Montana Road Trip- Kalispell

We’ve been living in northeastern Montana for 6 months (officially eligible for resident hunting licenses, yeah!).  Drew’s mom Cathy wanted to come visit us on her spring break so we planned a little road trip!  Here was our itinerary:

Screenshot 2014-04-07 17.38.24

Day 1: drive from home to Kalispell

Day 2: explore Kalispell

Day 3: ski Whitefish

Day 4: drive from Kalispell to Missoula

Day 5: drive from Missoula to Bozeman

Day 6: drive from Bozeman to Chico Hot Springs

Day 7: drive home from Chico Hot Springs

Bogie and Spartacus are such good travelers.  I can't even handle the cuteness!

Bogie and Spartacus are such good travelers. I can’t even handle the cuteness!

The drive to Kalispell took about 9 hours.  Starting the drive in the morning we saw lots of pheasants and some mule deer doe close to the house.

Montana Mule Deer Does

Mule Deer does

But it really didn’t get pretty until we got to Lewis and Clark National Forest and then Glacier National Park.  The roads were mostly closed in Glacier but we were able to enter the park and go 11 miles on the Going-to-the-Sun road along Lake McDonald.

Glacier National Park in Winter

My mother-in-law Cathy at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

My mother-in-law Cathy at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

We finally made it to Kalispell and stayed at a family member’s condo.  They are winter Texans (or “Snow Birds”) and were still in south Texas so we had the condo to ourselves.  The view was beautiful, but I don’t think there is a view in Kalispell that isn’t beautiful!

View of the Rockies from our condo.

View of the Rockies from our condo.

I like to suggest and pick restaurants in new cities by their TripAdvisor rating so we ate at the #3 restaurant in Kalispell- Hop’s Downtown Grill.

Hop's Kalispell Review

And it exceeded out expectations!  Hop’s is a small restaurant but the ambiance is warm and cozy.  The staff is excellent, and all so attractive!  The menu was a little pricey, but Cathy wanted to celebrate Drew’s birthday so we enjoyed ourselves 🙂  Drew got the bison burger with homemade chips.  Cathy and I both got the beef tenderloins with rosemary garlic potatoes.  My goodness.   Had I left any sauce on the plate I would’ve licked it clean.  It was an incredible meal!

Beef Tenderloin with Rosemary and Garlic potatoes at Hop's

Beef Tenderloin with Rosemary and Garlic potatoes at Hop’s

We also went to the #5 restuarant in Kalispell- Sweet Peaks Homemade Ice Cream!   Delicious and so reasonably priced!  I got the Lime Curd and Shortbread.

Sweet Peaks Kalispell, MT

Sweet Peaks menu

Sweet Peaks menu

Lime Curd and Shortbread homemade ice cream from Sweet Peaks

Lime Curd and Shortbread homemade ice cream from Sweet Peaks

Kalispell is a really cute town.  I wish we had more time to explore the old downtown area.  It also seems like a lovely place to live.

Yarn Bombing in Kalispell!

Yarn Bombing in Kalispell!

 

Moose Bronze Sculpture, Kalispell, Montana

Our second day was wide open so we called up  Swan Mountain Snowmobiling to see if they had anything open.  I’m so glad we did!  We got their info from the local tourist guide and they squeezed us in for a 2-hour Snowmobile trip in the afternoon!  In the morning we went to Cabela’s and spent way more time there than we planned.  But I walked away with a new 7mm-08 rifle after making a trade 🙂  Anyways, we drove up north through Columbia Falls to the Canyon Creek Recreational Area where a lot of people enter the Snowmobile trails.  It was about 30 minutes from Kalispell.  We met our guide at the parking/staging area.  He distributed our rental gear (that included an avalanche beacon, jackets, snow pants, helmets, and even gloves if we needed them!).  He gave us a quick intro to how to drive a Snowmobile (or “sled” as its called in western Montana) and we hopped on.   It was the first time on a snowmobile for all of us!   It was a lot like driving an ATV but turning took some getting used to.  The machines were so light that you really had to use your body weight to help you turn.  We took off onto the trails.  It was so much fun!!  Our guide Shawn took us up and up and up.

