Day 6 – Beauty Unveiled

The sun was peaking through the blinds as we awoke this morning. Pulling the windows open we could see blue sky decorated with creamy white popcorn clouds. Tall trees and mountains were visible in the distance.  Had we been transported to some strange new land while we were sleeping? No, the winds had simply blown all the smoke and haze away.

Pancakes and bacon were consumed while catching up on hurricane Irma news.  After the dishes were done we decided we would return to Apgar Village to see if the landscape looked different there.  But before we left Randy said, “Why don’t we just drive all the way to St. Mary’s on the East side and see what it looks like there?” We can try, I thought. Well, why not?

We left in a blast and took only jackets and water bottles with us, not really serious about the drive all the way to the Eastern gates of Glacier. But once on the road, Apgar Village was bypassed in favor of just continuing on. The views were stunning and beautiful, as if someone had pulled back opaque curtains and all the beauty of the landscape was now visible. Not only that, the air quality seemed greatly improved and the smoke smell was reduced to almost non-existent.

Since we couldn’t drive “Going to the Sun Road” due to fires, (and we didn’t want to drive the mountain twists anyway) we continued on Highway 2 across the Continental Divide. Arriving in the town of East Glacier about 12:25, we continued into the park to see the Two Medicine Lake Area. Stopping at the Ranger Station we bought some maps and asked directions to any points of local interest. A near-by beaver lodge on the Two Medicine River was something we did not want to miss. So, we followed the Ranger’s directions and walked a ways along the river until we found it. We felt dwarfed by the massive peaks rising on each side of Two Medicine Lake. It was gorgeous. Rugged and pristine. And, as described, we found the beaver lodge along the river leading into the lake. Since beaver are mostly nocturnal, we didn’t see any activity in the light of day.

Since the last stop had been so refreshing, we traveled on. However, we did take the longer option and took US 89 until we reached Highway 464 to come back around and approach St. Mary’s from the north. It was only a few minutes longer and had no twisty mountain roads. Traveling along US 89 we came down from the mountains of Glacier and drove into the ranch lands of Northern Montana.

I was looking for something in the car when Randy gasped and exclaimed, “Buffalo!” I quickly looked up to see hundreds (maybe a couple of thousand) of buffalo, or bison as they are more accurately named, on the move along the roadway. Randy pulled off the road, then crossed over to the authorized pull-off on the buffalo side. (This is Eastern Montana . . . there weren’t many cars on the road, so such a maneuver wasn’t difficult.)

We stood in awe for several minutes, just watching these massive herd animals moving together.  Then we got out our cameras and took some shots. The experience made us wonder what it must have been like to come upon a herd of buffalo like this if you were crossing the planes in a wagontrain, or even if you were hunting buffalo to feed your family. Life must have been so very different in the early days of our country’s expansion.

Arriving at St. Mary’s Visitor Center on the Eastern approach to Glacier National Park about 3:00 p.m. we felt we’d made good time. The Lake MacDonald Lodge and surrounding area was closed due to the fires, and Logan Pass seemed just a little farther than we felt we had time for. So, we enjoyed the information, museum, and educational film before loading back in the car to return to the West side.

Enjoying the change in landscapes in reverse, we passed the herd of buffalo again and followed the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and Highway 2 back into Columbia Falls. As we passed the park’s Western entrance, we took a side trip in to see if MacDonald Lake was visible today in the setting sunlight. As we walked down to the lake I gasped as I saw the mountains bordering the lake jutting into the sky. Then, I gasped again as I realized they were filled with smoke as a result of fire that was coming down the mountain to meet the lake shore. We stood and watched for a time, sad all over again that the fires had consumed so much of the park lands. Leaving, we stopped once again along MacDonald river to see a beaver lodge in the evening light, hoping to see someone coming out in the twilight. If we hadn’t been so hungry, we might have stayed longer. But, suddenly we were really hungry. Those pancakes this morning were good, but they weren’t that good.

The place we had in mind for nourishment was closed by the time we arrived, so we looked across the street to see most of the cars in town parked in the lot of “The Nite Owl Back Room.” So, why not try a little “local color?” we asked ourselves. It was a roadside diner in every sense of the word. A few Formica tables; booths along the wall; a bakery case by the cashier; and a menu with everything from soup to nuts. It was so extensive, in fact, we couldn’t make up our minds. Just as we were about to order, a woman from the booth behind us got up to leave and stopped to advise us, “Try the Back Room. It’s senior buffet night. All you can eat for $12.95 and the chicken is to DIE for. They have everything you want and it’s so worth it.”

Of course, we opted for the Back Room Buffet, having officially crossed over to the dark side of “senior.” It definitely required a trip to the Back Room, which was a sizable dinning room filled with all the people who had come in the cars in the parking lot. We’ll have to remember to pay that one forward. Just a little reminder that grace comes in all shapes and sizes!

There is no disputing, the chicken WAS to die for! We finished everything off with a bowl of huckleberry ice cream and rolled back to our little apartment full, happy, and satisfied we had not only found a delightful eatery, but had experienced the graciousness of Montana hospitality and had SEEN some of the beauty of Montana we had longed to see.