10/13/2003: Day 5: Crossing Waterton Glacier Park into Canada
East Glacier, MT. The sleet had stopped, but it was a cold 2-block walk to the Two Medicine Grill: We stoked up with Cappuccino, a bagel sandwich, solid oatmeal, and thick bacon. Back to the room, packed up, and on the way at 9:50. We went into the park on 49 to Two Medicine Lake. It was drizzly up in the high areas, but we still had nice views. On the way back down, my Verizon phone found a friendly signal. Karen called the campground registration line, because the ranger station just had a message about the expected Sunday weather. The ranger said to stay east of Glacier; there is considerable precipitation on the west side this day. Going-to-the-sun road is completely enshrouded, and closed between Jackson glacier in the east and "the loop" on the west. So the tip from the L&P grocer worked out alright.We decided to try the section of Going to the Sun up to the barricades, anyway.
All of the Montana highways have a posted 70 mph speed limit. There are sometimes stretches along our route where we could go for hundreds of yards between 40 mph sinusoidal curves. Even without those tighter bends, the speed that felt safe was usually slower. Karen and I decided that they should post "If you dare" below the "70" signs.
We stopped in St. Mary's for gas. It was being boarded up for its closing day, today. We actually slipped into the restrooms as a crew was nailing up the blizzard boards, about Â½ hour from completely sealing it up. All the other buildings, including 2 of the 3 gas stations were already boarded up. Much of this trip is a simple combination of barely-made-it and just-missed-it.
We drove up the Going to the Sun road from St. Mary's to the Jackson Glacier overlook. There were gaps in the rain big enough to see the mountains, and we think we saw the particular greenish-white patch that marks Jackson Glacier. Iâ€™m wondering what the difference is between a simple snow-capped mountain, and a glacier. The border crossing on MT 17 in the park is closed for the season, but there is another one out on U.S. 89 and Alberta 2. So we drove over to that crossing.
Entering Alberta, Canada:
We got stopped at the border! We had to "park on the left and go upstairs". Karen was quite put out. I was amused. I figured that they were bored, and we were in no hurry. They took our Missouri licenses into the back and did some computer magic. The young man wouldnâ€™t drop his (Mounty) cop face and tell us what heâ€™d found, but he let us go without having our car searched. This was good, because when the first guard asked if we had any alcohol, Karen said, "No." We had one bottle of beer somewhere in our voluminous backseat collection of comestibles. Probably they stopped us because, when asked if we had any weapons, I said that I thought that there was a pocketknife somewhere in the car. Or maybe it was my green Uni-bomber hoodie and wild hair.
We stopped for more food at the Carriage Mall IGA in Cardston just over the Canadian border. They took a U.S. $50 and gave us about $55 Canadian in change for our $7 purchase.
Onward we drove to Red Rock Canyon in Waterton Nat'l Park. The Alberta roads in the park are narrower than their U.S. counterparts, and had few of those view-obstructing rails to prevent careless travelers from reenacting the final scene in Thelma and Louise. Think of it as evolution in action, I guess.
On both drives into Glacier (one in each country), we saw rainbows on the hills. It was partly sunny in the low areas, and raining as one got higher. Subtle arcs of color tinted the trees and cliffs to the west in the morning, and to the northeast in the afternoon.
At the Waterton visitors center, a ranger was prepping "Closed for the Season" signs: Today was the last day the visitor's center would be open for the year.
We stopped on our way out at the Kilmorey Lodge for coffee and Saskatoon berry pie. Karen loves these oddball berry pies. I saw more modern windmills between Pincher Creek and Cowley along the Crow's Nest Highway. Up here, we saw moose and pheasants, while before we saw only deer and antelope. We passed the (infamous) Hillcrest Mine on the way up to Crowâ€™s-nest Pass. We know it mostly from the Paul and Win Grace and Family performance of the ballad.
Entering British Columbia, Canada: Our first crossing of the continental divide on this trip.
We stopped at the comparatively primitive East Kootenay rest area on the way down from the pass, and stopped for the night in Sparwood at the Black Nugget Motor Inn where highway 3 hits 43. This is coal territory: First, remove the trees, then the soil, then the rock, and finally the coal. This is mountaintop removal mining. They asked us if we were having dinner there when we checked in, and were quite surprised when we said, no. We found out the next morning that it was Canadian Thanksgiving, and we'd turned down the annual feast! Oh, well. Add it to my list of so many regrets involving declining offers without understanding them.
Once in the room, I spent an hour trying to IR sync my new (from a yard sale) Palm Pilot to my PC, and failing. KJ became quite pissed with me: She was hoping for a cozy in-room dinner. Oh, well. I finally got it to work while Karen took a relaxing bath. I have no idea what magical sequence was the variation on the explicit instructions necessary to get this to work. I usually figured it out faster, though. It turns out that there is a driver conflict (In Windows, surprise!).