A Travellerspoint blog

October 2012

Beating the Heat in North Carolina's High Country

Imagine how excited I was when I was asked by Highcountry365.com to do a guest blog for their website! We made a trip to Blowing Rock, NC in September and had a great time. Read that 4 part blog post here:

http://www.highcountry365.com/blog/beating-the-heat-in-north-carolinas-high-country-part-one/

http://www.highcountry365.com/blog/beating-the-heat-in-north-carolinas-high-country-part-two/

http://www.highcountry365.com/uncategorized/beating-the-heat-in-north-carolinas-high-country-part-three/

http://www.highcountry365.com/uncategorized/beating-the-heat-in-north-carolinas-high-country-part-four/

Posted by vicki_h 09:29 Archived in USA Tagged mountains boone blue_ridge_parkway north_carolina banner_elk blowing_rock Comments (0)

The Last Best Place - Day 8

A Cruise Through the Badlands

“God never made an ugly landscape. All that sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.” ― John Muir

It was our final morning Montana. Leaving is always so bittersweet. Every trip to those mountains cleans my spirit, fills my soul, and leaves me renewed in a way that nothing else can. We enjoyed one final morning by the fire, one final trip to the shores of a pristine lake, filled with the mountain runoff and so cold and pure that you can't help but marvel that there are still places like this.

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Before heading back to the airport, we made a final stop at Montana Coffee Traders for my favorite breakfast.

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And then it was time to lift off.

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We decided on Wall, SD as a stopping point for the trip home, wanting to do another drive through the Badlands. We didn't realize that Wall doesn't even have a rental car agency, so imagine our surprise when we contacted the small Wall airport to inquire about transportation and the airport manager offered us use of his personal vehicle for our overnight stay.

The airport manager is also the Mayor of Wall. I joked that he is probably also the sherriff, the postman, and the City Judge, given the size of Wall. Seriously...who just lets a stranger use their truck for free? Wall is small town hospitality at its best.

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He did warn us that all he had was a Ford Ranger pickup, but as my Grandaddy used to say, "A free ride is better than a proud walk," we we crammed ourselves into the mini seats in the back and were on our way! Classy.

Yee-Haw! We were doing it South Dakota style, y'all!

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We checked in to the Frontier Cabins, and were pleasantly surprised at the cozy, clean cabins that waited for us. It was a great place to stay, although, there were an inordinate number of fake animals on the premises, some in better shape than others. It was sort of like staying in a giant putt putt golf course.

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My favorite was this quadriplegic squirrel. He has seen better days and lended an element of creepy to an otherwise charming place to stay.

Note to self: yard ornaments are not always cute.

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We paid an obligatory visit to the Wall Drug Store, where I scored an awesome $10 pair of spa sandals, which were exactly what my tortured feet were begging for.

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Then it was off to drive the Badlands Loop in our super slick Ford Ranger Pick up.

With a storm rolling in the distance, the Badlands were simply awesome. We saw bighorn sheep, bison, coyotes, a double rainbow and prairie dogs before finding some dinner nearby.

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There isn't a lot to choose from in the Badlands, so we grabbed some dinner at the Wagon Wheel in Interior. This was literally a hole-in-the-wall bar, but the pizza was hot and delicious.

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As the sun dropped lower in the sky, the canyons were illuminated. It was a magic moment, one of those few that life offers up to you as a gift. I sat mesmerized as everything turned golden and the world was ablaze with the dying rays of the sun. I realized how big this world that God had created is and what a small piece of it I am. I felt blessed to be lucky enough to enjoy another special moment in God's creation and I was reminded that this is what matters, this is what is eternal, and I vowed to carry that remembrance home with me to help me keep sight of what is truly important in life.

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Life is not about paychecks and 8 hour days. Life is not about worrying what to wear tomorrow or where you are going to eat tonight. Life is not about the car you drive or the house you live in. It's not about who likes you and who doesn't. Life is about the gifts that God has given us. God gave us so much and asks us for so little in return. And I am thankful for this great, big beautiful world and for my part in it, no matter how small or fleeting.

