Flathead Lake

Our cabin at Flathead Lake

This summer, our trip to Colorado was designed around a quilting class that Sandy wanted to take. It taught special techniques developed by a lady named Judy Niemeyer who has a company called Quiltworx to sell her designs. We had a lot of fun on that trip and did some great hikes. Sandy got really interested in the techniques that she learned in her class too. So much so, that she wanted to take another class, this time directly from Quiltworx. Her goal is to complete a series of classes and become a certified instructor who can teach Quiltworx techniques here in Boise at The Quilt Crossing.

Quiltworx is based in Montana, in a small town right on the shore of Flathead Lake. Sandy suggested that I could go along and do hikes during the day while she was in class. I have wanted to go to Montana to explore more of the mountains there for quite a while, so I agreed to go. There was some risk since the class was in October and the weather wouldn't be a sure thing. I also had to give up one of my regular wargame conventions, fall GMT weekend, but I decided to take a chance.

Shore of Flathead Lake across the highway from our cabin

We drove up on a Saturday. We took the shortest route, over Lolo Pass, and it took about ten hours. The weather was fine and there were no problems. When we arrived, we checked into our cabin at Somers Bay Log Cabin Lodging. It's in the tiny town of Somers, about fifteen miles south of Kalispell, right across the highway from the north shore of Flathead Lake. After unloading the car we went to meet Kristy, a friend who used to be the pastor at Sandy's church, who is currently living and working in Kalispell.

We followed the directions from Google Maps to Vista Linda, a Mexican restaurant in Somers. We found the turnoff only a few hundred feet down the highway. Then we followed a street which curved one way, then the other, and eventually looped back towards our cabin. After parking we noticed that the five minute drive had taken us about a hundred feet from where we started. Behind the parking lot we could see the back of our cabin. Next time we go to Somers and eat at Vista Linda we'll know that we can just walk. The food was good and it was nice to see Kristy again.

Sandy shows off her Prismatic Star quilt with Judy

The next day Sandy didn't have to be at her class until three in the afternoon. We had brunch at Sykes Diner in downtown Kalispell, an odd combination of apartment building, deli, diner and pharmacy. It's famous for breakfast and lunch and we had to agree that it was very good. They had pie for dessert, made with local cherries (the Flathead Valley is famous for growing cherries) but I was too full after eating my lunch. I should have known that life is short, you should eat dessert first! I resolved that I would get back sometime during the week and try the cherry pie.

PLOT SPOILER - I did come back a few days later and order just cherry pie for lunch.

After eating we checked out the Tasting Room for Glacier Sun Winery, which is just north of Kalispell. The climate is a bit cool that far north for growing grapes so this was the only winery that we could find in the area. We talked to the guy there and learned that he didn't grow his own grapes, but just bought grapes from other growers to make his wines. They were pretty good so we bought a couple of bottles.

Storm clouds clearing over the mountains

Then it was time to drop off Sandy, and all of her sewing stuff, for her class orientation and welcome dinner. All of the other ladies in Sandy's class were staying at the retreat center where the class was held. They could basically sew every waking moment. Kind of like when I wargame at Consimworld Expo. Sandy wasn't quite that extreme, but during the week I did get up every morning and take her to class by 7:30. I would be on my own then until I picked her up at 5:30 to go out to dinner. So she did get in a lot of sewing.

During the week we had a chance to eat at some nice restaurants in the area. We had dinner another night with Kristy at Hop's Downtown Grill. One night we ate at MacKenzie River Pizza, a Montana chain (story to follow). And we made a point to go to Norm's News, an old-fashioned soda fountain diner that we had been to before when we stopped in Kalispell on a trip a few years earlier. One of the things that Sandy and I enjoy about traveling is trying out different restaurants when we visit a new area and Kalispell has several that are a lot of fun.

