June 19 – We left Bismarck, ND and continued our trek west, through what seemed like endless prairie, destined for Great Falls, MT where we could visit Dave’s aunt Marilyn. It was waving grasses, cattle and tumbleweeds for as far as the eye could see. At one point the skyline was shattered by what we thought might be North Dakota’s tallest building, but it turned out to be a windmill. It was odd though, every 10 or 15 miles there was an exit, but virtually every one proclaimed “NO SERVICES” – we were glad that the truck holds 40 gallons of fuel! Sometime just after lunch we saw a little wooden sign along the side of the road that invited us to visit Enchanted Highway. It sounded intriguing, but we were on a schedule and it would take more than a catchy name to get us to stop. Twenty miles later another invitation – “see the grasshoppers – Enchanted Highway”. The third sign had us hooked – “World’s Largest Scrap Metal Sculptures – 20 miles”. So we counted down the miles and as we came over the crest of a hill we saw it even though it was at least a mile away. The sculpture was one of a series along Enchanted Highway designed to try to bring tourists to a town 25 miles off the highway (for more info click the link). After briefly exploring Enchanted Highway we thought that North Dakota had hit its peak, but it saved the best for last. The painted canyon is in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and it is awesome. We didn’t go deep into the park as the view along the highway is amazing, but we did stop in at the visitor’s center.
A few miles later we crossed into Montana and the speed limit went up to 75mph and our fuel economy took a dive. We were entertained by a public service ad on the radio where the director of the Department of Transportation was thanking Montanans for “slowing down and taking time to think.” As aunt Marilyn later told us, the concept of a speed limit is a fairly new concept – in the past signs just said to drive a “safe and prudent” speed. Even at that break neck speed, Stacie managed to get a picture of an antelope (OK, Dave pulled over and stopped although he could have just parked in the middle of the road as no one was on it). Shortly after the antelope we encountered another Montana highway innovation – the spontaneous road closure. Rather than repave the road one lane at a time the highway department decided to tear up the entire road and replace it without any real provision for a temporary road. So for 8 miles we dodged bulldozers, dump trucks and oncoming traffic. Despite the delays, we arrived in Great Falls just in time for dinner.
June 20 – Glacier National Park was our next stop, only about 3 hours North of Great Falls, but since it was our last “big city” we decided to do a little shopping. Well, like the bumper, shopping got out of hand and before we knew it we had added two mountain bikes to the truck (but at least there’s no sales tax in Montana). We arrived in the park and drove the Going to the Sun road – the only road which crosses the park. This road had just been opened for the season about a week earlier – there was up to 60 feet of snow to plow away and avalanche damage to repair. While driving we saw our first bear – it was walking on the snow near the road! We used the campground named Avalanche which was nestled between three peaks and hoped that we wouldn’t be buried whilst we slept. Check out the Glacier NP page for more pictures.