Sunday, September 20, 2015
My friends and family know that traveling with me is like a hazardous occupation. I've seen snow in Death Valley, rain in the desert, and busloads of tourists invading isolated overlooks at sunrise. True friends have even suggested to my wife that we really ought to just stay home.
This summer was no exception. I had arranged a canal houseboat rental from Mid Lakes Marina in Macedon along the Erie canal in New York. June was one of the wettest months ever, and just before my trip was to start, large stretches of the Erie canal were closed - for high water! How you get too much water in a canal I don't know. Admittedly the boat was quite comfortable but we had to head west instead of east as I had intended. Canal houseboats are also very slow - people walking briskly along the towpath trails could outpace us when they were motivated. So we didn't cover quite the area I had planned, but it did force me to slow my own pace down. Way down. I guess that's a good idea and fits with the concept of a vacation. At least I didn't have guide a mule pulling the canal boat.
In July my long suffering wife Chris and I headed to Glacier National Park. About two days before departure we got an email from one of the hotels informing us of a forest fire. I've been to Glacier four times and this is the 2nd forest fire. That's 50%. I should probably be banned from the park. When I called the hotel to inquire about whether I should get a reservation elsewhere, the man who answered said not to worry, and nonchalantly added that the fire wasn't close - 6 miles away - and that it was at worst just a bit smoky.... So we flew into Great Falls Montana because although Kalispell is closer, it's on the west side of the park and we were spending all of our time on the east side which is separated from the airport by Logan's pass and the Going to the Sun road which can have surprise delays (even when there's no fire) and mess up your attempt to catch the flight back home.
Great Falls seemed to be a pleasant town and when we checked into the hotel we surprised with an upgrade - a jacuzzi suite. That night after dinner there was the sound like a herd of horses galloping around the room above us. Just when we were about to call the desk about that there was a knock on the door. When my wife answered there were two intoxicated young women standing there, one of whom slapped the other and slurred "told you this was the wrong floor!" A few minutes later, there was the sound of flowing water coming from the room with the jacuzzi. When I checked it out, there was water streaming from the light fixtures, the fire suppression nozzle, and down the walls. Definitely time to call the front desk. Apparently it's ok to go out and get drunk, leaving your children to wreak havoc back at the hotel.
The next day we drove to the park to discover that the main road through the park, Going to the Sun Road, was closed because of the fire and was unlikely to open in the near future. This is the main road to access the majority of the highlights of the park. The good news was that the fire wasn't heading towards our hotel. The other upside was that it forced us to explore the Two Medicine section of the park which is definitely under-appreciated. But this trip was timed to let us see the Logan Pass area after the snow had melted and when there should have been wildflowers and that wasn't an option anymore.
We spent the last few days of the trip in the Many Glacier area and stayed at the century old lodge. It's definitely cool, historical, and offers access to my favorite section of the park. However, there have been major advances in hotel construction over the last 100 years in areas like bathrooms and noise control. And when the fire alarm goes off at 3 am in a century old wooden structure you're really motivated to exit quickly!
In spite of the challenges of the trips, there was great scenery and plenty to photograph. One of the most fruitful outings were the two drives we made exploring the area east of Glacier National park. This area is agricultural and the landscape was more of the big sky type with horses and hay fields under it. This area was quite a contrast to the mountains and lakes of the park.
As always, I was pleasantly surprised with the opportunities for images, even if they weren't what I had anticipated. And of course, I'll continue to travel in spite of the black cloud. I'll even go back to Glacier National Park - but next time I'll probably travel under an alias...