We headed off on Montana 200S which features two lanes and a 70 mph speed limit. One of my favorite things about the wide open spaces out west is the ability to make some serious time. With 80 mph speed limits on the interstates and 70 mph speed limits elsewhere, Montana is a great place to make haste. The only downside is that it is a massive state. We soon learned why the speed limits are so high. People have to hurry if they want to get anywhere!

We finally made it to Great Falls where we stopped for lunch. One strange thing about this trip was the lack of eating out. Because of COVID, we were being cautious. We didn't want to ruin our trip with a mysterious illness or anything. However, pizza was sounding really good and we reasoned that since it was cooked at 500 degrees or something similar, it was probably safe. We called and ordered takeout which worked out fine. We were still healthy and enjoyed some excellent pizza from Fire Artisan Pizza. A stop for groceries and gas and we were back on the road with Glacier in our sights. 

We took highway 200 to highway 83 which then made a beeline for the West Glacier area. Highway 83 ended up being a beautiful drive through gorgeous forests. We had to watch out for deer as several ran across the road including some impressive bucks. Thankfully we avoided any collisions and made it to Glacier around sunset. It had been a long day, but we were finally there!

Setting up camp quickly in the waning light, we had supper and then headed out to look for a spot to do some nighttime sky photography. Comet NEOWISE was fading fast, and I hoped to catch it over Lake McDonald. As it turned out, the comet was too dim to show up in large scale pictures of the lake, but I did manage some nice night sky pictures of the lake and stars along with a few closeups of the comet. Finally, we decided it was best to head back to camp and get some rest. The next day would be our first full day in Glacier and we didn't want to waste time sleeping!

Night sky over Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Journey West

For many people like me who happen to be avid trout anglers in the eastern United States, the holy grail of our sport is a pilgrimage west. For some, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to cast flies in streams where trout are large and plentiful and the bugs hatch like clockwork. For others, this is an annual or semi-annual tradition. While I have been blessed to travel and even live in the west more than I deserve, every trip still excites me as if it is my first and perhaps only trip.

Preparing for the Trip

As my good friend Byron Begley of Little River Outfitters once said, "preparation is a form of anticipation." While this quote comes from the excellent daily fishing report from his shop, it is actually referencing his own preparations for a big fly fishing trip. So much goes into getting ready for each and every trip. There are may flies to be tied of course. This is true even if one's fly boxes are already crammed full to overflowing. Most fly anglers take the Boy Scouts Motto to the extreme. Being prepared is good and all, but when you decide to take your wife's Toyota Corolla on the long awaited road trip to Yellowstone for the good gas mileage, space is at a premium and extra fly boxes start to look an awfully lot like clutter.

I slowly pulled together an increasingly mountainous pile of gear. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I ordered a new two person sleeping pad. When it didn't fit in my two man tent, I also had to buy a new tent. Such is life when you are getting ready for a big trip. Unforeseen dilemmas appear and must be dealt with, but the preparation marches steadily towards the climax when suddenly you find yourself loading the car carefully, fitting each piece in like a jigsaw puzzle. The thought is always tickling your brain that it might not be possible to get everything back in the car for the return trip, but you move forward and hope for the best.

Departing for the West

On the day of our departure, my wife Leah had to work before we actually left. The plan was for me to pack the car and do all of the last minute chores around the house. When she got home, we planned to head west for an all-night drive. We had reservations in the Black Hills of South Dakota for the next evening so it was essential to make good time that night. We hit I-40 west from Crossville Tennessee at around 6:00 pm Central time. The sun was sinking low in the sky as we approached Nashville. By the time we were in Kentucky, the reality of a long night ahead was setting in.

Other than quick stops for gas, we kept on moving through the night. Paducah and St. Louis came and went. Finally, as I approached Kansas City at 2:00 am, I was getting sleepy. Knowing that a bit of rest was crucial for the hard push west that day, we found a rest area and stopped for a quick snooze. Four hours later, Leah woke up and felt ready to drive. I felt like I had taken NyQuil and just could not bring myself out of the fog. I guess I'm getting too old for these late nights and long drives.