Snowmobiling West Glacier

The red line is our Snowmobiling Track up the mountain into Kimmerly Basin and back down again!

View from my Snowmobile

View from my Snowmobile

On the trails!

On the trails!

We climbed 4,000 feet up to  to the Kimmerly basin which was over 6,000 feet.  The trails were the most fun.  The basin looked like a giant playground for snowmobiling.  Tracks everywhere!  Shawn brought us to the highest point to take pictures.

The top of Kimmerly Basin in a quick snow storm!

The top of Kimmerly Basin in a quick snow storm!

A snowmobiler's playground!

A snowmobiler’s playground!

 

Shawn showed us how deep the snow was when he pushed the 10-foot poll into the snow under our feet and it never touched ground!

The snow was over 10 feet deep!  And we were standing on it!

The snow was over 10 feet deep! And we were standing on it!

Shawn let us “play” in the basin and do whatever we wanted!  Which of course means we all got stuck.  Several times.  Mine was the worst.  I really dug the tracks deep trying to get out.  Then Shawn got his sled stuck trying to get me out!  It took about 30 minutes of pulling, pushing, digging and scraping but Drew and Shawn finally got my machine unstuck.  I was a little freaked out but Shawn stayed positive the whole time and even laughed about it.

My snowmobile stuck deep!

My snowmobile stuck deep!

I was done with the playground after all that!  The trail ride back to the staging area was awesome.  Shawn let us really cut it open on the straight-aways.  I got over 55mph (which I thought was CRAZY) but Drew passed me going 70!  Our total ride was 25 miles (up and back down the mountain).  By the time we got back we had definitely gone over our 2 hours and Shawn was such a great guide!  I highly recommend him and Swan Mountain Snowmobiling!

Snowmobiling Canyon Creek Recreation Area, West Glacier, Montana

After all the excitement of snowmobiling we crashed that evening!   Sore quads and backs.  But totally worth it for a check on the bucket list.  And that was just the beginning of our trip!  Stay tuned for more 🙂

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Things I learned While Traveling In Hawaii

Recently, D and I were lucky enough to spend 11 days in Hawaii.  We spend most of the trip staying in Waikiki and seeing much of the island of Oahu.  Then we flew to Kona and got to spend a few days on the Big Island of Hawaii.  I’ve been reading a lot about minimalist travel and light travel for backpacking and got inspired to try to go minimalist.  I got about half-way there.  Here are some lessons I learned on our recent trip.

 

Lesson 1. Just because you can save $25 in baggage fees by only checking 1 bag between two people does NOT mean it’s going to be worth it!!
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Thanks to having only 1 checked bag between the two of us (filled mostly with scuba gear), tor the first time I managed to not overpack my clothing!  But we still brought a ton.  Any time I vacation somewhere I’m in the water a lot I tend to wear a lot more clothes because I end up changing twice a day.  Not to mention we were gone for 11 days.
Here is the breakdown of our luggage (for two people):
  • 1 giant checked bag (that was over 50 pounds every time we checked in at an airport) which held both of our snorkel/dive gear, some clothes that didn’t fit into the carry-ons, and everything that isn’t allowed on planes (toiletries and liquids, dive knives)
  • 2 rolling carry-on bags- packed to the absolute maximum with clothing and shoes.  1 for each of us.  (By the way I had 4 pairs of shoes- flip flops, tennis shoes (worn on the plane), boat shoes, and heels.  Wore every pair.  D had tennis shoes (worn on the plane) and boat shoes.)
  • 1 laptop bag that D carried which held his laptop and cords, plus all our plane snacks (we flew for about 8 hours to get there and the airlines did not offer a free meal)
  • 1 giant tote bag that I carried which held: my purse (wallet, tickets, chapstick, etc); all my electronics and cords (camera, cell phone, nook plus chargers); a jacket, blanket and pillow (if I’m not comfortable I will NOT be able to sleep on a plane), my binos, my scuba diving regulator and computer (I don’t check those because they are the most expensive things I travel with and I don’t want to take my eyes off of them); and a water bottle (that I filled up inside the security checkpoint which subsequently leaked all over the place on the plane- lesson learned).

