Glacier National Park: Planning for your visit

Glacier National Park has been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Colorado 14 years ago. However, I’ve always been in a bit of a quandary how to get there. We had previously visited the national parks in Wyoming (Grand Teton and Yellowstone) and doing a 14-hour drive from our home in Colorado to visit this national park in the northwest corner of Montana just didn’t seem like something I wanted to do.

So I reluctantly shelled out close to $800 for 2 tickets for me and my husband to fly there this past summer. It has its own International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell and is serviced by quite a few major airlines. Now, as you probably heard, there was a rental car shortage last summer. Initially I had some issues finding an available rental car, but ended up making a reservation with Hertz through Expedia. It was expensive – $200 a day. But a rental car is essential in Glacier. Lucky for us, the line was short. The line for Alamo was a mile long. I noted that Enterprise is located outside the airport. So I got lucky since I had also made a backup reservation with Enterprise.

Hopefully, the rental car situation will be better in 2022, but please make your reservation for one as soon as you make your flight reservation. Although there are the funky Red Bus tour cars, they don’t offer you the same freedom as a rental car.

Red Bus Tour Car (PC: NPS)

Where to stay?

Well, since it was the Pandemic, we opted to stay outside the park. The National Park Service actually has a variety of accommodations inside the park including seven NPS-affiliated lodges in the park: four on the west side (Lake McDonald Lodge, Village Inn at Apgar, Lake McDonald Motel, and Apgar Village Lodge & Cabins) and three on the east side (Many Glacier Lodge, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins, Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins). Normally, I might have been inclinded to stay in Lake McDonald Lodge since it is a classic national park lodge with a beautiful location, but we are starting to prefer cabins and AirBNBs because of safety issues in the pandemic.

lobby of Lake McDonald Lodge (PC: NPS)

And of course, campgrounds. But camping was out of the question for me since this is grizzly bear country. But please don’t let this scare you. I’m just prefer a roof over my head and quite honestly, we didn’t spot one bear while we were there. And my husband even hiked in the backcounty, although he did pack bear spray at my insistence.

Grizzly bear in Glacier (PC: NPS)

I found a nice cabin resort called the North Forty Resort just about 10 minutes from the airport on the outskirts of Columbia Falls. It does add about 25 minutes on your drive into the park but on the plus side, it is close to Columbia Falls dining and shops.

Our cabin at North Forty Resort

GOING TO THE SUN ROAD – Ticketed entry!!! Please read this

I did not realize until a few weeks before we left that the main road through the park has a ticketed entry system. No, this is not included in the entry fee. You must go online and get this either in the spring or the week before you go. This is the info from the website for 2021:

Going-to-the-Sun Road Entry tickets are available 60 days in advance on a rolling daily window for arrivals May 28 – September 6, 2021. Beginning May 26th, 2021, tickets will also available two days in advance at 8 a.m. MT on a rolling daily window. Entry tickets are good for 7 consecutive days including the reserved day of arrival. Only one GTSR entry ticket is required per vehicle/motorcycle.

Since I missed the window in the springtime I attempted to get our pass a week before. They sold out within minutes. They said do not have multiple windows or devices open in an attempt to get a pass, but the next day I said to hell with it and had 3 windows and my phone submitting requests for a pass the minute they opened it up. I got it on my fourth attempt.

My next post will include more pics of the park. But I wanted to leave you with a few today. It’s a glorious place, even with smoky skies.

Lake McDonald

Sedona: a wonderfully relaxing getaway

My husband has been bugging me for years that we should do a getaway to Sedona. As we live in Colorado, it’s just a short flight away (to Phoenix and then a 2 hour drive north.) So we finally decided to go in 2020 for our anniversary in April. But then the pandemic came and that plan went up in smoke.

However, we decided to try again in 2021. We discovered in 2021 that we liked staying in AirBNBs. Originally we had planned to stay in Sedona proper in a hotel but being that it was March this time (my birthday) and neither of us were vaccinated yet, we decided to skip the hotel and find an AirBNB in the Village of Oak Creek, just about 10 minutes south of Sedona. Good choice! It’s less crowded here and a lot less traffic. We stayed in a house just minutes away from shopping with tons of privacy, and of course, great views. Well, pretty much anymore in Sedona has great views but we feel that Oak Creek is a lot less hectic. The con is that there aren’t as many dining options. But that was the point – we wanted to stay away from crowded restaurants.

