An Industrial Visit

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“I need to get out!” said my beloved. She works from home and although that has a lot of advantages, you can get rather house bound.

“OK!” says I. Where shall we go?

“Oh, I don’t know. How about Scranton?

Scranton!?! You don’t hear too many people list that as a weekend away destination! It’s an industrial city in Pennsylvania Coal Country, about three hours away from home, once famously described as the biggest scrap yard in the wold and thus making the Eighth Wonder!. We’ve driven past the outskirts numerous times on the way too and from Canada, but never stopped. The outskirts aren’t much to look at. And the only things I know about Scranton are that 1) it is the setting for the US version of “The Office (which I’ve never seen, but understand to be as cringeworthy as the British original, which I’ve also never seen) and 2) it is the birth place of one Joe Biden, formally US Vice President under Barack Obama and who famously said he’d like to take Donald trump behind a bike shed and thrash him! On the face of it, Scranton seems an odd place as a destination. Yet, infact, downtown is quite attractive, though rather quiet, and has an interesting early 19th Century older style of architecture, simmilar to that seen in American Gangster movies such as The Untouchables. And being that it is an industrial city based on mining and manufacturing , it has an abundance of industrial Museums. And Diane and I like Industrial Museums.

So we threw some overnight things in the car and off we toddled. 3 hrs later on a beautiful, but cold day, we arrived at our first port of call. This was the Lackawanna Mine Tour, where you can visit a reopened anthracite mine. Scranton, and indeed the whole of northeast Pennsylvania, is riddled with deep coal mines. This area of the northeastern US has some of the biggest anthracites deposits in the world and as such was an industrial powerhouse for over a century. People flocked from all over the world to work in the deep mines. Like in the UK, the industry declined in the second half of the 20th Centrury, and the mines closed. This particular mine closed in 1966. However, part of it was reopened in the early 90’s as a museum. It now sits in a landscaped multi-use park, just outside of Scranton.

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The mine visit involves going underground. Unlike deep mines in the UK, which are ususally accessed via a cage lowered down a deep vertical shaft, this one is accessed via a sloped shaft down which runs a funicular railway car. To enter the mine, you ride down in the man rider, which is slowly winched down the track. Going underground, you reach a depth of about 300 ft below the surface, where the temperature is a nice steady 52 degrees year round.

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Bye Bye World

Once undergrown, a tour of the open part of the mine is given by former mineworkers, who explain about how mines work, what the life was like, procedures, etc. Unlike when the mine was fully working, there is now reasonable lighting. But you still hear and see water dripping through the rocks, it is still dark and you realise you are a long way from the sky above.

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Horrible working conditions

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Electric mine Loco and Cars

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At the coal face

The tour takes about an hour underground and the former miners were extremly proud of their work and knowledgeable. The mine is considered to be an active mine, so has to undergo all the safety rules and regulations that a working mine would. So it is proffesionally run and quite safe to be down there and doesen’t feel claustrophobic. Never-the-less, it was nice to come back to the surface. Even after an hour, you definitly get a feel of what a horrendously difficult, dangerous and dirty life it was working in the mines. It definitely makes one realise that no matter how we may complain about our jobs, the iritations we feel are nothing to the tribulations these miners faced daily.

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13000 lb lump of coal

Located next to the mine tour was the Anthracite Mining Museum. This was a self-guided museum dedicated to the role of the Anthracite industry in North Eastern Pennsylvania, the lives of the miners, and how society in the region was affected by mining. One of the first things I saw was a Welsh language bible. Why Welsh? Well, some of the very first immigrants were miners from Wales looking for a better life. This is reflected in that there are many names in Eastern PA that are welsh in origin. Diane was impressed that I could actually read and pronounce the words on the front cover! (I lived in Wales for many years!). Both museums are well worth the visit.

After finishing both museums, we headed for our hotel, which was in the old Lackawanna station. Downtown was rather quiet for a Saturday, espescially as there was a university right next door. I expected carousing students, but no, apart from a couple of (obviously student) bars, all was quiet. We had a meal and then went for a walk around the centre of town. Some of the architecture was fascinating and we found the old (and active) newspaper building, where you can look in off the street and see the printing presses at work. Unfortunately, they wern’t running late on a saturday evening, but it was still fascinating to see the newspaper at the heart of the city.