Enter South Dakota

As the sun came up, we were soon in Iowa and then South Dakota. Excited to finally be out on the plains, I was awake and took over driving duties for the rest of the day. Of course, it would be a long day. The plan was to stop briefly in the Badlands on our way to the Black Hills. We arrived there late in the day and made the quick drive through the Park. Wildlife abounded and we saw several interesting birds and animals including mule deer, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, a lone bison, and a burrowing owl.







The sun was setting as we merged back onto I-90 headed west towards Rapid City. There we would leave the interstate and head southwest into the heart of the Black Hills. It was well after dark as we pulled into Hill City and found our accommodations for the night. Both of us were extremely tired and fell asleep shortly after hitting the bed. The next morning I felt like a new person. A good night's rest and nice breakfast had me ready for another big day.

Big Day Two

The agenda for that day was optimistic: stop by Mt. Rushmore, drive through the scenic Spearfish Canyon, see Devils Tower in Wyoming, get groceries for the weekend ahead, and finally snag a campsite in the Bighorn Mountains near the Medicine Wheel for the night. Amazingly, we kept moving and made it all happen. As the sun sank low in the sky, we had our tent setup at the Bald Mountain Campground near the Medicine wheel just off of highway 14A high in the Bighorn Mountains. Nearby, cattle kept things interesting for motorists by wandering along the highway throughout the night. The occasionally honking reminded us that, while it might seem that we were in the middle of nowhere, civilization was still just a car ride away.




The Moose Magnet Legend Grows 

This day was a continual list of highlights. The prairie dogs highly entertained us at Devils Tower while a moose spotting added to a growing legend. My car, the Moose Magnet, was not with us on this trip. Leah's car gets better gas mileage and we decided that would be more important than marginally better comfort. The sun was getting low as we ascended the Bighorn Mountains. Driving up a high mountain valley complete with a meandering meadow lined with seemingly endless willows, I mentioned to Leah that she should keep her eye out for moose as it was excellent moose habitat. As I drove around a curve a quarter mile later, I saw it and added, "Like that moose over there..." Sure enough, a large bull moose was feeding below us in the waning light. Just up the road, we would spot a second moose, this time a cow. By the time our trip was over, more moose would be spotted prompting my wife to suggest that perhaps I was the moose magnet and not my car. I countered with the suggestion that maybe my awesome car had just rubbed off on her car. Regardless, in the meantime the legend continues to grow.



Medicine Wheel Wildlife

Waking up the next morning as the sun was rising, we decided to head over to the Medicine Wheel and let the sun warm things up before taking down our dew laden tent. I'm always in awe at the Medicine Wheel. The large stone "wheel" lying on the shoulder of a mountain in the northwest Bighorn Mountains is around tree line which makes for some incredible views. While we were there, heavy smoke from fires across the west made visibilities restricted. The Bighorn Basin was completely obscured. Views to the east across the Bighorns were marginally better but still not great. The marmots and pikas proved to be a highlight of our visit to the Medicine Wheel. Already some of my favorite creatures, Leah also fell in love with them, particularly the pikas.



Western Cattle Roundup

Upon returning to camp, we noticed several cowboys and cowgirls heading out. As it turns it, we were fortunate to witness a roundup. The free range cattle that had been startling drivers on the road the night before were pointed down the valley. Snow was not far away at this late point in the summer and the ranchers were apparently moving them towards lower elevations. This was perhaps one of Leah's favorite parts of the trip in no small part because of watching the herd dogs helping out. The dogs looked like they were having the time of their lives and so were we watching them work.

Repacking for Yellowstone

The sun finally dried things out. I am always amazed at how fast this process can happen in the dry climate of the American west. Taking down a tent and putting it back up is much better if that tent is dry. We were soon back on the road and making the harrowing descent into the Bighorn Basin. This was the day we would make it into Yellowstone and we were both excited!!!

-To be continued...

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