What to do: Well, first of all, Sedona is known as the day hike capital of the US. And from my observation, that’s a very accurate description. Since we were there only 3 nights, we devoted one day to hiking, although we could have easily done more. But for the non-hikers there’s plenty of shopping, “new age” activities such UFO tours and Vortex experiences, and your usual group tours. I’m not into new age stuff, but I did wish we could have gone to Slide Rock. I recall going there as a child. But it was too cold in March to do this. It’s a natural sandstone slide on Oak Creek. Not surprisingly, it’s super popular during the hot summer.

Slide Rock State Park (PC: azswimmingholes.com)

The hike we chose to do was the Bell Trail that takes off from the Bell Rock Trailhead and encircles Courthouse Rock. It’s about a 4 mile loop and is pretty easy with hardly any hill climbing, unless you decide to climb up to the Vortex at Bell Rock. Start early, though! This parking lot can get packed. Many people just chose to go up to the Vortex and by the time we returned the parking lot was packed. And this, as I mentioned, was in March! It was a little drizzly when we started but it cleared off quickly and we were treated to a beautiful hike.

View from our AirBNB

Courthouse Butte

Baby Bell Rock

Bell Rock

Another hugely popular trail is the Cathedral Rock trail. The picture below is from our vantage point on the Bell Trail. But it does have its own trailhead. I imagine it’s a zoo in the summer. They were doing some work there to prevent people from parking on the entrance road as it is near a residential area.

But if you’re not into hiking there is still plenty of sightseeing to be done. Two places I recommend are Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout with spectacular vistas of the Sedona area and also the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is built into the rock cliff face.

Last but certainly not least, there’s plenty of shopping to be done. On the north side of town on 89A there are plenty of the typical touristy shops to get souvenirs and such. I couldn’t help myself and posed in front of these cute pink Javelina.

But for a more upscale shopping experience wander over to Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village on the west side of 179. Even though I didn’t buy anything they did have a lot of interesting shops and galleries and I enjoyed the pueblo-like atmosphere there. It’s very interesting to look at all the Sycamore trees which the buildings seem to be built around.

Overall, I have to say that Sedona was a pleasant surprise. It was very temperate in March and during the pandemic the crowds weren’t bad. Fall would also be a great time to go as well. If you’re coming to enjoy the water activities along Oak Creek, well, obviously March would not be a good time. But try to hit it before it starts to get scorching hot in the summer months.

A wonderful Florida beach vacation that’s a bit different than the others: St. Augustine

Ever since we moved out to Colorado from California 14 years ago, we’ve been trying to make it to Florida every 2-3 years. Although some of those vacations included time in Miami and Orlando, our favorite spots were beach destinations including Marco Island, Key Largo, St. Pete Beach, and Boynton Beach. But I have to say our favorite so far has been the St. Augustine area. It’s not just your typical sun and sand destination (and I have to say we didn’t get much of the sun when we were there). Rather, it’s more of a historical destination, billing itself as the oldest city in the United States, with a vibe somewhat along the lines of Key Largo. But don’t worry, it’s got great beaches, too!

Accomodations

St. Augustine is located at the junction of the Matanzas and Tolomato Rivers, just west of the Saint Augustine inlet, so it is not directly facing the Atlantic Ocean. However, there are a lot of nice hotels in its downtown area, with lots of dining options which makes it a great spot for those who are just there for shopping and sightseeing of the historical sights.

However, if you want a beachfront property, you can check out either St. Augustine Beach to the south, or Vilano Beach to the north. Both are just minutes away on barrier islands, but have different pros and cons. Vilano Beach has more houses and less of the typical Florida condos. It’s also very accessible in that it does not have a drawbridge like the Bridge of Lions which you have to cross to get to St. Augustine Beach. If you’ve spent much time in Florida, you know those drawbridges out to the barrier islands can drive you nuts as they get really backed up at times. That said, St. Augustine Beach is much nicer. Vilano Beach was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew back in 2016. Yes, there is beach there, but it’s not as flat and walkable. They are currently in the middle of a restoration project which is pumping in sand through a large pipe which is submerged in some areas and exposed in other areas.

Fortunately, we did not see the pipe from the condo we chose to stay at. I was very pleased with our choice as it was quiet, with a beautiful view, and very close to Publix grocery store. As we were there in January 2021 during the Pandemic, we wanted to stay in a place with few people and this fit the bill. The owner had remodeled it within the last year, so it had a fresh, new feeling.

