Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

Alaska ~ The Last Frontier

On my mission to eventually go to every State in the USA and every province in Canada (except Nunavut), I eventually decided itBird's Eye Alaska was time to go to Alaska, The Last Frontier.

Coincidentally, and conveniently, Shannan’s family lives in a little town a couple of hours from Anchorage, so we all decided to go visit!

I have mentioned Shannan’s family briefly, off and on, over my blog-times, because they moved to our little town of Eureka, once upon a time, while we were in high school, and stayed about…a year, I think. But they were like a comet coming through – only there for a short time but made a lasting impression!)

I practically lived at their house and Shannan’s parents were my parents and her sisters were my sisters, and when we weren’t living at her house, we lived at mine… I’m not sure if Shannan considers my parents her parents, but I know that we both got grounded and banished to the laundry room to fold clothes for an entire day, so I’m assuming that she did. (She, at least, did the chores they told us to do…well, Birds eye of Glacieractually… from what I can remember, we spent the entire day in that room and didn’t fold a single thing – but that’s just because we got distracted with visiting.)

I hadn’t seen Dale & Ruby (Shannan’s parents) or her sister, Stacey, since they moved away from Columbia Falls, so this would be a long over-due reunion!

We decided SUMMER was the smart time to go to Alaska.  The coldest day on record, in Alaska, was -80° Fahrenheit (-62° Celsius), January 23, 1971.  This was, of course, the record coldest day for any place in the United States.  Of course, this is a long, long, long way (20 miles North of the Arctic Circle) from where we would be, but still – we didn’t want to risk it!!

While we are talking about “cold”, to date, the coldest place in “The Lower Mainland” (48 of the United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii) reported -70° Fahrenheit (-57° Celsius) at the Rogers Pass, Montana, January 20, 1954.   In the whole North America, the coldest temperature was in Snag, Yukon Territory, Canada, February 3, 1947 (-81.4° Fahrenheit/-63° Celsius).  And, the coldest reported temperature on Earth EVER was in 1983, at the Russian research station in Antarctica (-128.6° Fahrenheit or -89.2° Celsius)…I actually can’t even fathom that.  (Even typing this paragraph has me huddled in a fuzzy blanket in front of theSummer in Alaska fireplace.)

Summer in Alaska seemed like a better idea!  And not just because of the weather, but also because of the daylight.

Alaska falls under the “Land of the Midnight Sun” umbrella (which also includes Canada, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Lapland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden), but really only the part that’s north of the Arctic Circle, so the area we were visiting doesn’t have the 24 hours of bright sunshine, but during that time period, it doesn’t get completely dark, either… like twilight is the darkest it gets.

We missed that time period anyway (which is the summer equinox, June 21st), since we didn’t arrive until around July 1.   However! It was still the craziest thing!

ATVingWe were out playing on the ATV’s and down by the river and outside (you can even go golfing at night, for a discounted price), when we suddenly realized! It’s Midnight!

Alberta has nice evenings, where it’s still light out at 11 o’clock at night.  But it’s “light” only, because of the angle of the setting sun.  But in Willow, Alaska, it’s still light, because the sun hasn’t even set yet! it’s still overhead!  I was so shocked, I took pictures of the sun through the trees above!

We were down by the river at midnight in the overhead sun because we were Overhead sunshinewatching the salmon.

The salmon were migrating upstream, technically – but were, at that moment, relaxing in a deep pool near Shannan’s parents’ house.

They are so tired and so lazy, and not at all hungry, they are just moseying around the pool.. To catch them, you can’t even use bait because they aren’t hungry.  To get them to bite the hook, you have to hit them in the head with the hook, when you cast.  (There are fishing restrictions, but I can’t remember what they are – the one thing I know for sure is that WE (Peter and I) were not allowed to fish there.

Since it was our first trip to Alaska, I felt that it was very important to have Alaskan King Crab, so Ruby, Stacey and Shannan surprised us with an all-you-can-eat crab fest for our first evening there!  (In all my talk about my quest for Mexican food,  I might’ve missed Crabmentioning that Alaskan King Crab is my favorite food EVER!)

I also decided a Klondike Bar was necessary (although I’ve since realized that the Klondike was actually in Yukon Territory (Canada),Klondike east of the Alaska border… I found this out when we were in the Yukon, which will a topic for a future blog – we flew up to the Yukon and Richard and Shannan picked us up at the airport and then we went on a roadtrip.)

I did want to see the Aurora Borealis (also called The Northern Lights), which is so much more colorful and amazing the further north you go…However, the best time to witness the Northern Lights is in the winter, partly because…well, as we discussed… it’s dark!  Researchers have discovered that the activity of the Aurora Borealis cycles, and, by great coincidence! The winter of 2013 is a peak year for observing it!! (Hopefully, that means Aurora BorealisNovember/December 2013, and not January/February 2013, since that’s already passed….)

Since we were in the barely-gets-dark-at-night season, and it wasn’t cold enough, we didn’t get to see the Aurora Borealis, I was forced to buy one. A liquid Aurora Borealis, perfected at The Sea Galley. (That being said, while I was trying to find that website, I found a recipe for another drink ~ Aurora Jungle-Juice ~ that glows in black light and actually does look like a swirling mass of stars!)

Of course, having discovered that there was a Mexican restaurant between Anchorage and Willow, we had to give it a try! I had (see if you can guess!) enchiladas, and Peter had (yes!) chili rellano.  Pretty good!  Muchas Gracias, Garcia’s Cantina, in Eagle River!

