Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Entry Into Montana

From the Mountains to the Prairies -- Part 1

Note: We're changing the way we do blogging here. Instead of trip reports where every day is posted all at once, we'll be posting each day separately. This will result in more frequent updates in more reader-friendly sizes. And instead of sticking to just one trip, we'll be bouncing back and forth between something current and something older. We introduce the new format with the beginning of a trip from 2008 that went through Montana, Saskatchewan and North Dakota. Enjoy.

In September 2008 my brother Bruce and I headed to Big Sky country. We had an ambitious 17-day itinerary planned, with a best-case scenario taking us into Montana, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and North Dakota, and (if everything went perfectly) Wyoming and Nebraska might get included. We flew into Spokane, Washington, and made a bee-line for the first shot I wanted to get -- the view from the Bottle Bay Road overlook of Lake Pend O'Reille near Sandpoint, Idaho.

Day 1 -- Entry Into Montana

Photos illustrating this entry can be found here.

We land at the Spokane airport after a long flight from Philadelphia. The weather doesn't look too cooperative, but we soon have our rental car and are quickly out on the road -- a little too quickly, perhaps. I wind up coming up fast on a car in front of me and suddenly realize it's a police car. I slow down, but he slows down even more, pulls in behind me and turns on the lights. I pull over and he pulls up behind me. I was going something like 64 in a 50 zone. I explain to the officer that I had just picked up the rental car at the airport and wasn't used to it, as my car back home is much older and lets you know when you're going fast. The officer is satisfied with that explanation (surprisingly enough) and we're back on the road with just a warning. Phew!

Soon we're at the Bottle Bay Road overlook of Lake Pend O'Reille (pronounced "pond ou-ray") near Sandpoint, Idaho, the first stop I wanted to make. The weather is dull, but a westbound BNSF train appears on the bridge in fairly short order. We get the shot of the empty coal train, including a trailing DPU (distributed power unit). Since we're going to be passing by here on the way back (and the weather can't be any worse then, can it?) we decide to press on into Montana.

Following the ex-Great Northern into Montana, we soon overtake a train as we approach Troy. We're ahead of the train as Route 2 crosses the railroad, and we soon bag the eastbound mixed merchandiser with a BNSF "swoosh" unit on the point. Heading further east on Route 2, we encounter a westbound grain train led by a unit in the BNSF "Heritage II" scheme, which we photograph passing the Libby, Montana, Amtrak depot.

Backtracking towards Troy, we get another westbound grain train along the Kootenai River at Riverview. With Whitefish as our evening destination, we press on eastward, encountering a westbound in remote Wolf Prairie. We finish off several miles outside of Whitefish at Brimstone where a westbound stack train (behind a pair of Santa Fe warbonnets!) and an eastbound intermodal train are captured in the fading light (not that there was any light to start with on this gloomy day). Tired, we head into Whitefish, awaiting an early morning encounter with Amtrak's Empire Builder.

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