One of my friends just got her permanent residency in Canada (moving here from Australia… yea… I think she is crazy too). In order to be a ‘landed’ resident she has to leave and come back, around the flag pole as it were. We decided to make Montana our flag pole. Just a short 3 hours from Calgary we decided to hit the closest border straight down highway 2 for ease and to drive the famous ‘Going to The Sun Road’ – said to be the most beautiful drive in the USA.
We soon found that the drive through southern Alberta was not nearly as bland as what wait on the other side of the border… well… minus one truly magnificent, beautiful, breathtaking, refreshing, inspirational place…
Glacier National park.
But first… we had to find it. Obviously there were signs everywhere and the park is a whopping 1,349 km² of land in the state… but it is May… and the ‘Going to The Sun Road’ was still closed for winter so our journey took us to a smaller path called ‘Many Glacier Road’. At first we were disappointed that our plans fell through but upon crossing the park border all of our peeves were left behind. The long, winding, sometimes scary, road was one of the most beautiful I have seen, AND I LIVE NEAR BANFF. Around one corner was a shimmering lake, around another was a steep mountain range, and around the next we slowed down, stopped, and met Bridie (as we named her) the Mountain Goat. If getting up close and personal with a wild mountain goat was not cool enough, Bridie showed us a waterfall that we may not have otherwise seen. Upon pulling off to the side of the road to take pictures we heard running water. Just down the hill next to us was a beautiful waterfall coming down from what looked like a cottage and a huge mountain range in the background, hidden by trees. Picture perfect scene if I ever saw one (See portfolio for pictures – will be posted soon).
After snapping pictures of every single inch of that scene we got back in the car and finished the last few KMs (or Miles if you want to be culturally immersed) past a stunning old hotel and then headed back. From there we ventured to our reserved hotel, the one we had googled before leaving and found to be the only one in the nearby area (30 miles) during the off-season.
Little did we know that the entire area was a native reserve and some of the scenes between the park and Browning (where our hotel was) were nothing less than tear jerking. Starving horses to stray dogs and homes with more garbage in the yard than the Bragg creek dump. It was devastating. Upon showing up in Browning we didn’t find much more. Our hotel was the nicest building in the town and it was attached to a casino, in front of a race track.
We checked in and asked where a restaurant was for a nice dinner. The lady at the front desk told us that the casino restaurant was the only place open this time of year. Upon investigation, this consisted of deep fried everything and a few burgers… so we went to explore instead. Happy to find a Subway (the delicious sandwich shop) we were able to shut the town out… or so we thought. Minutes after sitting down a pick-up truck came flying around the corner with 2 dogs in the back, and, as expected, one of the dogs fell out and began limping after the truck! Goodness knows if I had the support I would have been out there swooping that clearly neglected dog up into and into my van to drive back across the border to a safer home. But alas, the people here outweighed me in numbers and size (that, and I doubted my small Honda Civic with 3 people and luggage couldn’t hold an untamed dog for the 5 hour drive home). While leaving I also saw 2 strays run into the road and narrowly avoid being hit by people who didn’t seem phased by their presence, and one of the most beautiful dogs I’ve ever seen limp across the street sniffing at garbage. It proved to be too much and a tear fell down my cheek. I couldn’t watch any longer and we opted to head back to the hotel and hide in the room for the rest of the night (even though it was only 6pm).
The next morning we got out of dodge and continued our quest for more beautiful Glacier National Park experiences (while also looking for a Chase Bank – note… there are no chase banks in northern Montana within a comfortable distance..). Our quest had us heading towards Kalispell which seemed to be located in the middle of the mountains. It was pretty clear where the reserve ended and the government of Montana took over because spiraling into the mountains and along cliffs went from death traps to smooth pavement with railings. Though, driving on the broken, rocky road and peering down the side of a mountain does give you a sense of adventure and probably a good start to the day because of that. Two hours later we found the other side of the ‘Going to The Sun Road’ and the little tourist town that accompanies it (a place I will certainly check out in the summer time and the road I will take from the border). We also found the freshest air we had ever had the opportunity to breath in our whole lives (take a deep breath right now… Now imagine it light as air and cool, but not cold, and nourishing… so refreshing… for your soul. Yea, like that).
Passing by we made it to Kalispell where we did not find a bank, found the museum we wanted to check out to be closed, and ate at the only Taco Bell I’ve been to without any vegetarian options (forcing me to explain in detail how I only wanted rice and beans – a foreign concept there) – proving to be failure but not a regret.
Exhausted, we started the 3 hour trek up the winding road, through the reserve, and up to the border (where they made my friend an official permanent resident and grilled my visiting American boyfriend for 20 minutes about how he makes money and asked him to prove he wasn’t trying to live here illegally).
Back on the road we stopped for a picture of my friend by the ‘Welcome to Alberta’ sign where we all cheered.
Only one more hiccup on the way… as I was driving I saw a black object running across 4 lanes of highway and nearly hit my tire (if I hadn’t slammed on the breaks and swerved into the shoulder). It was a black Pomeranian/Yorkshire Terrier-looking dog. I turned the car off to help him just after honking angrily at a passing car who didn’t seem to care there was a dog on the road. I got out, crossed the highway, and saw a man standing at his door just watching. I was still on a reserve so this wasn’t really a place I wanted to get into a fight but I did yell to him to call his dog. When he walked towards us the dog ran away (clearly afraid of him). He apologized for inconveniencing me and I told him I wouldn’t leave until I felt the dog was safe. Getting down on my knees the dog headed over to say hi… that is until the man took another step forward and the dog darted into the field. If I had caught him I would have asked the man If I could take him home – to a safer place. Feeling that there was nothing more I could do I waited to cross the highway and continued home – thinking about the pooch the whole way.
On this trip I saw some beautiful and some devastating things, both of which I did not expect from a border state of America – but both of which I am happy I experienced. (minus the stray dogs… I’ll never be happy to see that).
All in all, it was an eye opening trip and I will be returning during the summer. I also hope to go down through Sweetgrass if only to sing Paul Brandt’s ‘Albera Bound’ at the top of my lungs while passing ‘the Sweetgrass sign’.
Ps: Anyone have a van that we can drive down and save stray dogs in? – my dream trip.