During our very enjoyable week in summertime Alaska, people kept telling us: “If you really want to experience Alaska, you need to come back to watch the Iditarod.”

That’s what they said. What I heard was: “Iditarod” “dog sled racing” “winter.” WINTER!!


However, as our vacation started coming to a close, we got caught up in the hype and impulse, and decided that we would come back the following March!

The Iditarod is (officially) a 1049 mile (1688 km) dogsled race ~ “The Last Great Race on Earth”.  (Unofficially, and more accurately, apparently, the actual mileage is 1150 miles (1851 kms).
Moose Crossing

The ceremonial start is the first Saturday of March, which means that THIS Saturday is the 2013 Official Start!  The start is on the main street of Anchorage, and the mushers and teams travel 11 miles to the Campbell Airstrip.  It’s a big festival, really.  Less stress and pressure on the teams – kiosks for tourists – a ferris wheel. (I’m not sure if that’s every year, but it’s crazy cold and Cute fuzzy hatspeople were still up on the ferris wheel when we were there!!)

Shannan surprised me with one of those cute little fuzzy hats – and I had it all folded up and tied on a bow on top… unTIL, I got out of the car.  THAT MOMENT was THE COLDEST I have EVER, EVER been in my ENTIRE LIFE!! (I was colder the next day, but that’ll be for the next blog.)Cold

The dog-teams start out from with 16 dogs on each team, and over the next 10-20 days (depending upon weather conditions and how fast the teams are travelling), they will stop at 22 checkpoints (including their final stop at Nome).  The dogs (which are required to wear booties, by the way) are checked out at every checkpoint by certified vets, and they have one mandatory 24 hour lay over and one mandatory 8 hour layover.  (I’m practically positive it’s just one 8 hour layover…)

I didn’t know what to expect my first time (oh yes – we have gone more than once!! if you can believe that!!), but it was amazing! there was so much energy in the air! and the dogs were so Wolf costumeexcited! and the people are all anxious (but, in a good way, I think.)

People wore fur… (I expected that, but I didn’t expect exactly what I saw – however, it was so cold there, I can see that fur might be the only option for some – I mean, it was COLD!!  Also, one man, who was wLocalsearing an entire wolf, explained that he had to kill the wolf because it was killing his horses, and he didn’t want to waste the fur…..)

Once you are there, it all makes sense.

Sunday, there is an Official Restart – depending upon the amount of snow, the restart is either at Wasilla or Willow, but the times we’ve gone, the restart is always near Willow (which is VERY convenient, because it was only a few miles from Dale and Ruby’s house.)

See you Sunday!

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Seattle ~ The Emerald City

Seattle is “the Emerald City”. How much FUN IS THAT!!?? THE EMERALD CITY!  If Seattle was a tiny little town that needed aSpace Needle roadside attraction, it’d be the Horse of a Different Color, and hot air balloon rides.

But, we aren’t “off to see the wizard” or “following the yellow brick road” – we are following the I-90, to visit Brian and Taunya (with whom we visited The Grizzly Bear Encounters and Virginia City, mentioned in previous blogs.)

Some of our friends (Derek and Jessica) had to go to Seattle for business, so we managed to squeeze ourselves into their roadtrip.  I think it went something like: “OH! If you happen to go to Seattle, we would be willing to come with you and share the gasoline expenses.”  And, they were agreeable!

Seattle is my favorite North American city, and not just because I was born there, but it is just a beautiful, beautiful city.

Partly cloudyIt rains a lot, so everything is green all the time! and clean.  It rains so much, another one of Seattle’s nicknames is “The Rain City.”

Annually, it rains, on an average, 980 millimeters! (That’s about 38.6 inches.) Wikipedia says that it’s “cloudy 201 days out of the year and partly cloudy 93 days”… But, it turns out, that despite it’s nickname, it just barely cracks the Top 10 list for most rainy cities of the United States.  (Shockingly – to me – Atlanta, Georgia is the rainiest at an average of 48.6 inches (1234 mms) per year!)

On this particular trip, I thought it’d be fun to go to the Blues District for an evening.

Once upon a time, Seattle was known for its Blues scene.

Years ago (I guess it was a long, long time ago), we went somewhere, paid a cover charge at the first Club, got a hand stamp, and meandered all over the area, from restaurant to restaurant, under the first cover charge.  Many of the musicians also were going from club to club, and we kept running into the same  musicians, but playing in different groups – mixing and matching.

Once! we even got to see Bo Diddley play down on the pier, during a 4th of July Festival – for free!Lady VO and Tracy Neely

What I didn’t take into account is that Seattle keeps up with (and often is responsible for) the latest thing happening in music.  And, the latest thing happening, while we were there, seemed to be Indie Pop and Rockabilly… Blues could be found on Mondays, and at three restaurants (two in Tacoma, which was too far for us to take a cab) and one at New Orleans Creole Restaurant (Blues and Jazz, but Blues on Saturday nights).  (There were more options for Jazz, and we were going to go listen to Jazz, if we couldn’t find Blues.)

Music in SeattleSeattle’s music goes way back in history. Did you know that the first electric bass guitar was invented in Seattle? by a man named Paul Tutmarc, around 1930.  It was actually an electronic bass fiddle, but is attributed with being the first electric bass guitar – at least it kicked off the trend.

In 1942, Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle.  In 1958, Jimi’s dad bought him his first acoustic guitar.  And in 1959, Jimi acquired his first electric guitar.

