Posts Tagged ‘Forest Fires’

Montana Border on Highway 200

Last month I posted about plans to ride through Glacier National Park.

I started making plans a couple of months prior to the ride looking for the slowest, curving roads with mountains and throwback motel stopping points to minimize pandemic exposure.

The reopening of Montana’s tourism amenities and services started in early June, which meant they were open a couple months prior to our arrival, with the exception of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation which was closed “until further notice.”  Canada also blocked all non-essential travel into the country so any mini-tour loop into BC or Alberta was off limits this trip.

It turns out that 2020 was a record-breaking year for the fact that there were NO forest fires during the days we visited the park to disrupt the spectacular views. There has been a fire in Glacier National Park almost every year of its existence with the exception of 1964 as the only year with no fires on record. Fires are a naturally recurring part of the forest lifecycle, but seeing Glacier with pristine clear air was an exceptional gift this time.

We traveled northeast crabwise across Washington state and spent a night in Sandpoint, on the northern tip of Idaho. It’s located on the magnificent 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille, surrounded by the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains. The next morning we traveled east on Highway 200 alongside the lake, then alongside the Clark Fork River.  We made a breakfast stop at a terrific family owned bakery in Clark Fork, called The Pantry.

Once we crossed over into Montana, we took a short detour to the remote end of Sanders County and traveled over the new $13.5 millon Heron Bridge.  It replaced a 95-year-old, one-lane bridge connecting Montana Highway 200 to the community of Heron. The original bridge had the ribbon cut on Nov. 23, 1952, but was originally fabricated in California and was already 32 years old when first installed across the river.  It had been deemed insufficient for growing traffic across the Pend Oreille River near Metaline Falls, Washington when it was moved and re-constructed at Heron.

“Sun Road” Glacier NP

After the bridge tour we rode north on Highway 56, Bull Lake Road, which is about 36 miles long and dead ends at Highway 2 just west of Libby. The landscape in the area is very diverse from low elevation timber and lakes to the outstanding peaks in the Cabinet Mountains and Scotchman Peak area.  We rode along the Kootenay River on Highway 2 to Kalispell then north on Highway 93.  We overnighted in Whitefish, MT a gateway to Glacier and a nice resort town. With a mixed array of shops, coffee houses and restaurants it reminded me of Jackson, WY charm.  There are plenty of places to enjoy a Going-to-the-Sun IPA with a great view of the mountains.

Glacier National Park, MT

The Blackfeet Indian Reservation closure created an impediment to traveling the Going-to-the-Sun road through the park and then looping back on Highway 2.

The road/gate entrance to the park was closed at St Mary. An optional route from Glacier north across the Canadian border to visit the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was a barrier as well since the Canadian border was closed.

At any rate, we began at West Glacier for a slow out-and-back ride on the 50-mile-long road.  There were incredible views of glacial-carved valleys, jagged peaks and pristine wilderness. A benefit of the pandemic was those famous red busses which departed from Lake McDonald Lodge were shut down and not running on the roads this year.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road was the National Park Service’s first to cross the trans-continental divide. It’s a landscape impossible to adequately describe in words or capture in photos when riding into that ‘big sky’ that Montana is famous for.

The west tunnel–a 197-foot long tunnel features two arched openings that let you look out to Heaven’s Peak and the Upper McDonald Creek valley while behind the handlebars. The Alpine section–is a six percent climb between the Loop and 6,646-foot high Logan Pass. There’s a section of the road called The Weeping Wall. A waterfall cascades 100 feet down, over the rocks and onto part of the road and down the other side of a 4500 foot cliff drop-off.

The Posse

The views! The curves! It’s like a real life painting.

For all its scenic wonders, the “Sun Road” is not without a few negatives: overall, the roads were in good shape and well-maintained, but there were a couple of rehabilitation projects and construction delays can be a major buzz-kill with all the crowds. The speed limit is slow-to-stop with much of the ride quality depending on the crowds and RVs.

The end of our round trip ride took us back into touristy West Glacier, town. Afterward we headed back to a Whitefish pub (via a motel shuttle) to try out a flight of their whiskeys and celebrate the completion of a beautiful ride.

Glacier is a place to be savored and a place to come back to again and again. It was great to get a break from the relentless protest, COVID-19 media drum beat and to reconnect with the land by motorcycle.

Photos taken by the author. 

