So I’d booked a room, but first I had to get there. After the bleak state of North Dakota it was wonderful to drive across Montana. They call it the “Big Sky State” and there really is a lot of sky. Something to do with the clarity of the air, its an amazing sight.
That is until the afternoon when the clouds descended. The trouble with a big sky is it can hold a lot of cloud, and Montana has been getting very wet recently. I was diverted away from the flooded river road and onto the mountain road. This worked in my favour as the road sweeps majestically across plateaus four thousand feet high. During the breaks in the clouds it’s an incredible drive.
As I reach Great Falls the rain is getting very heavy, and the last few miles take forever, until I finally collapse onto the most comfortable bed in the world!
The Holiday Inn Express is a nice hotel with friendly staff, and I soon decide to book a second night. I relax in the pool and have a go at the 140 foot water slide which loops out of the building and back in. Only to discover it’s an opaque slide so you twist and turn in the dark. Gulp!
After an early night I get on with sorting boring stuff out, but there’s one major issue – the warning light on the car. I know Hertz will suggest I exchange the car, and I really don’t want to lose my electric seat and ipod connection! I’ll try to keep this brief:
Phone Hertz: “You need to exchange the car”. Boo.
Can’t I just get it serviced? “No”. Boo
The nearest exchange location is Great Falls Airport. Which happens to be just half a mile away. Yay!
Arrive at Hertz office. “You don’t need to exchange the car”. Huh?
“You can just get it serviced and we’ll refund you” Yay! (With some “Huh?”)
So I get straight into the service place, which is attached to a shopping centre so I can get my hair cut by a cute girl and then have lunch before collecting my car. And the service cost a princely 25 dollars!
Sometimes you’ve just gotta love the US of A!
In the evening I went to the Sip’n’Dip. A club with a pool behind the bar where real live mermaids swim around for your amusement. (It’s less exotic when you realise it’s the motel pool during the day) The bar is packed with people who’re in town attending a sheep convention. I talk to Connie from Oregon who spends a lot of time in Hawaii and gives me some tips. Everyone is then in hysterics at the antics of a couple of their colleagues who have been volunteered to join the mermaids to raise money for charity!
Mmmfday. I’ve completely lost track by this point. Time to hit the road again. The hotel manager confirms that they often get full around here too so I take the unusual step of booking tonight’s accommodation and get a cheap room near the Glacier National Park
I’m into the Rocky Mountains for real now, and the mountains still have snow on the top. In fact, the road I’ve come to drive is still closed for winter. The “Going to the Sun road” is said to be spectacular so it’s a real disappointment. However only the middle section is closed. So I drive the Eastern part, then loop around the Southern edge of the National park for 90 minutes on some pretty spectacular roads and drive the Western part. Unfortunately the Western part is pretty dull. Well, I mean it’s pretty amazing, but it’s lakes and trees. I’ve had my fill of those!
However, the Eastern side. Wow. It’s staggeringly beautiful. Soaring, snow-capped peaks over bright blue mountain lakes. The scenery literally took my breath away! Oh hang on, that was probably the altitude, but the scenery was utterly amazing.
The weather played its part with bright blue skies and sunshine. To think, had I not had a miserable night in the car I might have got here the day before in the rain and clouds and missed all this!
Leaving the park I convinced myself to stop at a restaurant. Here we go, long waits for reasonably good food…
Wow again. Trout, fresh from the Rocky Mountains. Sumptuous.
I’m running out of gushing adjectives so it’s lucky the hotel can only be described as a dump. A dump on a traffic island. With broken wi-fi, so it’s back to pot luck for the next place.
Since I’m heading back into the park I decide to buy some camping gear, just in case. Next to the guns and rifles in Walmart I find a tent, sleeping bag and pad for 50 bucks.
Today I’m skirting around the mountains in the valleys. Still very scenic, but I’d rather be on top looking down. I’m looking forward to the icefield parkway tomorrow. I decide to break my usual habit by stopping early when I spot a hotel in the middle of the valley with beautiful views in all directions.
...and a bar.