Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Long Haul

700 miles is the long haul. We consider it the maximum distance our family can make and understand it is one that will be possibly marred with complications such as super cranky kids. 700 miles means minimal stops; rest areas, food and Starbucks only. Why would we even consider hitting the road for 12 hours straight when we normally do under 600? It’s all about the fun! In order to fit in 3 shorter drives and 3 days of fun activities, we had to do “The Long Haul” so we could fit it all in.

 This trip back we drove our first day from Abbotsford, BC Canada to Butte, MT. It was a crazy, miserably wet and crabby ride, but we made it in record time (12 hours…usually we do 600 comfortably in the same amount of time).  The entire time we drove through the Cascade Mountains we were literally in the clouds. Finally once we hit the Montana border, 10 hours later, the clouds parted.
Day 2, we awoke to a beautiful clear blue sky and fresh mountain air. The perfect day to drive to the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park between Wheatland and Three Forks on Montana 2. The drive was gorgeous. The road hugged the Jefferson River through the deep canyons as we climbed higher until we met the entrance: a single-lane road built in the 30’s and 40’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp. When we reached the summit where the visitor center and gift shop are located, we found we were the first ones there. Everyone donned jackets and leapt out into the cool 50 degree morning.
The view was breathtaking. An extreme valley dropped before us while the mountains climbed high in the distance. We were in awe! After about an hour of wandering around we paid for tickets to take the 9:15am tour of the caverns. The vertical climb to the entrance was challenging, but not impossible. We were sheading layers as we hiked. The Park Ranger was extremely knowledgeable and showed us fossils in the mountainside and gave us fresh sage and mint to smell. She said the sage energizes her along the route, and I would have to agree.
At the mouth to the cave we were given a fascinating lesson on the history of the caverns, cave terms, rules and of bats. It is a cave after all. The group entered into the labyrinth and were silenced by the darkness and the incredible formations. It was awesome. The highlight for the kids was the "Beaver Slide”, a spot in the cave where we actually had to slide down a narrow pathway. The Ranger gave an entertaining interperetive talk that included funny names and senarios for many of the cave formations including a Romeo and Juliet scene in which they choose to elope instead of jump off the cliff. In their next scene, when the star crossed lovers are in their later years, Romeo pushes Juliet off the cliff in her wheelchair and gets pulled after because his beard is stuck in her chair. LOL! The stelagmite in the collage below is appropriately called "Ice Cream Cone".

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