Tuesday, October 29, 2013



Traveling - Actually no traveling today as we had arrived at our Bower family reunion in Stevensville, Montana last night.  Spent the day enjoying their contemporary property on the river complete with inspiring flower and vegetable gardens.  Their home is on the Bitteroot River and we had a great time walking upstream, building rock art as we went and then floating down the strong current towards their spot on the river.  Seven family members took a hike near Bass Creek and then enjoyed a simple lunch back at the house.  Intermittently throughout the day, we play badminton near the garden.  Badminton is particularly fun in the evening as the sprinkler is on and makes its way through the court every two minutes or so.  Added challenge and comedy.
View from Mimi and Len's house down driveway

In the evening, there is an electrical storm which takes out a nearby transformer and takes out electricity as well.  In fact, the whole town is out including the pizza joint that we were going to order from for the evening’s dinner.  With many phone calls and perseverance, my family locates an alternative place not connected to the original pizza joint and we order from there.  The evening concludes with conversation and a game of celebrity.

Family members in attendance are Morrack clan - Hosts - Mimi and Len Sauer, John Morrack, Sue and Ron Schoolcraft; Lachtrupp clan -Ann Lachtrupp, Diane, Johnny, Joey and Lucas Martinez, David, Jeremy, Greg and Cara Lachtrupp; Waterhouse clan - Tommy Waterhouse and Corrinne Hayden, Micahel Waterhouse and Courtney DeNobile.  

HIGH POINT -Floating down the cold river easily, thereby getting today’s shower as well.

LOW POINT - Although I like a good storm, my sons and I were looking forward to the gluten-free pizza promised from the original restaurant.  Although it may seem immature, it is difficult to not be able to eat many of the foods around you and one does look forward to certain opportunities.  To be clear, older son - gluten allergy, younger son- gluten and dairy  and myself - the popular triumvirate of gluten, dairy and soy.


Traveling -The day starts with our older son flying back to Saratoga on an 8:15 flight out of Missoula.  My husband and Joey leave the trailer around 6am to head to the airport.  On the way back my husband finds a local church to attend mass.  Admirable.

Other than the airport trip, it is another stay put day as we ready ourselves for the family clambake.  There is cleaning of clams, husking of corn, chopping of chicken, cleaning of potatoes.  This leads up to the wrapping of the chicken and sausage in cheesecloth which then is layered in a large steamer in the following order starting from the bottom with the chicken, large white and sweet potatoes, corn and lastly the clams.  When all items are ready it is taken apart and displayed and the feast begins.  Briny, potent clam juice, from the steamer is available for sipping and dipping.  The sinful condiment of melted butter is also on the table to take the corn and clams to the next level of indulgence.  
Family members who remembered to bring their reunion t-shirt.

The meal is delicious and atmospheric as we dine outside on the lovely deck  within earshot of the  rushing river until we are visited by an interactive atmospheric component - BEES.  Although they are small and seem to only cause small bites, they are numerous and persistent.  I take a relaxed approach to them and am not bitten but understandably some are more disturbed by them and take refuge inside.  The bees are not a deal breaker but merely another memory of a wonderful weekend.

Our late afternoon meal was followed by family movies that included everything from birthday parties, to trips to Wisconsin and of course a clambake.  The evening ended with some of us playing Scattergories and some of the mature relatives retiring to the living room to reminisce.  As we say our good nights, the eighteen relatives retire to a variety of places; three in the house, two in a pup tent near the home, six in motor homes and trailers in and near the driveway, four in a Stevensville B & B, two in a campground nearby and my older son has made it safely back to Saratoga.

HIGH POINT - Seeing my deceased dad in family movies as a child.  My brother David and my Dad certainly resembled each other as children.

Family members on clambake day.


Traveling - The reunion is over and we head out on the open road once again but not before some of our relatives receive an animated tour of our trailer by my younger son.  We know the time has come to part but the transition of the tour delays our good byes and eases our disappointment.  As we drive off, some of my family stand by the road swaying back and forth singing with raised arms to signal our departure.  We are excited about our next adventure, but sad to say farewell.

This time our destination is Glacier National Park tucked into the Northwest corner of Montana.  It is a direct path through beautiful country and we are not doing too bad on schedule until we reach route 486 which goes north on the west side of the park and will lead us to our campsite at Big Creek.  486 is unpaved for ten tortuous miles.  In addition to the dirt and  stones, they seemed to have added a perpetual ribbing that occurred every two inches and made the road unbearable.  I am totally fine with unpaved road and realize that the rough road leads to adventure but the ribbed road shook our trailer to the core and our bodies to the bone.  It sounded like the trailer was coming a part. We could only drive 10 to 12 miles and hour and a fifteen minute ride turned into 45 minutes.  When we finally made to our campsite and opened the door to our trailer, our possessions had been flung all over.
Author and younger son walking along riverside campsite

Anyway - the rough path did lead to adventure as our campsite was directly on a river with a mountain immediately on the other side.  After maneuvering our rig into it’s campsite (with more success than usual) we went down to the river to take a dip.  Glaciers flow into Big Creek and it was chilly.  I was the first one to submerge. I wasn’t going to give up after going through the knee and crotch stage.  I was in it to do it.  AND - it was refreshing.  Our dip was not surprisingly quite brief and after our exit, we picked up pastel smooth stones between the river and our campsite.  