If he hadn’t fully hit the scene before, in 1967,  The Jimi Hendrix Experience released their first album, “Are you Experienced”, which, to this day, remains one of the most popular rock albums of all time!  (I can’t decide if I’m surprised or not-at-all surprised that Jimi didn’t know how to read or write music…)

As for the rest of Seattle’s music history, Wikipedia summarizes it:  from 1918 to 1951, there were almost 2 dozen jazz clubs in the International district, launching careers from artists like Ray Charles and Quincy Jones.  It also launched “grunge” music in the 1990’s, known for music groups Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and many, many other bands. (Incidentally, the people we were travelling with on this trip had Pearl Jam about every other song on their iPod shuffle list – thank goodness we all like them 😀 ! )New Orleans Creole Restaurant

It seems that Jazz is always a staple, but Blues is harder to find.  For anyone “in the know” – PLEASE! tell me!  We saw Lady V.O and Tracy Neely, and we really liked them! But it’d be really good to have a selection!!

We weren’t there long enough to do any sightseeing at all, but Seattle certainly has sights to see!  I think I’m going to have a blog series just about Seattle… (As if that wasn’t my plan from the beginning 🙂 )

We did make absolutely certain that we could make time to go to our favorite Mexican restaurant. (If you’ve been reading my blogs regularly, you will see that I’m on a constant search for Mexican food, anytime we are travelling.)  THIS restaurant isn’t a “risk”. This one is a “sure thing”.  We have been to Viva many, many times, and it never fails to live up to our expectations!

Viva Mexican RestaurantWe talk about Viva so much, we started to be concerned that we’ve “oversold” it. You know how you imagine something to be so delicious, but then, you come back, and it isn’t quite as good as you remembered? NOT the case with Viva. It is so good, that Derek is already planning what he’s going to order next time.

My favorite thing is the enchiladas; Peter loves the chili rellano; Derek loved the flauta; and I’m not sure which entrée Jessica liked best, but I know she liked the margarita.  They do have THE BEST margaritas.

Oh, this is funny! I ordered a mango margarita – that’s my tradition.  BUT, we saw other people with a margarita glass full ofMango Margarita and...something blue something almost black, and “Blackberry margaritas” are on the menu. Intrigued, we decided we need to order those! When our margaritas came, I was SHOCKED to see that my margarita was more of a light purple color… so I said, “Ummmm… I totally thought this was going to be a darker color… what do those people have?” … The server said, “ummmmm those people are drinking Coke.”
Blackberry Margarita

(Our favorite place is the location in White Center – well, we haven’t been to the other two sites..I’m sure they are excellent, too, but we can vouch for the White Center location.)

Well, I didn’t even talk about the things that obviously identify Seattle, like the Space Needle, and Pike Place Market, and Puget Sound, and the Pier, and Boeing… But, like I said, there’s more to come… after all, it IS my favorite city.

Seattle has another nickname – “Gateway to Alaska”. Since my next blog, on Wednesday, is going to be about our first trip to Alaska, this is really appropriate!!


Columbia Falls and Hungry Horse, Montana

A few minutes south of Whitefish is the turn off to Columbia Falls, directly east on Montana Highway 40. (You can also go Hungry Horse Reservoirstraight south to Kalispell, but that’ll be a discussion for another time.)

After my friend, Shannan (again, mentioned often in previous blogs), moved from Eureka, her family moved to Columbia Falls.  We had so much fun there, but mostly just “being”.

But other than just “being”, the Columbia Falls’ Chamber of Commerce’s website list some other fun things that you can actually do there are:

This time, we drove straight through to Hungry Horse…after stopping for groceries, that is.  And, actually – now that I brought that up – this particular grocery store (I think it was Super 1 Foods) had the most beautiful fruit display I’ve ever seen. (I’m not saying they had the most variety or the most exotic fruit, but their displays were really beautifully laid out.  In fact, they even had a really pretty onion display!  I took so many pictures, I’m pretty sure they thought I was a “secret shopper”.)
Onion displayFruit Display

Seven miles (11 kms) further east, on your way to Glacier National Park, you will find Hungry Horse.

As the name suggests, Hungry Horse was named after two hungry horses, Tex and Jerry.  Apparently, in the winter of 1900, Tex and Jerry wandered away, but were found a month later, hungry and scrawny, but alive!

Although Hungry Horse is only 11 miles (18 kms) from Glacier National Park, we didn’t quite get there… we spent our entire weekend in Hungry Horse and the Hungry Horse Dam area.

Even though I grew up not that far away (see Eureka, MT blog), I had never been to Hungry Horse (except passing through on my way to Glacier) and we (ok, I) decided it was time to change that.  So, when a couple of our friends from Calgary wanted to go “somewhere new, somewhere sunny”, for August Long Weekend, we (ok, I) picked Hungry Horse.

In case you don’t have time to pick your own huckleberries while in Eureka or Hungry Horse, you will find an abundance all down the main street – everything from actual huckleberries (I brought home a pound and froze them mmmmmmmm yummy!!) to pies to milk shakes… syrups, jams, honey… Sooooo delicious!!
Pies and milkshakesJam, Pie, Ice CreamJam, Pie, Milkshakes

We spent one entire day at and around Hungry Horse Dam.   The area is gorgeous and the dam iHungry Horse Dams fascinating!

On the South Fork of the Flathead River, and about 5 miles from Hungry Horse town, the Hungry Horse Dam is 564 feet (172 meters) high and 2115 feet (645 meters) long.

Hungry Horse Dam

The building of the Dam (the Hungry Horse Project) started in 1948 and was completed in 1952. (According to the pamphlet, President Truman “threw the switch in 1952 to start generating electricity at Hungry Horse Dam Power Plant.”)