Watching White-tailed Tropicbirds outside of the Jagger Museum, Volcanoes National Park, HI.

If the Airlines actually enforced the whole “1 Carry-On and 1 Personal Item” rule I would’ve been in trouble as that giant tote back didn’t actually hold all that stuff, but I find that as long as you only have one carry-on in the overhead compartments and can fit everything else under the seat they overlook the number of items.
They do, however, enforce the “50 pounds per checked bag” rule and we had to re-pack twice and paid the overage fee once.  On top of that we had a LOT of stuff to drag through airports while trying to catch a connecting flight.  Next time we will spend the additional $25 and pack another 50 lb checked bag and it will save a lot of airport stress.
Lesson 2.  Minimize clothing and maximize accessories.

Dressed up for a Catamaran Dinner Cruise off of Honolulu, Oahu, HI. The only time I wore my heels while in Hawaii.

This is something I did right and it’s the first time I’ve attempted.  I usually travel with wayyy too many clothing choices and just one or two necklaces.  I wear the same earrings daily and don’t bother with bracelets, hair pieces, etc.  Well this time I packed a ton of jewelry into a toiletries bag and went with the minimum clothing to cover the activities we would be doing (lots of time on boats, lots of walking, and a few nice nights out).  I wore everything I brought and some pieces I wore over and over but I never felt like I was wearing the same thing because I would change up my jewelry.  Not to mention I bought lots of clothing and jewelry while there.  By the way the most common and easiest accessory?  Flowers in your hair!
Lesson 3.  Pack for the style of the place you are going.

Dressed up for a Luau in my swimsuit, a sarong and accessories!

I brought most of my ~tropical~ style clothing and accessories and I’m so glad I did.  It’s not everywhere that you can wear a giant flower in your hair or a bright orange and white sarong as a dress, but you can do it in Hawaii and fit right in.  And it really helps get in the ~island~ mood which in my opinion made my vacation richer.  I’m glad I brought that stuff with me or I would’ve wanted to buy more than I did.  I know I won’t wear this stuff much at home but on a beach vacation I definitely will!
Lesson 4.  Things I’m Glad I Brought

My ScubaPro split fins. They are big and bulky in my suitcase but so worth it to have my own fins while snorkeling and diving.

  • My super awesome new cell phone (an unlocked, rooted and ROM’d HTC Rezound) with a great camera on it, for quick pics, easy uploads, and check-ins on Facebook.  By the end of the trip I was checking in at EVERY place we went so when I got home I could go through and remember where we went.
  • My rooted Nook (Android tablet) for internetting, reading, and playing games on the long flights.  This replaces my big clunky laptop which I used to bring on every trip.  I’m so glad I’ve switched to a tablet for travel.  Lighter and you don’t have to take it out while going through airport security!
  • All my snorkel and dive gear (includes: mask, snorkel, fins, booties, regulator, and air-integrated computer).  We got to snorkel a lot more than I expected and I was so happy to have our own gear.  Our gear was superior to the rental gear and we were always first in and last out of the water.  Yeah we had to lug it around and clean it but it was worth it to be able to jump in ready to go.
Lesson 5.  Things I’m glad I left:

Taking pictures of coral and fish while free diving off the Big Island of Hawaii. I’m always happy that I brought my camera’s underwater housing!