That night we dined by the river and our fire, made smores and slept in the thick darkness of the Big Creek National Forest.

HIGH POINT - Our stunning campsite.

LOW POINT -  Feeling that our 50 foot rig was coming a part on the unpaved, ribbed road.


Traveling - Our goal today is to travel the “Road that Leads to the Sun” that cuts Glacier National Park from east to west.  We manage to avoid the uber bumpy road by taking a right out of our campground and head north a bit and enter Glacier Park from the north. Before we enter the park, we read a sign that says “Canadian border - 34 miles.”  We did not know that we were that close.  Our 15 mile drive down to the Sun Road is uneventful but beautiful.  We head across the road to the Sun which is uneventful at first but soon develops into wild jagged peaks and rugged valleys arranged haphazardly next to each other to form breathtaking and surprising views. We take a break for lunch and pull over by a small pull-off and eat our sandwiches sitting on rocks and taking in the view.  It is peaceful, but we are frequently looking over our shoulders to keep a lookout for traffic coming around the bend.
Pulling over for lunch on the "
Road that leads to the Sun"

Even though we are detached from the 26 foot trailer and are just driving my mom’s 19 foot motorhome, the driving experience becomes hair raising for us, particularly Johnny who is driving. The road ascends quickly with hair pin turns and close to the edge driving.  If we are on the inside, we are uncomfortably close to the cars coming towards us and on the mountain side we are perilously close to the rocks that jut out.  When we are on the outside of the road, we face the same problem with oncoming cars and then to our right is the  sheer drop off with casual and insufficient guard rails.  Johnny rarely experiences fear or concern, but this drive puts him to the test. 

We arrive at our location, Logan Pass, and park the vehicle to take a hike.  The hike to Hidden Lake continues to ascend but there are areas of flat landscapes along the way.  You can feel the difference between starting at the bottom of a mountain and being high up in a flat area and continuing the climb.  It feels like the open fields in the Alps from the opening scene in the “Sound of Music.”  Along the way, we see five waterfalls formed from the snow run-off.  Lucas ran over to the snow patch and actually threw a snow ball in August.  
Lucas poised to throw a snowball in August!!

On the way to hidden lake, I spot a herd of mountain goats fairly nearby and on the way back we see some charming and friendly hoary marmots running around.  There are grizzly nearby but they are chased off by the rangers and we miss the opportunity.

After the hike, we decide not to go back the same treacherous way, but to continue on the long way to the end of the sun road and then head south around the bottom of the park and then back up to our campsite.  We leave the hike around 5pm and arrive home about 9pm.  Much later than we expected, we still enjoy a firelit meal at our campsite by the rushing river.

HIGH POINT - The thrill of the ride and views on “The Road to the Sun.”

LOW POINT - The treacherous on the edge driving on “The Road to the Sun.”


Traveling - We had wanted to go back into Glacier Park to actually see some glaciers, but realize that we cannot do it all - see both the glaciers AND spend time in the Black Hills and Badlands, South Dakota.  So we head out of Glacier by mid-morning, retrace our steps north to the northern entrance to the park, head south through the west side of the park and then go south below it.  Only then, can we begin our long diagonal path towards the Black Hills and Badlands in South Dakota.  Unbelievably  I had imagined that we would somehow reach western South Dakota by nightfall but are not even close.  I have to answer the question,from both adult and child passengers, “When will we get there,” more than once and finally break the news to them that although I am an accurate navigator, I am perhaps too optimistic about time and had not really done the math that sometimes rules my life.  Reality is that we will not reach the Badlands until Thursday afternoon.  Lucas reminds me that Montana is the fourth largest state and I concur.

Meanwhile, we enjoy the Montana landscape that runs the spectrum from sudden mountains, velvety plains to rugged rockscapes.  Our path takes us through several reservations and we take note of each town’s inhabitants as we stop for gas or a snack.  With our upstate New York and New York City sensibilities, we first think Hispanic when viewing some of the townspeople and then a closer look reveals Native American features.  Stunning.

Mid Wednesday afternoon, we turn around to go back to a Dinosaur museum to see the largest dinosaur grouping of bones in existence.  Apparently, Montana is full of them and we spend a pleasant hour in the museum educating ourselves.  We are on a small back road in Montana and were glad we went back to the museum.

After hours of driving, we pull off in the small city of Belgrade and after passing the requisite Little Lil’s casino, we manage to find an excellent southwestern restaurant for dinner.  We travel until 10:30pm after dinner and spend the night in a rest stop.

