Grand Junction to Flathead Lake

In desperate efforts to escape the heat, I opted to alter my Utah route and head North in search of more moderate temperatures. I departed Grand Junction and made my way up Colorado 139, over Douglas Pass, and along the Cathedral Bluffs. I did not see another vehicle for nearly an hour and between the expansive beauty of the landscape and the solitude, found it one of the most enjoyable drives ever. There is not much with regards to civilization but it was difficult not to feel a sense of reverence as I took in the gorgeous scene. Several wild mustangs were perched on a stone out-cropping over-looking the vast valley in a majestic pose and I observed them for several minutes as I wound around the snaking switchbacks closing ground until they disappeared behind a rolling hill. I later learned a great deal of the Rio Blanco region of North-western Colorado was a wild horse management area. I drove on in quite tranquility.

I passed through Dinosaur and entered Wyoming and settled into a less than stellar KOA surrounded by a field of massive oil storage units. Bad weather was forecast and I wanted to ensure I had power besides the ginny so I could work if I was unable to travel. It was a wise decision. A rare storm hit the state with extremely high winds and tornados. I was working diligently and deep in my element as the wind rocked the RV. Suddenly, it sounded as if I had come under fire. Sand and small rocks were pelting the side of the Ruck Rig as the winds picked up drastically. I cracked a shade and peered out and saw nothing but a dust cloud sandblasting the window. The rig bucked. I watched the neighboring trailer rock on its leveling jacks and I realized the stability of my trailer was not my only concern. We were stacked like dominoes and I envisioned a toppling line of caravans rolling like tumbleweed across the dusty plain. The rig lifted again as I watched the satellite dish attached to the neighboring trailer take flight and crash on the ground below. Nope. I am outie…I opened the door to a face-full of dirt and realized my truck window was cracked. I jumped in the truck and rolled it up but not before a thick layer of sand and dirt covered everything. I sat in the truck for a few minutes feeling slightly more secure until another gust produced more than a slight lift in the truck and I cut a rug to the campground office.

Shingles ripped off an out-building in layers of two or three at a time. Once inside, the wind howled through the A-frame structure as I watched my rig bounce about. The waves in the pool were white capping and sloshing over the sides with vigor. I asked the lady at the counter if this type of weather is typical and she just laughed nervously. It would seem so as the shingles flapping and lifting off were replacements from the last episode a few weeks before. The third she had experienced since moving to the state but then fell silent and did not reveal just how long that might have been….days? Years? I hardly felt comforted I would escape an insurance claim, typical weather or not. Trailers were lining up in front of the office seeking refuge from the roadway. I learned that they had shut down Interstate 80 due to the turbulence. Imagine that, winds so high an interstate is not navigable. The winds did not allay for several hours and gusts reached up to 60 mph at the campground. The rig held firm and I am pleased to have had an opportunity to better learn it’s limitations…from a safe distance. If you have never experienced a storm in a light-weight trailer, I can assure you “dramatic” is an adjective that comes to mind. All the sounds are amplified and the added motion gives a terrible sense of being off balance and at risk of flight…if the roof doesn’t come in on you first. It’s an unnerving experience to say the least.

After several days of rain, the sun reemerged and I hit the road continuing North. After about an hour of driving I came to the deep realization that Kansas may have misappropriated it’s state song, Home on the Range. Wyoming is, without a doubt, where the deer and the antelope play. They were everywhere! Perhaps Brewster Higley, the pen behind the song, had not travelled this far North or maybe held a grudge against the prairie dog as they were equally abundant. Maybe the antelope did not care for Kansas. As for myself, I landed at Warren Bridge BLM Camp on the banks of the Green River overlooking sprawling green fields of low growing scrub. Atop a large pole with a flat platform at the apex, two Osprey were nurturing an obscured offspring. These structures, installed by conservationists to enable the birds to safely nest, were frequent sights and this one sat conveniently in view of my picture window once camp was established. I spent several days boondocking the camp and lay in my bunk each morning and watched my prairie dog neighbors scurry about with no apparent agenda other than snagging the occasional leaf for a snack. The Osprey swooped along the river in search of prey or spread their wings in silhouette of the setting sun. Antelope also remained present throughout my stay. At one point, I was walking down a gravel lane when a female cut across the road twenty feet to my front. With my nose in my Iphone, I was taken by surprise and was startled just as a male screeched by in pursuit. Hot Damn! Take Cover! I am not one to stand in the way of love and prefer to avoid being trampled in the process. It was quite amusing and the strong wildlife presence immediately drew my adoration for the place. Contrary to the tight, tree-lined rolling hills of the Southeast, the hills in Wyoming are spread across vast prairies enabling expansive views. Cloudy days create light shows as the plumes shadow the sun in quick procession, driven by high winds. It is as if watching a time lapse video and a gorgeous compliment to the landscape. I spent four days at the camp before loading up and venturing further North towards Montana.

