“You’ve got to get to Glacier,” the veteran news reporter said a few years back during a job interview in Montana, where I was consistently humbled by the quality of the job candidates. Turns out many talented people love living in Big Sky Country enough to cobble together careers. I can understand, at least during the unfrozen parts of the year.
While the reporter agreed Yellowstone is worth a visit and Grand Teton is splendid, she and a few others declared Glacier National Park a must-see for someone like me who professed love for the natural splendor of Big Sky Country.
"Maybe next trip," I would reply.
What’s that, dear reader? You say I ended the past dispatch at the bottom of a canyon, a wildfire seemingly headed my way?
Fear not, Klaus the dog and I survived, and no worse for wear.
I shot awake at what must have been close to first light, the camper now so smoke-filled I could barely see the door less than fifteen feet away. Luckily the fire had not moved close enough to the tiny RV park to require an evacuation. But the smoke was bad enough for me to get ready quickly as possible and, after feeding my canine co-pilot, wolfing down some breakfast of my own and taking a couple pictures in the slightly less smoky air outside the camper while he did his morning constitution, I hit the road again.
Tiny Riggins, Idaho, mostly slumbered at that early hour, and the few people who were out didn’t go in haste. Perhaps they knew something I didn’t. Perhaps they are so used to the threat of wildfires they’re immune.
The smoke dissipated as we weaved through canyons, interrupted here and there by mountain passes that sometimes opened into great fields before plunging anew.
Progress was slowed when we reached mercifully smoke-free Kooskia by an old man in a beat-up pickup.
Hair shock-white, the driver chewed aggressively on what I assume was gum while his truck swayed from one side of the road to the other, almost into a ditch a couple times, and always at under 15 miles an hour. Not sure if he was drunk, in the midst of a stroke or screwing with me, I kept my distance as he stared through his rearview mirror at this presumably wild-eyed and certainly wild-haired creature in the dirty camper with California plates.
The truck eventually crawled to the left, into the wrong lane, before the old man corrected, turned and puttered away. I sped up, but almost immediately noticed a sign saying the bridge ahead over the Clearwater River was closed. No mention of a detour.
After driving past the shuttered bridge Google Maps told me to keep going. The road turned to gravel, then dirt as it ascended what I soon realized was an experimental forest service road. I pulled over and looked at the directions. The app wanted me to climb another five twisting miles to the end of the road, turn around, retrace my steps and then go over the same bridge.
Given the landscape I imagined there weren't quick alternate routes, and Google Maps, like a mule, insisted on the closed bridge. If I couldn't cross the river I'd have to drive back through smoke-filled canyons on what would probably be an eight-hour detour.