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Printing Presses

We had a good meal out (which for me consisted off the largest hot dog I’ve ever seen – wrapped in bacon and smothered with fried potatoes and a fried egg – oh so healthy, but oh so good!. We then stopped at a coffee shop and headed for the hotel and a good nights sleep. Being in the old railway station, this had advantages for me……

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Train of Alco Units Rumbling Past – We would catch up with these again next day.

The folowing morning, after a quick cup of coffee, we said good bye to the hotel and headed down to the railway museum. This is Steamtown, a former derelict locomotive roundhouse and railway yard that has been rehabilitated and opened as a museum administered by the National Parks Service. The first thing we saw as we drove in was this….

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Reading Railroad T1 4-8-4 (and Diane)

Parked in the yard were a whole host of Alco diesels (some being former MLW ones, MLW being the Canadian Arm of Alco, and who built some  of Alco’s designs under licence). Some of the loco’s chuntering in the yard were the lashup we’d seen the previous day from the hotel.

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4 axle Alco’s – lead unit is Canadian built with wide cab

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Alco 630 idling at the depot

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Also sitting in the yard was this…..

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Big Boy – The biggest of them all

A legendary Union Pacific “BigBoy” 4000 class. This is considered to be the biggest loco to operate successfully on any North American railroads. One is today being returned to service by it’s original owner Union Pacific.

The museum consists of the stalls from the original roundhouse, plus other new buildings ina sympathetic style built to replace those demolished in the 60’s. All are situated around a working turntable. The idea behind the museum is not only to preseve the collection, but to give an idea of what a working railroad depot was like. the original stalls house some of the loco’s in the collection in an authentic setting, whilst the newer buildings house exhibits on the working life of railroad employees. A good deal of stock is available for view and the atmosphere in the working part of the shed (viewable from an above ground walkway really is quite authentic. Unfortunately, the light and space of the working shed does not make for good photography, but here goes….

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Sat outside was the last remaining ICRR 2-8-0, basking in the sun.IMG_2781

Whilst pottering around the yard and occaisionally going for a spin on the turntable, was this F3 unit.

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The loco was being used to shunt items around ready for the beginning of the main tourist season, and was also being used to train new railroad volunteers. A worker took us to see the companion B unit which was being worked on in the roundhouse. (A B unit is a locomotive with no cab or controls. It is a remotely controlled slave that is controlled from a loco with a cab (An A Unit).

Steam town also has the old backshops, where loco’s were repaired and rebuilt. This is now used as a restoration base, and we were taken to see the facilities back there. Most heritage railwys I know of would kill for these facilities.

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Axle Press

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B&M Pacific Firebox under repair – note the missing crownsheet.

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0-6-0 Switcher finishing winter maintenance

Out in the yard were lines of stock that were awaiting restoration and rapir. I suspect that for some, it will never come. However, there is an active restoration program underway, and many items will be repaired for static display at least.

One of the amazing things to me was that it was allowed (and encouraged) to walk about the yard and explore, even though it was a working yard with moving trains etc. I mean, this is America – Land of lawyers and litigation! A working rail yard, though which freight trains pass, is a hazardowuns area. But its allowed and personally I feel better for it.

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So, at the end of the day, we headed home. Scranton may not have the best reputation, but it is infact a suprisingly nice little town. Quiet, a little down at heal, but with some hidden gems for all ages. By no means did we cover them all. But then, I’m certain we’ll be going back one day – afterall, its not too far to go when Diane says “I need to get out of the house”

 

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Happy New Year!!

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I’m in Canada at present, visiting family. It is the last day of 2016 and it has been snowing all day. Currently, we have over a foot of snow and it is 11 degrees F. I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than with frends and family watching the snow come down and the deer feeding at the forest edge. So Happy New Year to everyone and lets hope for improvements in 2017.

Land Rover A Vendre

No, not mine.

