GRMA Day 31: Return trip to Beartooth Highway
Note: This will likely be the last post until Sunday night. For the next two nights I’ll be at a Wyoming ranch that has no Internet service. I’ll write both days I’m there and post Friday, Saturday and Sunday blogs at the same time.
Note 2: Weak wifi tonight so I’ll just post reduced size pictures.
Getting an early start this morning from Cody paid off as I raced up the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway largely unimpeded by traffic. The Beartooth Highway also had much less traffic than yesterday, at least until I turned around near Red Bank to retrace yesterday’s route. Going east on the Beartooth without stopping to sight see and take pictures and at a pace considerably quicker than yesterday, I ran the 43 miles in a little under an hour. That sounds slow until you count the number of curves marked 20 mph; they usually slowed me down to 30 mph. There was some traffic going my direction, but they either realized I was faster than they were and pulled over or I went around them. Reversing direction and retracing the eastward run, there was more traffic because all the bikers who stayed in Red Lodge were getting on the road. Many of them were sightseers and pulled off to take a look at the scenery or they got passed. I wasn’t too aggressive but did make about a half dozen double yellow line passes. I made the two-way run today faster than I made the one-direction run yesterday. Yeah, it was fun and the adreniline rush made up for the missed second cup of coffee this morning.
Once I returned to the part of the road I hadn’t traveled, I slowed down to sightseeing speed. One of the results of that was that I spotted a doe on a hillside and was able to stop, walk back, and get a shot. As you can see, I got her right between the trees. The rest of the ride through Cooke City and to Yellowstone National Park was uneventful. Then I encountered my first traffic jam.
Approaching the Park east entrance, traffic had come to a dead stop. Wreck? Bear? Bison? Nope. Toll booth. Traffic was backed up for more than half a mile and I waited in line for about 45 minutes before I finally got into the Park. There was only one toll booth open and there were a lot of unhappy people in that line. And, of course, once inside the park, there were additional traffic backups every time a bison was near the road, or there was a waterfall to see. Yellowstone has some of the most fascinating and beautiful sights and scenery and animals of any park anywhere, but the number of people and cars is killing the place. I seriously think they should consider the same approach they’ve taken at Denali in Alaska. The only way to get into and see Denali is on buses. Cars are left in a parking lot. It seems to me buses at Yellowstone could be like shuttles. You wouldn’t have to stay on the same bus all the time. Just a thought. But I think they’re going to have to do something. Raising the fees to $30 per car/$25 per motorcycle didn’t seem to have any effect. (I got in free because I have a $10 lifetime senior pass.)
I had hoped to see the tremendous Tetons in all their glory today, but once again a haze obscured the view. I could see shapes that I knew were mountains but the snowy, rocky details were left to the imagination. I’m pretty sure the problem continues to be smoke from wildfires. The haze isn’t bad enough to cause any breathing problems, even for people with compromised lungs. But it sure does spoil the view. The Tetons ares so spectacular because they’re young and haven’t had time to get rounded off by weathering and erosion. In fact, they’re still growing. While the rest of the Rockies are 50-70 million years old, the Tetons are only about 9 million years old and still considered part of the Rockies.
The odometer on my bike rolled over 60,000 miles today. But, hey, it’s 2 1/2 years old. so I guess that’s about where it ought to be. I figure it will notch 62,000 miles before I get home. I’ll probably keep riding it until it’s got 100,000 miles and then sell it cheap to one of my brothers. Or I may just keep it and see how many miles I can put on it.
I’ll keep writing even though I may not post until Sunday. Looking forward to time on the Croonberg Ranch with friend Linda.
More pictures from today I liked:
GRMA Day 30: Great Mountain Roads
The Beartooth Highway between Red Lodge, Montana, and Yellowstone National Park has a reputation as a great motorcycle road. The reputation is well-deserved. After riding on I-90 for two boring hours following my departure from Bozeman, then cruising along an average high plains highway with cows and sagebush, I came to Red Lodge and discovered that half the bikers who had gone to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally had come to Red Lodge for lunch. OK, so I exaggerate. But there were still a thousand bikers or more in Red Lodge who had either come from or were going to Sturgis. And, like me, they had come to Red Lodge to ride the Beartooth Highway.
Lunch at the Red Lodge Cafe took a while because the eatery was short-staffed, as the “Help Wanted” sign in the window suggested. But I had time, so I waited patiently. A guy with a group of 15 Australian riders found seats for all 15, but not one for himself, so I offered him a seat at my table. Turns out Brian was their “guide,” a retired California fire fighter who picks up a couple guiding gigs a year to make a little extra cash and ride a motorcycle at the same time. Sounds like a good idea to me. He gave me one of the comapny’s business cards and I may contact the owner to see what’s up with guiding.
