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More Montana

Day 37 – we’ve been in Montana now for almost two weeks now! Next stop is Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

We left Columbia Falls and drove down on the east side of Flathead Lake and then started heading east. For both days I was taken by the beauty and diversity of the landscape. I we drove it became more prairie-like with vast green undulating hills with dramatic mountain ranges in the background.

Excellent Adventure somewhere in Montana
Excellent Adventure somewhere in Montana

Great Falls

Great Falls sits along the Missouri River and hosts a number of hydroelectric power plants. Like Butte, Great Falls was built up as evidenced by the drive through about 5 miles of fast food restaurants and gas stations with casinos (slot machines apparently) in them! Wild!

The KOA in Great Falls is amazing. It looked like someone inherited a bunch of money from a rich uncle and decided to built a resort-like RV park complete with a water park and live music. From all appearances- it worked!

The Jakester and I got up early and checked out the sunrise near one of the locations of the power plants. Breath-taking!

Billings

The drive from Great Falls to Billings was mostly through the plains with an occasional mountain pass to cross. I spotted my first wind farms in a while. A lot of motorcycles on this part of the trip.

Excellent Adventure at Wind Farms in Montana
Excellent Adventure at Wind Farms in Montana

Driving into Billings I thought to myself this must not be much of a city as I could not see much of anything ahead. Ha! To my surprise I reach the edge of a butte and see the city below in the trees! Quite a striking scene!

The KOA here is apparently the very first one – established in 1962. Like Great Falls it is more like a resort with a putt-putt golf course and permanent food truck on site! I met a young woman with her two young children in the hot tub (best Hot Tub so far on trip!) who told me they were waiting for Dad to come home working from working on cell towers (sunup to sundown!). They live in a tent out of their car. During the winter he manages a small ski resort. COVID changed their lives. I was struck at how happy they seemed – amazing!

⁨Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument⁩

On our last day eastward across Montana we stopped to see the Monument. What I did not expect to find was a National Cemetery! Up until the 1970s a veteran could still be buried there. It was a moving sight.

Glacier National Park

Called “the Crown of the Continent” – it has been my goal to visit Glacier for a long time now. We reach the far end of our journey.

When I started planning this trip several years ago the first pin I dropped on the map was Glacier. Like Montana, it has always had a certain mystique for me. I was not disappointed. What I discovered was an a natural beauty reminiscent of the Alps but on a more intimate scale.

Jake & Eddie Excellent Adventure at Glacier
Jake & Eddie Excellent Adventure at Glacier

There are five entrances to Glacier – two of those now require tickets to enter due to the popularity of the famous ‘Road to the Sun’ drive that leads from West Glacier to East. I was unable to secure a ticket and I later learned that even if I did I would have to board Jake in order to do the drive. The tickets allowed you to enter the gates between 6AM and 5PM. However, you could go early and that is what I decided to do – especially with the opes of some good pictures in the morning light.

Two Medicine

Sinopah Mountain at Two Medicine Lake
Sinopah Mountain at Two Medicine Lake

It started to rain the second morning of our visit. I decided to drive to the eastern portals of Two Medicine and Many Glacier that day – no tickets were required for these.

The drive itself on Route 2 through the lower section of the park affords some great views. As the rain let up mid-morning we arrived at Two Medicine area. Sinopah Mountain dominates this scenery. We spent some time hiking around before heading out.

Many Glaciers

Eddie & Jake at Many Glaciers
Eddie & Jake at Many Glaciers

From there we drove north past the Eastern entrance to Many Glaciers. The way is a little rougher going as part of the road is not paved. We arrived in time to eat our lunch by the waterfall and enjoy the scenery.

Many Glaciers at Glacier National Park
Many Glaciers at Glacier National Park
Many Glaciers at Glacier National Park
Many Glaciers at Glacier National Park
Many Glaciers at Glacier National Park
Many Glaciers at Glacier National Park

West Glacier and Road to the Sun

The next morning we got up a ‘0-dark-30’ and headed into the park via the Bear Creek Campground road. Although this proved not to be necessary – I didn’t want to take a chance and it was a bit of an adventure. It was pretty cool watching the early morning dawn as we drove in.

We drove up Lake McDonald to find the road blocked off near Avalanche. Apparently they needed to prepare their on-going snow plowing operations before letting people drive up the pass. I guess at some point everyone needs to turn around and come back down. Sounded like a mess.