At the time of its completion, it was the 3rd largest dam, and 2nd highest dam in the entire world.  Now it’s not on the Top 10 – BUT it’s still on the “tallest” list… I counted around 83rd… but I might’ve miscounted.  (The current World’s Tallest is the Nurek Dam in Tajikistan.)

The Hungry Horse Dam’s main purposes are the generation of electricity and the control of flooding.  But, it’s also used for irrigation and recreation (and probably a bunch of other things.)
Down riverUp River

All dams have some sort of Spillway, which is (as per many on-line dictionaries): “A channel for an overflow of water, as from a reservoir.”

Basically, though, at some point the water reaches its highest level and must be released, and the dam’s purpose is to control that release of water, to prevent flooding.  Most dams (that I’ve seen) have something like a chute.  Wikipedia has a great explanation with pictures.

Morning Glory SpillwayHowever, Hungry Horse Dam has a “morning glory” spill hole.  This particular spillway (which falls under the category of “bell-mouth spillway”) is the highest morning-glory structure in the world, and drops the cascading water a maximum distance of 490 feet!

It’s called a “bell mouth” because it has a shape similar to an upside-down bell – when the water level reaches the level to spill overOfficial picture into the mouth of the bell,
it funnels down into the base, and goes out through a tunnel at a lower level.

I’ve never seen this before – never even heard of it, actually.
I was completely intrigued!

Sunday, we’ll be talking about Seattle – just a quick trip.


Whitefish, Montana

Since this particular trip through Whitefish was in August, it was nice, sunny and warm. Whitefish is a beautiful little town, withSki Lift 1 beautiful scenery.

It’s so beautiful, ABC’s  The Bachelor 2013 even filmed an episode there.   (They spent their group date canoe racing, milking goats, and bucking hay*…because that’s what all Montana girls do…) (That being said, most Montana girls probably do know what “bucking hay” is… but if you don’t know, the dictionary defines it as: “is a type of manual labor where hay bales, usually 65 lb. to as much as 140 lb., are stacked by hand in a storage area such as a barn.”)

Whitefish is a very tourist-friendly town – and not just because it’s a world-renowned ski destination, but it also has so much to do in the summer.

Even the ski hill (Whitefish Mountain Resort – also known as Big Mountain) offers a full season of summer activities, including zip-lining, hiking, and mountain biking.  You can also take the ski-lift up to the summit to enjoy the summer view!

View of Whitefish LakeThere’s also Whitefish Lake, fishing tournaments, wine festivals, and a Huckleberry Arts Festival (this year is August 9-11), which includes a dessert back-off contest…hmmmm… I might need to plan a trip around that…)

The town itself is worth walking around (and is “pedestrian-friendly”), with it’s quirky shops with art galleries (generally local artists) and jewellery (mostly, if not all, hand crafted) stores.

So, summer in Whitefish is great, BUT it really is best known for it’s winter activities. Not only winter fishing, sleigh riding, the local dog-sledding activities and the Whitefish Winter Carnival (pay special attention – we’ve missed it this year, but it’s the 54th (?) annual, so you can plan to make it next year!), but, also!  cross country and downhill skiing and snowboarding at the Whitefish Mountain Resort!

Somehow, I had not previously gone down hill skiing, until I was about 15, when my friends, Shannan (previously mentioned) and her sister, Stacey, made me go. I was scared to death!! And, she said, “oh no – it’s really easy! You just have to point your skies down hill and then go like this” (snow-plow motion) “to slow down” and THEN! took me up a chair lift!! No, NOT the bunny hill, which is scary enough, but up a real hill!!! (Chair #3, which – ok, is called “Tenderfoot”, but don’t let that fool you!! It was SUPER STEEP AND REALLY SCARY!)Ski lift

Not to mention that the Chair lift is scary enough, your first couple of times …how to disembark, how to not fall disembarking …how to not fall off on the way up the hill!!

So, there I am, safely off the Lift, and staring straight down the hill, straight at the Lodge, waaaaaaaaaaaay down below…I’m not sure how long it took to get down the mountain. I crawled down the first 50 feet, and then skied from one side to the other side of the mountain, zigzagging the whole way down, and when I’d get to the tree line, I’d lay down on the snow, and flip over… it was a long process.

I can’t remember if I had fun or not…Snowboarding

Last year, I decided to try snowboarding.  But, I took official lessons at Big Mountain (they had a great deal – 2 lessons, equipment, and lift tickets, for around $70! The catch is: you are supposed to take those lessons within two days.)

I barely could walk the day after my first lesson.  I mean – not at all.   I did manage to get in my second lesson.  Barely.  The second day was better. It wasn’t good.  I am actually terrible at it.  Terrible.

Later, when in physio therapy, they asked “Did you at least have fun?” I actually can’t remember if I did or not.. BUT, I’m at least crossing it off my list of things I haven’t tried before…

Fun?One of my favorite things was listening to my snowboarding instructor talking to his co-workers. “Listen – this is what I’m thinking – we should climb up on that roof, and we should board off the end, and flip around in the air and land on that roof, and then hit that mound of snow, and then go off a jump over there, and then end in that mound, and that’s when someone should take a picture of all the powder flying” (or something like that – probably really cool words, though, instead of just the basic “flip” and “jump”.)  The best part, though, was the follow-up conversation: “DUDE!”  “YEAH duuuuude!” “Du-u-ude”.  (and all the “dude”-ing totally made sense. “TO-O-O-O-tally, Dude.”)