Lunch over, I proceeded to the main business of the day: The Beartooth Highway. Imagine a very tall modern rollercoaster that keeps going up and up and up. And up. And then it turns you loose into screaming downhill corkscrews and loops and g-force curves that leave you with butt-cheek clench cramps. Yeah, that pretty much sums up the Beartooth Highway. Oh, and throw in some absolutely breathtaking scenery so beautiful that it’s hard to take yours eyes off even though you know you should be focused on the yellow and white lines that define your very narrow margin of safety. And just for kicks, add some 25 mph winds at the top of the coaster with gusts that move a fully loaded 900 pound motorcycle back and forth across the road. Today’s ride was so much fun I’m going to ride the coaster again tomorrow, even though it will add about 80 miles to my riding day. Maybe if I get to the Beartooth early enough the blurry-eyed Sturgis gang will still be nursing hangovers and won’t be on the road.
In addition to the Beartooth Highway, I also rode the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway from the Beartooth into Cody, Wyoming, where I’m spending the night. The Chief Joseph Highway (named after the Nez Perce chief who led the failed attempt to escape from the U.S. Cavalry in 1877) lacked the 11,000 foot drama and scenery I had just experienced, but it too was a great ride with some floorboard scraping twisties and views that certainly qualify it as a “Scenic Byway.” The good news is that to get back to the Beartooth tomorrow morning, I have to make a return visit to the Chief Joseph as well.
Tomorrow’s ride will be different, though, because I plan to ride it just for the ride. They’ll be no stopping to take pictures this time. After I’ve re-ridden both of those great roads, I’ll go through Yellowstone National Park, which has some pretty amazing scenery of its own. The scenery there is easier to see because traffic usually crawls along at a “look-at-all-the-buffalo-get-a-picher-Mildred” pace led by a man wearing plaid shorts and black socks and driving a rented RV oblivious to the 25 cars backed up behind him. I guess after running the Chief Joseph and the Beartooth, I may not mind catching my breath at a little slower pace.
Not much in the way of critters to take pictures of today, other than the always ferocious attacking ground squirrel (grizzlius chipmunkus). The one I took a picture of was clearly about to pounce and take me down but, recognizing his malevolent intent, I deftly avoided his deadly assault. I think I know why he singled me out: I carry a little bag of salted peanuts to munch on when I’m on the road and it was clear that he had his beady eyes on my nut sack.
Tomorrow will take me to the iconic Tetons and to Dubois, a nice little town I remember from my years in Wyoming.
GRMA Day 29: Crossing Lewis & Clark’s Path Again
Four weeks ago today I left Maggie Valley on the start of the Great Rocky Mountain Adventure. During those four weeks I’ve covered 8,000 solitude-filled miles in 13 wonderful states, two amazing Canadian provinces and one isolated Canadian territory. And I still want more. I believe I’ve found my calling.
When I left East Glacier Village this morning the smoky haze responsible for my sneezing and sniffling still lingered and I saw it and smelled it most of the day. I think the Glacier National Park fire is responsible for most of the smoke, but there may be smaller fires burning and contributing to the air pollution. Montana, like all of the northwestern U.S., is very dry, and fires seem to be popping up everywhere there are drought conditions. For the first 150 miles or so I was out of the mountains and in Montana ranching country, with vast fields of baled hay and odiferous feed lots providing much of my scenery. I took time to shoot a doe and a fawn (note the notch in the doe’s ear) and a hawk, which I believe is a Swainson’s Hawk. Not much other wildlife, but lots of cows and horses. I think I may try to shoot more hawks in the next couple days, but I’m going to try to use a tripod to get a clearer image.
When I plotted today’s route I knew I wanted to stop at the U.S. Forest Service’s Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls and thought that two hours would be enough to see everything. As usual, I underestimated the time I needed to spend there to do it justice. The facility is relatively new and very well done. In a series of professional exhibits, the explorers’ route is traced from near St. Louis, up the Missouri, through the Rockies and down the Columbia to the Pacific. And back again. Having a little familiarity with the expedition made it easier to learn even more. The Great Falls site marked the first time Lewis and Clark realized they would not get to the Pacific and back in one year. They expected to make a one-day portage over one set of falls but discovered there were five different falls over the space of about seven miles on the Missouri River; their portage covered 18 miles and took 11 days. The feat is even more impressive when the amount of material that had to be moved and the size of their boats is taken into account. The exhibit does a great job of driving that home.
If I ever decide to ride the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, I’ll definitely plan for a full day stop in Great Falls.
