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July 25, 1999

"Skydive Lost Prairie"

Having stayed up until midnight the night before, John and I slept in until seven-thirty the next morning. Being morning people, it was unusual for us to sleep in so late, but since we didn't have anywhere to be at any particular time (i.e. work), it was nice to be able to do so at least once, just as long as we didn't make a habit of it!

We awoke to another cold, gray and dreary morning. The skies were clouded over, and it looked as though they would open up at any moment and rain would pour out. "I hope it doesn't stay like this," John remarked, "because I would really like to make at least one jump today."

The plan for the day was to do laundry. Then, in the afternoon, we would drive to Skydive Lost Prairie, in Marion. That was the first weekend of the Lost Prairie Boogie, which is the oldest and one of the largest skydiving boogies. We could expect to see Larry Hill (the owner of Skydive Arizona) at the boogie, as well as Smiley George and other locals from Eloy. Since John knew so many people there, he was hoping to borrow someone's gear so that he could make a jump or two while we were there. He even came prepared with his jumpsuit, his log book, his goggles, and his USPA card. However, even if the weather turned bad and he couldn't jump there, he at least wanted to show me the drop zone and take me into the bar, where they have Skydiver Blond Ale on tap.

Before we could go anywhere, we had to do some laundry so that we would have clean clothes to wear on the way home. We took our dirty clothes to a Laundromat in West Glacier. Then, while they were washing, we walked over to the Alberta Visitor's Center to look at the exhibits. The visitor's center was dedicated to points of interest in Alberta, including Waterton Lakes, Jasper and Banff National Parks and the city of Calgary, where the 1988 Winter Olympics were held. What particularly interested me was Banff National Park, where visitors can relax in the hot springs found there. John and I discussed the possibility of flying to Calgary one day and spending a week visiting all of the parks there. Maybe one day we'll get to do that.

While our laundry was in the dryer, we went for a short hike. This hike was one that we were required to do while we were there simply because of the name of the trail: the Johns Lake Trail. The trailhead for this hike was located just past Lake McDonald Lodge, along the Going to the Sun Road, about twelve miles from West Glacier. It isn't difficult to find. The trailhead is clearly marked with a sign that says "Johns Lake" - John, of course, had to have his picture taken next to the sign, because that was his lake!
Hiking to John's Lake
The Johns Lake Trail - a half-mile long trail that climbs steadily for about the first quarter of a mile - winds through a beautiful forest and ends at the lake, which is a small body of water no bigger than Potato Lake on the Mogollon Rim. It is almost completely encircled by trees, which made it difficult for us to get a good view of the lake. Nonetheless, I did get a picture of John standing next to his lake. We also asked a nice couple if they wouldn't mind taking a picture of us together before we started hiking back to the car.

Once our laundry was done and folded, we returned to the cabin and prepared for our two-hour trip to Marion. We packed the ice chest with sodas and beer, and John put all of his skydiving gear into the car - the skies were beginning to clear a little bit, so it looked as though he was going to be able to make a jump after all. By the time we left, some sunlight broke through the clouds to warm us up a bit, so it looked like we would have a beautiful day.
John's Lake
The trip to Skydive Lost Prairie took us about two and a half hours, including the one stop we made in Kalispell to get lunch. To get there, we took US Highway 2 south through Kalispell. Then, we followed the same highway west until we reached Marion. Near MacGregor Lake, we turned right onto Lost Prairie Road - a dirt road - and followed that for several miles until we reached a vast prairie. From there, we followed the signs to the drop zone and parked next to the bar.

Things had changed there since John was there in 1996. Since then, they had added a hangar, and they had moved the campground to another site, across the road from the landing area. But all of the other important landmarks were still there, including the rustic bar where all of the skydivers go to party after a long day of jumping. Directly across the road from the bar a lodgepole fence enclosed a large section of the prairie for a landing area, and the runway was right in front of the fence. Between the hangar and Manifest, there were packing tents set up - and Reggie from Eloy was there to pack rigs - and to the left of the packing area were two Skydive Arizona planes: the Super Otter and the Skyvan.

After parking the car, we walked over to the packing area and found Larry Hill, who congratulated us on our recent nuptials and asked John if he was jumping. "I don't know yet," John replied, looking up at the sky. The clouds were beginning to gather again, so it didn't look promising "I might, if I can borrow some gear."

He was hoping to find Smiley George so that he could borrow his rig and use it to make a jump, but we couldn't find him right away, so we went into Manifest to buy boogie T-shirts. We bought three of them - one for himself, one for me, and one as a souvenir for his father. While we were there, John asked Manifest if he would have to pay the full boogie fee just to make one jump - if so, that would be one expensive jump! They told him no, that they would prorate his boogie fee since he would only be there for one day. "Well, let me see if I can borrow some gear," he told them. "I'll be back."

While we were wandering around, socializing with people John knew, the weather conditions worsened - the clouds were at about 4,000 feet -- so the planes were put on a weather hold. At about the same time, we saw a familiar face arrive - it was John's friend Star, who had told him that she wouldn't be able to make it to Lost Prairie because she had to work. We chatted with her for a while, told her about the wedding and our honeymoon. Then, she wandered off to socialize.

Soon, Manifest announced that they would start flying Cessna loads, four skydivers to a plane, to 3,000 feet. At that point, John announced that he wasn't going to jump that day. He just couldn't see paying for the boogie fee and the jump ticket when he couldn't jump from a higher altitude. That meant that it was time to start drinking, so we walked over to the bar, ordered two Skydiver Blond Ales, and watched the Cessna take off.

I was impressed by the Skydiver Blond Ale, which is brewed by Lang Creek Breweries out of Marion, MT. We wanted to bring some bottles of it home with us, but the only place to get it was at the brewery itself, or so we were told. The bartender also suggested that we try looking at the Albertson's in Kalispell, but we didn't find it there, either. (The ale, however, is not currently being bottled by Lang Breweries. I e-mailed them after we returned to see if I could purchase a case for John for his birthday. One of the head honchos of the company wrote back to tell me that I wouldn't be able to do so; that was one of the reasons he gave.)

Upon leaving the bar, we finally found Smiley George. He told us that despite the weather they had been having, he still managed to make a few jumps that weekend, including one tandem - he had been asked to play student for a tandem master, so it was an opportunity for a free jump. He then inquired about our honeymoon, so we told him all about our adventures in the wilderness and on the Flathead River. Then, we announced that it was time to go, because, as John always says, "The Drop Zone is a boring place if you're not jumping." We bid Smiley George good-bye then left.

During our return trip to Glacier Park, we decided to take a different route, one that would take us through Whitefish in hopes that we could find a nice place to have dinner, since it was the last night of our honeymoon. My boss had recommended a place in Whitefish, but I couldn't remember the name of the restaurant! We ended up settling for something inside the park. I suggested that we try Lake McDonald Lodge, which turned out to be a good choice. The restaurant inside of the lodge had excellent service and delicious food. Our server even gave us a free dessert because it was our honeymoon.

We spent our last night in Glacier packing our luggage and playing card games until sometime after midnight, at which time we finally fell asleep.

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