I knew the road was not completely open but what I did not know was that there was a strict no-pet policy on Road to the Sun as I learned reading all the disclaimers on the closed gate! A bit disappointed – but feeling I escaped a potential mess – we instead enjoyed the views on Lake McDonald and the Apgar Visitor Center area.

While we did not get to see quite everything we hoped, I left satisfied my long dream of visiting the park was a success and I will return to visit again and once again try the Road to the Sun!

Montana

Movin’ to Montana soon
Gonna be a Dental Floss tycoon
– Frank Zappa

I was very interested in seeing Montana – it seems to have a bit of a mystique about it. I was right – very good vibes in Montana!

Butte

We headed out from Red Lodge early to partly back track on I-90 before passing Bozeman and into new territory. I had read a bit about Butte – our overnight – and that it was at one point a large city based on mining. And boy howdy do these like like to dig in the ground!

⁨Butte⁩, ⁨Montana⁩
⁨Butte⁩, ⁨Montana⁩

The history of Butte is interesting – it was one of the largest mining boomtowns in it’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A lot of history here including labor disputes, large-scale mine disasters and huge environmental impact in a town that once boasted 100,000 residents in a city full of saloons and brothels! My kind of place.

Now – like most places that have anything going for them in the west – it looks like an attractive place to live if you are an outdoor enthusiast or want to escape the big cities of the west coast (and elsewhere!).

That afternoon I checked out the Glacier website to see about tickets to drive the Road to the Sun (now required like the Fossil Gallery in Dinosaur). I needed to get on a 8AM and try and get tickets. So we stayed and I got skunked. Good news I found out later from a local in Columbia Falls you can go early (before 6AM) or late (after 5PM) with no ticket. So that is the plan.

Columbia Falls

We drove to the park we are staying at in Columbia Falls – essentially the gateway to the western entrance to the park and the famous Road to the Sun road – that morning. Once you leave I-90 and head north from Kalispell it becomes very scenic.

Flathead Lake looking North
Flathead Lake looking North

It also starts to look very expensive given the cars, homes and boats in the beautiful Flathead Lake. This is obviously a big-time outdoor recreation portal on a scale I have never quite seen before. Closer to the park entrance there must be a half dozen very large resorts offering everything from rafting to zip lines to putt-putt golf. America’s backyard for sure!

Sunrise at the RV Park
Sunrise at the RV Park

One Month on the Road

As we arrived in Columbia Falls we celebrated one month on the road! 5400 miles long we have come to the turning point in the trip and set our sights on heading back south and east. What an excellent adventure it has been so far!

Yellowstone & Grand Teton

Our two day road trip into the park. The first day started well but was long and plagued by pesky humans 😁 later in the day. We adapt and finish the trip on a high note!

Attack plan

When I looked into visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park I was not able to find any availability close by the route I wanted to take going north. This was compounded by the fact that the area I wanted to visit was big – on the order of 200 miles long both north-south and east-west.

I ended up staying at Red Lodge which is close to Beartooth pass and the northeast portal at Silver Gate. I planed to drive from north to south and stay in Jackson overnight. I decided to drive across the top of the park then drop down to the thermal area and finally Jackson that night. In the morning I would photograph the Teton range at sunrise and drive back exiting the park through the east gate. This would take me to Cody, Wyoming and then back to Red Lodge.

Yellowstone National Park Northeast Entry near Red Lodge
Yellowstone National Park Northeast Entry near Red Lodge

It all worked well except by the time I got to the thermal areas the park was crowded to the max. I bailed and headed for Jackson but still had to deal with the heavy traffic. By the time I got to the hotel room I was beat but still saw some of Jackson (really tourist-mania!).

Dawn at Grand Teton National Park 🌞
Dawn at Grand Teton National Park 🌞

The next day was much, much better. After catching a most excellent (and but freezing cold) sunrise in Grand Teton I headed back to Old Faithful. Much better at 8AM! Jake and I both got to see Old Faithful blow before heading back on a stunning drive along Yellowstone Lake and an equally stunning drive through Shoshone canyon before heading back to Red Lodge.

Eddie at Old Faithful in Yellowstoned National Park
Eddie at Old Faithful in Yellowstoned National Park

Yellowstone

We left early and drove back to Beartooth pass. We were able to get some good views from the overlook (that was crowded with cars yesterday). We drove over the pass and finally made it to the northeast entrance.

The northern most road from the entrance was most excellent with breathtaking panoramas and large herds of buffalo.