We were in Canada visiting family up in the mountains north of Montreal last weekend. We travel up several times a year to see them and it is always good to get away. Anyhow, whilst we were buzzing around, Diane spotted this for sale on the side of the road.

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The things you find on the side of the road in rural Canada

Yes, a V8 petrol LHD 110 3 door in reasonably good condition (though the bulkhead could do with a little tidying up).

This must be a private import as no LWB 3 doors were officially imported into North America by Land Rover. Only 525 NAS 5-door station wagons and several hundred NAS90’s were “officially”imported. Therefore, this must have been a private import and being a truck bed makes it quite rare. I suspect from the painted out number plate on the front this may have been a Belgian vehicle at one point.

Anyhow, we took a few pictures for interest, given below

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LHD Cab

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A Vendre – “For Sale”

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Judging by the sticker saying “Land rover 110” above the radiator, this must be a pre-1990 vehicle, as after that it said “Defender 110”. Of course, the sticker could be a retrofit, but I don’t think so. Clearly the vehicle has been repainted cream from marine blue at some point. I didn’t get a good look at the chassis (wasn’t going to crawl around under it on the road side), but on the whole the vehicle looks in fair, but used condition. Just what a Landy should be.

And no, we didn’t buy it – Diane wouldn’t let me. 2 is enough apparently!

An Unusual Place to Lay One’s Head

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Issac Walton Inn, Essex, MT, from the railroad tracks.

I’ve been most remiss about posting recently. Work has been sucking up most of my time, as well as various family commitments. However, I’ve been meaning to complete this post as the last in my “Northern Montana” series.

When we went to Glacier National Park last September, we stayed at a very pleasant lodge style hotel just outside the park. The Issac Walton Inn is situated in Essex, Montana, which basically is a few houses in the middle of nowhere. And I mean the middle of nowhere. There is no shop for 30 miles in each direction, just a few houses, a railyard and wildlife. The hotel was originally built by the railway as a grand southern entrance to Glacier Park. Unfortunately, the 1st world war intervened and the expected south entrance to the park was never built or opened, so the expected passenger trade never materialized. Instead, the hotel became used by railroad employees due to the close proximity of the large railyard located there. Indeed, to this day, the hotel overlooks the railyard and tracks and a popular evening activity is to sit on the porch watching the trains go by.

Diane wanted to stay here as the hotel has some old railroad cabooses (Guards Vans) and other vehicles that have been converted into hotel rooms and she wanted to stay in them. We stayed in two, the Montana Rail link caboose (the blue caboose) and the GN 441.

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The Blue Caboose – Our Home for two nights

The Blue Caboose was located in the woods on the other side of the railway tracks from the hotel, and that meant either a long circuitous drive down a small track from the hotel, or a walk across a footbridge above the railway tracks. One thing to note in this area is the presence of bears! Generally they will leave you alone unless surprised or cornered, but when walking in the woods (especially in the dark), one always carries bear spray (a form of highly concentrated and potent pepper spray) as protection and makes a lot of noise so they know you’re there. We had no bear problems and it was pleasant to sleep in the quiet of the woods.

Inside the caboose, they had done a great job of turning it into a small holiday home. Two double beds were present, including one in the cupola (the look out bit on the roof of the caboose where in days of old, the conductor would look out to keep watch on the train). A small shower, kitchen and dining area made for a very comfortable accommodation. So here is the tour…..

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“Downstairs” bedroom – looking to the rear of the caboose

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“Downstairs” Bedroom – looking in the other direction with the bathroom on the left, ladder to the cupola on the right and kitchen / dining area by the door at the other end.

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Kitchen and Dining area – Diane descending from the cupola

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Reading area on one side of the Cupola from the bed.

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Phil conked out on the cupola bed upstairs. The guard rail is necessary as it is about an 8 ft drop if you roll out of bed!

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View forward from the cupola – another caboose ahead.

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View of Hotel across the railway tracks from the caboose

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View of railyard from the bridge. Hotel to the right.

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Hotel from the bridge and Preserved F45 locomotive

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Train descending Marias Pass and passing under the foot bridge from the inn to the caboose.

