We had a very enjoyable time at Swan Lake and are very thankful for Craig and Shellie’s sharing their gorgeous home with all of us. Kevin and Ric worked so hard to make sure that everything was ready for us, that we had plenty of food to eat, comfortable accommodations, transportation, great friends, good weather and plenty of places to see and things to do. Many thanks for all your planning. We value your friendship and are grateful for all of your efforts.
We headed from the house at Swan Lake to the airport in Kalispell about 9:30am for our flight to Portland, Oregon and then onto San Diego. We arrived home at about 5:30pm.
Ric and Kevin have been taking folks who were interested in walking on neighborhood walks before the day’s activities begin. On this morning Mark went along for a five mile walk which took about 90 minutes. The walk took us past many beautiful homes, some made of logs, some modern and some traditional cabin styles. Mixed along the way were a few homes under construction and a few poorly maintained homes.
In the early afternoon we visited the town of Whitefish with a population of approximately 8,000 people. The native American tribe of Kootenai is believed to have inhabited this area for more than 14,000 years. In 1883 the first permanent immigrant settler by the name of John Morton built a cabin on the shore of Whitefish Lake. In the 1890’s logging of the timber was in full operation. In 1904 the Great Northern Railway was built through the area, bringing development of the town. Originally the town was known as Stumptown because of the number of trees that had been cleared and stumps were everywhere. Early residents of the town worked for the railroad or in the logging industry.
In recent years, Whitefish has been ranked as a top place to live and visit on many lists. In 2020 the New York Times listed Whitefish as one of the top 52 places to visit in the world. In 2021 Travel and Leisure magazine listed the town as one of the top 11 small towns in the U.S.
The main street of Whitefish is filled with galleries, winter clothing shops, touristy shops, bars and restaurants. At the edge of town sits the original railroad station saved from demolition by the local historical society. The historical society purchased the old station for $1 and then spent $1,000,000 to restore and update the building. A museum is housed in the rail station where you can find all sorts of memorabilia of the town and its early settlers.
The weather on this particular day was very hot with temperatures reaching 100 degrees so spending much time outside was not ideal. We meandered the main streets wandering in and out of the air-conditioned shops before meeting up with Todd and Larry where we stopped at a restaurant and pub for a drink.
After exploring the town for a couple of hours we ventured up the hill to the local Whitefish Ski Resort where there is a chairlift and many ski trails. There are many neighborhoods of condominiums and hotels used mostly for winter sports.
We drove along Flathead lake on our journey to Whitefish. Flathead Lake is nestled between the Mission Mountains on the east and the Salish Mountains on the west. This valley maintains a remarkably mild climate given that it is 400 miles from the Pacific Coast and how far north it is. The mild climate allows Cherry orchards to flourish on the eastern shore and vineyards on the western shore. They are also able to grow apples, plums, pears, vegetables, hay, honey and wheat. The lake is inhabited by the native bull trout, cutthroat trout, lake trout, yellow perch and lake whitefish.
The natural lake was dammed in 1930 by Kerr Dam at its outlet on Polson Bay, raising the water level of the lake by ten feet. The lake is approximately 30 miles in length, 16 miles wide, 370 feet deep and covers an area of 197 square miles. It is considered one of the cleanest lakes in the populated world for its size and type.
Back at the house it was Taco Tuesday and Kent, Mark and Carlos were responsible for the evening’s dinner. We prepared tacos, refried beans, chips, salsa, guacamole and fresh blueberries, raspberries Biscotti for dessert. Everyone seemed to finish their plates so I guess it was a success.
This morning we got up about 3:00am, had breakfast and by 4:00am headed out to the western entrance to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. The park is located on the Canada-United States border and encompasses over 1 million acres of land, 700 lakes, 200 waterfalls, 1,000 species of plants and hundreds of species of animals. The size of this protected land exceeds 16,000 square miles. The Going to the Sun Road is considered one of the most beautiful parts of the park and due to the high traffic, they require all cars to have a permit to enter between 6:00am and 8:00pm. We tried without success to score a permit to enter the park during normal hours, but were unsuccessful. In order to enter the park without a permit we needed to enter the park prior to 6:00am.