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Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 9.10.26 AMThe Pacific Northwest…bounded on one side by the pacific ocean and the other side is the mountainous Rocky’s.

It’s perfect for finding a two-lane crowd-free by-way and rolling past acres of lush forest.  Those acres can turn into meandering hours of riding the countryside on a motorcycle.   In fact, the Pacific Northwest HOG rally will be hosted in the picture-esq Northwest (Portland) in a couple of weeks where we will deliver the aesthetic vision of why we ride!

Welcoming the 1000’s of riders to the adventure will be hot and dry weather.  Not only will they encounter the best weather temps, but they will also have to deal with wildfires.  Yes, the west could be described as being on fire!

Wildfires In Oregon and Washington State

Wildfires In Oregon and Washington State

The fires across the region have forced evacuation, burned down structures and created breathing issues for some.  Twenty minutes outside the Portland metro area the air is thick with particulate and smoke permeates the sky for miles across the region.  In Washington state over a 1000 people have been evacuated in Chelan county.  The Warm Springs fire (Countyline 2 fire) in Oregon has exploded into the largest fire at 36K acres.  U.S. 26 is closed at Oregon 126.

According to NatGeo, on average more than 100K wildfires clear 4-5 million acres each year in the U.S.  In 2014, some 1.2 million acres burned in Oregon and Washington and sadly this year it’s looking like a repeat.

Wildfires In Canada, BC

Wildfires In Canada, BC

In scanning the reports I got to thinking about the last time I’ve taken a motorcycle trip during the summer that wasn’t marred with a wildfire.  Of course it depends on how many miles I’ve traveled, but in a typical week long ride during the summer I realized that it’s been a fair number of years where I didn’t pass near or through a burning wildfire during a ride.  I’ve had multiple trips to Sturgis.  Through Yellowstone Park, through Glacier National Park – both with fires on multiple trips.  There was U.S. Route 550 or the “million dollar highway” that had a San Jan National Forest fire.  There was Beartooth Highway (U.S. Hwy 212) and a lingering wildfire.  I’ve taken a couple extended trips up north to British Columbia Canada and the land of lumberjacks was on fire both times.  In most all cases we were not close enough to see flames, but dark smoke and particles filled the sky for many miles as we navigated across the country.

In Washington and Oregon there are now 31 major wildfires currently burning.  See the map.  In Canada BC, there are even more.

In addition to the economic woes that these fires cause it does makes one wonder whether motorcyclists should even consider traveling the west during the height of the summer fire season.

But, life is for living and I’m not talking about the thrill of a car ride snaking through the marquee Going-to-the-Sun-Road in Glacier.  It’s about feeling small in a very big world and how that is a great thing on a motorcycle.  So, I’ll continue to plan motorcycle trips to ride the west – wildfires and all!  Sure some of my photos will be filled with smoke obscuring the mountain views but, just know that I’ll have a big smile underneath that slightly wetted down dew rag covering my face!

Photos courtesy of the Oregonian and NWCC.

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From South Sister – The Pole Creek Wildfire

Not all summers are created equal.  This year the northwest has experience an incredible summer.  With warm and dry conditions continuing across the West we’ve also  experienced a record breaking number of wildfires.

Let me repeat that…  This is one of the worst wildfire seasons on record for the west.  Almost 7M acres or more than 10,000 square miles have literally gone up in smoke!

In a few days I’m headed to Street Vibrations in Reno and it looks like the posse will be “dancing” around the wildfires and smoke no matter which direction we take.  If you’re heading toward central Oregon there is the Pole Creek Fire burning 6 miles southwest of Sisters.  It’s scorched over 16,000 acres and only 10% contained.  In fact, I was in Bend this past weekend and when traveling on Highway 20 burning trees were visible from the roadway.  This fire has fouled the air throughout the Willamette valley and the folks in Sisters have been told to remain indoors.

Smokey Air On The Deschutes River – Bend, OR

If you are riding to Reno from Washington there are more than 240 wildfires burning in that state with the largest near Wenatchee.  If traveling down the I-5 corridor south there are a half-dozen fires in northern California of which most are in the Shasta National Forest area.  If you prefer Highway 395 as the route to Reno be aware that in northern California there are a couple of fires near the city of Likely.  Even Susanville has a 25 acre fire burning a couple miles out of town.