Northern Drive at Yellowstone National Park
Northern Drive at Yellowstone National Park
Bufflo at Yellowstone National Park
Bufflo at Yellowstone National Park

From there we visited Mammoth Hot Springs and into the thermal areas of the park. this is where it started to get crowded. By the time we got to the Old Faithful area it was getting stupid with people parking all over the place and creating traffic jams. Interestingly enough, there was nary a Park Ranger in sight outside of the areas themselves. I took this (as well as the dog policy – more later) as a sign of the times and decided to just roll with it!

Yellowstone National Park near Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone National Park near Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone National Park Hot Springs
Yellowstone National Park Hot Springs
Norris Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park
Norris Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park

I decided to bail out and head for Jackson and start out early in the morning to see Old Faithful. Along the way we stopped at Lewis Falls which we saw the day before.

Lewis River at Yellowstone National Park
Lewis River at Yellowstone National Park

It was much better when we reached Old Faithful before 8AM – only had the main parking lot was full. I left Jake in the car but noticed that a lot of other people had their dogs with them. So Jake and I got to watch Old Faithful blow it’s top – together 😎🐶!!! Most Excellent!

Jake & Eddie at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park
Jake & Eddie Excellent Adventure at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park
⁨Old Faithful⁩ at Yellowstone National Park⁩
⁨Old Faithful⁩ at Yellowstone National Park⁩

After that we headed east for Yellowstone Lake and the eastern entrance to the park. The drive along the lake was most excellent indeed!

Yellowstone Lake at Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Lake at Yellowstone National Park

Grand Teton National Park & Jackson

Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park

The drive east of the mountain range offer fantastic views of the Grand Teton range. We headed for Jackson and out $200 a night Motel 6 room. I do have to say it was the nicest Motel 6 I ever stayed at other than the bed which pretty much sucked 😏.

Jackson itself is a mess of a tourist town in a spectacular setting. The drive into town is most excellent. Like Telluride – Jackson is in a box canyon and hosts a ski area which makes it the perfect place for bars and T-Shirt shops. And lots and lots of traffic.

The next morning was really cold but calm and clear as a bell. Perfect conditions for some sunrise shots. I first visited here in 1978 and forever had the impression of this breathtaking mountain range. I was not wrong. Most excellent indeed!

Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park

Shoshone Canyon

Leaving the park on the second day I was treated to a superbly excellent drive through Shoshone canyon. The Shoshone river is part of the Bighorn watershed and runs from near the east entrance of the park to Cody. The canyon has darker rock and spectacular rock formations.

⁨Shoshone National Forest⁩, ⁨Cody⁩, ⁨Wyoming⁩
⁨Shoshone National Forest⁩, ⁨Cody⁩, ⁨Wyoming⁩
Jake in Shoshone canyon
Jake in Shoshone canyon
Shoshone canyon
Shoshone canyon

Fire near Red Lodge

When I was hiking with Jake before our road trip we noticed a fire on the backside of the mountain range to the east of us. This turned out to be a bad fire that developed while I was in the park. At the end of the drive home we could see the area clearly including helicopters carrying large buckets and DC-10 tanker planes circling the area.

Robertson Draw Fire near Red Lodge
Robertson Draw Fire near Red Lodge

Our road trip comes to a close. Our next stop – Glacier National Park!

Red Lodge

The first two days in Red Lodge we explored the local area and did a great hike!

Red Lodge is located at the Northeast corner of Yellowstone in Montana. A old western town turned coal mining town that almost fell into decay before being revitalized as a outdoor destination like so many mountain towns. I found it still retained it’s charm. It is very popular with Bikers looking to ride Beartooth Pass (more later on that!).

Carbon County Court House in Red Lodge
Carbon County Court House in Red Lodge

We spent our first day provisioning and touring the town. The KOA was nice – close by to town but not too close. They had a very cool Airstream 345 class A motorhome out front. These were built in the 1980s for a short period of time. As an interesting bit of relevant history – one of them was used to ferry the Space Shuttle astronauts to the Space Shuttle before take off and was aptly named the Astrobus!

Lake Fork Trail

The second day we got up early to beat the heat and headed for Beartooth Passs. I found a nice hike alongside a river that Jake and I did – 7 miles round trip! It followed the river up to a small pond where we had some brunch and headed back before it got too hot.

Lake Fork Trail near Beartooth Pass Panorama
Lake Fork Trail near Beartooth Pass Panorama

The river was full and flowing quickly and there was not a cloud in the sky. The river had sections with tumultuous cascading water falls. Most excellent!