Peter, and the friends with us, had a wonderful time skiing. Best snow ever (today’s snow report has 85 inches (216 cms) of snow at the base) – they went through the snow ghosts, they went down the north side, they did jumps and moguls. They passed me on the bunny hill many, many times.

Snow ghosts
Oh! and don’t forget the Pond Skim! This year, it’s April 6.  Have you ever seen this?  It’s a bunch of crazy people who – well, actually, this is what the website says: “The pond skimming celebrates the wacky feeling of spring and the end of the ski season. Participants must have skis or snowboards appropriately worn (normally mounted) as they attempt to cross an 80+ foot pond…”


Don’t forget to go to the Bierstube pub while you are there, and get your free souvenir ring!!!!!  I got mine when I was about 15, and I’ve since lost it. They keep track, too, so you can’t get another one… 😥

See you Wednesday!

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Eureka, Montana

45 minutes south of Fernie, and just on the other side of the US/Canada border, you will find Eureka, Montana.View of Canada from Montana

Once upon a time, people would only know “Eureka” if I added the identifying “you drove through it on the way to Whitefish” (where everyone goes skiing.)  (Or if coming from somewhere other than Canada, people might have an idea where it is if I added “It’s close to the Canadian border…North of Whitefish, which is north of Kalispell, which is in Montana, which is in the northern part of the United States, and no, we don’t all live in teepees, and yes, we have electricity there, and indoor plumbing.”)Mountain ridge

Although, to tell you the truth, when we first moved there, even further back, in the “once upon a time” story, we didn’t have electricity OR indoor plumbing. But that was just us.  Well, and our neighbor. They didn’t have electricity or plumbing either… and they did live in a teepee… But, I’m pretty certain electricity and plumbing were available.  I’m pretty certain some people had it…?

We moved to Eureka from Seattle, again “once upon a time… a long, long, long time ago.”

Eureka was so “old west” back then, that the week we moved to town, there was an actual “shoot-out” from the rooftops, between some of the locals (can I call them “red-necks”?) and the sheriff and deputy.  I don’t know the cause, but a Montana meadowcouple of years ago, I was reminiscing with my Mom, and she said that wasn’t the only time that happened!

When I was in school, there was (and this is true) a bike rack AND a hitching post for those who want to ride their horses to school.  It didn’t get used often, but it DID get used!!

That was then… but now! people actually go TO Eureka! They go for the sake of being IN EUREKA! Can you believe that?

Having spent most of growing-up time in the Eureka area, this makes total sense to me, though.  An abundance of beautiful, clear, warm lakes in the summer, never crowded.  Mountains for hiking and huckleberry picking.

By the way – have you ever had huckleberries?  They are THE BEST berries EVER!! Generally, you cHuckleberry Milkshake Cafe Jaxan find huckleberry milkshakes, syrups, jams, pies, hand lotion and jelly beans in little stores (and sometimes even Wal-mart) all over Montana and Idaho. (Apparently, they are Idaho’s Official State Fruit.)

Here’s how I remember Huckleberry Picking (which I loved to do): driving way up a mountain (generally one that had, at one point or another, gone through a forest fire), climbing up a steep slope, trying to get down-wind from bears (who also love huckleberries), wrapping one arm around the huckleberry bush (so you don’t slide down the shale) while holding the ice cream bucket…

My friend, Tammy, was the best-ever Huckleberry Picker.  She would collect buckets of huckleberries for the day, and then she’d sell them for $20-$30 a gallon!! She supported herself a whole summer that way!

On the other hand, I would come back with maybe 1/3 of a bucket, purple stained fingers, purple stained lips, and scrapes and scratches, after either eating most of them OR dropping them all down the mountain.
Hungry Horse HuckleberriesHungry Horse Huckleberries 2Huckleberry goods

In the winter, we have snow mobiling, snow shoeing (which I never did because I didn’t “get” that it was recreational – at one point, my parents used it for a source of transportation), cross-country skiing, and down-hill skiing at the nearby Big Mountain, in Whitefish (or Fernie BC – see blog Feb 10, 2013). Oh! and dog sledding. (I only found out about this in the last couple of years, actually – after I went to my first Iditarod in Alaska (see future blog, starting March 3rd.)

Eureka is said to have the best weather in all of Montana. (Is it said by people who live in other places?)  Montana's Winter WonderlandWe always called it “the Banana Belt” of Montana, and now that I’m researching, I see that that’s “official”.  The summer is almost always hot and sunny (with the best lightning storms!); the winter always has the fun snow that you can go sledding in, or make a snow man – not usually too cold to go outside – it’s a Winter Wonderland! the spring is always on time, with fresh air and flowers; and fall is nice crisp air, with changing leaves. Oh! and we have Western Larch, which look like evergreens, with needles, but then the needles turn color and fall off, like leaves.

Also, since we have no pollution, you can see bzillions of stars, occasionally watch the Aurora Borealis, and/or catch a meteor shower.

Near Eureka (ok, about 45 minutes away), but “near” by Montana standards is the West Kootenai Amish ComMN Amishmunity.

Personally, I find the Amish culture fascinating!  They still drive around in horse-drawn buggies. They go to school in a one-room school-house, and they speak German. They don’t have electricity or telephones in their homes. They make their own furniture. They make their own candles.  You can go up to the community and buy home-made goods (jams, candles, bread, and I think, quilts and furniture).

