Walter and Sara Let the good times roll
We left off in Part III at Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta Canada.

We got up early the next morning only to find that we were nearly socked in with low clouds. There was nary a mountain in sight! How odd after so many lovely sunny days in a row. Still we were up so we drove out once again to Red Rock Canyon in an attempt to avoid the crowds and get a place to park. Success! We arrived at the Red Rock parking area at 8:50 am and it was nearly empty and the sun was out!

Red Rock parking lot Waterton Lakes

I had to stop and take a photo of this Yellow Buckwheat (Eriogonum flavum) before we set off to hike the trail up the canyon.

Yellow Buckwheat (Eriogonum flavum)

Red Rock Canyon gets it’s name from the layer of red rock (duh) that the river has uncovered as it has carved it’s way down through the layers of rock. I guess they could have called it white ribbon canyon too but it isn’t as catchy a name.

Red Rock Canyon Waterton Lakes

The paved trail winds up the hill and gives you a nice view as the canyon deepens.

Red Rock Canyon Waterton Lakes

By the time we were to the top of the trail the clouds had nearly burned off of the mountains to the south.

Mountains south of Red Rock Canyon Waterton Lakes

And we got a great view back down the canyon.

Red Rock Canyon from top of canyon trail

Even more fun as you cross the bridge to the other side of the canyon you get a view of the slot canyon further upstream.

Red Rock Canyon slot canyon Waterton Lakes

There were lovely patches of asters and Indian Paintbrush along the trail.

asters and Indian Paintbrush

We finished the loop of the canyon and then took the trail south and across the river towards Blakiston Falls. This was a REAL trail (as in it wasn’t paved) and it wound nicely through the quiet woods. Just when we were beginning to wonder when we’d reach the falls the trail turned a corner and you could hear the falls. You could also see the mountains again.

Mountain view from Blakiston Falls trail Waterton Lakes

The trail goes along a ridge so that you get a distant view of the falls first.

Blakiston Falls Waterton Lakes

And then you can climb down the trail to a outlook where you get a closer view.

Blakiston Falls Waterton Lakes

And then an even closer one.

 Blaiston Falls Waterton Lakes

Then you climb back up and across the ridge and down to that platform at the top of he falls. I had fun taking photos there especially the nice cascade just above the falls.

Cascade above Blakiston Falls Waterton Lakes

We’d had the trail pretty much to ourselves but by the time we began the hike back from the falls lots more people had started to arrive. Proof once again that it’s worth getting up early not only so you can get a place to park but so you can have the place to yourselves! I spied some Baneberry (Acetea rubra) along the trail, something I’d not seen before.

Baneberry (Acetea rubra)

Near the parking lot I saw a nice example of Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii).

 Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii)

We drove on back towards the campground and spied this grizzly sitting under a tree not far from the road. We heard later that he’d been hanging out there for several days.

Grizzly Bear Waterton Lakes National Park

As I’ve mentioned before Waterton Lakes is kind of a civilized National Park. They have a bison herd that they have in an area of the park they call the Bison Paddock. It has a high fence around it and dirt road that winds through. Since it wasn’t even lunch time yet we decided we might as well drive out and see what we could see. We drove through most of the area before we spied a pair of bison.

Bison in Bison Paddock Waterton Lakes

Just before the road exited the paddock we got a view of the whole herd heading for one of the small ponds.

Bison in Bison Paddock Waterton Lakes

There’s a viewing area with parking lot up on the hill overlooking the paddock area. Folks with RV’s and other vehicles who can’t drive the road can watch from here. It turned out to have the best view of the herd. They say they keep between 12 and 20 animals in the herd at any given time. We counted 13 here so I figure we saw them all.

Bison in Bison Paddock Waterton Lakes

I also saw several examples of Narrow-leaved Blazing Star (Liatris-punctata). I grow a garden variety of liatris so it was fun to see a native version.

Narrow-leaved Blazing Star (Liatris-punctata)

We drove back to the trailer and had lunch and hung out for a while. The sun finally came out at the lake and I got restless. So we got the bikes out of the back of the pickup and went for a ride on the bike path that goes along the lake. Since we’d hiked south on it the day before, this time we went north past the lake-front motels and the marina. We stopped at the marina to take a photo of the Prince of Wales Hotel up on the hill.

Prince of Wales Hotel from bike path

We’ll end up taking the bike path over to where it ends by that green roof across the bay.

This is the view of the hillside at the end of the bay. I love how you can see how the land has folded way back when.
Hillside across the lake from Prince of Wales Hotel

And here’s Walter next to a bench he had to try out along the way.

Walter Cooke Waterton Lakes bike path

As we went along the edge of the bay we saw a doe eating leaves off a shoreline poplar.

Deer Waterton Lakes

A little further on I spied a fawn trotting across someone’s lawn.

Spotted fawn Waterton Lakes

And shortly thereafter we saw it’s mom.

Deer Waterton Lakes

Here’s the view of the lake from the foot of the Prince of Wales hotel as you look south. You can understand why they built the hotel here to capture the view.