There are several restaurants in downtown Vilano Beach. The first night we ate at the Beaches at Vilano Restaurant. They had patio dining, which we did every time we ate out while we there. We usually tried to eat lunch out and cook breakfast and dinner at the condo, as it was pretty chilly (60 and below) by the time sun set.

In my next post I’ll talk more about what to see in St. Augustine. But in the meantime, enjoy these beautiful views!

Sunrise from Seawatch Condos
Some mornings it was cloudy but who cares?
Relaxation at Vilano Beach
Condos from the beach
Sunset out our front door, looking toward Francis and Mary Usina Bridge
The Vilano Beach Pier at night
yummy key lime pie at the Beaches at Vilano Restaurant

Traveling in Florida during the Pandemic

My husband and I often do a January getaway to celebrate his birthday. Several months ago we decided to go to St. Augustine. While we knew it probably would be chilly as it is further north (it was!), we felt it was a bit safer than some other spots in Florida.

The plan was to fly directly to Jacksonville, the closest major city to St. Augustine, but sadly Southwest canceled our direct flight and put us on a route that went through Atlanta. Changing planes and being exposed to more people didn’t seem like a good plan. So we decided to fly to Orlando and do a 2-hour drive up to St. Augustine.

Thankfully, our flight to Orlando was not full, so we did have some spacing between us. However, the return was packed. It looked like a lot of people were returning home from Disneyworld. But people were all masked up and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. We flew in October on another packed flight to Tennessee and did fine. However, Florida is more of a hot spot now than Tennessee was then. Nonetheless, I am lying low since my return (which is pretty much all I do now anyhow) and limiting contact.

My first observation when I got to Florida is that people in the airport were generally good about mask wearing and social distancing. However, once outside, that seemed to change. As a resident of Colorado (more specifically, the very left-leaning county of Boulder) I am used to seeing people wearing masks pretty much everywhere. Even outdoors, many people wear them or will pull them up if they see people coming toward them on the walking paths or sidewalk.

But that was not the case in Florida. We stayed in a condo that we rented out through AirBNB. I was surprised that our property owner actually did an in-person check-in. Nowadays that’s pretty rare here in the US it seems. (AirBNB encourages property owners to allow self check-ins, although it’s not required.) The issue I had was that he did not wear a mask when he met us at the condo. Wow! That was very strange.

When we were out sightseeing it seems that people did comply with mask-wearing rules at attractions with paid entry. However, it was hit or miss at stores. Signs were posted that mask wearing was mandatory, but I saw people in stores without them. In grocery stores all the clerks wore them, but some customers did not. Back in Colorado they would be asked to leave or put one on. On St. George Street in St. Augustine (a popular tourist area) only about 50% of the people wore masks. What I found most astounding was that some shopkeepers had signs up about wearing masks, yet they did not wear one themselves. Okaaay! I also had clerks standing outside with samples approach me, sans mask. Talk about unacceptable! No wonder Florida is having problems. It’s like they are living in an alternate universe.

As for restaurants, all the servers I saw wore them. Like in Colorado you are asked to wear masks at your table until you order (although compliance there is not always observed) and if you get up to go to bathroom. We ate out only once per day at lunch since we wanted to do patio dining and it was a bit chilly, even with heat lamps. It seems like that was a popular choice with most people, although I did observe a large group of senior citizens (at least 30) eating inside at one restaurant. They were all seated closely and at the time had no masks on and no food in front of them (I don’t know if they had finished or had just ordered, but I would have thrown a mask on in that situation). I did observe at one coffee shop in St. Augustine, City Perks, that the baristas did not have on masks. That would be a big no-no in Colorado.

For the record there are roughly 4.5 million seniors in Florida. From what I saw in St. Augustine they were some of the worst offenders. Most of the younger tourists wore masks. I also was very impressed one day when I walking on the beach where they were doing some beach restoration work when the young construction worker pulled up his mask to talk to me to tell I couldn’t pass at that time. Good for him. I wish all of the residents in Florida would adopt this attitude. I love this state and I have traveled here many times, but some folks still seem to be in denial.

