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St Mary Missoula

7th June 2010

Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Flathead Lake

Dead Forest after Fire
    I arose early and headed down the 89 to pick up the 49 mountain road. As I gained height I found myself driving through a vast area of dead trees, as far as the eye could see. This must have been the result of a huge forest fire.
    When I got on the mountain road, it truly was a climb. At times landslides had blocked the road; multiple signs gave warnings. It also looked as if the road had slid away in places too, and the hasty repairs were exceedingly rough. What was also of concern was the fact that there were no safety barriers on this road, or any others for that matter. One careless move could send me tumbling into the void below.
    As I was passing Two Medicine Lake, in the heart of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, the view caught my attention, so I pulled over. The lake sat in a densely forested valley, surrounded by snow-capped peaks. It looked so peaceful down below my viewing point. I spotted a couple of crosses a little way down the slope leading to the lake, and curiosity got the better of me and I went to investigate. The crosses were dedicated to two individuals, who in recent years had their ashes scattered at this same spot that was very special to them. One was a Blackfeet and the other a Sioux Blackfeet. Long may they rest in peace in that beautiful place.
Two Medicine Lake, Blackfeet Country
Touring in Style
    After descending the mountain road I pulled in at East Glacier for a quick snack. The cafe/restaurant I walked into was a homely, little place, playing out 60s music just like many other such places over in this land. While I was eating the best tomato soup I'd tasted for years, I noticed a tall elderly chap talking to the guy behind the counter. The lanky man was dressed just like an Indian: long gray hair plaited with coloured braiding, animal skin jacket, black knee length leggings with a yellow stripe and animal tails hanging from them, and moccasins. Something was missing; trousers. He had bare legs. I spotted those 'tea-towel things' dangling in front of his family jewels and covering his rear, just like Indians had. I then thought about Scotsmen's kilts, and what is worn under them; no, I shan't go there. Yes, this chap really was dressed like an Indian. I thought nothing more of it, apart from the fact that he obviously wasn't Indian, which did intrigue me for a while.
    The guy behind the counter also served as the waiter. He spotted my English twang (they are clever these folk over here), and we went through the usual routine of where I was from, where is that relative to London, oh I visited England once. The lad was a Pole who had once visited a Polish girl in London when she was a Cultural Attach´┐Ż with the embassy. Apparently she had become bored of the job after several years and had recently moved to Canada to buy a ranch. I asked how long he had been over here for. He had immigrated to the US 18 years ago, to this area in particular because of his passion for cowboys and Indians.
    He then proceeded to tell me about the 'Indian' chap, Yukon Yellow Coyote, he had been chatting to earlier. The chap had been brought up by the Cheyenne, but he didn't know the details of how that came to be so. The chap now lived in a bus (similar to Bruce I met just outside Kamloops) complete with a fireplace, and was making a living as an artist. Yukon was getting married on the 19th June to an Indian girl from the Great Lakes area; they had met while she was studying at the Blackfeet Community College over in this neck of the woods. The Pole showed me his wedding invitation. It was a standard A4 sheet of paper with a standard invitation printed on it. What made it special for the Pole was that it had been folded in such a way as to make it resemble an Indian hide suitcase, and had been adorned with Indian artwork.
    The Pole then went on to explain the grief he is having, getting his Polish girlfriend, who lives in Canada (I guess the one he visited in London), to be allowed across the border to visit him. Even though she has a ten year Visa, each crossing is ten times more difficult than the last one. He did not have a good word to say about American politicians or the way the wheels of democracy move. He encouraged me to visit a museum in Browning, which I imagine was heavily cowboy and Indian oriented. It was too far off the beaten track for me. I wished him well and hoped the wedding turned out fine too, shook hands, and I was on my way.
Flathead Lake Pitch
    The route I was taking was skirting around the bottom half of the Glacier National Park, which butts onto the Waterton National Park. I had no other option open to me, the only other route was the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which was closed. I picked my way across to Kalispell to try and get internet connectivity. This was a small town built on the crossroads of Highways 2 and 93. There were a few old buildings in it, but it was really a sprawl of garages, car dealers and retail parks rippling out from the junction; pretty dull really.
    It was a short drive south to Flathead Lake, the biggest natural body of freshwater west of the Mississippi. It is 28 miles long, up to 8 miles wide and over 300 feet deep. The Mission Mountains rise dramatically from the lake's eastern shore, while the gentler Salish Mountains are set back from the western shore. The Flathead valley gets its name from the Salish (Flathead) Indians who inhabit the Flathead Indian Reservation, which is located at the southern end of the lake. The Reservation covers 1.2 million acres and is home to around 3800 members of the Salish and Kootenai tribes. A few small islands dot the lake and the largest is Wild Horse Island, which is also a state park.
Sunset at Flathead Lake
Campfire at Flathead Lake
    I found a campsite at Big Arm. It was a big self-register site set right by the lakeside. As far as I good tell there was only myself and a couple I met staying here for the night. They had pitched about 400m further along the shore, so for all intents and purposes, I was alone. I sat at the obligatory picnic table, taking in the marvelous view, and noted the obligatory circular metal bowl, a little like old lorry wheels and perhaps that's what they were, that campsites provide for their visitors to burn logs in. The sites often provide a mountain of logs for campers to burn. I could never see the sense in these fires, but, there was nobody to complain about the smoke, so I thought let's have a fire. So, with the little paper I had, and plenty of wood lying about, I soon had a roaring fire going. I sat at the picnic table, drinking a beer, listening to the crackling and sizzling from the fire, and watching the red sunset being reflected off the Mission Mountains opposite me. Birds were swooping down to catch flies from the water surface, and fish were jumping. I was the only person in the universe, and I was at peace with the world.
    Now I knew why campers always had their log fires.
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St Mary Missoula

Uploaded from Super 8 Motel, 3901 S. Brooks -Highway 93, Missoula, 59804 MT on 08/06/10 at 20:45

Last updated 9.6.2010