We left Banff at 6:00am as the moon was setting over Tunnel Mountain on a cool morning, and headed 285 miles south toward the U.S. border. Along the way, we stopped at another historic site, the Bar U Ranch along the Pekisko Creek near Pincher Creek, Alberta. It sits in lovely, softly rounded hills of open country along Highway 22. The horizon is fringed by the Rocky Mountain National Forest Preserve (the equivalent of our national forests) and for nearly 100 miles, the views from our window were expansive and beautiful and lonely and endless.
The Bar U Ranch, which opened to the public as a national historic site in 1995, commemorates the evolution of the Canadian ranching industry. Established in 1882, it was one of the foremost ranching operations in Canada. At various times, the ranch achieved international recognition as a center of breeding excellence for cattle and for purebred Percheron horses. At one time, the ranch had 1,700 head of Percheron horses, the largest in the world.
From there, we drove through the spectacular Waterton Lakes National Park. We stopped at an overlook at a place called Waterton Park Front. Here, the philanthropic actions of a couple of ranch families (which held land throughout the Belly River valley) led to the establishment of the Waterton Park Front which basically included privately held lands that bordered the national park on the north and east, preserving significant portions of the unique ecosystem.
The border crossing at Chief Mountain, Montana is only open in the summer. It is a tiny little spot and there was only one other car in line with us for the entire 20 minutes we were there. Our experience with the U.S. Border Patrol was brief and without incident. It was quite moving to see the flags of two nations, side by side, in the quiet of a gorgeous summer afternoon. This is the area called the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. In 1932, this was designated as the world’s first international peace park to commemorate the bonds of friendship between the two countries who cooperate in the management of the natural and cultural resources of the region. The ecosystem straddles the national borders and we learned that the distinct group of plants and animals that share the rugged mountainous terrain are currently thriving. The grizzly bear population, for example, we were told is the healthiest in the world. Fortunately, we never had the occasion to do a self-assessment of the grizzlies in our time here.
We camped at Glacier National Park for four nights in St. Mary Campground, dry camping with six hours a day when we could use our generator. We had been in Glacier once before, around 1990, when we drove the incredible Going-to-the-Sun road and stayed at Lake McDonald Lodge for two days in early July during a stretch of rainy weather, which felt more like November. We hoped for more temperate weather this time and got it. The drive along this road is beyond words, description, photographs, or videos. It’s not unlike the experience of trying to describe listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. No words measure up to the task.
The road, which was completed in 1930s, was designated a National Civil Engineering Landmark, placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and named a National Historic Landmark, the only road in the country to hold all three designations. We stopped at Lake McDonald Lodge to see what it looked like in the sunshine. The answer: lovely.
The park was very busy during this Centennial Year. We later learned that in the month of August, Glacier welcomed nearly 750,000 visitors, an increase of about 20%. The drive along the spectacular highway was heavy with traffic on the narrow and curving road and therefore, afforded wonderful opportunities to see waterfalls and mountain goats and hillsides of wildflowers in full glory and huge vistas and glaciers at an easy pace.
We spent day two here on a short hike in the park, and a bike ride, before getting to some household management work. One of the realities of living on the road is that when we get a great Verizon connection, that’s when we plan to carve out a few hours to tend to the online travel itineraries, and the financial and budgetary details of our life. It also is time to do the research online for open questions about our Airstream. Lately, we have been researching solar panels and pricing them. While in Glacier we met another Airstream couple who had a portable solar system that we have heard great things about. We contacted the manufacturer, did more online research and then found and interviewed a dealer who could get us what we wanted. We are super excited about the Zamp 160-watt portable system that we ordered. We will have it installed when we are in Wyoming next month. In combination with our generator, we should be good for a wide variety of dry camping options.
Day three took us to Browning where we did laundry, shopped for food, and visited the Museum of the Plains Indians, located on the Blackfeet Reservation. We had been in Browning for Indian Days back around 1990 and attended a Pow Wow. This time, I spent a long time in conversation with two of the guides at the museum, both members of the Blackfeet tribe, talking about a wide range of things from land ownership, to Tribal Council politics, to ongoing talks with the federal government about the ancestral land use in what is now the national park.
We discussed the current candidacy of Denise Juneau, who grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation and is an enrolled member of the Hidatsa-Mandan tribe. In 2008, she was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in the state of Montana, the first American Indian woman in the country to ever win any statewide elective office. With a Masters in Education from Harvard University and a law degree from University of Montana, she is now running for the one at-large congressional seat from Montana and if elected, would be the first American Indian woman ever to serve in Congress. The slow progress of gathering distinct voices around the table…
The men I was speaking with were hopeful that having a voice like hers in the national dialog about issues of significance to the tribe, like infrastructure, housing, healthcare, and education, is long-overdue. It was a thought-provoking and important (for me) conversation.
Liz and Peter continue their journey south to Bozeman where they are planning necessary truck repairs, and continuing to discover the gifts of hospitality and the generosity of friends, while living on the road in their Airstream.