I passed briefly into Idaho and then across the Montana border. As I entered the state, I caught a momentary glimpse of a sign but only caught the words “mandatory” and “boat”. Uh-oh. I had encountered boat inspection stations at the put-ins in Colorado but never used the Yak, thus it was never an issue. I passed a pullout to the left and as I passed, noticed a uniformed man waving at me. I waved back and continued ignoring the inclination that I may be in violation of…something. A few minutes later, I was passed by a woman who waved frantically at me and pointed back. I assumed there was an issue with the rig at first but I knew better. After finding a pullout several miles down the road and inspecting the rig, I confirmed she was referring to the inspection station. It was hardly feasible nor safe to try to navigate a U-turn so two tears in a bucket, I drove on and no authority gave chase. I have since learned that several states have implemented heavy inspections on any watercraft entering the states in effort to avoid the introduction of a blue mollusk. From what I gathered, the mollusk overtakes much of the existing biodiversity and produces a sharp shell that renders beaches tainted. I have encountered many of these stations since and now, having entered the realm of compliance, have amassed a collection of inspection forms from three states. Any boats are required to stop at each and every inspection station. The use of some bodies of water will prohibit the use of others absent treatment of the watercraft. On the third inspection, I heard the inspector call in a “runner” on his radio. I asked what they do about those that neglect to stop as I may have inadvertently ran a station. He said they called it in to the highway patrol and said nothing else. With luck, my recent slew of passed inspections will indemnify me from my initial slight otherwise I suppose I will eventually get a love letter from the State of Montana. In any case, we must stop the proliferation of the nefarious Blue Mollusk.

I ended the day at Finley Point State Park on the one-hundred-mile-long Flathead Lake. With kaleidoscope beaches of tumbled stone and crystal-clear water that reveals the lake floor, it is a beautiful place. The map displayed on the state web site was not the reality on the ground and I had my first go at backing in a straight slot, in between two other rigs. Only about a foot of clearance on either side was allotted and the trees to front required a tight angled cut of the truck while reversing. Without a ground guide, it took two shots and still ended up too tight to put out one of my slides. But it was in well enough and another “first” is no longer on the list. I settled in and began prep work for an unexpected visitor arriving next week. David Jaap is jumping on board as a Ruck Report Outrider for some exploration in Glacier National Park.

Ruck N Roll…

  1. Judy Browning

    AJ, Just now have settled into somewhat of a (ugh) routine after returning from my trip. I left Mark and Kristyn on June 25 and continued to St Mary for another 4 days before driving up to Waterton for a final 4 day stay. Like you, I was completely enameled with this part of the country. I especially loved, in Monatan and Alberta, the rolling hills covered with wildflowers of all hues…funny how all colors go together when they are on flowers in a meadow or plain! I just wanted to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed reading two entries in your journal..the one headed by a picture of Flathead and the entry from around Polson. I’ll be following. You definitely have a future in this writing business!


      Judy! Thanks so much for your comment and support! I hated to leave the area and enjoyed our short time as neighbors! I was able to cover over 50 miles of trail and had a few of the most incredible experiences (including an earthquake on cliff-side trail). I hope to post about my second half soon but finding internet is akin to yeti-hunting here in Washington, where I am now. I look forward to keeping in touch and hope to hear of the Cuba Sailing Expedition when Mark and Kristyn return! I felt we shared a kindred spirit for adventure and found their plan exotic and an admirable feat to achieve. Thanks again for your compliments and I hope many adventures lay ahead for each of us!

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