Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day 4- Mountain Pass Insanity & A Sweet Little Camp Spot

9/18/2010 8:47pm Day 4

Tyler and Hanz panting on a boulder
Yesterday when we got back to the Como campground Tyler and I biked over to the lake while Hanz ran alongside us. It is a gorgeous area but it’s funny because there is a lot of contrast in the scenery. On one side, the direction from which we came, there’s a huge concrete dam and then another huge concrete put-in area. If you look across the lake, however, you see incredible mountains rising up into the sky. The actual color of the water is beautiful as well. I think that is just something about Montana lakes in general, because so many of them are so high up and pristine, they are absolutely beautiful. We went back to the travel trailer for some dinner after a little hike and then ended the night by watching the second half of North by Northest, further proving you can almost never go wrong with Cary Grant.

This morning I woke up and took Hanz for a long walk down an old road off to the side of the campground. It leads to a narrow trail in a beautiful coniferous forest and ends up at a creek. It was such a wonderful way to start the day. The air is already delicious in a quiet forest but in the morning it seems to be even more so. Hanz chased the ball, which I threw from a Chuck-It (he’s obsessed!), a good hundred times. When I got back we packed up our stuff and got on the road at around 10:30am. We were going to work at Homestead Organics in Hamilton, but giving that it was a Saturday and they did not do much work on the weekends we decided to just stop by the farmers market and then head on our way towards Butte. We ran into an old friend of ours, Paul Madeen and his girlfriend Terri at the market, which is always nice. Terri said she has a farm in Stevensville that she is working on and that she has goats and chickens and grows produce. Since Tyler and I are trying to find a place to stay where we can work in exchange for rent we are possibly going to help her out starting this spring with the produce and since the goats will be having kids there will be more to manage. We’ll see how it works out!

The Creek near Lake Como where Hanz and I took our morning walk
I had taken the Skalkaho Pass only once in my life and that was two years ago with 4 girlfriends in a small car heading to Butte for the National Folk Festival. I remembered the road as being beautiful and having gorgeous falls, maybe it is a bit windy as well. Well, obviously I was not the one driving and it is funny how your experience can change the way you remember something but as soon as Tyler and I started the ascent we started to get nervous. The road immediately narrowed and a sign warned of imminent “narrow mountainous winding gravel roadway.All those descriptors on one sign… wow! Tyler glanced over at me with his brow furrowed and asked, “Are you sure this is going to be alright for my truck with this trailer?”



What followed was a who-knows-how-long period of extremely tense driving and the occasional wince as the trailer’s shocks worked overtime. We did momentarily stop at the Skalkaho Falls so catch our breath and take in some of the scenery. While we were stopped Tyler talked to another young couple who assured us that the road widened as you started to descend and that people took rigs this big up here all the time. Yeah, well it turns out the road widens alright but it also becomes a series of unending potholes that forced us to literally travel about 5 miles an hour. On the bright side we were surrounded by beautiful conifers the whole time so if you had the window down it smelled like Christmas!

At the base of the descent we turned our heads to look at a sign meant for those just beginning to take the pass from the east. It read something to the extent of: trailer attachments of no more than 20 feet advisable. Ours was 22 feet. Thanks for the warning.

We drove on a little while longer and eventually turned onto the Pintler Scenic Loop towards Anaconda. At this point we just wanted to find a place large enough to park the travel trailer for the night that would also afford us some nice scenery. We soon happened upon the entrance to the Flint Creek Campground also home to the Flint Creek Hydroelectric Project. Let me preface my initial hesitation towards stopping here by saying that I had only heard one thing about Flint Creek and it was not very great. A couple months ago I went to the Montana Audubon Society’s Annual Bird Festival where we went on birdwatching field trips and listened to all different kinds of people talk about birds and conservation and current research. One of the presenters was from the University of Montana and he had been studying mercury levels in osprey chicks. He found that Flint Creek, which passes by a gold mine, picks up mercury (a by-product of the mining process?) and is the largest contributor of mercury into the Clark Fork River when it flows into it. Since osprey eat lots of fish mercury, a heavy metal, can bio-accumulate in their blood, causing them to get sick. This is exactly what happened with DDT. So, knowing this I was not too thrilled about the prospect of camping right next to the water but I realized that it’s not the whole creek that has mercury, it’s really only after it meets up with the source, the gold mine, that it possibly gets hairy. Plus, once we drove down to the camp I saw a site that was located right on the creek with the water rushing by in the most beautiful way. So we set up camp. The water is so loud but relaxing, the perfect thing to lull you to sleep. Needless to say we did not go fishing.

Our Campsite on Flint Creek

The Traveling Trio
The hydroelectric project we read, was initiated in 1891 and generated about 1,100 kw of energy. The old carved wooden sign also informed us that it was “open to the public without discrimination.” Man, do I love some of the signs you can find out here!

Tyler grilled some delicious Italian sausages that we got from Jen at Lifeline in exchange for our work (a very tasty gift!) and put a can of beans on the embers of our campfire to cook. Baked beans have to be one of my favorite all time camp foods. That and s’mores, which we also had! We actually got the stuff in Philipsburg where we stopped to find a bar in which to watch the University of Montana Grizzlies dominate Eastern Washington University. We found a really nice bar, called the Club Bar, “the friendliest corner bar in town.” We did not actually see any other corner bars in town but they did seem to be a friendly crowd that was luckily Griz fan dominated. We weren’t sure if they would be Griz or Cat fans out here but we lucked out. We also found a sweet thrift store where I found a gorgeous leather Coach purse for a total bargain. Yes, Please!

Hanz being a Waffle

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