I really am baffled by Governor Noem

Yesterday I watched a clip from the “The Ingraham Angle,” a Fox News program (something I rarely do) that featured Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota. I listened to the interview after I read about the plans for the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to continue as planned from August 7-16. Usually they get about 500,000 people pass through this small city of 7,000, but this year they’re expecting half that. Masks won’t be required and you can pretty much toss social distancing out the door.

I was flabbergasted when I heard Gov. Noem state the following in response to her critics (this is a direct quote): “What works is washing your hands and making good decisions.” Literally, my jaw dropped to the floor. Yes, we all have become diligent hand washers and users of hand sanitizers, but unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you should know that the real problem is that this disease is spread through the air. The early zealousness about sanitizing surfaces has subsided somewhat and now the focus is on masks. And by the way, good decisions don’t happen when fueled by alcohol.

Yes, South Dakota has a much lower death rate than New York (15 vs. 167 per 1000) but have you ever been to South Dakota? I have. It’s basically farm land and plains. The biggest city is Sioux Falls with a population of 190,000. The population density of South Dakota is 2,109 people per square mile. In New York that number is 26,403. Quite a difference. Comparing the two states is ridiculous.

Futhermore, once the Sturgis Rally is over, those people will go back home and potentially carry the virus with them. It’s irresponsible and demonstrates once again the selfish behavior of Americans. So sad.

Lakeview Campground (Leadville, CO)

We recently spent three nights at Lakeview Campground just south of Leadville, Colorado. It overlooks Twin Lakes and is a popular destination for canoers, kayakers, paddle boarders, fishermen, and hikers. It sits at an elevation of 9,500 feet, so even in the summer it can be quite chilly at night. When I checked the temperature on each of the mornings we were there, it was in the low 40s.

From my house north of Denver it took us about 2 hours and 20 minutes to get there via I-70, then turning south at Cooper Mountain and following the signs to Leadville and Twin Lakes.

The campground is run by the National Forest Service and during the 2020 season the cost is $24 a night. Four of the eight loops have reservable campsites and the other four loops have sites available on a first come, first serve basis.

Lakeview Campground has vault toilets on each loop. This year they had signs posted strongly urging people to wear masks. I brought my own water as they said water had been turned off this year. As it turned out they did actually have a large tank on our loop (600 liters). All sites have picnic tables (wooden) and firepits. Firewood is available from camp host, but it’s cheaper to bring it in.

My Thoughts

The view here was indeed spectacular. The picture was taken at my campsite. We were on the B loop as I had heard it had the best views. Unfortunately, I had picked a bad site. My golden rule is to always get a site on the outside of the loop and somehow I managed to screw that up. Anyhow, the site was nice and big. My brother, who is hiking the Colorado Trail, stayed with us for 2 nights and there was plenty of room for our big tent and his small hiking tent.

If I were to stay here again, I would NOT stay on the B loop. As beautiful as its views were, it turned out to be very noisy for a couple of reasons. We discovered that there were a ton of dispersed campers right outside the campground and on the hill above us. This is legal on National Forest land but unfortunately, these campers come and use the vault toilet (and helped themselves to water). They were very loud the first night. Cars were always going around the loop. I pay $24 a night, yet these people freeload and help themselves to the facilities. It’s not right and I wish the Forest Service could do something about it.

We also discovered later on that the only other water tank on loop E ran out, so people were coming up to get water from our tank. The constant flow of traffic was annoying.

The spot we were at also to be in a bit of a wind tunnel. I’m not sure if the lower loops were better but I do know I would not want to stay here again and risk it. Every afternoon the storm clouds started to form and we got quick showers accompanied by brief heavy winds. One day they nearly blew our tent away!

That being said, I did like that this campground was pest free–no mosquitoes, no little critters. We checked out White Star campground closer to Twin Lakes and thought it looked nice, but I would worry about mosquitoes. We also worried because it had bear boxes, whereas our campground did not.

Overall, I would give this a 3-star rating. Good location, nice spots, but our loop, being close to the dispersed campers, was less than ideal.

 

 

 

Back from camping but exhausted

I really think I am too old for camping. I enjoy it but I never sleep well.  The first night there was a lot of noise from dispersed campers (another post on that later), the second night we slept well, but last night a camper came in late at night (her dad and brother were already there but she came in separate car with canoe). We went to bed at 9:30 but they yacked by the campfire until 12 at least. If I hadn’t been in bed already I might have gone over and asked them to keep in down. Most campgrounds request quiet by 10 pm.