Jake & Eddie near Beartooth Pass Wyoming
Jake & Eddie near Beartooth Pass Wyoming
Lake Fork Trail

It was a fantastic hike and I was beat at the end after a week or so of sitting and driving.

Beartooth Pass

After the hike we headed up BeartoothPass. I did not quite realize what it was until I got into it. At nearly 11,000 feet it’s way above tree line and a windy, narrow road full of traffic.

Beartooth Pass Summit Looking Towards Yellowstone
Beartooth Pass Summit Looking Towards Yellowstone

Apparently this is a favorite road for Bikers to ride. We saw a lot on the road and a lot of signs in town advertising to that crowd. I can see why, what a fantastic road!

We headed back to wrap up curdy and get ready for our two-day road trip into Yellowstone and the Tetons!

Yellowstone (prelude)

The trip to Red Lodge was long but spectacular! We drove from Arco to Idaho Falls and then north on the west side of the Tetons. The road lead to West Yellowstone and then up to Bozeman. From there a long drive on I-90 across the top of the park to the Red Lodge area on the edge of the Custer Gallatin National Forrest.

We arrived at Red Lodge late in the afternoon. It was a long ride but the stunning scenery made the trip go fast.

We are here at Red Lodge for 5 nights – one night we will overnight in a $200 a night Motel 6 in Jackson Hole! I sure hope those stale muffins they serve for breakfast will be nearly as good as the two day drive in the X6 (less the nearly 2 ton Excellent Adventure!) through the most magnificent park in the continental United States. Denali is still my current favorite – we will see!

But before that we will resupply and explore the northeastern Yellowstone area.

Craters of the Moon National Monument

We visit Craters of the Moon and stayed in nearby Arco, Idaho – the first city (more of a small town actually 😏) powered by Nuclear Power!

Getting there

We left Vernal and drove through the mountains to end up outside of Salt Lake City. The drive was quite scenic – especially the high mountain lakes and the steep decent into Salt Lake. The winds were quite high on the drive and that combined with rabid Truckers driving like maniacs on I-80 (speed limit = 80mph) made for a fun ride to my stop that night.

I stayed in a KOA outside of Brigham City, UT. A very quite area – the stay was pleasant and uneventful. We headed out the next morning for Arco and the Craters.

Backstory

This stop, like the previous stop in Alamogordo, is part of my story.

Back in 1978 I was finishing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I intended to go to graduate school to get a Masters in Nuclear Engineering but I also interviewed with the Nuclear Navy. They told me that I would be sent to Idaho to learn how to run a submarine’s nuclear reactor if I joined. Once I started graduate school I visited this area with my thesis advisor.

This area is home to Idaho National Laboratory – when I visited it was called Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL). My graduate work was funded by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and was linked to one of the labs at INEL called LOFT (Loss of Flow Transient) which studied what happened when a reactor lost it’s water coolant. My professor Dr. Albrecht and I flew in his private plane and visited the lab at one point shortly after I started my research.

At that time I distinctly remember flying into Idaho Falls. In the morning everyone who worked at the lab got on a bus for the hour trip to the various laboratories. I also remember that everyone I met was a Mormon. I remember driving for miles seeing nothing but desert and tumbleweeds until you could see some huge facility all by itself in the distance. I guess the idea was if there was an accident it would be in the middle of nowhere!

Arco Idaho

Just outside of Arco is Atomic City. It is home to the Experimental Breeder Reactor I – the first nuclear power station to generate enough electricity to power the light bulbs in the building the reactor was housed in. Arco, the town where Jake and I stayed, was the first city to new completely powered by another reactor in the area in 1955 – the year I was born.

Although the Experimental Breeder Reactor is now a museum, it is not currently open due to COVID. It was very cool to more or less stumble into this history while coming to visit the Craters!

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Craters of the Moon is a lava field or what is known as a flood basalt area. Although I could not hike with Jake to see some of the more unique features we drove the loop as were able to hike one paved trail. The Park Service does not allow dogs partially because of prior experiences with the lave rock damaging a dog’s paws – apparently the dog of the original explorer to the area had to be carried out!

We did get so see a lot of the features of this weird landscape and learning about it’s unique habitats.

We headed back to Arco and explored the local area. Next stop Yellowstone!

Dinosaur National Monument

Photos and experiences visiting Vernal Utah and nearby Dinosaur National Monument

We left our friends and headed north to Vernal Utah and Dinosaur National Monument. I did what was so far the oddest overnight in some god-forsaken town in the Utah desert. I called and was told a woman would meet me and show me to the site.

