Climbing out of the valley north of Missoula, Montana, we encountered smoke. But it wasn't until a few miles before the entrance to Glacier National Park that the nostrils began to burn and the air reeked of campfire.
Attentive readers of my two most recent dispatches likely concluded fire was why my friend and I didn't get far into the park. They would be correct.
Before accepting our money, the ranger at the gates made sure we knew only three miles of park roads were open.
"Yeah, but he came all the way from California and I came from Bozeman, so we figure we might as well check it out," my friend replied.
The shore of Lake McDonald was our first stop. At 10 miles long, more than a mile wide and 472 feet at its deepest, the normally picturesque glacial lake is a great spot for trout fishing, boating and picture-taking.
A few kayaks and boats dotted the smoky lake. We considered taking our canoe out, but because the areas around the lake could be evacuated should the fire change directions we thought better of it. Instead, we took the also normally picturesque Going-to-the-Sun road to the end, which on that day was a roadblock just up the hill from the lake.
On our way back we pulled into a turnout that I hoped would afford a good view of tree limbs damaged from a past fire interspersed with new green growth. A faded placard declared the scars of the fire evidence of important natural processes that help maintain the ecological balance of the forest.
A weather-beaten van pulled into the small lot. A family filed out. The children wandered about. One kicked rocks. The father walked over, read the sign, looked up at the trees, back at the placard and silently returned to the van. Wife and children followed. They drove off down the hill.
We bandied about the idea of going for a hike, then drove by hikers entering trailheads, their mouths covered to avoid breathing in too much smoke. We were again dissuaded.
Instead, after scoping out an almost-smoke-free lake outside the park just a few miles away, we set off for the Hungry Horse Dam approximately 15 miles south.
At 564 feet high, the dam on the South Fork Flathead River was the third largest and second highest concrete dam in the world when completed in 1953. I was struck not by the dam, impressive though it is, but by the plethora of large bald eagle nests dotting the high trees on the edge of the reservoir.
Determined to use the canoe she had schlepped hundreds of miles, my friend followed signs for the boat ramp while I stared at the nests. At the edge of a large parking lot sat a well-used travel trailer surrounded by a sea of colorful yard decorations.
We checked out the ramp at the other end and were readying to park and unload the canoe to walk it down when a tiny woman with wild salt-and-pepper hair pulled up next to us in a small four-wheeler.
This sprightly munchkin, who I concluded immediately belonged to the cheerful trailer, pointed us to a nearby dirt road, at the end of which she said we'd find a secluded spot to park and put in the canoe.