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Train climbing up hill towards the footbridge and passing the railyards and hotel

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Still climbing with helpers shoving away on the back

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Train heading uphill towards Marias Pass

We had two very enjoyable and comfortable nights in the caboose. It was cosy and out of the way and we had some quiet time to ourselves in the evenings after coming back from our travels.

We were at the Issac Walton Inn for 4 nights and the other place we stayed at was the GN441.

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GN 441 – yes, this really IS a hotel room!

This has to be the most unusual hotel room or holiday home ever and was one of the reasons that we stayed there. GN441 is an ex-Santa Fe F45 Diesel electric locomotive that has been stripped out and turned into a lodge. And they have done a great job of it. I actually read about this in ~2009 when it was first installed and Diane mentioned that it looked interesting. But we never thought we’d see it first hand. Anyhow, this was our home for 2 nights. For information on how it came about, please follow this link.

The entire engine bay, cooler group and electrical cabinet have been removed and the interior has been fitted out as a lodge that can sleep four. However, the cab has been refurbished and is a great place to sit and read or have dinner.

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Phil at the controls in the engineers seat

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Bedroom looking forward – shower behind wall accessible from the corridor

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Bedroom looking towards the closet at the rear of the loco.

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Every closet needs a handbrake!

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Living room looking towards the rear of the loco and corridor to bedroom. Windows on left overlook the tracks and are built into the original access doors

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Living room with dining area and kitchen. Access to cab is on right. The skylights are the former fans for the dynamic brakes and the cooling radiator

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Cooling Fan Skylight gives plenty of internal natural lighting during the day.

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The cab was used as a breakfast area and very comfortable it was too. Those leather seats are sooooo comfortable.

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Phil having breakfast in the engineers seat. Control stand has been externally restored.

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Oh, a childhood dream fulfilled!

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Looking back from the cab to the hotel and across the railyard. Switching going on in the yards.

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Close up of switching activity. The locos laid over for the night in the yard and we went to sleep with the gentle ringing of an EMD engine on tickover to lull us to sleep. I think the locos were an SD40-2 and an SD60M

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Train passing on the mainline. You can just see the red and blue cabooses in the woods on the hill above the train

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Brief history of GN441

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The trains went past all day and all night. This is the main route from Chicago to Seattle and the Northwest

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Deck by the main entrance.

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Various pictures of the loco.

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The sun goes down over the small town of Essex, MT – from the cab

So there we have it. This was one of the most unusual places I think I’ve ever stayed in and it was well worth it. Even Diane enjoyed it and she has absolutely NO interest in railways. Actually, she suggested it.We were very lucky to get there as the week before, there had been a big forest fire that had come within 1/2 mile of the hotel complex and rail yards and the whole town had been evacuated. We had almost expected to have to cancel the trip, but fortunately the rain came and doused everything. Forest fires in the part of the country and something that people take seriously.

We will have to go back to this part of Montana again.

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Montana and Glacier National Park (Pt 2)

Hoary Marmot

Hoary Marmot

I’ve been a bit delayed in finishing this part of our holiday write-up, so my apologies.

The following morning, we set off north again heading for Essex, MT. It was a pleasant drive and we meandered our way north, stopping at various interesting places and small towns. I love small town North America and it is even better in the west. The weather was good, with a deep blue sky and not a cloud to be seen. It was hot too. Our destination was the small town of Essex, which was where we would be staying for the next few days. There is nothing much in Essex except the hotel, a few houses, lots of trees and a rail-yard – perfect!

Issac Walton Inn

Issac Walton Inn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Issac Walton Inn was originally built by the Great Northern Railway as a hotel for people arriving at Glacier National Park. It was meant to be a grand entrance for the soon to be built southern entrance to the park. Sadly, the war came along and the southern entrance was never built, but the hotel is still a lovely place to stay, overlooking the railroad, with sitting on the porch watching the trains go by being a favorite pass time. They also have a collection of cabooses that have been turned into hotel rooms and we were able to stay in some.

Montana Rail Link Caboose hotel Room

Montana Rail Link Caboose Hotel Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a good nights rest, we set off for Glacier Park.

Road over the mountains

Road over the mountains

Problems you may encounter on the road

Problems you may encounter on the road – Free range cows. They will sleep in the middle of the road too.

