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|Saturday, 14 August 2004|
|written by Teresa|
There is a riot of colour along the trails up in the Flathead National Forest. The wildflowers, delayed by cooler temperatures are still in full bloom, their yellows, reds, purples and pinks creating a wonderful natural garden.
To get here, we climbed a very slow ten miles up a gravel road to the Jewel Basin access point. Our chances of finding somewhere to park for a few days looked slim for most of the way, the steep narrow road offering no options, but as we approached the trailheads fate smiled on us and we found a pull off in a wonderful opening with fantastic views, and satellite coverage.
Steep valley sides slope down towards us, their tree cover patchy, varying from impenetrable stands to open clearings clothed in the lighter greens of deciduous plants. Faces of bare rugged rock dominate wide stretches, their deep crevices casting defining shadows. Scree slopes accumulate beneath them, the land between lined and scarred by the falling pieces. The sky is a periwinkle blue, white fluffy clouds drifting across in the afternoon, deepening the apparent shade. These are the mountains we dream of, a place where the loudest sound is the continual background hum of bees, busy in the short pollen season.
An hour's walk from where we are parked, the trail climbs high enough to open the view out across the patchwork of distant farm fields and further still to the wide expanse of the Flathead Reservoir, fifteen miles away. As we turn east to cross the ridge into Jewel Basin itself, blue Gentian and pale lemon Aquilegia grow on the scree slopes, delicate amid the rough-hewn blocks. The path leads to Twin Lakes, nestled in the Basin surrounded by the dark evergreens. The clear shallow waters are a startling shade of turquoise in the sunlight, darkening in cloud shadow to mirror the nearby trees in a perfectly calm surface. On the distant horizon the jagged outline of another range leaves no doubt that these are serious mountains their bare faces too steep for vegetation, reaching up above the tree line.
This is our first proper taste of the Rockies for some time; we have been slowly coming into them over the last two weeks, our first hints of their approach seen in the open, wrinkly hills west of Great Falls. This is ranch land, not a tree in sight, glimpses of the foothills off in the distance. The gradients slowly increase, the trees gathering on the slopes that close in on the road before opening into a vast broad-bottomed valley. Aspen Grove Campground in Helena National Forest is huddled up against the southern edge, strung out along the banks of the small Blackfoot River. Curved lines of Cottonwoods mark the present and previous courses of the water, the pale greens of sage and bright yellow wildflowers lie beneath the white trunks and trembling leaves of the Aspen trees. The smell is a heady mixture of resin from the nearby conifers and sharp spiciness from the sage; I am sorely tempted to do nothing all day but sniff loudly, delighting my nostrils and the olfactory centres of my brain.
But there were more pressing things to attend to. While Sterling was away in Denver on business, the camper's water pump decided to take a holiday from its arduous task of sending the required liquid down the pipes and out of the taps. The culprit was the switch and a botch job of bypassing it ensured that I had water, but only by using the main pump switch on the control panel over the stove. As you can imagine, this was fine as long as I was standing at the kitchen sink but having a shower was another matter, leaving the floor soaked as I leapt out to turn the water off once my ablutions were complete.
The water pump is in the far right hand corner of the cupboard under the kitchen sink. To get at it requires contortions that are above and beyond the call of duty resulting in cramps, scratches, aches and pains; attempting to wield a ratchet screwdriver in these cramped conditions is a story I will not bore you with. Some considerable time later we succeeded in replacing the switch but found to our dismay that the O ring from the filter had somehow stretched and would no longer fit. Without it the pump was completely useless and we had a day of returning to our camping roots and carrying water from the standpipe until we passed a hardware store in the next town down the road.
With a fully functioning water system we went in search of another forest service campground. After ten miles on a progressively deteriorating dirt track we arrived to find four walk-in tent sites on the sloping edge of Coopers Lake. While the setting of Big Nelson camp was stunning, there was nowhere to park the camper and so we reluctantly left. We often comment on the lack of information on National Forest websites and even when there are maps and good directions to campgrounds, there are often no descriptions and so the process is a little like a lottery.
We hit the jackpot with the next one at Monture Creek, finding a pitch by the fast moving water in a sun-dappled grove of large conifers with an overwhelming scent of resin and an entertaining troupe of red squirrels dressed in their darker summer coats. Speedy and agile, they specialize in chasing each other up and around tree trunks in a diagonal climbing frenzy, sometimes colliding and falling to the ground; stunned momentarily they freeze, before bounding off across the forest floor. Hiking trails leave from the campground, following the stream and climbing the valley sides. On an afternoon stroll, the clouds suddenly appeared over the mountaintops, and a couple of miles from the camper we got caught in a thunderstorm and drenched to the skin. I can only hope that I do not very often give Sterling the opportunity to use the endearment of Soggy Sweetie but it has to be said that when a hot shower and a powerful furnace await our return, getting soaked is not as bad as all that.
We left this idyllic setting and headed north on highway 83, into the land of holidaymaking crowds around Seeley Lake. Busy campgrounds with large groups of people are always a bit of a shock after the quiet solitude of more remote settings but a night at River Point gave us the opportunity to fill the fresh water tank, stroll around the loops noseying at other rigs, and do our laundry in town.
We are now getting ready to meet my sister Solanna who is flying in from England to join us for a week in Glacier National Park. This will be the first time that we have had a guest in our tiny house and while we are excited about her imminent arrival we do wonder just how cosy it will be in here with three of us. We'll let you know.
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