Friday, August 27, 2010

An Unplanned Adventure!

This little Focus has been our faithful companion for more than 8 years and has taken us to some wonderful places in our travels. She's been crashed into 4 times and scratched up on numerous occasions but never abused by us until our unplanned adventure last Thursday!

After a visit to the local laundromat we decided to explore a road in southeast Missoula, a half-hour drive, Mr. Keith said. It was a gorgeous drive up a canyon that we hadn't known existed. Soon the road turned to gravel and Mr. Keith kept saying,  "Can we just go a little farther?" Always one to agree, I said okay. The road got more narrow and we contemplated turning back until we saw another car and asked where the road came out. We were assured it was a lovely drive high up on a mountain pass and that we could easily get back to the freeway from there. We took the advice, and thus began our unplanned adventure. Of course I did not have my camera, since this was "unplanned".

As we proceeded, at no more than 20 miles an hour, the road got slimmer, the weeds got taller, and by the number of sharp shale rocks in the road we could tell no one had been this way maybe for years. There were no turn-arounds, so we kept going, taking the most likely looking branch whenever we came to a crossroads. Each time it got worse, there were more rocks, and then we started seeing small trees across the road. By then I was walking out ahead to remove the biggest rocks. Little Focus was getting her underparts bombarded if I missed one, and she was getting lashed across her front by the tall weeds in the center of the lane. We came to a large tree fallen across the road, one too big to remove, so we broke off the branches and inched up, one side of the car up on the edge of the bank and the other  barely clearing the tree. After that challenge we went on, thinking the road was getting better, but to our dismay it completely ended at the edge of a cliff. Did I mention that all along these roads one side was a steep dropoff and the other a bank? Now what? There wasn't room to turn around but Mr. Keith did it anyway, scratching the front bumper on the sharp rocks on the bank. We kept on back the way we came till we reached a crossroad that we hadn't tried before. This one was worse than any of the others, and though it went downhill we knew we couldn't continue. By then we were hot and sweaty and worn out, and little Focus was filthy with dust, inside and out.

Various thoughts crossed our minds. What if... we had a flat tire? What if... we high-centered? What if... we ran out of gas? (We had 1/8 of a tank.) What if... we had heart attacks from the exertion of moving rocks and trees? What if... what if...? One consolation was that the back seat was filled up with the blankets and comforters we had just laundered, so if we had to spend the night we'd be warm. Never mind we'd be starving! Through all this we prayed, and trusted that one way or another God would help us find the way out.

He did. After 5 hours of being lost, we returned to where we'd first heard about this "easy" route, and drove on back down the mountain and home to Missoula, exhausted, but so thankful, and agreed that we would never go on a gravel mountain road in the wilderness again without really knowing what we were doing. We shook hands on it!

Our Focus has been washed and is now in the auto garage where all her brakes and rotors are being replaced. She will carry some scars from her adventure, but once again she brought us home safely, thanks be to God!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Surprising Day!

We've been wanting to drive up the Nine Mile Road to visit the historic Ranger Station there. The cutoff is just before Alberton, Montana. The Station was built in 1930 after some devastating forest fires in Montana and Idaho. Mules are still trained there to go into areas too rugged for trucks. All the mules were in another pasture when we arrived, so we didn't get to see them. We did have a great visit with the workamper couple manning the Vistor Center, though, and after our time there we decided to head up a little further on the Nine Mile Road, which is not 9 miles, but over 35! We never did figure out why it's called that!

What is that critter up ahead? Is it a...  no, it can't be! Yes, it is...  a llama!! What on earth is a llama doing out in the wilderness on this narrow one-lane mountain road? When he saw us he trotted right up to the car.

I rolled down my window a little to see if he was friendly. He was, very! A ranger car came along and stopped, and she didn't know where the llama came from either. We began to worry about him being lost, but the ranger said she'd inquire around the area. He is obviously someone's pet, very tame, and wearing a bridle.

Keith, animal lover that he is, rolled down his window and received a llama kiss! We had triscuits, which we offered to Mr. Llama. He gobbled them down. We drove off, but worried some more about where the owners might be. Coming upon this beautiful animal was the highlight of our drive up the 35 mile long Nine Mile Road. By the way, which one do you think is the better kisser — Mr. Keith or Mr. Llama?

Here we are at the top of Siegel Pass. The sign proves how far we had to drive on the very narrow, twisting, rocky road. The signs were good, or we could easily have gotten lost at several crossroads. What a great day!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Higher Plain.

Typically on days off we like to take rides around the Missoula area. Today we decided to explore the road up to the top of Blue Mountain in hopes of getting some great views of the valley below. This was our reward! Missoula stretches out in the distance, and we could barely see the white "M" and the "L" on the clearcut hills above the city. (Click to enlarge.)

And an even greater reward for our drive up the narrow gravel road was this lookout tower! We parked under it and looked up to see the ranger looking down on us. He invited us to come up for a chat, so we happily climbed the ladder-like steps to the top. What a fabulous view we had! The lookout tower was built in 1946 and though worn looking is still very sturdy.

It was a hazy day, but here you can see the road we traveled on, and in the distance, to the west, are the hills of Idaho.

The ranger was kind enough to allow me to take his picture, along with his little companion, an aged fox terrier. This man is 74 years old, a retired school teacher, and has been doing this summer job for 30 plus years! What beauty, what solitude! He does have a family back down in the valley, with whom he spends his days off. We had an informative conversation with him about the area and about more beautiful drives to take. From this viewpoint in the tower we could barely see the Mission Mountains, near Glacier Park.

Here is another view, slighty more to the northwest. Notice the little fox terrier again. In the below picture — deer are all over the hills and even in some neighborhoods around Missoula. At this time of year they are sleek and healthy looking and don't seem to mind the looky-loos.