Saturday, August 27, 2016

Tools of the Trade

We learned a lot about a really special job that uses these tools.

Any ideas what the job is?

How about now?

If that's not enough information, this should help.

All of these are tools used by smoke jumpers. We toured the Smokejumpers Center in Missoula, Montana, and were surprised to learn that smoke jumpers are really good at sewing. They make their own jump suits and parachutes and backpacks. In fact, our tour guide Molly, who is married to a smoke jumper, says she doesn't know anything about sewing. She sends her sewing projects to work with her husband.

Here are the clothes that smoke jumpers wear.

The sky was hazy with smoke as we pulled into the smoke jumpers facility. The smoke was from the first wildfire near Missoula this year.

We learned a lot about the training of smoke jumpers. They must weight at least 120 pounds and no more than 200. Training for new jumpers lasts 5 weeks and includes 20 jumps from the airplane. All candidates are already trained firefighters. There are 300 candidates for the 5 training positions each year. Not everyone successfully completes the training. We learned that 65 smoke jumpers are assigned to the Missoula facility, including 4 women.  And nationally, their are 20,000 wild land fire fighters but only 400 smoke jumpers.

Each year smoke jumpers must pass a physical fitness test. The requirements are:

Run 1.5 miles in 11:00 minutes or less.
7 pull-ups.
45 sit-ups.
25 push-ups.
Pack 110 pounds on level terrain in 90 minutes or less.

Smoke jumpers are expected to be able to be fully dressed to jump into a fire area within 2 minutes of a siren calling them to duty. Pilots of the planes taking them to the fire are expected to take no more than 10 minutes from the siren to when the plane is taxiing down the runway with smoke jumpers on board. There is a dormitory right next to the airport runway.

Some, but not all, smoke jumpers are certified parachute packers. Here Molly is standing in front of the shelves of packed parachutes. The jumpers pull together their own supplies, including parachutes and have everything ready to go at their locker when they are on call.

After every assignment, the firefights pick up their parachute from the landing zone--often retrieving it from a tree where they landed--and bring it back to the base. If is carefully examined to make sure it is not damaged before it is repacked. The fire fighters sew on patches where damage has occurred. Molly showed us a patch on this parachute.

After the smoke jumpers are dropped to the fire from about 3000 feet, a second pass by the plane drops cargo for the firefighters, including tools, water and food. In front of the food you see a box of supplies with a parachute attached on the top. Someone in the plane attaches a strap on the parachute to a line, pulls hard on the strap and pushes the box out the door. The parachute opens and the box descends safely, hopefully.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

More Beautiful Country

As we drove south from the Glacier National Park area to Missoula, we passed through more of the beautiful Montana landscape. There were yellow grasslands, golden wheat fields, green hay fields and mountains.

And then there were views of massive Flathead Lake which is 27.3 miles long and up to 15.5 miles wide. This is what Wikipedia says about the lake.

For much of the trip we were crossing the Flathead Indian Reservation and some of the signs included their language.

We passed through a bison range.

There was a wildlife crossing bridge.

And a wildlife protection area with ponds for birds.

With slightly more than 147,000 square miles, Montana is the 4th largest state in the country and slightly larger than the country of Japan. Long drives are involved in exploring the state but there is so much beauty it's worth it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hiking in Glacier National Park

We really wanted to hike in Glacier, but it isn't an entirely comfortable activity. There is lots of bear activity in the area. This is the first time we have seen a sign suggesting bear spray--at the trail head! Taking the hint, we bought a can of bear spray and hiked on the John's Lake trail that begins near the McDonald Lake Lodge. We parked at the Apgar Visitor Center and took the park tram to the lodge. Many others also got off the tram there.

It felt like we were hiking in a rain forest, everything was so green. And dark.

As you can tell if you look closely at the above photo, the trail is very muddy. It goes right by the horse rental facility and is used daily for trail rides. That is probably the activity that brought so many people to the tram stop.

We enjoyed our 4 to 5 mile hike, especially since we didn't see any bears. Would you believe we even saw a sign offering to rent bear spray? They must feel the odds are pretty good the renter won't have to use it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Huckleberry Days

What are huckleberries, you ask? Or at least, we did. They look and taste a lot like blueberries and they grow wild in the area around Whitefish, Montana. That wasn't far from where we were staying and we haven't been to a small town festival for quite a while, so we decided to take a look at the Huckleberry Days Art Festival on Saturday.

There were lots of artist's tents.

This pottery was probably inspired by huckleberries. I really like it.

This man turns incredible natural-edged bowls. We talked to him quite a while about how he finishes them. They have such a rich clear look.

Of course, there were clothes.

This woman not only wears an incredible costume, she makes great folk art figures.

There were activities for children, like this climbing pole.

We had good barbecue for lunch.

The festival was held in Depot Park in downtown Whitefish. This Great Northern diesel engine was on a track right behind the BBQ stand.

To finish our day's exercise we walked around the downtown area, where we saw this clock tower.

We also walked on the path by a creek that wanders through the town. It was very pretty.

We planned to buy a huckleberry pie on our way back the the RV park. But we weren't willing to pay $30 for one 8-inch pie, or even $5 a slice. A neighbor in the park told us sometimes the berries sell for $40 a pint so locals carefully protect the location where they find them growing wild. I guess the cost of the pie makes sense but we weren't willing to pay it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Stunning, Incredible, Spectacular

That is all we had to say after driving the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. And we are from Colorado and very familiar with Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Maybe it is because this is new and different scenery, I don't know. But it is wonderful.

It had been 23 years since our first visit to Glacier. That time we didn't drive this road. So it was number one on our agenda for this visit. Here in West Glacier where we are staying, the elevation is 3220 and the highest peak, Heaven's Peak, is 8987 ft. Grand Lake, Colorado, at the west entrance to Rocky Mountain NP is 8369 and 12,183 ft. But the Glacier mountains are certainly beautiful, even if they aren't as high.

The Going to the Sun road was built in the 1930s by the CCC--Civilian Conservation Corps.

As the name of Glacier suggests, there are glaciers and snow fields that produce a lot of waterfalls.

The mountains are beautiful.

The crowds were large and the parking crowded at the view points. And in places the road was very narrow.

There are two large lakes in McDonald and St. Mary. This is a view of McDonald. The water in the lakes and rivers is incredibly clear.  Artist Charles M. Russell and his wife built a cabin on Lake McDonald, called Bull Head Lodge, where many visiting artists spent time painting the beauties of Glacier National Park.

This eye-catching island is in the middle of St. Mary's Lake.

This is the only wildlife we saw.

These open-topped buses are used for tours of the park along the Going to the Sun road.

These lights hang in the lobby of the Lake McDonald Lodge, built in 1913.

Glacier on the northern edge of Montana and just across the border in Canada is Waterton Lakes National Park.  The two parks are an International Peace Park World Heritage Site.   You can read about our visit to Waterton Lakes in 2012 here.