She was there – dressed in a house dress that reminded me of a Mennonite. She proceeded to show me to what passed there as a site (in a Mormon hayfield I figured) and talked to me the whole time I was setting up (more like sort of told me what to do 😖). I asked her if she was a Mormon and she told me no – she quit the Mormons and now believe it is a cult 😂. She told me I needed to be a Baptist and then proceeded to tell me how to identify polygamous housewives at the local market. Bizarre but oddly fit right in as another somewhat weird excellent adventure 😎🐶.

Vernal

Vernal is the Utah gateway to Dinosaur National Monument. The Monument spans both Utah and Colorado. Like Kanab it caters to a variety of outdoor experiences for the visitor. We setup camp and did some resupply later the day of our arrival.

We spent the next day exploring the Monument

River Trail

Based on our earlier experiences I knew I needed to take Jake out early if we were going to do any hiking. The only trail open to dogs goes along the Green River between two campsites. It was a really nice trail – we went about halfway from the Split Mountain campground before turning back. The campground was full of cars and trucks pulling trailers for rafting.

Visitor Center and Fossil Gallery

We headed back to the Adventure for lunch. Jake has gotten really good about staying in the trailer so that afternoon I headed back for a tour of the visitor center and fossil gallery. I found out the day before you needed to have a ticket – I got one on line easily before the visit.

I also took the opportunity to really drive the X6 for the first time on the windy backroads from Vernal to the Monument entrance. A little excellent bonus fun!

Once at the visitor center I waited for the shuttle to the Fossil Gallery. I took the opportunity to learn how the area was a river bed at one time. It is believed that a global, cataclysmic event caused a drought that killed huge numbers of dinosaurs whose final resting place because this Monument. A cautionary tale, perhaps.

View from Fossil Gallery at ⁨Dinosaur National Monument⁩
View from Fossil Gallery at ⁨Dinosaur National Monument⁩

The gallery is literally the side of a mountain excavated to show a cacophony (I have always wanted to use that word!) of fossils from the animals piled on top of each other over millions of years.

As I touched a fossil resting in the stone, I was left breathless imagining what it must have been like 100 million years ago – a mere sliver of time in the earth’s 5 billion years. It was an electrifying and deeply moving experience. A most excellent experience – and adventure – for sure!

Touching the Past at ⁨Dinosaur National Monument⁩
Touching the Past at ⁨Dinosaur National Monument⁩

Kanab area

Kanab is a great place to explore southern Utah and northern Arizona

Signpost at Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab
Signpost at Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab

Central to most of the major sights in the area and has everything a happy camper and his pupper need to help make it an excellent adventure! There is a great store that sells natural rock art and some great places to eat including the Rocking V Cafe where I had a killer Bison tenderloin.

Jake on a walk at the Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab
Jake on a walk at the Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab

The RV park where we stayed was (so far) the nicest park Jake and I have stayed at. There is some great places to take Jake for a walk and a killer hot tub with strong jets like mine back home. The views from the park were most excellent!

View from Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab
View from Grand Plateau RV Park outside of Kanab

One of the close by places to explore were the Coral Pink Sand Dunes state park. It is a favorite of many that come to the area to ride dune buggies. These have evolved from the homemade VW powered buggies to newer ones built by the same companies that build snowmobiles. I also saw some cool Porsche 911 Rally cars in the area.

We ended up going there twice – the first time to see the dunes and the second time in a nearby area to see to Petroglyphs. Unfortunately both were too damn hot for Jake’s paws so we chilled in the shade and enjoyed the views!

⁨Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park⁩
⁨Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park⁩
Road to Petroglyphs
Road to Petroglyphs
Views from Petroglyphs
Views from Petroglyphs

Toroweap Overlook

Toroweap Overlook is a rustic North Rim scenic area, reached by dirt road, perched 3,000 ft. above the Colorado River

We left later in the day to be there for the late day sun. The access closes at sunset so we left about one hour ahead of time.

The dirt road was very long – the round trip was over 6 hours but well worth it for the stunning views.

Toroweap Selfie
Toroweap Selfie

The cliffs were not for the faint of heart and I made sure I had Jake on the lead whenever we were close to the edge on any of the hikes we take.

We spent several hours there, had dinner and admired the views as the sun sunk ever lower in the west. Towards the end the sun came out in all it’s glory to give us some beautiful views.

We ended getting back close to midnight. Thanks to Dan for the driving! A fantastic day for the excellent adventures of Jake & Eddie 😎🐶!