  • My big Canon DSLR.  I instead opted to carry only my Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot and it’s underwater housing.  My Canon takes superior pictures but it is heavy and changing out lenses is kind of a pain.  If my mother-in-law didn’t have her DSLR with her I would’ve regretted not bringing mine but she got a lot of great pics and shared them with us.
  • Lots of toiletries.  I really minimized the toiletries I would have normally brought and instead used the hotel’s shampoo/conditioner.  I also minimized the size of the bottles.  I poured some makeup remover into an old hotel shampoo bottle to avoid bringing the whole 6 oz. bottle.
Lesson 6.  Things I Wish I Brought:

I probably wore this shirt the most while in Hawaii!

  • Febreeze and laundry detergent.  I remembered the Oxyclean but I really needed more laundering stuff.  I wore some of the same clothes over and over and they got pretty stinky, especially the ones I put on after getting out of the ocean.  Then when we traveled to the big island and I had to pack everything together, EVERYTHING got a bit stinky.  I was very glad to be home and in fresh clothes.  On-the-go laundry stuff will definitely be in my luggage next time.
  • A USB car charger.  I knew that most of our flights were going to have power ports but I didn’t realize that most of them would be for car lighter chargers.  I had a charger perfect for this but I left it at home.  Next time I will definitely be in my bag.  At one plane ride had regular power outlets and we watched videos on D’s laptop, played Angry Birds on my Nook, and listened to comedy albums on my phone.
  • TWO blankets.  D raises his eyebrows when he sees me bringing a jacket, pillow, and blanket all the way across the Pacific Ocean, but on the way back on our overnight flight, he was trying to get some of my blanket!
It was an amazing trip and I learned so much.  Not only about the Polynesian culture but about myself and how I like to travel.  I can’t wait to incorporate what I’ve learned into our next trip!

Honeymoon Pt 2

Our other 2 ports we stopped at on our honeymoon cruise to Alaska were Skagway and Ketchikan.

In Skagway we went on a jet-boat tour of the Haynes River Bald Eagle Preserve. The jet-boat was really cool. It maneuvered like an airboat and could go in very shallow water, but felt (and sounded) like you were in a regular engine boat.

We saw a ton of bald eagles, mostly females. The females have hatched the eaglets and have returned to hunting for their meals.

The one male we did see had taken the female’s place on the nest to stay with the eaglets.

We spied this yearling moose munching on some green grass. She was quite interested in us but didn’t stay around long.

We also got to see the most wild trumpeter swans I’ve ever seen in one place. Their heads and necks were dyed a rust color from all the iron in the waters they feed in. Didn’t see any cygnets though.

One of the coolest parts of this trip was watching mountain goats through scopes! I didn’t think I’d get to see my first mountain goat in this trip so that was a great surprise!

Between Skagway and Ketchican, our ship visited Glacier Bay where we got to see some glacier calving action (where a big chunk of ice falls into the sea)!

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day.

We got to watch a couple of big brown bears sunning themselves on the rock face.

The Johns Hopkins Glacier was the biggest glacier I’ve ever seen!

That evening we watched more sea lions and SEA OTTERS(!) out and about in front of the ship!

The next day we arrived in Ketchikan, Alaska where we went through the museum at the visitor’s center and did some shopping.

I came home with a shearling aviator and D came home with a beaver fur Russian-style hat (he used to trap nuisance beavers back home in Arkansas (and looks darn good in a big Russian hat!)).

That afternoon we went salmon fishing. The method they used was called down-rigging and I’d never seen that before. All of our poles were set up together but the down-rigger kept the lines from getting tangled. Unfortunately we didn’t even get a bite but it was a nice day on the water, if a little chilly for me.

On our last day at sea on the cruise ship, D and I entered into the Newlywed/Marriage game and… WE WON! I couldn’t believe it! We’d been married for a week and were up against a couple married for 30 years and a couple married for 45 years! We won on the bonus question- what’s the craziest place you’ve ever ‘gotten romantic?’ The other couples had a lot more history and didn’t guess each other’s answer. Our answer was obvious- a cruise ship! We enjoyed our free bottle of champagne that night as we sailed back to Vancouver.