Archaeologists believe that Native Americans arrived in the area some 10,000 years ago. In 1895 the natives authorized the sale of 800,000 acres of the mountain area to the US government for $1.5 million. The natives were allowed to maintain usage of the land for hunting. By 1910 the Great Northern Railway had built a number of hotels and chalets throughout the park to promote tourism. By 1932, the automobile became popular and a 53-mile road called Going-to-the-Sun Road was completed, allowing more visitors to access the park. The park received more than 3.5 million visitors in 2019.
We arrived at the park about 5:00am and avoided needing a permit to enter the park. We spent the next eight hours exploring the 50-mile road that bisects the park from west to east. The road is a two-lane road that meanders through the forest passing lakes and water falls. The mountains soar to about 10,000 feet above sea level creating beautiful vistas. The road has many turn-outs and small parking lots for cars to get off the road and take photos. The park is remarkably clean with no litter or trash in sight. Walking trails and camping grounds are available along the route as well.
Inside the park we visited the historic Swiss chalet-style Lake McDonald Lodge built in 1913. The lodge is located on Lake McDonald. We saw several Big Horn Sheep, many waterfalls, creeks and rivers. Everyone found the park stunningly beautiful so if you get the opportunity to visit one day, you definitely should.
While no one was happy that we had to get up so early to visit, everyone agreed that the beauty of the park was worth the early morning. After our visit to the park we stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Columbia Falls. The menu was very unique in that they had everything from fish and chips, fried pickles and Asian rice bowls to hamburgers. We finally arrived back at the house about 3:00pm and all were exhausted from a long day. After naps we decided that instead of dining out for dinner we would let everyone forage for themselves from all of the leftovers in the refrigerator. Then it was early to bed.
We spent a quiet morning at the house relaxing, drinking coffee, having breakfast and engaged in conversation. Four of us (Mark included) took a 4.5-mile hike up one of the streets along Swan Lake admiring the beautiful homes, lush green lawns and abundant flower gardens. For a part of the country with a short warm season they grow some amazing colorful flowers.
By noon, five of us (Kent and Mark included) took the car and headed for the historic downtown of Kalispell about a 40-minute drive from the house. There we explored some of the shop windows on Main Street, dined at a local barbecue restaurant (Dickie’s) and drove through some of the charming tree-lined streets of town.
We stopped at the historic home of Charles and Lettie Conrad built in 1895. Charles was from Virginia and Lettie was from Nova Scotia, Canada. They met, fell in love and married in Fort Benton, Montana in 1881. They moved to the underdeveloped, but incredibly beautiful Flathead Valley in 1891. Charles Conrad was a fearless Montana pioneer and businessman who made his fortune as a Fort Benton Freighter and trader on the banks of the Missouri River. In 1892 Charles founded the town of Kalispell with his wife Lettie and they built their dream home. Construction of the 13,000 square foot mansion took three years and was completed in 1895. The home included modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity.
Charles Conrad died of diabetes shortly after the home was finished at only 52 years of age. After the death of his wife Lettie in 1923, the home would remain in the family until their youngest of three daughters donated it to the city in 1974 along with most of the family’s belongings.
The home is in extraordinary condition and has been beautifully restored. Alicia Conrad and her family were hoarders so every room of the mansion is fully furnished and the attic is loaded with collectibles from the family collection. It was interesting to see what money could buy at that time. From the indoor plumbing fixtures and lighting fixtures to the furniture, kitchen and laundry equipment, everywhere you look is a piece of history.
Back at the house Todd and Larry and Curtis and David prepared us all a delicious dinner of a salad, Chicken Marsala, broccoli and strawberry shortbread for dessert. We all went to bed early as we had plans to leave the house the next morning for Glacier National Park very early.
After breakfast we headed into the town of Bigfork where we spent about four hours exploring the heart of town. The main street is filled with charming shops, coffee shops, art galleries, restaurants and small inns. Everyone headed off in different directions popping in and out of the shops exploring town. Kent, Carlos and I had a coffee along the river and lunch at a local café before heading back to the house.
The town of Bigfork, Montana is located at the northern end of Flathead Lake and has a population of about 4,500 inhabitants. The name of the town comes from the fact that the Flathead River and Swan River flow into Flathead Lake here, creating a big fork.
Bigfork was founded by Everit L. Sliter who fell in love with the area immediately when he arrived for a hunting and fishing trip in 1889. Sliter relocated his family from Michigan and purchased 140 acres where he planted one of the largest orchards in the valley. He would build the first hotel rooms in the area as well as a post office. His vision laid the groundwork for the future development of the town. Today you can still visit some of the historic places from the past like Eva Gates Preserves founded in 1949, the Bigfork Inn (first opened as a hotel in 1910) and the 1911 steel bridge over the Swan River.
