Chief Mountain is located on the eastern border of Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Part of its striking beauty is that it rises sharply 5000 feet above the surrounding plains. The vertical shape reminded me of Devils Tower, famous from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The landscape in July is gorgeous and lush. Thick clouds lazily dusted the top of the mountain and dark green forest skirted the foreground. Rare Trumpeter swans swam by in the nearby grassy lake. It was incredibly peaceful. I took a tour with a guide from Blackfeet Outfitters who described Chief Mountains sacred nature. The tour guide helped us look for the swan.
Chief Mountain, on the eastern border of Glacier National Park
There are many reasons why taking a guided tour is a great idea. The first reason is purely practical. My guide brought a bear gun. As much as I love travel, going on solo road trips meant that when I wanted to hike, I had to fear the grizzlies. I love traveling by myself. I can eat when I want, pee when I want, sleep when I want, and take photos when I want. I can eat my chicken fried steak in peace. I can have a second cup of coffee and mull over my photographs without holding anyone up. When I see a patch of wildflowers that I feel like photographing for a few hours, I am not putting anyone out. I dilly-dally to my hearts content. I can spend three days waiting for a moose to come out of hiding, while the bugs slowly peck at my legs. I can’t imagine insisting that anyone endure the bug pecking with me.
Patch of wildflowers that I spent forever photographing.
I like to spend my time taking photos of random bugs. The photo below shows a yellow moth in Yellowstone National Park that I spent a cozy two hours with. Who’s got the patience to wait two hours while I fiddle with my camera over a bug? The moth was patient but I doubt a human would have that stamina.
A yellow moth from Yellowstone, chilling on a pile of dirt.
I may be underestimating the patience of the average Joe, but when I go by myself, nobody has to wait. I don’t like to keep people waiting while I futz with how to take the best bumblebee photo. Im a world-famous futzer. My technique is to take hundreds of shots of the same bug, waiting for the right light to hit. I learned this photo technique from a professor in college. Take a bajillion photos and toss out all the crap. In the end you’ll have something halfway decent. In the age of digital cameras, this works exceptionally well.
The only problem with this model is bear encounters. I am not afraid of black or brown bears. Grizzly bears are another story. I don’t trust whistles or other noisemakers to keep away the grizzlies. Grizzly territory includes Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. Going on a guided tour solved my grizzly problem. I was more than happy to drop the pretense that I had a good defense if a giant grizzly came bearing down on me, pun intended. We didn’t mess around with a puny whistle. A guided tour is super handy for staying safe from bears. Also can you imagine how sad I would be trying to take photos while a group of people stood around tapping their feet? No, it would never work.
Secondly, a guided tour is handy because the guide had a story for everything. There were bear tracks, coyote tracks, scat of all kinds, and flowers of all kinds. He had stories for all of it. I love stories about nature. Bring on the bear poop stories! For instance, typical bear scats weigh a half-pound or more. Black bear droppings reveal their fondness for raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Coyote scat looks totally different. If you want to know if you’ll need to prepare for attacking bands of coyotes or bears, its good to know what they’re pooping.
Additionally, the guides have fun vehicles. At first I didn’t pay attention to why the wheels were so giant or high off the ground. I climbed in and buckled up. He took an immediate turn off the road. I thought he was going to find some dirty unpaved road. No. He just drove right off into the hillside. We sailed into the sunset, no road necessary. Then up came a creek. No, not a creek. A river! A giant roaring river with gigantic rocks! I am not exaggerating at all. This jeep didn’t stop. It drove right over moving water. Boom! We were in the river. Boom! We were out of the river. I couldn’t believe it.
If I hadn’t seen anything scenic at all, I would have done the tour just for the ride itself. The guide could probably make that drive backwards up a cliff in his sleep, but I found the trip exhilarating and action-packed. I endorse this trip for its high level of ridiculousness.
Finally, tour guides are great for taking you places you wouldn’t normally go. I left the crowded tourism of the Glacier Park for the serene seclusion of Blackfeet Reservation land. The landscape was magnificent and peaceful. I didn’t see anyone else while I was out on the tour. I love that kind of solitude.
The guide, right before some lightning struck.
While we were out on tour we encountered a brief but intense lightning storm. There are several wonderful things about lightning. Lightning makes light in the dark, which is an amazing thing to begin with. Lightning bolts are loud and crackly.
Here is the sky right before lightning struck. Ominous!
Most importantly, when lightning hits during the day, rainbows usually follow. So not only did we have some cracklin’ good lightning, but we had a full-sky rainbow. The photo below shows the rainbow that followed the storm.
Double-rainbow after lightning struck.
This rainbow was both a double rainbow and full-sky, and lightning had just struck. I get a little verklempt when experiencing nature like this. I started thinking about the universe and my place in it. I’m pretty sure I exclaimed about that rainbow. Hella good! Wicked awesome!
I was driving around in Yellowstone when I saw an unpaved road so of course I HAD to take it. An earlier wildfire had burnt down most of the trees and taller vegetation. Lots of wild flowers had grown up over the burnt land. Because it was unpaved, fewer drivers came down this way. I had the place to myself.
I got to go as slow as I wanted and eventually I snuck up on a bear. He was just digging away happily in the dirt, totally ignoring me, presumably looking for bugs to eat. I was kinda hoping he was looking for berries. Someone told me that bears often got drunk on the amount of fermented berries in their bellies.
San Francisco to Boston, the long way
To get from San Francisco to Boston, I took a six thousand mile circuitous route through many national parks. I started in mid July 2013 from San Francisco, having sold or given away all my furniture, and rolled into the Boston area during rush hour on August 17. I travelled alone because I like to eat on my own schedule, pee on my own schedule, fill the gas on my own schedule. I don’t like chatter in the car while I’m trying to drive. I’m in the zone when I drive. I concentrate. I hiked alone except when there might be grizzly bears. Maybe I’m a loner? I don’t know but I had a blast. I was never afraid. I took precautions regarding wildlife.
My first destination was Lassen Volcanic National Park in California. It was full of evergreens and redwoods typical of the forest you’d see in California. I took a longish hike in new boots, luxuriating in the hot weather outside of the city.