August 11, 2015: I’ve been staying in Columbia Falls near Glacier National Park since August 6 and conditions sometimes change day to day due to the smoke from the wildfires all over Montana, as well as drifting smoke from more raging wildfires in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
On this day, I had been shopping in Kalispell on a really clear, cloudless day when I noticed this rising over the mountain. When I turned on the radio, I heard that the Thompson Fire “blew up” and had gone from 150 acres to 1,900 acres that day. They said the fire is in a remote area and that the rest of the park was not affected, but that made me decide to go check out Going to the Sun Road again, just in case that condition changed and they had to close it once again.
I decided to take Highway 2 around to the east side entrance since I’d never been that way before and would return by Going to the Sun Road. By the time I got here, the smoke was really growing.
I stopped a couple of times alongside the road to watch it as it seemed to grow and get angrier looking very quickly.
In about two hours, by the time I was going through the town of Browning, I couldn’t believe how bad it was and how nasty the sky looked. This is the water tower there and it was hard to see the houses from the road sometimes and I worried about this bird flying through it.
Getting closer to the St. Mary entrance, the divide between smoke and clear sky was pronounced and the sun was crimson red. It felt like being in the Twilight Zone because right across the road from here, the skies were bright blue and sunny.
Looking back toward Browning from this spot, about 6 miles from St. Mary. It really looked ominous to me here and at times I could see little tiny bits of ash falling around me. The skeletal white trees added to the spooky feel of the place.
My first view of St. Mary Lake shows there were still small fires going on there, too.
Small smoke plume in the background visible right at the east entrance at St. Mary.
You can see the smoke from St. Mary Campground, but the park itself is not smoky and the ranger said it is fully reserved. Although the smoke was pretty intense in places, he said the fire poses no danger to this area.
Getting onto Going to the Sun Road, the smoke is still spreading.
This fire was small, but so near the road I kept hoping it had been seen by the firefighters. All of the scenic pull-offs on this east side were closed to facilitate fighting the fires.
I was glad to see these guys later down the road. I stopped for a moment to say, “Hi y’all” and we all laughed how that one word revealed right away I wasn’t from here. They were so nice and said they were “working the line” here. It was obvious they had been working hard and were pretty tired at the end of this day.
I looked them up later and saw this: “The Chief Mountain Hotshots are a Native American Elite firefighting crew based out of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation located at Browning, Montana with Glacier National Park as their back yard. The Chief Mountain Hotshots are known as the “Warriors of the Forest” and are well known throughout the United States and Canada. In 1999 the crew received the National Safety Award for zero lost time accidents and zero reportable vehicle accidents.”
I thought of how bad Browning looked on my way and I felt so bad for them – they can’t even go home to escape from the smoke! Thanks again, y’all, from this southern gal!
August 24: I’m still working on getting picture pages up on the website about my time at Yellowstone National Park, but it’s slow going since it’s hard to divert my attention from my exploring here. Hopefully I’ll get to finish documenting this trip sometime during my lifetime.