If you’re looking for more information check out HERE on the various forest fires status.  Yep, the Reno ride this year will be about smoke and dodging the forest fires.  Let’s hope the criminal element of motorcycling don’t stink up a good event.

Ride safe and see you at the Street Vibrations Rally.

Bend photo taken by author.  South Sister photo courtesy Mo Brethower.

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Hazy Smoke Filled Ride

Hazy Smoke Filled Ride

We set out of Kelowna on BC97 along the lakeside, leaving both town and slow moving traffic behind. The hazy smoke filled skyline followed.

The road twisted and turned making for a spectacular ride with great views.  In the town of Sicamous the hazy smoke subsided as we headed east on the green and white maple leaf highway marked as the Trans-Canada Highway — also known as Hwy1.  Just prior to Revelstoke we passed through Craigellachie which is the site of the “last spike” completing the original Canadian transcontinental railroad back in the late 1800’s.

Avalanche "Sheds"

Avalanche "Sheds"

When riding, you never know what is around each bend, many of which are around rock faces, so there may be fallen rock or wildlife on the road.  But, on the other hand, you need to relax and mix riding with taking in the view which we did as we traveled along Hwy1 through Revelstoke and passed through the Selkirk Mountains and Glacier National Park (Canada).  At the summit we stopped at Rodgers Pass.  There are a number of snow sheds and earth dams used to protect the highway from avalanches and the area is home to the largest mobile avalanche program in Canada.

Rodgers Pass

Rodgers Pass

At Golden we connected with the junction of Hwy95 which is west of Lake Louise and passed through Yoho National Park.  It runs along the southern-most part of the Canadian Rockies just west of BC and the Alberta border.   At Kicking Horse Pass we rolled over the continental divide and the Spiral Railway Tunnels.  They were built to increase the length of the railway track and reduce the grade as trains made their way up a considerable ascent.  Sometimes called the “Big Hill” it had a ruling gradient of 4.5%…one of the steepest in North America prior to the Spiral Tunnels opening in 1909.

Banff, Alberta

Banff, Alberta

Alberta’s Mountain Parks are the jewel of the Canadian Rockies.  Approximately 7600 sq miles of preserved wilderness it’s easy to see spectacular scenery, watch wildlife and enjoy what has made the area famous.  We rode by the Weeping Wall, a massive limestone cliff with a number of waterfalls seeping out.

The day ended damp and cold – around 55 degrees by the time we dropped into Banff, Alberta.  In the late 1800’s workers from the transcontinental railway chanced upon simmering hot springs and the area became Canada’s first national park – Banff National Park.

Bow River

Bow River

At 4540 feet in altitude it is Canada’s highest town.  And with a cold front that had moved in we felt and saw the precipitation, fog and wind shifts of that altitude.  It was early August yet it felt like mid-October in Oregon!

We had a scheduled layover in Banff and spent “tourist” time kicking around town, trying local pubs and wandering the Fairmont Banff Springs grand hotel and national historic sites.  The hotel is steeped in history having been built back in 1888 and there is a long list of famous guests who frequented the resort.  We didn’t stay at this hotel.  I didn’t get the sense that many guests had turned in their Mercedes-Benz to lease a Hyundai!  In fact, our entire time in Canada seemed to indicate that the worst of any recession was long over for the folks who pass the puck.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

In the hotel lobby we met up with some riders who came from Calgary and soon learned there were many wild cards in the weather forecast.  It was going to be cold and wet.  Ugh!   Our original route had us heading east toward Calgary, but that pesky cold front brought torrential rain and high winds killing one and injuring 15 people.   Over refreshments we decided to avoid Calgary as nasty weather and hail was a certainty and we didn’t want any part of it.  As a side bar, my iPhone app, WeatherBug didn’t work in Canada.  I could get temps and current conditions, but I couldn’t pull up Doppler radar to re-route around any storms… bummer.

Refreshments At Banff International Hotel

Refreshments At Banff International Hotel

We determine that the west side of Banff National Park offered a reduced possibility of rain so, we would back track to Hwy 93 through Kootenay National Park.

It would mean a longer 400+ mile day to reach Highway 89 and the “Going to the Sun Road” in St. Mary, Montana, but riding dry was preferred over cutting 100 miles off the route in the rain.

The 107 to 47 Journey – Part One HERE; Part Three HERE; Part Four HERE

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