Uh oh. Looks sadly like California.
Well this is a fun little place! The drive down from Missoula took us along rivers and pretty rolling hills, with the only downside being the entire day was spent in a High Wind Warning for the entire region. I avoided highways for sure on this one, mostly staying on MT 200. That worked well and I could go at my safe wind pace and let people pass me when they got annoyed. I really don’t care anymore if people get annoyed while I’m trying to save their lives and mine by not losing control and crashing.
Speaking of crashing, as I have been scanning relentlessly for moose, I nearly came to a screeching halt (but didn’t) when I saw the most unusual animal I have ever seen, just peeking through some trees as we were rounding a corner. I very much wanted to go back, but there was no safe place for Dory to turn around, so I had to let it go. But it was like seeing a unicorn on the side of the road and not being able to go back and verify. I was in fact able to return to the sighting location the next afternoon, as it wasn’t too far from the campground, and it turns out we were driving past a hunting range with “lifelike” targets. They fooled me good.
Blow it in, blow it out.
The day was beautiful right up until we were almost at the campground. Then we noticed unmistakable signs of what could only be our California nemesis: wildfire smoke. It grew from white whisps on the horizon to full sun blocking orange as we headed right into it. As soon as we pulled in, Richard asked at the Visitor Center and they said it was coming from a fire in Idaho and the wind had blown it all the way over. Fair enough.
Woo hoo! Hey! It’s windy!
We set up and used Dory windsock to help us determine the best direction to nose Dory trailer into the wind. We did a CM spin and after just a little while, we could see the smoke clearing. The very same gusty front that had brought it in was now ushering it elsewhere and that was fine for us. I personally clocked gusts up to 25 mph with our little anemometer, but not the 60 mph max that was advertised in my weather app.
Nice ambitious hike up to the caverns.
We planned a two-night stay in order to enjoy a tour of said caverns and the weather cooperated. There is a trail that will take you up to the caverns entrance. Otherwise, it is a 9% 3-mile drive. The tours are reservation only and normally they have two distinct areas that you can see. They were short staffed however and only the “Paradise” tour was running. This will take you into some of the most ornate cave decorations. It is an easy hike with not as many steps, but they are wet and slippery. The “Classic Tour” is longer but does not go to the showier area.
Fancy decorations seen on the “Paradise Tour”
The caverns were discovered by Dan Morrison, who later lost rights to sell tours and memorabilia because the land was owned by the railroad. It was then sold to the National Park Service, but they didn’t do much more than try to keep Dan from continuing to cut the locks and sell tours, which he did until he died. Later it was given over to the state park system. At the time, there wasn’t much named for Lewis & Clark, and they had come through the area. But they had nothing to do with the caverns. Now there is a lot named after them that actually has to do with them, so it’s weird.
Watch your head!
It is believed that the Native Americans in this area never explored the caves. One possible reason is that, in the winter, the inside temperature is warmer than outside, and steam regularly exits the cave entrance. This gave the impression the place was haunted so no one wanted to have anything to do with it.
Skies all clear
The campground is very nice, with well-spaced sites and clean bathrooms. There is little to no cell service, so there’s that. And the hosts are very concerned about making sure you don’t drive on the grass. They came over to enquire about how Dory got positioned the way she was without a car going on the grass. They were mostly just curious and impressed with the idea of the Caravan Mover. Next stop: Yellowstone and another shot at moose disappointment.
Total miles from Missoula: 209.2, 20.5 mpg (wicked tail wind), 5 hours 37 min cause going super slow. Hookups. Good dump. Not really any cell service and not really boostable.