And, my Mom tells me that nowadays, they also have an all-you-can eat dinner buffet on Friday nights.  It’s so popular, reservations are recommended.  (It kind of makes me giggly that there’s a website for this… )

If you are not completely intrigued and feel compelled to take a drive up to the Amish Community.  This can only mean one thing: I haven’t explained it properly…

Lake Koocanusa dockLake Koocanusa dock 1Row your boat - Lk Koocanusa

Lake Koocanusa
So, sometime early in the 1800’s, the great explorer, David Thompson came through the area, and because of the native strain of tobacco the Indians were growing, he named the valley, the Tobacco Plains.    Eurekans commemorate his visit, annually in April, with Rendezvous Days, where everyone dresses like mountain men and carry muskets.  (Not everyone in Eureka is a “character”, but there are more than a few REAL characters – I bring this up now because:…well, if you do go to Rendezvous Days sometime in the future, you should know that SOME of the people are not in costume, but those are really just their clothes.)
Dickey LakeDickey Lake off side of boat

Officially “founded” in the 1880’s by cattlemen and homesteaders, the area was first inhabited for centuries by the Kutenai Indians.  In 1904, the Great Northern Railroad came through the Tobacco Valley and “the town of Eureka was born.”

Oh goodness – you have to look aEurekat this website! The town now looks almost exactly like it does in the pictures!  I’m serious – I’m certain some of those buildings are still there! I know that big white building is there (or at least it was there, last time I was on that road…) (There is pavement now, and the sidewalk is concrete, too… and there’s not that many horses on main street.)

At 1037 people (as per the 2010 census), Eureka is the metropolis! Taking in the outlying areas (which were assigned to our High School area – Lincoln County High School – Grad class GO LIONS!), we include Fortine (population in 2000 was 169), Trego (no data for “Trego” town, but outlying areas – approximate population: 541), and Rexford (105 in 2010.)  My graduating class had 63 kids, and we were one of the larger classes.

Well, now that I’m talking about it, I’m feeling a tiny bit homesick…

Sunday, on to Whitefish, MT.


Elk Valley, British Columbia

OH! You know what I forgot!? I forgot the Burmis Tree!!  About 10 kms eastBurmis Tree of Frank Slide is this old dead tree, that looks like a giant Bonsai tree!  When I first saw it, I didn’t know it was famous, but I still pulled over on the side of the road to take a picture. (It is said to be the most photographed tree in Canada, and perhaps the world!)

The Burmis Tree is estimated to be between 300-700 years old, and died in (or around) 1978.

It fell over in the wind (it is SUPER windy in the Crowsnest Pass) in 1998, but it is such an iconic site there, the locals propped it back up.  Then, apparently some stupid loser vandals cut off a branch – SERIOUSLY? what is WRONG with people!!? – in 2004.  However, once again, it was put back together.

It’s a beautiful tree, even dead!

About…20 minutes West of the Crowsnest Pass (see blog February 3, 2013), over the GREAT Continental Divide (see blog February 6, 2013) and down the other side, is Elk Valley.  Technically, Elk Valley is made up of Elkford, Elko, Fernie, Hosmer, Morrissey, and Sparwood.  I can’t actually figure out where Morrissey is, so I’m not sure it actually exists anymore.

However, on our road trip to Hungry Horse, we drove through the other three of the other four towns, (all but Elkford).

The first town after the Continental Divide  is Sparwood.  (From there, you can either go west-norTerex Titan th to Elkford, or south, to Fernie.)

Sparwood, British Columbia, is a coal mining town, and is right on the highway.  You’ll recognize it because it’s the home to one of the World’s Largest Truck – the 1974 Terex 33-19 Titan.  You can’t miss it!!  It’s 350 tonnes, and 66 feet (2o meters) long. It’s almost 25 feet (7.57 meters) wide, and about 22Sparwood truck 1/2 feet (6.88 meters) high with the box down.

Apparently, two Greyhound buses and 2 pickup trucks can fit in the box, at the same time!  (In this picture of the full truck, you can just barely see me – I’m sitting in the wheel, and Peter’s standing beside me…and in the close-up picture, you can see Peter and a friend standing underneath the truck.)

Apparently, the Titan was the only 33-19 Titan ever made, and was made in 1973, specifically to be used for  coal mining in Sparwood.  Technically, it was supposed to be just the first one, but because of the economy, the industry had to use smaller vehicles instead.Coal Mining residue

As you drive through the area, you can see evidence of the coal mining – the mountains have been carved and mined, and are starting to grow grass again. That’s just from the road. You’d have to drive back towards the Mines to see more.

AND, you can actually take tours of the Mines, too.

Between Sparwood and Fernie, is Hosmer. Hosmer was established as a train station for CP Railway, in 1906.   But, what I always think about when I’m in the area, is Hosmer Mountain.

From the front (from FeHosmer Mountainrnie), Hosmer Mountain looks just like a St. Bernhard dog.  (Similar to Turtle Mountain, the older parts of the mountain are at the top and the younger parts are at the bottom…I have to research that more, I think…)

In the evening, on sunny days, though, the “Ghost Rider” legend appears – it’s a shadow on the face of the mountain that looks like the shadow of a horse and rider, with someone on foot beside them, going up the hill. explains that it’s “an angry Indian Chief and his jilted daughter pursuing William Fernie… that William Fernie was courting an Indian Princess to learn the source of her sacred black stone necklace…that after learning the secret location of the Morrissey Coal Seams” Fernie  dumped the Princess.  (There’s more about curses and luck, but I don’t really want to get into that.)

I heard the story slightly differently – tragic, and similar, but without the curses and luck… just a sad daughter and her daddy who loves her and comes to bring her home.  (I’m sure the official site is the legend, but I really like my version.)

Anyway, check out the shadow! You will see it!

