Halfway from Missoula to the Holland Lake Lodge, a piece of paradise framed by the Swan Range and Mission Mountains near Condon, it occurs to me that this will be the last time I'll be on a trip with my non-teenager. Natalie turns 13 this fall. It also occurs to me that she'll probably hate the entire weekend, since it involves two days spent almost entirely in the outdoors doing things like the "h" word—hiking.
Try as I have to get her to love being outside, Natalie—a cheerful redhead blessed with great balance and natural athletic ability—would really rather create anime on a computer than put a toe outside (and yes, I've done everything to lure her out, from camping with her to yanking the cord on electronics and consulting books about "nature deficit disorder," which only make me feel guiltier). Mention hiking and she visibly shrivels, as if I've just lobbed a giant spider into her lap.
Be that as it may, we're going to spend the weekend in a place where cell phone coverage is spotty, the cabins are rustic, and nothing virtual appears on the menu. Whatever happens, we'll be floating on it, touching it, tramping on it, basking in it, or (for something I've rarely experienced at a backwoods outpost) savoring how good it tastes.
"Having fun yet?" I ask Nat and my partner Don, as we drive through Seeley Lake to the lodge.
"Yep," says Don, who's easily pleased.
"What?" says Natalie, who's listening to her iPod and can't hear me.
A short time later, we turn down Holland Lake Road and behold, there's the lodge, a historic log structure built in 1947, with the requisite deer and elk mounts on either side of a stone fireplace, an impressive stuffed black bear in one corner, and a well-worn wood bar.
We check in at the log-cabin gift shop and make the short walk to Loon Loft, one of the lodge's six waterfront cabins. It's a small, comfortable, rough-hewn affair with a fire pit and picnic table and, just beyond, the lap, lap, lapping waters of Holland Lake, nestled in alpine greenery.
The day is perfect. The noon sun bobs off the lake like one of the old bouncing balls that cue the sing-alongs at the movies. Only instead of inviting song, it's inviting us to calm down, calm down, calm down. Who cares what's happening in the rest of the world, the bouncing light says: right now, all we have to do is nothing. Although eating would be nice.
"Should we have lunch and then take a hike?" I ask.
"Can I skip some rocks first?" Natalie says.
You bet she can.
Holland Lake Lodge and its crystal waters, two gems at the gateway of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, take their names from Ben Holland, one of the valley's first white settlers in the 1890s. The original lodge, since burned, was built circa 1924 for guests and travelers. There weren't many of them.
"It was a two-day stagecoach ride from Missoula when the first lodge was here," says owner Christian Wohlfeil, who's been running the place since he was 24. Wohlfeil purchased the lodge in March 2002 in partnership with his father, John Wohlfeil, who died just a month later, leaving Christian to manage the resort on his own.
But his success is evident. Today the lodge draws guests from around the globe, including visitors from Turkey, Spain and the Netherlands in August alone.
"The mountains, the trees, the water—the landscape here is so dramatic and the feelings it brings out are so peaceful," says Gabriele Leidecker, from Albany, Oregon, who's seated at the bar for lunch with Seeley Lake resident Michaela Probst. "You don't have to be in tune with nature to feel the peacefulness—the environment brings you there magically."