View from lakeside at Prince of Wales Hotel

We took a look at the map and decided we could make a loop through town and see Cameron Falls (where we’d hoped the trail would take us the day before but it didn’t).

It was a nice little uphill ride and then we were there.

Cameron Falls Waterton Lakes

There was a bench to sit on and so we sat in the shade and watched the falls for a while. Some folks came along and started feeding the chipmunks. So I got a great photo as part of the deal.

Lady feeding chipmunk Waterton Lakes

Chipmunk Waterton Lakes

The next morning we loaded up the truck and trailer and headed south back across the border. For the first time ever (after all those crossings on the Alaska trip) the Border Patrol Officer asked for the keys to the trailer and went in and had a look. He came back, gave us our keys and nodded us through. He’d done the same thing to the camper in front of us but it was still weird.

Our plan had been to drive about half the distance to Butte and stay in a city park campground in Choteau MT. We arrived there at about 1:30 to find that the campground in the park was full! It turns out they were having a fiddle tunes event for the weekend. So we stopped and had lunch and regrouped. We decided we’d drive down to Holter Dam to camp. When we arrived there, the folks in front of us got the last spot. That was actually for the best. It was really hot and there was no breeze and no electricity. So we got the campground guide out one more time and decided we’d have to drive to Helena. We rolled into an RV park in Helena at about 4:30 and were told all their regular spots were full! Yes, it was Friday but what the heck was going on? The campground manager laughed and said we were in the middle of the Montana Stampede. In the summer, every town has a fair or event going on most weekends and you add to that the fact that all the tourists are driving between Glacier and Yellowstone and presto the campgrounds are full. Helena had some festival going on so all his full hookup spots were full. But he did have a couple of parking spots with electrical hookups that we could have. At this point we were tired and didn’t care about the view. We took the spot, turned on the air conditioning and pulled down the blinds!

They also had Wi-Fi that worked! So we went on line and got a reservation at the KOA in Butte where we were planning on staying for the next two nights. That turned out to be a VERY good idea. When we arrived in Butte the next day at about noon the campground was full. It was Evel Knievel Days—a daredevil bike festival along with a motocross race, mountain bike ride and a Harley Davidson Rally. We got the worlds smallest pull through site—long enough for the trailer which is 17 feet, but we had to park the truck on the grass next to it.

We had lunch and then got it together to go visit the World Mining Museum next door to Montana Tech (the mining school for the University of Montana). We got to go the round about way because the main drag in downtown Butte was closed for the festival but we got there without a hitch. When we arrived they announced that the last underground tour of the day was leaving and we had to decide right then if we wanted to go. We looked at each other and nodded, why not? What a great decision! The tour takes you down into a mine that was dug at the turn of the century mostly by hand. You get to wear a hardhat miners hat with light (and a big battery on a thick belt around your waist). They walk you around in the dark and show you how they did everything and explain the history of the mines in Butte—all 10,000 miles of tunnels under the city. We had a great time, learned a lot and were really glad we went. The one hour tour lasted 2 hours because it was the end of the day and the tour guide was just having too much fun answering all our questions.

The museum itself has a nice mineral collection.

Mineral Collectio at World Mining Museum Butte MT

Including a room with black lights.

World Mining Museum Black Light room

World Mining Museum Black Light room

I loved this sample of Blue Vitriol.

Biue Vitriol World Mining Museum Butte MT

There’s an outdoor portion of the museum (in addition to the underground tour) that is mostly a collection of old buildings collected from ghost towns around Montana. It feels and looks a lot like Knott's Berry Farm or the old Calico Ghost Town in California.

There was a fire burning south of Anaconda and that made for a great sunset that night.  

Sunset Butte MT

We’d planned to go to the University of Montana’s Mineral Museum the next day but we’d seen enough at the Mining Museum. So instead we took the drive through Anaconda (where the smelter was in Butte’s mining heyday) and on out west to Phillipsburg. They’d had an accordion festival the day before but while the accordions were gone when we got there they’d been replaced by a car show that closed the main drag! We found a parking spot and went and visited Gem Mountain, the store for a sapphire mine outside of town. You can buy a sack of gravel and wash it to look for sapphires if you want. Walter took a pass but bought a nice sample box of minerals of Montana including a really nice copper ore sample.

We drove back to Georgetown Lake for lunch.

Georgetown Lake MT

Across the lake you could see smoke from the fire in the mountains to the south.

We also saw a pair of loons (you could hear them really well) but the photo just shows a pair of black floating objects. Someday I’m going to get a good photo of a loon, really I am.

Late in the afternoon we went out to buy gas and took a driving tour of the upper reaches of Butte.

Butte MT panorama

The black towers you can see in the foreground are head frames of old mines. They were used to move miners, equipment and ore into and out of the mines.
Here’s the head frame of the old Consolidated Mine on the top of the hill.

head frame of the old Consolidated Mine

The people of Butte are so proud of these head frames that they keep them painted and protected and a head frame is the symbol of the city. The upper portion of town is full of them.

In Part V we’ll head down to Yellowstone—Bison, Elk, Waterfalls and Geysers!