Monday, July 07, 2014

USA Week 4 (and a bit)

Since leaving Washington there have been a few disappointments and frustrations but lots of wonderful scenery and happy coincidences.
The train journey of nearly 24 hours on the Cardinal from Washington to Chicago was through Virginia, West Virginia  and Kentucky into Ohio by nightfall. We crossed the Allegheny Mountains. While very scenic there were few opportunities for great photos through the trees.
At lunch the first day I sat with a couple from Cronulla, Sydney who were also crisscrossing the USA by train. We also had dinner together. The next morning they were a little concerned as we were running late and they had to make a connection to the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles. However we were only an hour late and they would have been ok. To avoid that worry I stayed overnight in Chicago. There was a cool wind and as I walked along the lake shore the mist over the buildings was quite fascinating.

The next morning was spent in the Art Institute. It certainly lived up to its reputation of being the best art gallery in the USA. The number of impressionist paintings was amazing. 
Then it was back on the train, this time the Empire Builder which runs from Chicago to Seattle. Just after dinner and before reaching Minneapolis we crossed the Mississippi.

By the next morning we were in North Dakota and beginning to experience the significant delays this train has recently been experiencing due to oil freight blocking its path. Actually we had one of the better runs for the week and were only an hour and a half late into East Glacier.  I stayed the first night at the 100 year old Glacier Park Lodge which has the largest foyer of all the great National Park Lodges.

While right opposite the train station, it is not actually in Glacier National Park so the next morning I was on a shuttle into the park and to Many Glacier Lodge. It had a much more scenic location on a lake. The shuttle drive gave me the worst news. I had planned my whole USA trip around taking the bus to Going to the Sun Road. It goes over the Continental Divide and usually the road is open from June 20. I planned June 30. However 2 weeks earlier heavy rain and caused avalanches and the road was still closed. (I think it may have opened the day after I left.)
However on the shuttle I also met Lu-ann and her mother Mary from Indiana who were following the same itinerary as me. We had many meals together over the next few days and shared some of the frustrations, beginning with our rooms not being ready until after 4pm.
Just after I got into my room I had to rush down for a pre-booked ferry ride on the lake. It was actually 2 ferries with a short walk between the lower and upper lakes. The sky was overcast with intermittent showers so although I took many photos, better ones came in later days.

The next day was the bus ride which now only went 13 of the 50 miles along the Going to the Sun Road. However even this was very scenic and I sat up the front next to the driver. We went up to a point where we overlooked one of the many glaciers. The Red Buses were built in the 1930’s and have removable canvas roofs.
Here is of our bus with 2 Medicine Lake behind.

The tour was still 8 hours but went to alternate places which I was to see again during my stay there. While still disappointing it was not as bad as I feared when first hearing of the road being closed.
 In  the evening I walked about 4 km around the lake. I was only going to go part way as it is not wise to walk alone in bear country but met up with a couple who invited me to join them. There were quite a few groups walking. Back at the hotel I waited to see sunset over the Mountains from the back deck.

The next morning I joined a ranger led walk for safety. Besides having a canister of bear spray she regularly sang out “Ho Ho Bear, hikers coming through and clapped” The main thing is not to surprise them suddenly in their dining room. However we did not seek any bears, elk or moose just a few big horn sheep. I am not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.
We walked to Bull Head Lake, about 10 km return although I had any extra 3 km return from the hotel to the ranger station. We only climbed about 300 metres. These photos were taken along the way, one of the Red Rock Falls.

We had lunch by the lake looking up at several glaciers. sadly they are rapidly retreating with climate change. I had hoped to go to Iceberg Lake which is higher and has floating ice in it until late summer but it was still blocked by snow and probably just as well as there would be more climbing and at over 1250 metres above sea level I was quite breathless.

In the late afternoon I was back on the shuttle to Glacier Park Lodge for the night. As the train was not due until late the next day I went down the village in the morning and had some huckleberry pie with my coffee. Huckleberries are very nice, a less sweet blueberry but cannot be farmed so only available in areas where they grow wild.

Then I caught the shuttle back to 2 Medicine Lake, where I took the photo of the red bus 2 days earlier. I was put on a waiting list for the 1pm ferry and luckily my name was called as that saved me a 3 km walk around the lake. When i got off the ferry most people were taking the short walk with a guide to Twin Falls about 3 km return but I met a young couple from Kansas city who were happy to have an old bloke join them and we walked the 8 km return to Upper 2 Medicine Lake taking it in turn to sing out “Ho Ho Bear, Coming Through”
I am so glad I did as, after struggling over a snow bank, I had the best view of my trip.

Back on the ferry and shuttle to Glacier Park Lodge where, after dinner, we waited until the train arrived 4 hours late at 12.20am.

When I woke we were nearly 5 hours late and it looked like I would miss my connections to San Juan Islands. I had booked a very cheap motel in Seattle just in case as it was the night before the July 4 Long weekend.

However, while explaining the situation to the car attendant, the lady in the next roomette overheard me and told me that she and her daughter were headed for their home in Anacortes where I needed to catch the ferry and her husband was picking her up.
So I got off at an earlier stop and was driven by Paul, along with Vicki and Emily for nearly 2 hours. Unfortunately I just missed the 4.45pm ferry but did get on the 8.20pm and arrived Friday Harbor on San Juan Island at 9.30pm. I will continue the story in a few days time.

1 comment:

JCF said...

Lovin' this travelogue: what a trip!