Week 60: Back to the US – Montana

Downtown Banff - Car free
Camera: HD1913 Aperture: 1.65 Focal Length: 4.755 Shutter Speed: 2195 ISO: 125
Downtown Banff - Car free

Week 60: Back to the US – Montana

Banff – Musea and Mountainbiking

Banff town has so much to offer that it is difficult to chose, but we start the day at the Cave & Basin National Historic Site which turns out to be a great option! The site is set up around the original location of Banff’s first hotel, which was built here for the thermal waters. The basin and caves are still there and so is the old building, but the museum is now fully dedicated to its historic and natural values. Really fun is exploring the thermal water – no touching! – and seeing the teeny tiny snails that live there, they actually swim upside down on the surface as if there is a piece of glass they are gliding on! The cave is also very cool and mysterious, and with the Xplorer exercises we have to do here it is a solid few hours of entertainment mixed with education on Banff and the birth of the first National Park.

From here we take our bikes off the RV and ride into town for the Banff National Park museum, which is a natural museum full of real animals of the area. A great opportunity to come really close to the animals we have seen so often now and study them while learning about their habitats and the history of natural science here in Banff. With a park next door we find the perfect spot for lunch which includes a playground and watching all the tourists roll by with their kids, dogs and quails in a cage (???!!). Enough to enjoy before we put our helmets back on to explore a bit further outside of the town limits.

Tunnel mountain is adjacent to the town center, and has a loop around it dedicated to mountain biking which is right up our alley. After a very steep climb / walking the bike, we hit the trail that gradually goes up and down with some very steep cliffs besides us and fantastic views of the mountains and rivers nearby. We use our bells to make noise for bears, but the whitetail deer in the area do not seem to care and just watch us go by :-). Towards the end of the loop we take a left down the hoodoos trail to Surprise Point. This turns out to be quite the challenge as the decline is very steep and rocky, and there is another ‘hike your bike’ section down the path to get over an outcrop by the river.

As Bo says: “teamworks makes the dreamworks” we helped each other pulling the bikes over and ended up at the Bow river with a stellar view of the Fairmont Castle on the other side. From here it is an easy ride back to town and again a well-deserved ice cream! Before loading the bikes back on we try out the small bike skills park and leave town as some bad weather kicks up a dust cloud through Banff. Driving out of the Rockies and onto the prairie at sunset we are witnessing an enormous summer storm rolling over Calgary in the distance, which is absolutely ‘end of the world’-material. Thankfully we take a right down south on the Cowboy trail and miss out on the what we later learn sometimes very heavy summer storms that roll over the prairie here (think hail the size of grapefruits!).

The Cowboy trail – Bar U Ranch

Driving south along the Cowboy Trail we can not miss out on visiting a ranch, and more importantly we have picked ‘open farm day’ to do so! Bar U Ranch is owned and managed by Canada Parks, and a prime example of history made fun. We get there early which is a good thing as the place is swarming with people by the time we leave around noon. Many of the old buildings have been kept and restored, giving a great insight in how a ranch was run back in the day. The challenge of nature vs farming is explained very well, while providing tons of things to do and explore.

We take a wagon ride along the creek where we see the beaver dam and again meet some really nice people with whom we share travel experiences. The boys paint a painting on a piece of bark, we visit the hogs and the bison, get an explanation of the Percheron horses that were bred here and take home a recipe for cookies. To top it off we practice our calf roping skills – Bo turns out to be best at it! – and dress up as true cowboys including boots and chaps. As the crowds pour in, we drive further south and get a campsite for the night with a laundry and wifi to get everything ready to go again before heading back to the US!

Waterton Lakes & Glacier NP; Crossing the US border

An international effort of conservation, Waterton Lakes NP and Glacier NP are connected acros the US/CAN border. We tackle both of them today starting with Waterton Lakes, where we take a stroll around town and learn about the cultural history (counting English and Swiss type houses) and the nature surrounding the lakes. Driving in we get greeted by a black bear cub crossing the street, which turns out to be a theme as a grizzly greets us later in the day as we drive into Glacier… always a great entrance! We also drive the bison loop to see the herd that lives in the park before we take the drive to the US border.

This crossing is again very smooth, total time of 20 minutes and we are back in the US to the homestate of our RV! The entrance to Glacier NP is a short drive into the country taking us to the visitor center on the eastern side of the park. Unfortunately this park does not allow an RV our size through the park, so we drop Sven off to do us the honors of cycling the ‘Going-To-The-Sun’-road all the way over the Logan Pass. The rest of us take the 175km detour around the park to pick him up again on the other side. We do so along Cameron Lake, where we have dinner and where Bo and Sven take a jump in the lake to cool off. It is good to be back in the US, time to travel east!