HIGH POINT - Looking back at Glacier Park and being in awe of its grandeur.

LOW POINT - Breaking the news to my family about my optimistic time table.


Traveling - We head out early again and continue to move closer to our destination of the Black Hills, South Dakota.  We arrive in the late afternoon and pass through the Black Hills to get into the city of Custer which is near our funky campsite.  Our campsite proves easy to drive into and we hit the pool as showers have been scarce the last couple of days.  After the pool, we head out to dinner in downtown Custer and then drive a short 20 minutes to the Crazy Horse mountain sculpture for the night time laser show, which is disappointing as there is much fog and the view is vague and uninspiring.  We decide to go back to Crazy Horse the next day.

HIGH POINT - Finally arriving in South Dakota

LOW POINT - Not being able to view Crazy Horse during the light show.


Traveling - We head out to Crazy Horse in the morning which is a quick 7 minutes to the north.  In the daylight, it is impressive.  It is the mountain monument of the Lokota tribe leader Crazy Horse who led the Sioux to their victory at Wounded Knee against Custer.  Although only the face is done, and the arm is beginning to be realized, you can see how the rest of Crazy Horse’s body and partial horse will be revealed.  The smaller models are powerful with the action of the horse upon which Crazy Horse sits pointing dynamically to the land where his people are buried.  Did I mention, that he isn’t wearing a shirt and the southern wind blows through his long locks.  It is no cross to bear witnessing the smaller sculpture.  For the most part, the future sculpture looks imaginative, soulful and technically impressive and so we are vexed by the artist’s decision to include a perfectly vertical single inflexible feather upon his blowing in the wind locks.  WHY?  We are hopeful, that when they get to that part, they will reconsider the unsoulful feather.
Lokota Dancer speaking with Crazy Horse in background.  The face is finished and the start of the arm pointing to where his people are buried.

Sculpture aside, the entire set-up surrounding Crazy Horse is impressive.  The project is privately funded by visitors to the project and private donors.  There is so much to take part in.  We saw the movie on the making of Crazy Horse which tells of sculpture Korczak Ziolkowski’s lifelong dedication to the creation of this marvelous wonder.  To give perspective, the four heads of Mount Rushmore fit into the one head of Crazy Horse.  

After the movie, we wander through the museum and go outside to watch a dance demonstration by a local Native American resident.  He is a impassioned, poetic speaker and shares with us some of his perspective and thoughts.  His talk is informative but consistently has the tone of someone who wants to prove that Native Americans are as bright as other cultures and can do well in school.  Are there still people around who would make him think that non-Native Americans think otherwise?  Sadly probably yes. I keep wishing that he could just be himself.  

After the dance exhibition, we have lunch in the cafe and then continue wandering through all the great exhibits from the Korczak’s studio and home to artwork from local Native American artists.  We particularly like one couple's jewelry and I purchase an ivory colored necklace.  My mom and I enjoy a conversation with Oglala Sioux author Ed McGaa, Eagle Man regarding one of his books “Crazy Horse and Chief Red Cloud.”  He is a calm, confident man happy to share his knowledge and perspective.  He inspires me to come back and spend much more time in the area.  

Mount Rushmore is nearby and we drive a mere twenty minutes to reach our destination.  After viewing Crazy Horse, it is difficult to get as psyched about Mount Rushmore.  Although impressive, it is federally funded, not as personal and the sculpture itself lacks subtlety.  A different animal.  What is great about the set-up is that the area and buildings surrounding the monument (with the exception of the flags) blends nicely with the landscape and composite and color.  As far as my younger son Lucas is concerned, the best part was the interactive computer dynamite handle that was available.  You could select a portion of the pre-finished rock on the screen and then watch it blow-up as you pushed down on the dynamite handle.  Fun!!
( but a little disturbing)  We hike around and enjoy viewing some the artist's studio and some of the renditions that were considered for the monument.
Author and family at Mount Rushmore with the mountain monument in the background.

On the way back to the campsite, we drive through Custer Park which is stunning, winding and intimate.  The park features a number of charming cabins and campsites that we would like to come back and explore. Along the way, we run into a bison grazing by the roadside with full concentration and little regard for any motorists.  We decide that we could easily come back here for an entire vacation to further get to know the Black Hills area with its residents, animal life and history.
Custer Park bison enjoying casual roadside dining.

Travel-wise, we fear we may be a little behind schedule and are now that we have seen all our major sights, we need to haul our buttocks home to see our older son.  As a result, we decide to have dinner at the campsite and then start driving towards the Badlands tonight and view them early in the morning.  A decision that does not disappoint.

There is one more brief section of our Western Adventure!!
Diane Lachtrupp Martinez


  1. Loved reading about your trip west!! Bruce and I did a 5 week road trip in Sept./Oct. and visited many of the same places. Custer was one of my favorite. I took many pictures of bison but none as spectacular as your "Bison at Sunset". Penny

  2. aargh, we can't wait Diane. Inquiring minds want to know what happened next!