It wasn’t until we reached the Lake Superior shoreline that the wildfire smoke we seemingly brought with us, as my family and I drove along U.S. Highway 2 from Kalispell some 1,200 miles eastward in our small camper van, finally dissipated. As we prepped for another night tucked in our van, the sunset still pulsed maroon but the smoke’s intensity was nowhere nearly as intense as it had been two days before along Montana’s Hi-Line, obscuring all of Glacier National Park, the Rocky Mountain Front, and the Sweet Grass Hills. This August is the right time for a summer road trip back to my childhood home in Michigan.
Although the smoke was lessening, we still had 600 miles left to drive to reach my family’s cottage in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While the route on the map makes the distance seem manageable, it’s a good 1,800 miles between Montana and Michigan and we took the northern route along U.S. 2 the entire time, save a detour to explore some campgrounds off route. With two young kids and our young pup, we didn’t push for long drive times and found lunch spots at local playgrounds as we did in wind-whipped Shelby.
Fort Peck was our destination for the first night, and we had a reservation at the state park’s downriver site. After what’s been an unrelenting tourist season in the Flathead Valley, it was a marvel to be a tourist in our own state, although truthfully northeastern Montana seems like an entirely different state compared to home. It was hot. Just as hot as Kalispell. So while the geography felt foreign, the temperature didn’t. The state park’s downriver site provided some trees for shade and when the temps started to make a slight decline, we wandered on the paths below the dam and took in the expanse of the Missouri River at dusk.
The next morning as we crossed into North Dakota, I said a quiet goodbye to Montana, hoping for rain, cooler temperatures, and less smoke to clog those big skies. We’ll be on the road for a good bit until we venture home before my son starts kindergarten. It’s a bit of a relief to escape the threat of flames for the squalls on Lake Huron. Plus, at our cottage my grandmother, aged 92, waits for us to fill the cabin with the noise of childhood and I’m grateful to have this summer to introduce my daughter to the island that shaped me into the person that I am, a woman with a deep love for mountains and lakes.
Maggie Doherty is the owner of Kalispell Brewing Company on Main Street.
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