 

Lake McDonald and Lodge

Lake McDonald and Lodge

The first day we went horseback riding up in the mountains. It was spectacular and a great way to see the scenery. I didn’t get many pictures (not safe to ride and photograph at the same time, but here Diane and I are with our horses for the day, Firestone and Pepper. For Mrs Mud’s information, these are Belgian Half Draft crosses, big sturdy, hardy horses with a very gentle temperament.

Diane and Phil with Pepper and Firestone

Diane and Phil with Pepper and Firestone

It turned quite cold whilst we were out and so we stopped in at the lake MacDonald Lodge for a hot tea afterwards. After heading home, it was early to bed as the cold and altitude had made us extremely sleepy.

Lake McDonald Lodge

Lake McDonald Lodge

Inside the Lodge

Inside the Lodge

Driving home, we saw the most beautiful sunsets over the mountains. As we drove, we passed through several small towns and Native American reservations. This is a real eye opener, as the poverty is abject. There is a real disconnect as you have this magnificent scenery, wide open ranges and tourist areas located hard up against areas of dreadful poverty and substance living. We were quite quiet on the way home contemplating how this can be in this day and age. It does make one think.

Sunset at Dusk

Sunset at Dusk on the way home – this is at Marias Pass

The following day we drove over the continental divide on the “Going to the Sun Road”.

heading to the pass - we are going over these mountains!

Heading to the pass – we are going over these mountains!

Driving up the pass through an area ravaged by forest fire

Driving up the pass through an area ravaged by forest fire

More burnt trees - Forest fires are incredibly intense but part of the natural forest cycle and regrowth starts within a matter of days

More burnt trees – Forest fires are incredibly intense but part of the natural forest cycle and regrowth starts within a matter of days

Climbing the pass

Climbing the pass

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Spectacular scenery

Spectacular scenery

And into the mist

And into the mist

This is a steep mountainous road and crosses Lolo Pass at about 7200 feet altitude. At the pass we went hiking up to Hidden Lake, and passing a herd of mountain goats on the way, and some hairy marmots, which are like large gophers about 20 inches long. The goats were wary of us, but the marmots couldn’t have cared less and waddled right up to us. The weather did the typical mountain thing, varying between rain, bright sunshine and snow / sleet, all in the course of an hour. It was a pleasant walk, but I was feeling the altitude a little, the higher we went.

View back down the valley towards St Mary from Lolo Pass

View back down the valley towards St Mary from Lolo Pass

 

Starting the walk up to Hidden Lake

Starting the walk up to Hidden Lake

Friendly Hoary Marmot

Friendly Hoary Marmot

Herd of Mountain Goats

Herd of Mountain Goats

Another Mountain Goat

Another Mountain Goat

 

Busy Chipmunk

Busy Chipmunk

 

 

 

Hidden Lake - Our destination

Hidden Lake – Our destination.

 

 

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Scenery at Lolo Pass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold, but happy, we headed back to the car and descended the other side of the pass. This was real mountain roading and fortunately I have driven in the mountains before, so know how to do it. However, even I found it steep and twisty and it was plainly obvious that many others hadn’t a clue about how to descend long steep hills. There was a pungent smell of hot brake hanging about the road from other cars riding their brakes. The better way is to lock the transmission into low gear (most North American cars are automatics) to restrict the speed and just use the brakes occasionally to adjust speed when necessary. It is also a good idea to pull off occasionally to allow brakes and transmissions to cool. (Pulling off also has the added advantage in that you can lose the idiots who think it is fun to ride my tail all the way down). Unfortunately, as I was driving, we have no photo’s of this part of the trip. Note to those who are thinking of doing this trip – it is better to go east to west, as that way you are mainly against the mountainside and not the edge of the abyss! And no, in many parts, there is NO safety barrier…

After a gentle ride home, it was early to bed again.

The final day was a gentle hike to Avalanche Lake. This time we started from the west side and headed to the trail head. On the way we saw a couple of young moose playing in the river.