An early morning fisherman fly casting in Glacier National Park

Our most interesting evening was the one we decided to try Moose's Saloon for pizza. We heard that it was a rustic, sawdust-on-the-floor kind of place but had the best pizza in the area. We were walking up to the front door, which had a set of old-fashioned, replica barroom swinging doors, when there was a loud noise as the doors slammed open. A big, sleazy-looking guy stumbled through the doors, turned back and yelled inside "Fuck you, bitches!" and staggered off. We were literally three feet from the door when he came out. Another two seconds and he would have clobbered us. We both stopped dead in our tracks, and then Sandy said quietly "maybe we should go to MacKenzie River Pizza".

I took a chance and did go back to Mooses's later in the week for lunch and the pizza was indeed good. I didn't get in a bar fight and even got a Moose's hat and tshirt. I don't think Sandy felt badly that she missed out though.

Fall colors and wintry mountains

But while eating out was fun, my main reason for coming on the trip was to go hiking. Glacier National Park is only an hour away. Jewel Basin, a famous hiking area in Flathead National Forest, is even closer. I had never been hiking there so it was on the top of my list. Unfortunately, it rained or snowed or both just about every day that we were there. But there was one day late in the week that was forecast to be sunny. Access to Jewel Basin is via a long dirt road which I wasn't brave enough to attempt. So that morning as soon as I dropped Sandy off I headed for Glacier National Park.

The sky was clear in the Flathead Valley but the mountains in the distance were still covered with clouds. By the time I reached the park they were starting to clear off. My first stop was at Apgar, near the west entrance. The visitor center and most of the shops were closed for the season already but the view from the west end of Lake MacDonald was spectacular. The mountains to the east still had some clouds but they were clearing rapidly. The sky was deep blue and all the mountains were covered with fresh snow, bright in the brilliant sunshine. The forest was a mixture of deep evergreen and fall orange and yellows. It was quite a spectacular scene. Because it was so late in the season, there were very few people around. Not the way Glacier National Park usually is.

The Lodge was already closed for the winter

Going to the Sun Road, the only road which crosses the mountains over to the east side of the park, was already closed for the season. But it was open as far as Lake MacDonald Lodge, along the shore of the lake. I drove there and although the lodge was closed, I got a closer view of the big peaks along the Continental Divide. Usually I consider the west side and Lake MacDonald to be far less impressive than the east side of the park, but with the fresh snow the views were spectacular. I walked along the lake shore and took lots of pictures.

At least I had one day of good weather and got to go to the mountains. I was prepared for bad weather though. I brought one of my wargames, Hurtgen: Hell's Forest, along. It's a monster game, with about 2000 counters and very complex rules. I had already arranged with a friend to play a learning game in a few weeks at BottosCon, a wargaming convention. So while Sandy was at her class, I spent most of my days cutting and trimming counters, and reading and studying rules. It turns out that most of a week wasn't even enough time.

A lone kayaker has Lake MacDonald all to himself

I did take a few breaks from my wargame to explore the area. Bigfork was a nearby town that had some interesting shops. I actually was able to do some early Christmas gift shopping there. Montana is known for sapphires and Sandy is known for liking jewelry. And I finally got myself a tshirt. All the shops in Glacier National Park had been closed.

Friday was the last day of Sandy's class. The forecast was for the rain to turn to snow, even in the valley, so she decided to leave early. I packed the car, checked out and picked her about 10 am. As soon as we got her sewing stuff in the car we started back. Because of the weather we decided not to drive back over Lolo Pass. We took I90 east and then I15 south to eastern Idaho. It was quite a bit longer distance-wise but because a lot of the route was on interstate, it took about the same time.

When we stopped for gas in Arco Idaho, I pointed out on the hill above where all the local high school students had painted grafitti on the rocks on the side of the mountain. Sandy texted her friend Laura, who went to high school in Arco, telling her where we were and what we were looking at. Laura responded that she remembered the day her and all her friends had skipped class to paint their class year on the mountain. A little connection to local history to finish our trip.