Well, we found our first nice place to camp after leaving the Roadtreking Montana Gathering, and it wasn’t that far away. We went back over the continental divide on Highway 2 to Columbia Falls, MT, the nearest decent sized town, to shop, do laundry, etc., and then looked around for a nice place to camp.
Six miles east of town, national forest road 859 heads south off Highway 2 along the west side of Hungry Horse Reservoir, a 1950s hydroelectric and flood control project on the south branch of the Flathead River. The first campground we passed was full, but nine miles from Highway 2 we found a spot in Lost Johnny Campground.
This is Flathead National Forest, so you have your typical National Forest Service amenities – vault toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, bear boxes, and paved spots to park on at each campsite.
There is fresh water, but no dump, electricity, or any of that fancy stuff. We were fortunate to get a nice spot with a clear shot at the satellites and enough sun to keep the batteries charged, and our spot is nonreservable, meaning we can stay for 16 days if we want to.
Flathead Valley Campgrounds, the concessionaire, has put many of the spots online at recreation.gov, but didn’t get too greedy, and left a half dozen of the 20 spots as first come first served. Fees here are reasonable – $8 a day with a senior pass, and double that for the unfortunate youngsters.
We are at 3,600 feet and 48 degrees north, so it’s spruce, fir and a few tall pines here. The wildlife is numerous, vigorous, and sometimes problematic – the campground host said no bears yet this year, but a mountain lion was spotted near the campground entrance last week.
There’s a grizzly across the reservoir that mauled a bow hunter last year, but hasn’t swum over to this side. Yet.
We have deer all over the place, wandering through the campsites, one moose so far, snowshoe bunnies, chipmunks, and hordes of smaller scampering rodents. Fiona the Fearless Kitty is definitely entertained here. The deer stare and stare at her – they smell cat, but are puzzled by the small form factor and peculiar coloration. I am always positioned so that I can get to her faster than they can – they may feel threatened and try to run her off.
Vegetation around here is strange to me – in addition to the tall skinny evergreens, there are huckleberries and strawberries all over, plus unfamiliar wildflowers. The western wild rose, provincial flower of Alberta, is abundant, plus something that looks like dogwood, but is a ground cover.
There’s a plant with tiny pink downward-pointing bell-shaped flowers, and other peculiar local varieties. You’ll see every variety of evergreen you can imagine – spruce, fir, pine, yew, cedar, larch – and it smells heavenly.
Here at the end of June we have high 60s to low 70s for highs, and chilly mornings, 40s half the time. We have a few mosquitoes when the humidity creeps up, but nothing too annoying. No flies.
It gets light before 5 AM and Fiona is yammering to get out, and I struggle to get to sleep around half past ten with daylight still coming in the windows. Trying to keep this cat happy has me chronically sleep-deprived. The locals that camp out here use the reservoir for fishing and recreational boating, so there’s occasional jet ski noise on the weekends, but mostly a mellow adult and family crowd.
I will poke around after the 4th of July rush is over and check out the dispersed camping, but for now this is fine. The Forest Service has cleared enough trees out of the campground to meet my satellite and solar needs, and that’s not always the case out in the dispersed camping areas. There are national forests in every direction up here in Montana, Idaho and northwestern Wyoming and we intend to wander around in them for the next month or two and enjoy the great western outdoors.