Truly, God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful.

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Posted by vicki_h 09:12 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (5)

The Last Best Place - Day 7

Taking it easy at Hidden Lake

“Everybody needs beauty...places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.” ― John Muir

We had originally planned to do the Grinnell Glacier hike, but my feet were done. I was stuck with whatever I could manage to do in flip flops. Today was a day to take it easy and let those heels start to heal.

We decided to stay at the Many Glacier Hotel until check out. The lodge has a large, warm lobby with a giant circular fireplace surrounded by cozy sofas that makes a perfect place to read.

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It also has decks overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake, and on that particular morning, it also had the most spectacular sunrise in the entire world.

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It was around noon when we headed down the road. Do you know what time that is in Montana? It's PIE TIME!

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We stopped for lunch at the Park Cafe. Not only do they have the world's best pies, they have amazing cheeseburgers and peanut butter milkshakes.

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With plenty of carbs to burn, we stopped at Logan Pass to walk back to the Hidden Lake Overlook.

This is a great walk for anyone with limited physical capabilities, which certainly described me at this point, as I limped slowly along. It is a gradual ascent that anyone can do and most of the trail is covered by a flat wooden boardwalk.

This short 3 mile walk affords some of the most spectacular views in the park, views you would normally have to do a long backcountry hike to see. It allows anyone to experience the sweeping alpine views.

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The best part however, is that you are pretty much guaranteed an up-close-and-personal with at least one mountain goat on this trail.

I love me some mountain goats.

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We ended the day uneventfully at the Lake McDonald Lodge, back on the west side of the park. We love the small cabins that sit at the edge of Lake McDonald and usually choose them over the Lodge itself. It's a perfect way to end our stay.

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Our first trip to Glacier started at the Lake McDonald Lodge. Let me tell you about that day.

We didn't know anything about hiking. We didn't know anything about Glacier National Park. We had seen a photo in a book that we bought on a ski trip that had a gorgeous shot of a glacial lake surrounded by mountains. "Glacier National Park," the caption read. That was all it took to get us there.

With no hiking experience, we made a lot of mistakes on that first trip. One of which was our very first day of hiking. The park is about 60 miles across from east to west. We had some fool idea that we would enter at the west gate and hike all the way across going from lodge to lodge on the hiking trails and using the hikers' shuttle to get us from one trailhead to the next. We would end up on the east side.

It was a great plan. In theory.

Mistake #1: Getting dropped off at the west gate was just beyond stupid. We walked about 2 hours along a paved road before we even got to the first trailhead. So we were tired before we really even got started and we lost some valuable time.

Mistake #2: We didn't have a car or a hotel room, so we had a week's worth of crap in a backpack on our backs. I have no idea what made us think we could hike with all that stuff.

Mistake #3: Not really knowing how to read a trail map, I didn't realize that what I had chosen to hike wasn't a well used or maintained trail.

The Snyder Ridge Trail starts near the end of Lake McDonald with a humble trailhead and runs along the eastern shore parallel to Lake McDonald. The trail crosses the Lincoln Lake trail and eventually intersects the Sperry/Gunsight trail and empties at Lake McDonald Lodge. Trail starts out gaining elevation where you’ll end up gaining somewhere around 2500 feet throughout the day as you wander through a mixture of cedar rainforest stands to more lodgepole type forests. It was mostly a walk in the trees with limited views. The trail isn’t maintained as much as others due to its lack of use, so about halfway through our hike, we lost it.

The trail, that is.

So here we are, two inexperienced hikers on their first day in Glacier National Park with ungodly heavy packs who had been walking WAAAAY too long and now were literally lost in the freaking woods as the sun began to set.

We did the only thing we could think to do. We scrambled over piles of downed trees and blazed our own trail through bear infested woods that were getting darker by the minute. After what seemed an eternity, we reached the road again, having no idea how far we were from our lodge. It was pitch black dark as we trudged along the road, feet aching, backs breaking, unable to see where we were going, and having no idea how much longer it would take to get us there.

We'd had no cell phone reception since we'd entered the park, so when we got the cell phones out, it was to use them as weak flashlights, not in hopes of making a phone call.