15 minutes south is Fernie.Fernie's Alpine Resort

Fernie’s claim-to-fame is, of course, Fernie Alpine Resort.

Once upon a time, I lived in Fernie, and all I can really remember now is: they have the best snow bowl, for powder, and the Griz Inn (to which you can ski or board coming down the Mountain) had the best Long Island Ice Tea.  (That being said… the first time I had the Long Island Ice Tea, I thought it was actually ice tea…I didn’t know there was alcohol in it ( …now that I know better, I have to give the trophy for the Best-Ever Long The BowlIsland Ice Tea to our friend, Calvin.)

At the time, my roommate was an expert (and completely fanatical) skier. She would spend all summer preparing her core for winter. She was a Double Black Diamond girl. I was more of a … Blue Square…girl.   Ronda thought her day was successful if she was in the air more than on the snow, and I thought it was a successful day if I made it all the way to the bottom of the hill without falling.

(Incidentally, I met Peter in Fernie, while he was on a ski trip 🙂 )

Leaving Fernie, you get to go through a tunnel – it’s a short tunnel, but I do love it. It means that you have 3o approximate minutes before you get to the US/Canada border.  Watch for the Mountain Sheep just on the other side of the Tunnel!
Mountain GoatsMountain Goat babies
Saturday – Eureka, Montana!

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The Continental Divide?

Driving from Fargo towards Minneapolis MN, somewhere by Fergus MN, there’s a sign that says “Continental Divide” (technically would be in the range of my blog of October 9, 2012)…

What is a “Continental Divide”, you ask?  The dictionary definition is: “The dividing line for a continent that determines into which ocean precipitation will eventually flow.”  Basically, to which ocean will all rivers and streams run.

IF you are from the Rockies, you know where the Continental Divide is, and it’s not in Minnesota…

 The first time I crossed the Continental Divide (and noticed) was years ago, going through the Crowsnest Pass (for more on the Crowsnest, see blog February 3, 2013), between B.C. and Alberta. Having lived my whole life on the west side, where the watershed runs to the Pacific Ocean, I was stunned to see the water running the other direction – it looked like it was running uphill!!

 Now that I’ve lived about the same amount of time on the east side of the Continental Divide, the water looks like it’s running uphill when I cross over to the west side…could be time to move… 

But that’s the Rocky Mountains…what’s in Minnesota?

So, I looked it up – and probably most of you (or, at least some of you) know this, but if I knew it, I’ve forgotten. The Continental Divide in the Rockies is The GREAT Divide (of course it is) which separates the watershed between the Pacific and the Atlantic (including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.)  The Great Divide runs from all the way from northern Alaska to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, following the mountain ranges of The Rocky Mountain Range AND the Andes!!!

However, in North America, there are SIX Continental Divides. The one we crossed over in Minnesota is called the Laurentian, Northern Divide, or Hudson Bay Divide. It separates the watershed between the Arctic Ocean through the Hudson Bay and the Atlantic Ocean…

Incidentally, this is the same Divide that makes the South Saskatchewan River (see Blog date Sept 26, 2012) run north…which makes sense, now that I think of it…

One more point about this particular Divide – it meets the Great Divide at Triple Divide Peak in Glacier Park, MT. How did I not know this !!???  (It runs from Triple Divide Peak to the Labrador Peninsula at the Hudson Strait.)

(The other 4 North American Divides are

  • the Arctic ~ which meets the Great Divide at Snow Dome (which is a mountain in the Columbia Icefield (future blog), onNorth America Continental Divides Alberta/British Columbia border) to the Oikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, at the Hudson Strait.  The watershed runs north to the Arctic Ocean and south to the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.
  • the St. Lawrence ~ which runs from just north of Hibbing, Minnesota to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, at the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The watersheds (I think – I’ve been having some trouble pinpointing this one) are the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico…
  • the Eastern ~ runs from the north of Pennsylvania, to the southern tip of Florida, and follows the Appalachian Mountain Range from Pennsylvania to Georgia. The watershed runs either into the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
  • the Great Basin ~ is the western continental divide. this one is actually a semi-round (not round at all, but the start and the end are the same place, so I don’t know how to describe it – …see map, attached, as per wikipedia). Apparently, the watershed is the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico…and waters that “lose themselves in the Basin”. (The Great Salt Lake is one of the places in which the waters lose themselves, with the Basin.)

Rocky Mountains

Every continent except for Antarctica has a continental divide.

Huh.  I learned more than I expected this time. How about that!

OK!  Sunday,  on to Fernie, British Columbia.

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Frank Slide, Crowsnest Pass, Alberta

One of the greatest things about Alberta, is that there is an official long weekend almost every month!   Some Long Weekends areHungry Horse Dam more popular than others – like the May Long Weekend…and the August Long Weekend… and the February Long … ok – really, we love them all!!

BUT, the good thing about the August Long Weekend is that it’s always hot and sunny! (At least where WE go – I’m just saying that part for all my friends who spent last August Long in the rain…sorry).

We decided to go camping in Hungry Horse, Montana, with some long-time friends.

The BEST route from Calgary to Hungry Horse is through the Crowsnest Pass and Fernie, BC.  However, for some reason, Google Maps goes a different way… OUR trip (through the Crowsnest took about 4 1/2-5 hours.. our friends followed Google, and their trip took them NINE HOURS!! (They went over the Going to the Sun Highway…Google THAT! and

Anyway – we went the right way – through the Crowsnest Pass.