Bull and Cow moose

Bull and Cow moose

Moose are the biggest deer in North America and have a reputation for being dangerous. But really, that is only because they have extremely poor eyesight and will run at the first sight of danger. being so big and basically blind, they tend to run through things rather than around them. But it has been show that it is perfectly possible to tame them and train them to work.

The hike to Avalanche lake took about 2 hrs each way, through the trees. There was plenty of wildlife around, but my camera had flat batteries. However, the destination was spectacular and Diane managed to get this panorama with her phone.

Panorama of Avalanche Lake

Panorama of Avalanche Lake

At the far end, we could see the waterfall, which was the outflow from Hidden Lake, which had been our destination of the previous day.

Waterfall

Waterfall

The road down the other side of the pass can be made out as the line crossing the picture from left to right. Note the sheer drop!

Hidden Lake is, well, hidden up there!

Tired and contented, we made our way back to the car and headed for the hotel. As it was our last night, we had dinner in the hotel and very nice it was too. A nice steak, and a great desert, whilst watching the trains go by. Being off season, it was very quiet and we had the place to ourselves.

The following morning, it was an early start and a long drive (500+ miles) back to Bozeman for the flight home. No pictures but I did spot two series land rovers (both 88’s). Sad to leave, but we know that we will return here again. It is very different from the Yellowstone which we are familiar with and well worth the visit.

Montana – Big Sky Country and Glacier National Park (Pt1)

Seeley Lake

Seeley Lake

This post is quite late, as work has been very busy since I got back. But better late than never

Montana. Just the name brings up quintessential mages of the American NorthWest. Wide open prairies, Densely wooded snow covered mountains. Deep valleys with rushing clear cold streams.

Montana has to be one of my all time favorite places in the world. I’ve been fortunate visit the region numerous times and we always see something different. It is one of the larger states in the US, as well as being one of the least populated. The scenery varies dramatically from wide open plains in the east to the Rocky mountains and continental divide in the west.

The first time we went there was for our wedding, when we stayed at Yellowstone National Park (most of which is actually in Wyoming). It was to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Six months later, Diane took a job with a company whose North American head office is headquartered in Bozeman, MT, which is in the southwestern part of the state about an hour north of Yellowstone. As a result, Diane visits head office several times a year. Sometimes, she gets delayed in returning and I’ve been able to join her out there for a weekend (gotta love frequent flyer points!). As a result, we know Yellowstone well.

This year, for our summer break, (in September) we wanted to do something different. This time we wanted to go to Glacier National Park, which is located in the northern part of the state, abutting the Canadian Border. As Diane had some business at HQ, we flew into Bozeman on the Thursday afternoon, rented a car and stopped by the office. One of the things about a small company in the middle of nowhere is that coworkers lend you things, like a cooler, bear spray (pepper spray used as a defense against marauding bears – I’m serious here), and lots of advice on where to visit whilst at the park. We were self-catering much of the trip, so a quick trip to the supermarket was in order for supplies, which went in the cooler,along  with ice. We had a quiet dinner in town and then slept for the night before leaving for the north the following day.

Bozeman to Glacier is about 400+ miles. You are going from the south west to the Northwest of the state. Fridays schedule called for us to travel partway to Glacier and stop overnight at a small place called Seeley Lake, where we stayed in a cabin in the woods by the lake shore. During this part of the trip, we traveled west from Bozeman along the Madison River and through the prairies, before turning north towards Helena (State capital), crossing the continental Divide at Mullens Pass and up to Seeley. Along the way, we passed through small towns and stopped where things looked interesting. I also spotted two series Land Rovers (one an S2a and one an S3) in the front of someones house in Helena. Unfortunately, I was driving so couldn’t get a picture, but as there was also had a Range Rover classic present, I would say the owner was a Land Rover Enthusiast. Some of the small towns looked deserted, whilst others were thriving. One of the big shocks for many people exposed the northwest for the first time is how big and empty the landscape is in parts. You can literally drive for miles without seeing a house, a car or another human. Some may find it threatening, though I love it.

