Big Sky Tour

This Big Sky Tour has been dedicated to Mary-Douglass Stovall, beloved member of the Obsidians and planner of this bus trip, from which she did not return. She suffered a heart attack at Logan Pass and was taken by Ambulance from Lake McDonald to the hospital in Whitefish. Her sister, Winnie Wachtel, was with her.

September 4-16, 1980

Twenty-eight enthusiastic, adventurous Obsidians and friends boarded the O’Connell bus, “Kathleen,” on Thursday morning, Sept. 4, and began their tour to the Big Sky Country. The first stop at Sisters State Park was the beginning of innumerable “treats” — apples, tomatoes, zucchini bread, nuts, candy, crackers and cheese — that continued until the end of the trip. We traveled Highway 20 thru Bend and Burns as the quickest route to Boise where we spent the night at the Red Lion Inn on the Boise River. It was deluxe, but so large and complex that we needed map and compass to find our rooms or the coffee shop. By noon the next day we were at Craters of the Moon National Monument Visitor Center. After lunch we toured the seven mile circle and saw fascinating volcanic formations. Leaves on the trees were changing to their Fall colors and we enjoyed them throughout the trip. The brilliant yellow quaking aspen were particularly beautiful.

We continued on to Jackson, Wyoming, the southern entrance to Grand Teton National Park, where we spent two nights at the Executive Inn. On Saturday we had a delightful 2 hour float trip on the Snake River from Deadman’s Bar to Moose Landing. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were marvelous views of the Tetons. We rode in two rubber rafts with 14 passengers and boatman in each. As we moved along the river, the boatmen pointed out various geological features, and provided information about the history of the area and its flora and fauna. We saw beaver lodges, eagle and osprey nests, raven, Canada geese, ducks, and even an antelope on top of the moraine.

In the afternoon there was a short bus trip to Teton Village for the aerial tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, from which we had spectacular views of the Grand Teton Range and the Jackson Hole Valley.

Sunday we stopped in Moose at Perk Headquarters Visitor Center to see the Trade museum (exploration for beaver pelts) and at Church of the Transfiguration (Episcopal church built in 1925). We enjoyed the wonderful and inspiring view of the Teton Range through the window above the altar.

At Colter Bay Visitor Center, near Jackson Lake, the Museum featured the outstanding David T. Vernon collection of native American arts from the northern Plains and western Woodlands. Then a quick look at Jenny Lake before continuing north to West Thumb, the southern entrance to Yellowstone national Park — our nation’s first national park, established in 1872. We were housed in cabins near Old Faithful Lodge. It rained, but Old Faithful performed on schedule, the Visitor Center was interesting, and we found the huge lobby of Old Faithful Inn a great place to relax.

On Monday, Kelvin, park ranger naturalist, was our guide for the day. We viewed scenic and thermal attractions in the Upper Geyser Basin, along the Firehole river, Fountain Paint Pot Nature Trail, Norris Geyser Basin where Echinus Geyser erupted with great bursts of steam and water, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River with stops to view the Upper and Lower Falls. In, Hayden Valley he showed us moose, bison, elk, sandhill cranes, Canada Goose, etc., and led us along the Mud Volcano Trail, before leaving us at Yellowstone Lake Hotel.

Next morning, we visited Fishing Bridge, then motored north through Hayden valley where bison were grazing, stopped for a short hike to Tower Fall and the palisades. Then we traveled east through the Lamar Valley, Silver Gate (northeast entrance to Yellowstone), Cooke City and up the Beartooth Scenic Highway (US 212) that starts at an altitude of 5,650' and in a few miles rises by many switchbacks to 10,942'. Lack of time prevented us from reaching Red Lodge; however, we saw the Bear Tooth, and the view from the west summit of Beartooth Pass was breathtaking. We enjoyed watching a pika bask in the sunshine and prepare his winter food supply.

Arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs in the late afternoon. The Museum offered a general survey of the natural and human history of the park. Outstanding were the water colors made by Thomas Moran in the 1870’s and the photographs taken by William Jackson. Energetic ones hiked a short distance to view some of Mammoth Hot Springs thermal phenomena as Liberty Cap, Opal Terrace and Minerva Spring that are busily depositing a form of limestone known as travertine. The next morning it was raining, so the bus stopped at Mammoth’s hot springs and terraces, at Gibbon Falls, and at Madison museum (west entrance) for sight-seeing.