Honeymoon

On May 28, 2011, D and I got married!! Our ceremony and reception were in my hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Then on May 30 we flew to Vancouver for a few days. On June 1 we got on a cruise ship and headed for Alaska!!

Vancouver was so fantastic. We spent the day on the trolley which went through just about every neighborhood and Stanley Park.


(Lord Stanley is a Canuk’s fan!)

The totem poles in Stanley Park were the highlight of our visit.

Vancouver is beautiful, I loved it. It was my first time in Canada.


(the Vancouver skyline as seen from Stanley Park)

We cruised on Holland America and our first port was Juneau!


(the Mendenhall Glacier)

In Juneau we got to go on a whale/wildlife watching cruise! It was my FAVORITE part of our entire honeymoon. We saw humpback whales, brown bears, harbor seals and bald eagles. The best part was seeing a Stellar sea lion haul-out (where they come out of the water to rest and warm up)!!


(humpback whale)


(momma brown bear on Admiralty Island, home of the highest concentration of brown bears in North America)


(Stellar Sea Lions)

We got to watch the harem bull sea lion break up a scuffle and oversea his harem.

And we ended the day by getting a special treat. A humpback whale came up right next to our boat and spent quite a long time slapping its pectoral fin on the surface! It was awesome!! The guides said they’ve only seen this behavior once before on their tours. I used my FlipCam from TakeMeFishing.org‘s National Boating and Fishing Day contest to get a couple of quick videos (the quality was lost when I put them up on youtube):

We also had a salmon fishing trip in Ketchikan but I don’t have any video from that trip cause we didn’t even get a bite 😦 But that’s why they call it fishing and not catching…

Pennsylvania Elk

Earlier this week I was in DuBois, Pennsylvania for the 2011 Eastern Elk Management Workshop. Every year elk scientists and managers of elk in eastern states meet to discuss current elk herd statuses and research. I attended last year when it was held in Knoxville, TN as a first-year grad student. This year I got to return and present my research project. It was such a fantastic trip and I feel so lucky to be in elk research. Talking to elk biologists from around the eastern US gave me an incredible opportunity to get a feeling for how my research fits into the big scheme of things. Along with technical presentations, socializing and discussing elk management, we also got the chance to see some Pennsylvania elk up close. Elk can be easily seen at dawn and dusk hours from the many observation outlooks on Winslow Hill in Benezette, PA.

Elk were completely extirpated from the Eastern US in the late 1800’s. Many states reintroduced elk herds including Arkansas, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Today there are approximately 800 elk roaming Penn’s Woods. You can read more about the history of PA elk on the Game Commissionwebsite. Today’s reintroductions and management would not be possible without the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (so if you love to see elk in the wild, consider becoming a member!)

In Pennsylvania, reclaimed coal strip mines make up a lot of the state game land elk habitat. PA Game Commission along with other partners put a HUGE amount of work into transforming carved out mountaintops into habitat that is lush and alive.

It’s quite beautiful but they are still dealing with (and will be for decades) water seeping from the old mines. This water is very high in Iron and the pH is around 2-3 which is too acidic for for anything to live in the streams. Through lime enhancement and settling ponds, the Game Commission has brought life back to some streams and downstream there are successful bass and trout fisheries!

The Game Commission has also helped to create a wetland complex, which was currently being utilized by some mallards and Canada Geese.

Recently opened is the new Pennsylvania Elk Country Visitor’s Center.

It is absolutely the most beautiful elk center in the east. Looks like it belongs in Yellowstone!

With a trail system, panoramic views of elk country, a fireplace, “4D” theater, interactive displays, and a room full of antlers, hides, and other hands-on elk stuff this Visitor’s Center continually took my breath away!

Towards the end of the afternoon we started to see some elk through the haze.

Signs warn observers to keep their distance.

This cow was rather interested in our giant bus!

This tagged and collared beauty was standing just inside the tree line.

On our last stop of the day we got to see a big herd grazing. I had a great time in PA! Everyone was super nice and enthusiastic. And seeing elk is always a great pleasure!