When we last checked in, Yellowstone was in our rearview mirror as we dipped into civilization for a night to refresh and recharge. Glacier National Park was next on our list, and the decision was made to break up the 7-hour drive into 2 days – putting us outside of Missoula, Montana the first night. After consulting our maps, we took a random forest service road in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest which quickly ascended up the ridge to give us prime overlook real estate for the evening.
These are the times I can’t help but appreciate public lands – particularly those under National Forest and Bureau of Land Management. These lands are to off-roaders what Wal-Mart parking lots are to weary RVers – a consistently reliable option to catch some sleep no matter where you are. As much as I like building and following itineraries, there are always variables that can alter or derail that pristine plan that looked so good being concocted in your living room. The past ten days of haphazardly evading poor air quality has essentially thrown out my itinerary, and we’ve begun taking things day by day. There’s no worse feeling than watching the sun set as you scramble to figure out where you’re sleeping. In those times, NF and BLM land is a godsend.
Heavy bourbon pours late in the night made for a late start in the morning, but with an easy three hour commute we still had a half day of sunshine ahead. The forecast showed a heavy storm rolling in that evening that wouldn’t let up for five days. This was our time to get in and enjoy the park in comfort.
Glacier National Park encompasses over 1,500 square miles of some of America’s most jaw-dropping scenery, but you’ll only see a small fraction from your car. For the rest, plan on overnight backpacks that take you deep into the grizzly-infested wilderness. With the sun on the way down, we decided on John’s Lake Loop – an easy 2-mile hike that gave us an awesome sneak peak of the park while ensuring we had daylight remaining to find an adequate campsite in the adjacent Flathead National Forest.
As evening approached, we made our way out the northwest end of the park, stopping for shoreside beers on Lake McDonald to get our last glimpse of clear skies before exiting for the night. We entered NF land as ominous clouds descended on the park and realized our luck with dry camping had run out.
High winds and heavy rain hit in the middle of the night, thrashing the awning room and making for a light night’s sleep. Packing up camp was messy, but the surprise of intermittent clear skies motivated us to expedite the process and see if we could catch some good weather as we dove further into the park.
As soon as we rounded the corner on Going-to-the-sun Road and climbed elevation, we got our first real taste of this park’s superlatives and it took our breath away. Clouds add such an amazing dynamic to any landscape, and Glacier is a prime example. We couldn’t help but stop at every other pull out because the changing scenery was so drastic. Continuing our frequent stops until the road closure at Rising Sun, the rain finally returned as we made our way back to the park entrance. At the forefront of even worse weather, we tucked tail and snagged shelter in nearby Whitefish before making our way south.
Our last objective was Telluride, and the route takes us through the heart of Utah’s best off-road trails. Having recently completed a week-long trek through Moab and Canyonlands, this visit was just as a commuter – finishing the day’s drive just outside Moab at Crystal Geyser. As soon as I popped the rooftop tent, two kids came into our camp and asked if I could winch their side-by-side out of the Green River. After a successful recovery, it was back to camp for a bedtime bourbon and hit the sheets.
The commute to Telluride took us through Moab where we stopped for breakfast and a much-needed car wash. We rolled into town in the early afternoon, in time for a late lunch and entertaining the thought of beginning one of the trails. We had time for only one of the many trails in the area, and we settled on Imogene Pass. As day faded, we left town via Tomboy Road in search of an adequate pullout to camp so we could continue in the morning. Two miles in, the sun set, temps dropped, wind increased, and no viable campsites had presented themselves. With no knowledge of the opportunities ahead, we made the tough and pricey decision to turn back, get a hotel, then start again in the morning.
After a quick breakfast, we aired down and began our second attempt out of town. Imogene Pass is a 17.5-mile high mountain pass that connects the towns of Telluride and Ouray over a 13,114 foot summit. The trail is mostly a rocky shelf road with a few technical obstacles scattered throughout. Expect views that beg you to take your eyes off the road, lethal drop-offs that can punish even a momentarily distracted driver, and history literally scattered throughout the trail. Nestled at 11,500 feet is the town of Tomboy, an old mining town established in 1894 with remnants that are still visible today.
Taking our time, we finished the trail in roughly five hours. Our arrival in Ouray signaled the end of Imogene Pass - and the end of this trip. After eighteen days on the road, it was time to part ways with my San Diego brohams and continue east to my new home in Denver - and an entirely new adventure. This was one of my favorite trips to date which built nothing but excitement knowing many more are on the horizon. As we navigate out of the crapshoot that is 2020, exploring the country’s amazing parks and public lands is one of the best ways to stay active and stay sane. And in that sense, it’s business as usual. Until next time!