Passing through the town of Three forks, a very quiet sort of town, we stopped at a traditional saddlery, where they make saddles by hand in the traditional manner. The place had this gorgeous smell of leather and glue, and we were given the run of the place and encouraged to visit the back workshops to see how they were made. Many of the tools, such as the sewing machines, were obviously old and well used, but still doing the job for which they were designed. We could have done some serious financial damage in that place. One thing that occurred to me was that the smell of glue was so strong, I’m sure everyone would have been high after a day working there……

Anyhow, after arriving at Seeley, we went for a walk and had dinner in town where we were able to observe beavers swimming in the river out back. Then back to the cabin and to bed with the gentle lapping of the water on the shore. The only disturbance was about 2 am, when I had to remove a mouse that had gotten trapped in the trash can. It didn’t appreciate being ejected into the cold night, but it was better than ending up in  trap!

The Open Prarie

The Open Prairie

Driving along the Madison River valley

Driving along the Madison River valley

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The saddle manufacturing work shop – Three Forks Saddlery

Diane sitting on the dock by Seeley Lake in the evening sun

Diane sitting on the dock by Seeley Lake in the evening sun

Our Cabin for the night - not much to look out on the outside, but spacious and comfy on the inside

Our Cabin for the night – not much to look out on the outside, but spacious and comfy on the inside

Interior View of the cabin - the living area

Interior View of the cabin – the living area

Interior view of the cabin - the sleeping area

Interior view of the cabin – the sleeping area

View of the lake from the cabin in the early morning sun

View of the lake from the cabin in the early morning sun

BNSF and Montana Rail Link Trains pass south of Helena, MT

BNSF and Montana Rail Link Trains pass south of Helena, MT

Summer Trips Pt 1

Summer is a busy time for me at work. A lot of students are trying to finish up their research and graduate before the new academic year starts, so after final exams are done in May, faculty are back in the labs and cracking the whips on their students to get them finished up. As a result, it gets very busy during the summer months and so we normally don’t get any form of break until September. Actually, this often turns out to be an advantage, as the weather is often good, the kids are back in school (so it is less busy) and the prices go down!

This year, we took about 2 weeks, and were on the road for much of it. For the first part, we drove up to Canada to visit family and friends. As you may know from reading these pages, I was actually born in Canada whilst my (British) parents were living and working there. This means that I am in the fortunate position of being both a Canadian Citizen and a British one. Generally, although I grew up and lived in the UK for over 25 years, now that I live in North America, I generally use my Canadian identity as that is what my US Permanent Residence card (aka Green Card) identifies me as. However, having dual UK / Canadian citizenship is often quite useful, particularly when traveling between North America and Europe – I just use the passport that gets me through the entry queues the fastest. However, it can also cause some complications, especially when I have to go on to an army base for work here in the US. Turning up at the gate with a Canadian passport, a US registered car and a British accent can cause a great deal of confusion to the guys on the gate, who are usually rent-a-cops and not official army, and are rarely the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Anyhow,as a result of being born in Canada, I still have close family and friends there,  and we usually travel up to see them several times a year. They reside in Laurentian mountains area, a rural part of Quebec about 100 miles north of Montreal. This is an area of farming and logging, but also increasingly holiday cottages. 25 kilometers away is Mt Tremblant, the biggest ski resort on the east coast if the fancy takes you. Personally, the thought of strapping 2 planks to my feet and hurtling down a mountain does not appeal that much, but there are over activities such as cycling and hiking, as well as lounging by (and in) various lakes. Time seems to slow when there and life takes on a much more relaxed pace, making it a great getaway from our usual frantic pace of life.

Baltimore to Weir is a distance of just over 600 miles. We normally leave on a Thursday night after work and drive up through Maryland, Pennsylvania, and into upstate New York, before staying the night at a motel, usually around Syracuse or Binghamton. We then push on the following morning, crossing the border and continuing up through Ontario and into Quebec, usually arriving at destination late afternoon or early evening on Friday.

Due to a variety of circumstances, we hadn’t been up since the New year holiday, and so as the summer wound down, I was definitely feeling that it was time to go. After a quiet Friday evening and an early night, Saturday was spent walking in Parc National Mt Tremblant. This is a vast provincial park full of canoeing, cycling and hiking trails. It’s up behind the ski resort and totally different – very wild and abundant with with rivers, lakes and wildlife. We took a relatively short hike (distance wise) of about 2 km each way, but in that 2 km, you climbed nearly 600 feet. It didn’t help that the day was very hot and humid (yes, it does get hot in Canada!) However, the view from the top over Lake Munro is pretty spectacular.

