Midway through our trip to Banff and Jasper NP last year, Cec and I were already inspired for our next road trip.
I still remember driving down Hwy 93 into Polson, getting my first glimpse of Flathead Lake. "How did I miss this?" On a map, Flathead Lake is a sizeable -- yet just another -- sky blue colored lake (why do maps choose that color if no lakes are ever that color?). In person, it looks like an ocean. It's the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi.
As the minutes turned into an hour of driving along Flathead Lake last summer, we knew we needed to return. If anything, just to bask in its huge-ness.
To avoid retracing old steps, we decided to traverse Nevada, spend a night in Idaho, and visit Grand Teton National Park before heading to Bigfork and our cabin along the eastern shore of Flathead Lake. In previous road trips, I had always avoided I-80 E through Nevada. It just didn't seem like there was a lot to see.
I can now confirm that there's absolutely nothing of note along this highway. Cec and I also ate more McDonald's on this day than we had consumed in the past year.
Innumerable podcasts later, we were relieved to finally turn north on Hwy 93 towards Idaho, where some color started to return to the landscape.
Around midnight, we rolled into our campsite behind Sunset Cone for the night at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. Total travel time for the day: 15 hours. Since the main campsite was closed for renovation, we were the only campers in the park that night.
The next morning, I woke up randomly at 6:15. I decided to peek out of the tent and couldn't believe the color I saw in the sky. Something special was on the verge of unfolding. I proceeded to stumble out of the tent with my gear, no socks, no jacket, and scramble up a 150' slope to capture probably the best sunrise I've ever seen. The blackened volcanic landscape of Craters of the Moon provided beautiful contrast against the morning sky.
You don't normally equate "volcano" with "Idaho". However, it turns out that Idaho is home to the Great Rift volcanic zone, and the Craters of the Moon Lava Field is just one of many lava fields that erupted from this rift in the last 15,000 years.
Fun fact: Apollo astronauts, who were all pilots by trade, trained at Craters of the Moon to learn how to identify geological features for their moon missions.
If all the colors in the world had been inverted, I imagine it would look something like Craters of the Moon. The black volcanic rock yields some surreal landscapes.
We ventured on through Idaho Falls towards Teton Pass, where we started to spot forest fires in the distance and encountered haze from the resulting smoke. This was our first time heading into forested regions so late in the summer, and we hadn't considered how these fires might impact our trip.
Instead of the towering peaks of the Grand Tetons greeting us upon our arrival in Jackson, we were confronted by a wall of smoke and a long line of cars exiting the park. Earlier in the day, park rangers at Yellowstone shut down Hwy 191 through West Yellowstone due to fire.
We resigned to having to return to the Tetons some other time. Perhaps that's the inspiration for our next road trip.
After driving three hours from Craters of the Moon to Jackson, we had to call an audible and backtrack into Idaho. We decided to head to Montana early and stayed the night in Bannack, an old ghost town turned state park. In other words, we visited three states that day. One of those states we visited twice.
We visited Flathead Lake towards the end of the season. Between haze blowing in from distant forest fires and the temperamental mountain weather, we saw a wide range of what summer is like on Flathead.
Our house had a private dock with lots of outdoor space. It was the perfect place to recharge and get some Vitamin D. We were impressed by how much the life of Bigfork residents revolve around the lake. Every house had a dock, an assortment of watercraft, and special lifts for keeping boats and jetskis out of the water on stormy nights. We also watched boats depart in the afternoon and return in the evening, likely to grab dinner at a town across the lake. We could get used to this lifestyle.
In the mornings and afternoons, we took our paddle boards out to explore the vast shores of the lake. Neska never quite got comfortable on the board, and preferred to constantly walk from nose to tail and throw me off balance.
Neska loved chasing her duck toy off of the dock and into the water.
We were treated to a beautiful sunset on our last night along Flathead Lake.