The most obvious point of interest going through the Crowsnest is Frank Slide. Even if you don’t know WHAT it is when you are going through, you still definitely know that Something important happened there. tells us what happened:

“On April 29, 1903, at 4:10 a.m., 82 million tonnes (30 million cubic metres) of limestone crashed from the summit of Turtle Train going through CrowsnestMountain and buried a portion of the sleeping community of Frank in the valley below.”

Sadly and tragically, an estimated 90 people (of the 600 inhabitants) were killed.  It’s an estimate, because most bodies could not be recovered.  (The rocks are between 50-150 deep/15-45 meters deep).

The area that broke off was approximately 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) wide, 425 meters (1,400 feet) high, and 150 meters (500 feet) deep – approximately 82 million metric tonnes (9o million tons) of rock.  The article says that, to put that into perspective, this means that if you took the fallen rocks and put built a wall 1 meter wide & 6 meters high, it would reach from Victoria, BC to Frank SlideHalifax, Nova Scotia (from sea-to-shining-sea), which, according to Google Maps (and we’ve already discussed its choice of routes) is approximately 6,145 kms/3,818 miles.

Roar from the slide could be heard as far away as Cochrane AB (200 km/120 miles away).  People closer to Frank (or on the other side of town) reported that the sound of the slide lasted about 100 seconds, and based on how far the rocks extend, the article says that “scientists estimate that the rocks were moving at speeds up to 120 km/hr (70 mi/hr)”!!

When you see it, and consider how it’s even possible (the deadliest landslide inPeople on rocks - size comparison Canadian history) for that many rocks to travel that far, or to even fall to begin with.

Well, there was a LOT going on with that mountain (which, as I mentioned, is called Turtle Mountain).

Apparently, it’s called Turtle Mountain because, before the Slide, it was shaped LIKE a turtle, and not because it’s moving slowly. (By the way, there’s another mountain nearby that is also shaped like a turtle, and I’ll probably include that picture…but it’s not THIS Turtle Mountain.)

But, speaking of moving slowly… the Alberta Geological Survey has started monitoring the Mountain’s structure and (in)stability, in order to provide the residents living below of any future “catastrophic avalanches” as well as to ” understand the mechanics of slowly moving rock masses.”

I guess, looking back, it’s obvious that the Mountain, in 1903, was completely unstable.  Many MANY things contributed to the Disaster, among which are (in summary):

  • “The previously horizontal layers of sedimentary rock had been folded during the mountain building process until almost vertical” – you’ve seen it when in the mountains, right? the layers of rocks – I’m going to include a few pictures of mountains near Jasper (Alberta) that have been folded, too, but, only to about a 45 degree angle.
    Jasper area 3Jasper area Jasper area
  • The Turtle Mountain Thrust Fault runs through the mountain. THROUGH!  (A “thrust fault line” is a type of break in the earth’s crust, in which (by my understanding) lower rock layers are pushed up and over higher rock layers…which often means that older rock layers are then layered above younger rock layers…)
  • There’s no way for me to explain this one, except by exact quote from the website: “The erosion by water and ice of sandstone and shale layers on the lower half of the mountain beneath the older layers of limestone on the upper half of the mountain created a significant overhang. Large surface cracks along the summit of the mountain allowed water to enter deep within Turtle Mountain . Water continued to eat away at the limestone and the freezing and thawing action of water and ice worked to widen the cracks, creating even more instability.” (I’m sorry – all of my attempts to summarize, were just the same exact words in different orders…if this doesn’t make sense – email me, and I’ll try to explain.)
  • and finally, on top of ALL of the above – vertical sedimentary rock, a fault line, erosion… they decided, in 1900, that it’d be the perfect location to mine coal.

So, the situation is: The Mountain is still vertical, there is still erosion, AND there is still a town beneath it, in which people live…

We’ve been in the area, camping (possible topic of a future blog, because it’s a beautiful site – a few miles to the West), at night, Camping nearbywhen everything is really still… and there isn’t even wind to disrupt the silence… somewhere, at some time, a giant rock will roll down the nearby mountain, and I can tell you first-hand – IT CREEPS ME OUT!!!!!

Turtle Mountain continues to move, “they” say, by a few millimeters a year, toward the northeast, toward the valley below.

This time, though, there’s technology… and precedence.  There are over 80 sensors on Turtle Mountain now.  Scientists .. “estimate” that there probably won’t be another landslide like that one… any time soon… the mountain is moving “too slow” – “Turtle-like”…

Still… THE MOUNTAIN IS MOVING!! LISTEN!!!  “Hopefully”, say they, “there’s no earthquake”…

I have driven through Frank Slide probably… (without exaggeration)…maybe 250 times… and every time, I feel compelled to take pictures (and yet, I am finding very few in my collection – must label better).  I always want to stop. (We rarely do stop since we are usually on our way to somewhere else, but sometimes!)

Clearly not August Long WeekendYou just can’t believe the size of some of the rocks!  With the size and distance, it’s impossible to know just how small you are and how big they are, until you are standing right beside them.  (One of these pictures – the one in snow (obviously not August Long Weekend – there’s me perpetuating the idea that Canada is always covered in snow)- is me and a friend beside one that really didn’t look that big from the road…and, thinking it was smaller, it seemed alot closer to the road…) You should absolutely get out of your car, once in awhile, and experience this site.  (I’m sure it goes without saying, but you have to remember that it’s a solemn place, to be respected, like a cemetery… )

There’s also an Interpretation Center (to which, I’m embarrassed to say, I have not yet been.)  The same website gives an overview of the Interpretation Center, too, as well as additional facts and features of the Disaster of Frank Slide.

Wednesday – Fernie, British Columbia.

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