The actual driving part of our trip from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to Missoula, Montana was pretty, with rolling hills covered in skinny, tall pine trees and winding rivers that constantly crossed under the highway, but the fun parts were what Dad and Calum call ‘finds’, interesting places off the highways that seem like they’d be cool to check out.

The first of these was Silver Mountain, ski resort in winter, mountain biking and hiking spot in summer. It boasted the longest gondola ride in the world and wasn’t too much of a detour, so of course we had to check it out. We changed into sneakers, then bought tickets from the nice woman behind the little counter.

The gondola itself was a small, rectangular carriage with Plexiglas windows, two cushioned seats, and a thinly carpeted floor. According to the flyer, it ran for three and a half miles. The journey itself was certainly amazing. We were floating over pine-covered mountains, and even dipped down to pass over a small town sitting in a tiny valley. The ride was hot, with no air conditioning and the four of us in the little cabin, but it was worth it.

We got off at the other side after only about fifteen minutes. The woman who we bought our tickets from had recommended the chairlifts, so we found those. We split into pairs, me with Mom and Calum with Dad. It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, for several reasons.

1. Your feet were dangling over a good twenty feet of open space below you.

2. You had to hop on the bench thing while it was still moving.

3. Ditto getting off at the other side.

I did it anyways, of course, and it was actually really fun. The first of the two chair lifts was pretty short, but it was fun. It was breezier than the gondola, and you could see better.

We got off at the bottom, and got onto another one right next to it. This one was longer, so we had more time to look around. Some parts were so steep, the tree stumps were growing horizontally out of the ground, then made a 90 degree bend so the tree trunks themselves were standing vertically. They were weird trees, very tall but super skinny. Some of them looked like they had thick chunks of hair hanging off of them. Mom and I thought that it was some sort of disease killing them, but then we realized that they were dead branches. Dad through some sort of vine might be choking the trees, but he wasn’t sure.

I was a lot of fun talking to the people coming down the other side. I said hi to all of them, got a wave from two cute little boys, and helped a little girl and her mom remember the end of ‘On Top of Spaghetti.’ Not bad for being suspended up off the ground in a little metal bench!

When we got to the top of that chairlift, we got off and walked up a small dirt path to a hut on the very top of Silver Mountain. It was beautiful up there, with butterflies landing delicately on the wildflowers and tree covered mountains fading into blue on the horizon.

In the hut we met a very nice old man named Phil. He was a retired forest fire spotter, and he explained to us what the hut was. It was a reconstruction of one of the huts that fire spotters had lived in. Their job had been to keep an eye out for forest fires, use an ancient device in the middle of the hut to pinpoint their precise location, and report them in. It was fascinating, actually.

We went back down the chairlifts, then got slushies from a restaurant before riding the chairlifts back down to the car.

The second place we stopped at was a mine tour. We parked the car, then waited in a small shop for a trolley to take us to the mine,

The trolley was cute, three wooden benches facing outwards, and the driver’s seat up front. We sat on the end, facing backwards. It was all open, no windows or anything, which was cool.

It’s wasn’t too far to the mine, and we learned about the different mines nearby and the two films shot in the town while we rode.

We stopped outside the mine entrance, a big square leading into a tunnel. Peering in, we were met with a blast of cool air. Our guide’s name was Lenny. Lenny was a retired miner, who explained that the mine we were at was a failed mine. They didn’t find any minerals there, so they used it to train high school kids. He also explained the different types of miners, how it was very hot down in working mines, how they would work for about six hours straight with no lunch, but with a gallon of water, and how most would work for years before they got their part of the tunnel mined out.

When we went inside the mine, he demonstrated a coring machine, rock pushing machine, and scooping/carrying machine. He seemed to make a point of embarrassing me along the way, but I am so used to the…interesting senses of humor my family has that I was at least partially immune.

One interesting thing was, he was making a speech on how the machines were very loud, so miners lost their hearing, and he asked if everybody understood. This grumpy-looking old woman who had scowled the entire time raised one hand and asked, ‘What?’ like she couldn’t hear him, then cackled. It was definitely interesting.

Other than that, the drive was relatively cool. Calum and I watched X-Men 2, which was cool, and we were there before we knew it!


NOTE: Iona’s posts appear courtesy of Broccoli