Our Montana experts, Virginia DeMers and her sister, Marian Hall, provided interesting information about their native state and its citizens. Lunch destination on Wednesday was Chet Huntley’s Big Sky Lodge, just a few miles from the main highway, but it turned out to be an awesome experience, as the mountain road was under construction and rain had caused a slick muddy layer on the roadbed. There was no place to turn around, so we “slithered” up the mountain and found a beautiful resort. On the return trip, a road grader preceeded us down the road and removed enough mud to give the bus traction. A stop was made at Three River Junction where the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers join to head the Missouri River. We overnighted at Jorgenson’s Holiday Motel in Helena.

On the 8th day, our first stop was at the remarkable Giant Springs on the south bank of the Missouri River, near Great Falls. They are among the largest fresh water springs in the world, with a daily flow of 388,800,000 gallons and a constant 52° temperature.

Then north to Selby and west to Glacier National Park. At East Glacier we visited the Glacier Park Hotel, built in 1913, with its spectacular “forest lobby” patterned, upon the order of Louis W. Hill, after the Forestry Building in Portland, Oregon — built for the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905. The immense timbers were brought in by rail from Oregon and Washington. Then we continued to Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake, our home for the next three nights. This beautiful building was known as the “showplace of the Rockies” when it opened for business on July 4, 1915.

By morning clouds hid the mountains, but the energetic hiked or walked the nature trail around Swiftcurrent Lake. In the afternoon we motored north to Waterton Town site and boarded the launch “International” for a two hour cruise on Waterton Lake. At its southern end the boat docked long enough for passengers to hike a short distance to Goat Haunt Visitor Center (in the United States) that commemorates the establishment of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Then to the Prince of Wales Hotel (opened July 25, 1927) for a delicious dinner.

The next day did not deter the joggers or a dozen rugged hikers who made a short trip to Swiftcurrent Falls. The highlight of the afternoon was an indoor Obsidian campfire, with Ray Cavagnaro as Master of Ceremonies. Most participants wore “bear bells”, guaranteed to warn bears of our approach. Special songs were composed and sung by our talented members. After dinner we attended the naturalist program and saw a remarkable movie on Rocky Mountain Sheep.

On Day 11, two special red park busses, built by White International in 1937 (new motors last year) took 24 of us (others rode in “Kathleen” around the park) for the trip over the Continental Divide via Going-to-the-Sun Highway. The drivers pointed out interesting geologic features, trees, and flowers. The fog lifted at Logan Pass and the mountains were glorious. We reached Lake McDonald at noon and were assigned cabins overlooking the lake. On this beautiful warm Indian summer day we relaxed, walked or took a ride on the lake in the launch “DeSmet” (named for missionary Father Peter DeSmet). Early next morning we were awakened by wind and rain. Snow was reported in the mountains, so we headed south through Kalispell and along Flathead Lake to I-90, then west ever Lookout Pass, across Idaho and southeast Washington to Pasco where we stayed at the Red Lion Inn.

On September 16 we were saddened to learn Mary-Douglass had “left us.” From Pasco we traveled along the north bank of the Columbia River, with stops at Stonehenge, and Maryhill State Park, before crossing into Oregon at Biggs. We arrived in Eugene at 6 p.m. after traveling 2955 miles by bus during 13 memorable days.

Ray Cavagnaro was our capable and invaluable tour escort, “Big John” O’Connell, our bus driver, Jennelle Moorhead and Frances Newsom were co-leaders. Tour members were: Blanche Bailey, Rita Baxter, Margaret Block, Buck Carter, Virginia DeMers, Ella Douda, Marian Hall, Vera Heidenreich, Jane Hilt, Virginia Horton, Jean Maxwell, Jennelle Moorhead, Vern Nelson, Frances Newsom, Lawrence Pagter, Virginia Pagter, Janice Pattison, Mell Pattison, Frank Riemer, Sue Riemer, Alford Smith, Lila Smith, Myrtle Smith, Grace Smith, Mary-Douglass Stovall, Elinor Thomas, Winnie Wachtel and Helen Weiser.

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