After spending a couple of hours at the Interpretive Center, my route took me through the Little Belt and Big Belt mountain ranges of the Central Montana Range, which is an outlier of (but still part of) the Rocky Mountain Range. They were higher than I expected, with the tallest peak measuring more than 9,400 feet and the pass I went over topped out at 7,300 feet. The Little Belt range includes the Lewis and Clark National Forest, so I was surrounded by the sweet smell of pine trees for much of the afternoon. The final run toward Bozeman sent me careening through Bridger Canyon on mostly dry roads. Other than a 30-minute wind-filled thunder storm late in the afternoon, it was a nice post meridian ride.
Concern has been expressed regarding my dearth of pie reports lately, so I’ll give a brief pastry update. When in Canada, I had pie when the opportunity arose (including a new species called the Saskatoon Berry), but when only one or two restaurants service a town and towns are few and far between, finding pie would have cut into my big game hunting which turned out to be a lot of fun and seemed to spark interest among readers. Today, knowing I was trading a lunch stop for a museum stop, I had a mid-morning pie break on the plains of Montana where I found a home-made cherry pie at the Cozy Corner Cafe in Fairview. Trust me, I continue to consume more than my fair share of pie on the road.
The weather is predicted to be good tomorrow, which pleases me because I’m going to ride two roads I’ve heard much about but have not been on myself: The Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming and the Chief Joseph Highway in Wyoming. I’m looking forward to some butt-cheek-clenching twisties.
Once again, thanks for being out there and coming along for the ride.
GRMA Day 28: Back in the USA
(Pictures on today’s blog can be enlarged by clicking on them.)
In many ways I really hated to watch Canada recede in my rearview mirror after I crossed the border at the Chief Mountain checkpoint about 3 p.m. The scenery and the people there are absolutely first rate. But I have to admit its nice to be back where I don’t have to convert everything: money, temperature, measurements. Uh, 77.6% of $23.78 = ??? Uh, 19 degrees centigrade is something times something plus (or minus?) 32 = something Fahrenheit. (Heck with it, it’s cold enough for heated gear) Uh, 90 kph x 1.6 = 144 mph (Sorry officer). I’m only 65 clicks from where I’m headed. Wait, is a click the same as a tap? No that’s converting Windows to iPad. ARRRRGGGHH! But I will miss Canada and its people and I will return again someday.
My last day in Canada on this trip found me at Waterton Lakes National Park, which is right across the border from Glacier National Park. Glacier was my original destination for the day because I wanted a repeat run on the indescribably beautiful Going to the Sun Highway. But a forest fire has closed that road, so I opted for the Canadian end of the international Peace Park. Smoke from the Glacier NP fire 50 miles away obscured much of the long-range views in Waterton Lakes, but what I could see was beautiful, though not as dramatic as the higher peaks a little further south. But the smoke didn’t keep the hoardes of people away.
Like many beautiful national parks (Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Jasper and Banff), the inordinate beauty of Waterton Lakes attracts tourists like ants at a picnic. People were everywhere: The streets in the little town were clogged; the roads in the park teemed with SUVs and rental cars filled with familes from all over the world; even some of the trails were jammed with people to the point where I decided to blow off a hike I had planned to take to aan amazing canyon carved in some remarkable red rocks.
Fortunately, I arrived in the park by 9 a.m. and some tourists either hadn’t arrived or hadn’t woken up, so the first couple of hours weren’t too bad. There are two spur roads in the park They call them parkways but the condition of the roads makes that a gross overstatement. I selected the furthest south of the two to explore first and, to my delight, that road ended at a small lake. Even more delightful, there was a concessionaire renting kayaks. Readers who followed my Newfoundland blog may see a trend developing. While there were no icebergs on the lake, I spent a pleasant couple hours paddling around the lake, spying a doe drinking at the shore and looking up at the hazy peaks that surrounded the lake. A couple in a rowboat agreed to take my picture with my old (expendable) camera but there wasn’t much we could do about the smoke that hazed the mountain I wanted for my backdrop. You take what you can get.
I also found another couple desperately trying to avoid going in circles in their canoe but usually failing who also took pictures of me. They were a nice couple, but listening to their conversation echoing across the lake was comical: “Paddle right. No, you paddle right. OK. Now left. No, back up. No the other side. No I’ll go right you go left. I’m not going to do anything. You paddle. We’re still going in a circle.” Eventually they made it back to the dock, no doubt exhausted and poorer by the amount of time they spent going in circles x $35 an hour.