Anyhow, we had a good time catching up with my brother who is hiking the Colorado Trail. I am so happy to be sleeping in a regular bed tonight. The scenery was spectacular, but the weather was really unpredictable in the afternoon. That is typical for Colorado, however.

The picture is the view from our campsite, Lakeview Campground near Twin Lakes, Colorado.

Moving day and getting ready for camping

Today my youngest son (22 years old) is moving back home. But don’t think badly of him. He graduated Cum Laude in Computer Science from University of Colorado in May and has been continuing to work on a research project with a prof there. Most leases in Boulder run from August to the end of July, so he was enjoying a few months of down time before moving back home. I’m looking forward to it. Not sure if he is. But he is a very goal oriented person and plans to apply to grad school so he can move out next summer. In the meantime, we have a pet sitter!

That’s a good thing, as we’re taking off tomorrow for a 3-day camping trip. All very coincidentally,  we will happen to meet up with my brother who is hiking the Colorado Trail. He’s 2 weeks in. I’ll be bring him more JetBoil Fuel which is in short supply this summer as the CT has increased traffic this year.

He requested his favorite hot dogs with sauerkraut, potato salad, and baked beans. While I won’t be making my mom’s recipe, I’m sure he’ll be happy. with Bush’s Baked Beans. I also found pre-mixed Bloody Mary’s for the next morning. He’s taking a zero day (no hiking) but perhaps we’ll go to Leadville which has quite a few geocaches. It’s the highest town in North America and just half an hour away.

In the meantime, I pray for everyone to make to make good choices. Wear a mask, don’t go to crowded events, and don’t be a whiny baby. Yes, many of us would rather be on a plane traveling to our vacation destination, but one summer of sacrifice is not asking a lot. My friend’s daughter is starting college next month. As much as I ‘d love to meet up with my friend for lunch, I’ve decided that’s not going to happen. It’s not worth the risk. We all need to make sacrifices to contain Covid-19.

On the trail again

Last Thursday, July 16, my oldest brother started hiking the 485 mile Colorado Trail. It’s part of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), but not many people hike the entire CDT in one shot. It’s considered the most difficult of the 3 thru hikes in the US, which also include the Pacific Crest (PCT) and the Appalachian Trail (AT).

My brother did the PCT when he was 19 and 40 years later he did the AT. He had planned to hike the PCT again this year but then Covid-19 hit. (Hikers need to resupply and clean up at small towns along the route, and with the virus, many were closed down to hikers) So he decided on the CT instead. Colorado towns are open now so he’s keeping his fingers crossed than our numbers stay down and we don’t have any more closures. It should take him about 6 weeks. Younger hikers can easily hike it 4 weeks, but my brother is now north of 60.

He flew into Denver on Wednesday and we took him to the Waterton Canyon trailhead southwest of Denver on Thursday morning. He’s starting slow – 10ish miles a day – until he gets used to the altitude. We’ll see him in 2 weeks when we go camping at Twin Lakes. I had planned that camping trip back in January before I knew he was hiking. When he told me he was doing the CT, I remembered that the trail passed right by our campground. So we’ll bring him a resupply box and treat him to a beer and burger in Twin Lakes Village.

I’m following his progress on Garmin GPS upload. In Colorado cell service is pretty poor in the mountains so this is an essential tool for hikers. So far he appears to be on schedule.

Here are some pics from the sendoff:

Trip to Spain officially cancelled

I knew it was coming. First there was the news that the EU was not allowing travelers from the US. Then I got an e-mail from Norwegian Airlines. Our roundtrip flight to London-Gatwick in the fall was cancelled. While England is not a part of the EU, I figured that Norwegian would cancel the flight anyhow. The UK has announced that visitors must do a 14-day quarantine and not many people are going to want to do that.

Fortunately, the e-mail had a link to request a refund. I immediately filled it out and they have already sent a reply stating my refund has been processed and will be posted to my credit card. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll check every day. I’m keeping all my correspondence in case it doesn’t come through. Norwegian has had a lot of financial difficulties and I’m more than a little worried. We took them last year to Europe and while the price was good, the service was not the best. I swore I wouldn’t fly on them again, yet I get sucked in to another good deal before Covid-19 struck.

Now I just have to wait and see what happens with my EasyJet flight. It might not be cancelled (London – Barcelona) but I did manage to find a refund request form specifically for passengers affected by Covid-19. I hadn’t yet booked our return flight from Madrid.