Glacial hikes, wild fires, and the clementine criminals
As Joy and I set off for three weeks across the US and Canada in July 2015, our first major road trip, we had no clue. We didn’t know what surprises awaited us over the course of the adventure. There was nothing we could have done to prepare more than we had.
Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, and Wall Drug were the definite highlights of South Dakota.
The first main stop, Yellowstone National Park, is one of the most visited parks in the US. It’s diverse landscapes, geothermal activity, and easy to spot large animals make it the Serengeti of North America. There were numerous buffalo jams when the herd in the Roosevelt valley were crossing the road at sunset one evening.
Hiking was one of the main activities throughout the trip. 5-12 miles of hiking per day was the norm.
While we spent most nights camping in drive in campsites, we were able to enjoy solitude of backcountry sites in Yellowstone as well. Away from the masses, quiet rises as the sun sets by the camp fire. The beauty of nature all around.
After 4 days in Yellowstone, our westward journey continued. We would reach the towering Rockies of Glacier National Park, in northern Montana.
On arrival in Glacier NP, in the early morning, we felt so fortunate to find an on arrival campsite at the Rising Sun campground, which is on the main Going to the Sun Road. Considered one of the most beautiful roads in the US, it runs East-West through the park, up across the Continental Divide, and then cuts South to the SW side of the park.
After hiking the Continental Divide trail, and a dinner at Lake McDonald Lodge, we began the sunset drive back to our campground on the East side of the park. We were stopped by a Ranger at Logan Pass on the Divide, who pointed out smoke rising from a forest fire to the East, in the area of our campsite. We soon learned that a massive forest fire started at a back country site near our campground around 1pm that day. It had grown to more than 1,000 acres in the first day. Although we had our car and most things with us, our tent was down in the valley in the Rising Sun campground. The Ranger said we probably wouldn’t be seeing our tent again! They’d need to prioritize evacuating hikers and vehicles, a little tent was not at the top of the list.
After two nights of sleeping in the car, and two days of day hikes instead of back country hikes we’d planned (which would have required a tent), we were lucky to call the Ranger station for a status update 30 minutes before they were going to let campers back to the Rising Sun campground. We were just down the road, and were able to get in with a ranger escort to retrieve the tent. And it was still there, with ash all around, and tree tops bursting into flames within 500m of the campground!
We were fortunate to rescue the tent, and continue on to another day of hiking in Glacier NP, before heading north for Canada.
We ended the road trip in Banff for a 4 day conference with amazing young leaders who are part of Global Shapers Community from across North America.
And so, with the end of camping and the conference, we thought we had come to the end of unexpected adventures. We hadn’t anticipated the customs office at the North Portal border crossing from Canada to the US. After 14 hours of driving from Calgary to ND, we were invited into the customs office to be interrogated. Yay! They proceeded to interview Joy and me separately and search our vehicle. Although we hadn’t recalled having any fruit or vegetables after being on the road trip for 3 weeks, it turned out there were 3 old clementine oranges in a paper bag buried in the trunk of the car, which had been purchased in the US before the trip began. After being rudely accused of deceiving customs, and violating US agricultural regulations, we were slapped with a $300 fine for the 3 clementines, after which we coined ourselves the international clementine criminals! Ugh, not a great welcome home to our country.
But, still, it was a fun and adventurous trip, full of beautiful landscapes, impressive wildlife, and great camping. We can’t wait for the next adventure to begin!