Missoula break

To get to the road east, we first travel south for a bit through the cherry area of Flathead to end up in Missoula, Montana. We had plans to get our oil changed and a lube job for the RV, but this turned out to be a bit more difficult than we had initially thought. With an appointment for the end of the day, we head out to Bonner park where there is a water playground open and we relax for a few hours in the park, the boys playing and getting wet while we read a book and chill. As Sven gets ready to drive the RV to the oil change appointment, we pull off our bikes to take a ride through town.

We visit the university grounds which are really quiet now as school is still in summer recess, so we really get to enjoy the beauty of the grounds themselves. As we pass the stadium of the Missoula Grizzlies, we see a group of cheerleaders practicing which is fun to see and a new addition to the American culture we are experiencing. We ride along the river and see people floating down the river in tubes and kayaks, reminding us we need to plan that in with our kayak too! Another really fun place in Missoula is the carrousel, which might sound cheesy and maybe it is, but the cool part of it is that it was fully funded and even built by the local community – artists have designed the horses – and a ride on the carrousel is only one dollar, making it affordable to all. Next to the carrousel a really cool playground with a dragon castle theme has been built as well, so we have an entertaining break here.

No bike ride in the heat is complete without an ice-cream, so we help ourselves to one after a small slippery sidewalk crash, and then it is on to our final destination, the lovely Julie. She is the mother of our new friend Christina who was already kind enough to receive a few packages for us (a new toilet seat among others) but on top of that even let’s us stay in her driveway for the night AND throw in a load of laundry while we are there. We have a great evening on her terrace with pizza and wine, and thoroughly enjoy another example of American hospitality.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS

The next day we spend the morning at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, another National Parks site along the way as we cross through the state of Montana. Having visited a ranch in Canada this week as well, we are curious to see how the sites differ in their approach. Again we are impressed with the effort put into making the site come alive, with a blacksmith, a chuckwagon cook and a guide for the main house that really make the ranch experience special. There is also an Honorary Rancher program for the adults – as opposed to the Junior Rancher – so we all take our booklets and work hard to get the right answers as we explore.

With a badge, a pin, a branded piece of wood and a fresh cup of coffee in our pockets, we are satisfied with our visit and continue our drive through Montana. Driving away from the Rocky Mountains, the scenery becomes more hilly and filled with farmland, which we fly by over the Interstate. It has been a while since we drove on the really big highways, but with the scenery becoming more monotonous moving east, we decide to speed up the miles. We even pass Amsterdam on the way (right next to Manhattan :-p)!

We have another quick stop in Bozeman to pick up our mail – thanks Rachel! – of the past year, and then drive on to a free campsite along the Bighorn River, which is maintained by the state fishery department. In the mail there were a dozen stamps and badges/patches of this past year that were sent to us by National Parks for when we were not able to hand them in on time, so it is really fun for the boys to open up all the envelopes and get mail for themselves. Another impressive feat by the National Parks organization, some rangers even took the time to add a hand written note!

Bighorn NRR and Little Bighorn Battlefield

After a really nice sleep and breakfast with bunnies hopping by, we first drive up to the Yellowtail Dam that manages the waterflow of the Bighorn River. Unfortunately we can not drive further into the canyon so we have to make do with a film in the auditorium about the rest of the recreational reserve, but the dam is already quite impressive to see. From here, we drive back up towards the interstate, where there is a National Battlefield called Little Bighorn, which commemorates one of the bigger battles fought between the native Americans and the US army.

This specific battle was won by the native American tribes, and it ended the life of Custer, a war hero famed for his many victories in the Civil War. The site does a great job of explaining the events leading up to this battle, primarily because a large group of different tribes refused to move to a reservation and wished to continue their nomadic existence. The walks are guided by quotes of those that were there to really let your imagination run its course and see the battlefield through their memories.

Interestingly, the site was already preserved with white markers across the area where those who fell for the US army are remembered in 1890, but only in 1999 where brown markers added for the native Americans that lost their lives here. An ‘Indian memorial’ is raised here as well as a strong reminder of the need for peace. We find another campsite nicely kept by the fishery department, this time along the Yellowstone river, and conclude another very educational and fun day… The heat is really getting heavy here, thankfully it cools down quite a bit at night, but it is clear we have hit the full swing of summer now!

Next week: Adding new states moving east

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