But that's when we saw it.....one weak little bar.....one tiny ray of hope.

"Try to make a call!!!!" I shouted, excited that we might be saved.

We actually got a call through to the lodge and help was on its way. A worker agreed to come pick us up in the lodge van because we were still about 4 miles away.

Believe it or not, we never saw another bar on those phones for the rest of the trip. It was a gift from God, that little bar.

When we were dropped off at the lodge that night, tired and aching after about 10 hours of walking, we went straight to the bar and ordered their bloody mary. Made with a secret house mix, the Lake McDonald Lodge Bloody Mary is super spicy and so thick you can almost chew it. It was a perfect way to celebrate our survival and after that, it became one "must do" on every trip to Glacier.

And so, on our last night in the park, having survived my abused heels, we had our celebratory Super Spicy, Always Chewy, Lake McDonald Lodge Bloody Mary.

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We finished the evening with some dinner at the Lodge: elk sausage and spicy slaw, artichoke dip, and a vege flatbread.

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At long last, we crawled into bed, pulling the curtains on another hiking adventure in Glacier.

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Posted by vicki_h 08:10 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (0)

The Last Best Place - Day 6

Got Flip Flops?

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. –John Muir

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What do you do when you wake up and find that you are almost unable to walk, that there is absolutely NO WAY you can pull shoes on, and you are about 8 miles from the nearest road….your path there a rugged and uneven trail littered with rocks and roots?

Matt had been watching me quietly as I tried to stand. Overnight, my heels had scabbed over and they were so tight that standing upright was difficult and painful. Each step was awkward as I tottered across the floor, unable to fully set my heel on the floor, and finding that I had to basically walk on my tiptoes. I could tell by his silence that he finally realized how bad my feet were.

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"Why did you keep hiking?" he asked me quietly. "You should have told me. We didn't have to do this hike."

I really didn't have to explain to him. He knew why.

Because being in Glacier brings me a peace that nothing else can. Because the joy that hiking those trails fills me with far outweighed the pain that those blisters caused me. And because I wasn’t willing to miss a moment of it.

I could tell he was angry that I hadn't let him know how bad they were. His face looked sick. I knew he was worried. But I also knew that he understood how much I wanted to be there. And so, he just sat quietly while I carefully taped my feet up again. As I taped, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he was quietly removing nearly everything from my pack and putting it in his own.

I guess he figured he could carry my stuff….or he could carry me.

We had 8 miles to hike. The first mile would be up a steep pass. Then we would hike several steep miles down the other side, ending with about 4 miles through a valley until we reached the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, where our friends would pick us up.

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I actually tried to pull my boots on. Can you believe it? I don't know what I was thinking. It simply wasn’t possible. What was I going to do? The rugged terrain of the trails necessitates a sturdy boot. Even light hiking shoes are ill advised.

All I had were flip flops.

So I did the best I could. I wrapped my feet up, put on socks, and taped my flip flops to my feet.

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Don’t ever accuse me of being a sissy.

We made our breakfast in the kitchen and enjoyed toasted PB&J waffles with maple syrup before hitting the trail….not even knowing if my crazy flip flop scheme was going to work.

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It worked. I had to be careful not to roll my ankles, since I had no ankle support, but other than that, it wasn’t too bad. Other than every hiker we passed that day looking at me like I was a madwoman, it wasn’t so bad.

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As we reached the pass, we noticed that passing hikers had built two large cairns at the top of the pass. Originally used to indicate trail direction when the path is not clear, many hiking cairns today are simply and expression of accomplishment, a way of belonging to the unique group of individuals who have passed through a place before you. Some hikers don’t like cairns. They see them as a violation of the “Leave No Trace” philosophy, but I find an appeal in them.

And so Matt and I added our stones. My stone said, “I have been in this place, on this mountain. I existed. I passed through. I am now a part of this place like those before me and those who will come after me. I was here.”