In the afternoon we took a boat ride on Swan Lake where the home that we are staying at is located. Swan Lake is located in the Flathead National Forest and borders the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. The lake is about ten miles in length and a mile wide. There are many beautiful homes along the lake’s perimeter nestled amongst the lush green pine trees.
In the evening we ordered some pizzas from town and brought them back to the house for dinner. After dinner we played a game called Catch Phrase and had a good time with that.
This morning we were treated to a delicious homemade deep-dish quiche of ham, broccoli, artichoke hearts and more. There was also a homemade coffeecake with huckleberries, picked locally.
Mid-morning, we headed out to the National Bison Range, a nature reserve on the Flathead Indian Reservation established for the conservation of the American bison. It is believed that at one time 30 million bison roamed the plains of North America. Commercial hunting and incentivized slaughter dropped the wild population to fewer than 100 by the end of the 19th-Century.
The National Bison Range was established by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1908. This was the first time Congress appropriated tax dollars specifically for the conservation of wildlife. The American Bison Society purchased the original herd of 40 bison and released them into the refuge in 1909. Today the size of the herd is believed to be between 350 and 500 bison. The wildlife refuge was established in 1908 and consists of over 18,000 acres of land. In addition to the bison, the refuge is home to coyote, black bear, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, mountain cottontail, Columbian ground squirrel, muskrat, yellow-pine chipmunk, badger and cougar. More than 200 species of birds have also been spotted here.
We split up into three cars for our ride to the Bison Range and it took about 90 minutes. The drive to the Bison Range is very picturesque along lakes and bright yellow fields of Canola. The other crop that we saw growing all over is a type of wheat or grain. When we arrived at the visitor center we learned that there was a two-hour loop that you could drive through the range. We decided to stop at the picnic area for a light lunch of sandwiches (made by Ric and Kevin), chips and fruit before starting out on the drive through the park.
The drive through the Bison Range was absolutely gorgeous. The vistas from every vantage point were absolutely beautiful. The majestic clean hillsides are covered with a vast variety of flora with a wide range of colors and textures. From grasses to wildflowers and shrubs to the pine trees, they were all complimented by a beautiful blue sky scattered with white puffy clouds. As we continued along the drive we came across many bison grazing on the grass or napping in a field. It is so wonderful to be able to see them roaming the countryside at leisure. We also spotted one elk crossing the river.
Dinner this evening was prepared by Kevin, Ric, Gregg and Mike. They prepared a bruschetta appetizer, Cesare salad, meatballs with spaghetti squash, and pineapple upside-down cake.
We departed San Diego on an early morning flight to Seattle, Washington, where we transferred to a flight to our final destination: Kalispell, Montana. This is our first trip out of San Diego since the worldwide Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic hit the world in early 2020. We are celebrating the 60th birthday of our dear friend Kevin McGrew and his close friend Todd Foushee, who is also turning 60.
Once we arrived in Kalispell we were transported to the home of Craig and Shellie Hovda, Kevin’s brother in-law and sister in-law. Their home is located on Swan Lake near the town of Bigfork in Northwest Montana. The lake is over 3,200 acres in size and sits at an elevation of about 3,100 feet, with an average depth of 133 feet.
Their home is beautifully situated among the pine trees with panoramic views overlooking Swan lake. A vast kitchen with a giant island is the heart of the home. Views of the lake abound from nearly every room. The home is modern, yet rustic, with rough sawn wood floors, wood beams, stone countertops, stainless-steel appliances and every modern convenience. A large bar with refrigerator and beer keg provides all the liquid refreshments needed for a relaxing, yet festive vacation.
The afternoon included drinks and conversations on the massive covered deck overlooking the gorgeous lake with friends old and new. The weather was warm, although light rain and a thunderstorm prevented us from taking a tour of the lake by boat.
Craig and Shellie prepared a delicious dinner of pea salad, elk stroganoff and green beans. It was my first-time having elk and it was not all that different from beef stroganoff. It did not have a strong gamey taste as you might expect, was very lean and quite tasty. In celebration of Kevin, Todd and Shellie’s birthdays, Craig had prepared a three-layer carrot cake that was so delicious. Many a person has proposed many an offer in exchange for that recipe.