I spotted a really nice black bear and a mountain goat while riding the spur roads, but the narrow roads had no shoulders and there was no place to stop, so I missed out on those photo ops. The bear really would have been nice because he was big, dark black with a brown nose. It was fun, though, watching him wander through the thick brush for a few seconds as I drove slowly by.
A huge hotel dominates the small town of Waterton in the park, one of the old-style resort hotels that catered to the better class of tourists when the seven-story, French-inspired hotel was built in the 1920s. I had heard about the Prince of Whales hotel from several people I had met and wondered what the connection was to the ocean, which lies so far away from Alberta. Turns out it was Wales, not Whales. Big difference.
Well, another tip of the cap to visitor-center-Heather who recommended this national park as my alternative to Going-to-the-Sun Highway.
When I passed the entrance to Going to the Sun Highway an hour after re-entering the U.S. I looked up the valley where the road would go. I couldn’t see much of anything because of all the smoke hanging in the air, choking off the beauty of one of America’s great natural resources. It’s a shame. Unfortunately, as the climate continues to change, these kinds of fires, as we are already seeing, will be one of the costs.
Tomorrow I’ll head for Bozeman and try to leave the smoke behind me.
More pictures I liked from today:
GRMA Day 27: The Mountain that Moves
I had several specific places I wanted to see during the Great Rocky Mountain Adventure, and today I checked off another one. More on that in a minute.
Skies were clear as I left Radium Hot Springs headed south this morning about 9 a.m. But within 50 miles I noticed a light haze in front of me and detected a faint hint of smoke in the air. The haze grew darker as I continued southward and even when I made a planned turn to the east, I still smelled the smoke. While I never saw any fires and never even saw any heavy smoke, the haze was enough to make picture taking problematic by reducing the contrast. I took some pictures of the mountains, but there were no critters to be seen today so the camera didn’t get much of a workout. Heather, a helpful staffer at the Crowsnest Visitor Center just over the border into Alberta, said she heard there were forest fires in British Columbia and that the smoke we could see was probably a good distance from its source.
Speaking of fires, one of my favorite motorcycle roads and part of tomorrow’s planned itinerary is closed. Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park has been closed as a through road for more than two weeks as fire crews battle the still-growing Reynolds Creek Fire. I was looking forward to that ride again, but it’s not to be. At least not on this trip. I had thought about backtracking from here and going south into Montana from British Columbia, but Heather the helpful expert on this area recommended I spend time going through Waterton National Park in Alberta. Waterton and Glacier National Park border each other at the international boundary and together form what is sometimes called Peace Park. There is no through road in Waterton, but she said there are two interior roads that would fill up several hours of motorcycle time and provide stunning scenery. So, taking her at her word, tomorrow I’m headed for Waterton and then into Montana through Alberta.
I’ve been thinking about getting a truck. This green one I found in Sparwood would probably work fine. I could carry all my gear in the back. And my motorcyle. And Marilyn’s motorcycle. And our cars. And at least one of our houses. This is advertised as the “World’s Biggest Truck” and was once used in nearby mining operations.
I crossed from B.C. to Alberta on the Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3) over Crowsnest Pass and along Crowsnest Lake and Crowsnest Mountain, past which flows the Crowsnest River. Tonight I’m staying in one of the five towns that make up the Municipality of Crowsnest. I added this stop to the GRMA because of a significant historical and geological event that occurred April 29, 1903. A little after 4 a.m. that morning, the limestone north side of Turtle Mountain gave way, sending a river of rocks a half-mile wide crashing down on part of the town of Frank and killing 90 of the 600 people who lived there, most of them coal miners and their families. The rockslide tore across the valley, stopping only when it reached the other side about two minutes later, more than a mile away. The event became known as The Frank Slide. (The wide picture is a 180 degree panorama; the other pictures are still shots.)
The disaster was millions of years in the making (I will spare you the details) involving tectonic plates, continent building, fold and thrust faults, weathering, and finally, a coal mine tunneled in the base of Turtle Mountain which probably helped caused the collapse by weakening the support that the top of the mountain had precariously relied on for millions of years. Even before the slide, Indians in the area refused to camp at the base of the mountain, calling it “The Mountain that Moves.” What little I know about the event and the geology behind it is thanks to an outstanding, state-of-the-art interpretive center operated by the Province of Alberta.
The rail line in the path of the slide was up and running 11 days after being buried under 30-40 feet of rock. (Railroad engineering crews were amazing even then.) The mine was reopened after a few months, though it finally closed down 15 years later. Highway 3 today goes through the middle of the deadly rubble field, with massive piles of stones and boulders still standing where they came to rest 112 years ago. Currently, geologists are monitoring the mountain with more than two dozen sensors planted on it; their prediction is that the mountain will move again–they just don’t know when.