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The trip down the other side of the pass was tricky in flip flops. I slid, I rolled on gravel, I turned my feet on rocks. It was a challenge.
But I was easily distracted by the distant view of the valley and the lakes, by the mountain goats that perched themselves so easily on the side of the mountain and watched us pass, by the young bull moose that we saw walking below us.

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This is why I was here. This was worth everything.

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We decided to have lunch at a small lake once we reached the end of our decent into the valley. In that moment, it was the most perfect spot in all the universe.

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We thought we were alone.

But we weren’t.

Do you ever get that weird feeling that you are being watched?

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He came scrambling over and sat a few inches away. I know you aren’t supposed to feed the animals. I also know you are supposed to break in your boots before wearing them. If you haven’t figured out by now, I don’t always adhere to what you are “supposed to do.”

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Our little ground squirrel kept us entertained through lunch as we lay back and enjoyed the solitude of a mountain lake in the early hours of the day. Life doesn’t get much more perfect than that.

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The last few miles of the hike were uneventful, taking us through the beautiful landscape and past Red Rock Falls.

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We found ourselves at the Swiftcurrent Inn before we knew it. We grabbed some huckleberry soft serve ice cream and sat on a bench to wait.

And wait….and wait……and wait.

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After 2 hours, we figured out that our friends were….detained. We were able to hitch a free ride on a shuttle to the Many Glacier Hotel.

When we checked into our room, I thought I would die from happiness when I walked into our room and saw that we had a large, old clawfoot tub. Only a few rooms have a tub, and a long hot soak was exactly what I wanted. I was able to soak the dirt out of my skin and the bandages off my feet.

When it was time to dress for dinner, I wasn’t even thinking as I pulled on a pair of skinny jeans.

When our friends finally made it back from their own hike, we all headed for a celebratory meal at the Cattle Baron Supper Club. This place looks like a total dive from the outside…complete with neon beer signs and a parking lot full of pick-up trucks.

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Inside, it’s an entirely different experience. It’s truly one-of-a-kind.

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The steaks are huge and the food is good.

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I think our friend John ordered his steak from the Fred Flintstone menu.

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Remember the skinny jeans?

Well, they were fine until I got back to the hotel room. Matt was with our friends going over plans for the next day so I was in the room alone.

I could not get my pants off.

There was no way to pull those jeans over my now raw, scabbed, aching heels. I had hiked with those blisters for 4 days and hadn’t broken once. I had been tough, determined, and I had powered through, never showing a moment of weakness.

But after days of endurance…I finally broke.

I can only imagine what it looked like to Matt when he walked in the room to see me sitting on the bed crying like there was no tomorrow. I just looked up at him tearfully and whispered, “I can’t get my pants off.”

Then I started sobbing again.

It was rather pathetic. I am not proud. But a person can only take so much. I could handle the cold, the bears, the miles of walking with a heavy pack on my back. I could handle the blisters, the pain, the hours of walking on feet rubbed raw. I could handle drinking water from a stream, eating food cooked on a 3 inch stove, and sleeping on the ground.

What I could not handle, however, were the skinny jeans.

We finally managed to carefully wriggle the narrow opening over my ragged heels and stuffed my poor feet inside some newly purchased fluffy house shoes and, once again, everything was right with the world.

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Posted by vicki_h 08:18 Archived in USA Tagged hiking west camping backpacking outdoors montana glacier_national_park Comments (2)

The Last Best Place - Day 5

The Highline Trail

“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” ― John Muir

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One of our favorite hikes in the park is the hike to Granite Park Chalet. There are several ways to do this hike and we had tried most of them. We had hiked up the tough and steep 4 mile Loop Trail to the Chalet and then 8 miles down Swiftcurrent Pass into Many Glacier. We had hiked the 7.5 mile HIghline Trail and then down the Loop Trail. We had hiked out the Highline and then back the way we came.

The one that we had never been able to do, but had always wanted to, was to hike in on the 7.5 mile Highline Trail and then hike the 8 miles into Many Glacier on the Swiftcurrent Pass trail. This particular hike requires that you start at Logan Pass and you end at the Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge, about an hour and a half drive. The logistics of this hike always proved too difficult for us to work out. However, we had friends with us on this trip that would be able to drop us off at Logan Pass and pick us up at the end of the trail the next day.