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View over Lake Munro

View over Lake Munro

We took some bread, cheese and meats with us and made a simple, but good, lunch just overlooking the view. Since it was so high and the climb so steep, it wasn’t crowded, which added to the enjoyment. The way down was a LOT easier and less energetic, but I stopped to photograph a tree which had grown around and over a boulder, as I thought it looked pretty interesting. Diane found a stream to dip her toes in to cool off for a while.

Tree growing around and over a boulder

Tree growing around and over a boulder

Diane in the stream

Diane in the stream

Getting back to the car after several hours, we stopped by the new visitors center to see the new exhibits, then headed for home, as we were due for dinner with some family and friends. This turned out to be a pleasant relaxing evening sitting by the lake watching the sun go down. The deer came out and nosed around, pretty unconcerned about out presence. Usually, we all bring a dish and so it was this time. A good time was had by all.

The following day we went to visit Parc Omega. This is a safari park near Montibello on the Ottawa river, full of north American wildlife and gives a good opportunity to see animals up close. I’ve been very fortunate to see wildlife living freely in various parts of North America and will write about this in a future post. However, as a day out, Parc Omega is well worth it and lets people see a good range of wildlife close up who may not have the opportunity to travel out to the wilderness. The Park is well laid out and the animals within it roam freely without constraint or interference. Despite living in the Park, they are wild and need to be treated as such. A few concessions have had to be made, with predators such as bears, wolves and coyotes have had to be separated from the other animals (or maybe some would start dissapearing….), but otherwise the animals live freely on several hundred acres. So here are a few pictures for your enjoyment.

Bull Elk

Bull Elk Through car windscreen

Bull elk alongside the car

Bull elk alongside the car – look at the antlers on him

Wild boar and piglets

Wild boar and piglets

Bison

Bison

An idea of how big this Bull Bison really was

An idea of how big this Bull Bison really was

Arctic Wolf

Arctic Wolf

Another bull elk in a stand off with the car ahead of us

Another Bull Elk in a stand off with the car ahead of us – gives you a good idea of his size.

Whilst the Doe Elk hope for a handout

Whilst another hopes for a handout

Wild boar alongside road

Wild boar alongside road

There were a whole host of other animals such as coyotes, black wolves, moose, musk ox, but the photo’s weren’t great.

All in all, we spent most of the day there and got to hike some trails to the old farm. These trails were off limits to the animals, and so it was safe to walk them. The only problem with a place such as this is you do see some humans at their most idiotic. Getting out of a car with a small child (despite notices not to do so) to pet the elk or progedhorn deer is just plain stupid. Still, I guess the gene pool could do with a little bleach!.

On the way back, we stopped at a fantastic Creperie and had savory crepes for supper – a real Quebecois dish.

Monday was spent as a quiet day – doing some reading and a little work (despite it officially being a holiday). It was incredibly hot and humid – in the upper eighties, and unfortunately all the bugs came out, so we retreated indoors. However, a nice day of R&R leaving us much refreshed until a storm blew up and knocked out the power for a few hours. Such things happen in that region and you just live with it!

Tuesday came and it was time to drive home. We left early morning and made the whole trip in one day, as we usually do on the way back. 600 miles in 11 hours is a lot of miles and we normally swap out drivers every 2 hours or so to keep the pace up. I have done it on my own and it is not a whole lot of fun (especially in a winter snow storm), but do-able. It is at those times you appreciate automatic transmission and the interstate system! However, the drive is a lot more pleasurable with Diane as a companion and we discussed lots of things and generally set the world to rights on the journey. One high point was seeing a a bear run across the road in front of us, but it was too fast to get a picture. Arrival back at home was about 11 pm, not too late, and we were mobbed by the cats before falling into bed for a good nights sleep after 12 hours on the road.

To follow – Part 2 – Glacier National Park and Montana.