Only 11 years later, a few miles down the road from Frank, the town of Hillcrest Mines witnessed the worst coal mining disaster in Canadian history when a horrific fire and explosion killed 189 miners, about 1/2 of the mine’s workforce. That disaster has been memorialized in song, including by the Men of the Deeps (singing coal miners) that I was privileged to see and hear last year when I rode to Newfoundland. Small world again.
I added a day to this Adventure to make sure I stopped at the Frank Slide. I’m glad I did.
Other pictures I liked today:
GRMA Day 26: Perfect Day in Jasper and Banff National Parks
(Note: All pictures can be enlarged.)
I don’t think I could have had a better day riding to the Icefields Parkway and then south until I veered west to head for Radium Hot Springs, my current locale. Great weather: blue skies, temps in the 70s after 11 a.m. This was a great day for photographing one of the most scenic parts of the Rocky Mountains.
When I rode the Icefields Parkway about a week ago, rain and an accident marred the trip. Today, the weather cooperated and, once again, so did the critters.
This area of the Canadian Rockies, as I noted two years ago, is “Spectacular.” But of course I’m not the only one to notice that. This place is crawling with tourists, half of whom come from half-way around the world to see the sights. Parking lots along the parkway are always packed; tourist sites such as the Columbia Icefields is mobbed, vacant hotel rooms are non-existent and, as I discovered tonight even finding a place to eat that can seat you in less than 30 minutes is a chore. I fear that, like the Smokies back home, this place is being loved to death. Not much that can be done about it, though. Everyone has as much right to be here as I do, even though I wish they’d stay home.
Even the weather on top of Mt. Robson (Canada’s tallest mountain) cooperated. Again, last week when I was through the top wasn’t visible. Today it was.
And while I pulled over to get a shot of the hide-and-seek mountain top, a white-tail doe was having breakfast in the field in front of me. She’s barely visible in the mountain shot so I snuck up on her for a close-up. When I was at the visitor’s center I struck up a conversation with a couple from Illinois touring on a trike. She asked if I’d seen any animals on my trip and I had to brag and show her my griz and mooses from yesterday. She said they’ve been on the road for two weeks and have only seen a couple of mountain goats and a coyote. I guess I’ve been pretty lucky, except that I hadn’t seen a mountain goat so far.
Not much further up the Yellowhead Highway toward Jasper, I spotted a big elk with a nice rack. He was in the shadows so the contrast isn’t what I would have liked, but this big boy goes along nicely with the rest of my growing animal collection. When it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to throw a saddle on him, I packed up and continued on my journey to the parkway.
I’ve tried to take pictures that show the majesty and scope of these mountains, but they just don’t do them justice. So I recommend that everyone make a trip out here to see them. You might as well, everyone else in the world seems to be here.
So, I’m riding along the parkway, admiring the mountain views that get more incredible with every mile, when I noticed mountain goats near the road. “Mountain goats?” I said to myself. “I need a mountain goat for my collection. What a coincidence.” Like many of the animals I’ve run across, the goats didn’t seem to be too disturbed that I was about to give them lasting Internet fame via hdriderblog. I picked out one of the larger ones and focused on him while he munched clover desperately growing on the hillside. I think he would be pleased with the results if he were to log in.
Despite my good fortune with the animals, today was really about the mountains and the glaciers. I stopped frequently to stand in awe of the view and even took a one-hour round-trip hike to near the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. You can actually walk out on it if you buy a rather expensive ticket and stay with the guide. I had neither the time nor the money, so I satisfied my glacial urges with some pictures. As with other publicly accessible glaciers, interpretive signs show where the glacier was in the past. This particular glacier has lost 50% of its mass in the past 100 years and the pace seems to be accelerating. But by following the path of the receding glacier, I got a feel for the massive power of this river of snow and ice that leaves in its wake huge piles of moraine (gravel) and scars on the rocks that it doesn’t move. A series of straight lines on the large rocks are caused by smaller rocks under tons of ice being forced over the top of the larger ones and scoring their surface.. The Athabasca Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefield, the largest (125 sq miles) icefield in the North America. Most peaks in the area are around 11,000 feet.
I rode slowly along the parkway, waving impatient tourists around me from time to time. I wanted to spend as much time as I could surrounded by the Canadian Rockies. I’m still in them tonight, but the tallest and most rugged peaks are now to my east.
Tomorrow I’ve got a short ride planned to near Crows Nest Pass to see one of the largest landslides in North American recorded history. More on that tomorrow.
Other pictures I liked from today (the bird is for my NC neighbors):