I had also always wanted to spend a night at the hike-in only Granite Park Chalet, but had never been able to secure a reservation to this rustic lodge. The reservation system opens in October and will take reservations for the short 3 month summer season for its 20 or so rooms. It fills up so fast and so far in advance, that you have to plan well in advance to get a room. I had done my homework this time and Matt and I finally had a reservation.

Not only were we finally going to be able to do the HIghline-Swiftcurrent hike, we were going to have the pleasure of staying at the Chalet overnight.

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That's why, when I woke up the morning of the hike to find that my heels had something akin to a 3rd degree burn on each, I quickly wrapped them in tape and shoved them into my boots before Matt could see. I wasn't going to miss this hike for anything.

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I was moving slowly, but I was moving, and that was good enough for me.

We drove from St. Mary back to Logan Pass along the GTTS road, taking in the majestic views along the way.

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When we got to Logan Pass, I thought I was going to faint when I stood and tried to walk. I gritted my teeth and got myself going. We had 7.5 miles to hike today and we had all day to do it. As long as I walked slowly, I knew I'd make it.

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The first part of the Highline Trail is a rush. You find yourself teetering on a narrow rock ledge high above the road. A cable has been anchored into the side of the mountain for the faint of heart. It's a great way to get your blood pumping early in the morning.

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The views along the Highline Trail are simply outstanding. Words fail to adequately convey how beautiful it was that morning and photos simply can't capture the enormity of it.

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We stopped for lunch about halfway. We found a big flat rock with a view that went on forever.

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Pardon me sir, do you have any Grey Poupon?

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After a lunch of italian meats and cheese on an asiago bagel, we powered on.

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The views only becoming more beautiful as the day progressed.

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It was about 3:00 when we finally arrived at the Chalet.

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Granite Park Chalet was built in 1914 by the Great Northern Railway to provide back country accommodations inside Glacier National Park. It was the last of the chalets built by the railroad and one of the only two back country chalets that have survived. Today this rustic lodge continues to provide comfortable lodging to hikers willing to pay about $200 for a tiny log room with no electricity or running water, noisy bunk beds, and walls so thin you can hear the people in the next room roll over in their sleep. It's the most expensive awful room you'll ever pay for, and the most wonderful.

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The experience of being at the Chalet was incredible. We were shown to our room and spread our blankets and sleeping bags out on our beds and hung our flashlights so that we could see once it got dark. We took our food to the common kitchen where we were given a bin to keep our food in and where we signed up for a time in the kitchen when we could cook our dinner. Each guest gets a 30 minute slot in the kitchen to make their meal using the propane stoves, dishes, and water provided by the Chalet. There is a common dining room with a wood burning stove that provides a warm and cozy place to eat.

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It was still early, so we decided to take advantage of the warm sunshine and soak in the scenery.

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First, I had to get my boots off so that I could put on my flip flops. My feet were absolutely raw at this point, and all that tape I had wrapped around my heels was now embedded in my shredded skin. It was a mess. I looked at it and said to Matt, "I want my mom."

No matter how old you get, when you are hurt, you still want your mom to make it better.

It took me about 20 painful minutes to get the tape and bandages off my feet. WARNING: THIS PHOTO IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.

My feet were a damn mess.

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But it felt good to have them freed from the boots at last.

When it was our turn in the kitchen, we made salads and jambalaya with summer sausage. The view was better than that of any restaurant.

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After dinner, we watched as the moon rose on one side of the Chalet and the sun set on the other.

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The sunset was an explosion of color and the sky looked like it was on fire.

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As the dark arrived, we settled in our room. Our room was one of several in a log structure with a stone floor. I could hear a guy snoring in the room to our right and could hear the people to our left each time they rolled over in their beds. I suddenly understood why they sold ear plugs at check in. But the blankets were soft and the room was warm. I finally managed to fall asleep, despite the throbbing in my heels.

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Posted by vicki_h 13:45 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking montana glacier_national_park kalispell Comments (2)

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