Friday, July 29, 2011

Gee, I wonder why it's called 'Bear Tooth Pass?'

We left Dubois, where we'd been watching a plume of smoke rising from beyond the ridge of mountains to the northeast. This turned out to be a fire caused by a lightning strike, which the local authorities decided to let burn to get rid of the accumulation of fuel. It began on Thursday, July 21.

By the 27th, the fire had consumed some 10,000 acres, according to the Billings Gazette, and firefighters were controlling it carefully. No homes or property had been lost and they seemed satisfied to let it run its course. Things, it seems, are different here.

We got our first glimpse of the Tetons from a distance.

We set up camp in a scruffy "RV Resort" near Moran Junction, within sight of the Grand Tetons, and David said I should just get my piture and leave. "There's nothing else to do here."

Soon we were up close and started burning up the batteries in our cameras.

Just outside Jackson Hole is the National Elk Refuge. Just inside Jackson Hole in the downtown city park is a gateway arch made of elk horns.

After lunch in Jackson, we rode up over the pass to Idaho just to enjoy the view and to be able to say "been there."

After each stop we'd say, "OK, that's enough pictures of the mountains." Then, we'd come around a curve and have to stop again for more.

We had dinner at the lodge at Jenny Lake, which has a view similar to this from the dining room.

As the sun went down, we were riding along the Lake Jackson shoreline and just had to stop again.

Finally, we packed up the cameras and headed back past Moran Junction to bed. That night, there was a lightning storm with a few strikes close by, but the rain didn't put out the fire and there was still smoke on the horizon in the morning, when we broke camp and headed for Yellowstone, where we were able to get a campsite for just one night.

Next day, we rode up to Old Faithful and joined a huge throng for the 1:37 p.m. performance.

There were an incredible number of people at the huge visitor center to see Old Faithful. David had stopped here 15 or 20 years ago and was amazed by the transformation. We arrived a little after noon, when the geyser had just gone off. It does its thing about every 90 minutes, so we figured we'd have a liesurely meal at the lodge and then watch the show.

The lodge restaurant turned out to be a McDonalds clone, but with higher prices. Hundreds of people, it seemed, were in a line bordered with crowd-control stanchions like at airport security. By 1:20, we'd finally gotten a couple of chicken sandwiches and joined the throng.

Hundreds of people lined the viewing area to watch the geyser blow ...

... which it did, in a suitably spectacular and reliable fashion. It didn't disappoint the fans, despite the sense of deja vu.

We don't see many other adventure bikes in our travels midst all the Harleys, Goldwings and Harley clones. So, we like to compare notes with fellow ADV types, such as this couple from Canada, touring Yellowstone on a BMW 1200GS.

Along Yellowstone's grand loop, whenever there was a traffic backup, you could count on some wild creature's putting on a show, like this bull elk enjoying dinner, oblivious to the crowd.

The upper falls of the Yellowstone River are especially spectacular this year as the record snow melt pushes its way downstream. Note the viewing platform crammed with visitors in the lower right of the photo.

The female elk were especially tame. This gal and her friends, accompanied by a few youngsters, tied up traffic for a half hour near our campground.

The National Park bulletin boards warned visitors to stay away from the buffalo. In our experience, they were hard to avoid.

On our second day in Yellowstone, we visited the lower falls of the Yellowstone River, which answer the question: "What would it look like if you put Niagara falls inside Bryce Canyon?"

Leaving the park by the less-travelled northeastern gate, we encountered a huge herd of hundreds of bison spread out through an enormous valley.

"I wonder what the name of that big, point mountain is?" I asked David. "I don't know," he said.

At the start of the way down from the 11,006-foot top of the pass, there was a small sign on the guardrail that read "Bear Tooth." Doh! From this angle, you just see the peak poking up above the ridge at the upper right of the photo.

The road dropped more than a mile with countless 20 mph switchbacks. At the bottom, we found the pleasantly bustling little town of Red Lodge and ate lunch.

Our trip through the Tetons and Yellowstone and up to Billings began at Dubois (A), passed the Grand Tetons down to Jackson Hole (B), turned north to Yellowstone (C), then climbed up over the 11,000-foot Bear Tooth Pass (D) to Billings, where we met Daniel.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A return to the beautiful Black Hills

Despite roaming around the oil fields and breathtaking scenery of northwestern North Dakota, we still had a little time to kill before meeting Daniel and decided to ride south to spend some time in South Dakota's Black Hills. I went through there last spring, visiting Wind Cave National Park, Mt. Rushmore, Sturgis and Deadwood, before leaving by way of the South Dakota Badlands. But I was glad to come back.

US 85, loaded down with big trucks servicing the oil-drilling operations near Watford City, was also being repaved, resulting in 30-minute waits for a pilot truck to lead the way down a one-way lane.

We'd just shut off the engines and park the bikes waiting for our turn to use the road.

The crosswind had tapered off just a bit, but was still roaring pretty good. This time, however, we were on the upwind side of the highway and just had to deal with the breeze. The northbound trucks didn't affect us. Lesson learned: If you have to ride in a crosswind, choose the upwind side of the road.

We stopped for breakfast in Belfield, N. Dak., where big hats and spurs never go out of style.

The slog from Belfield, N. Dak., to Belle Forche, S. Dak., involved a lot of very straight, very flat road across the prairie. There aren't many towns and the day grew warmer and warmer. By the time we reached Belle Forche, we were ready to sit in the air conditioned visitor's center and chill out for a half hour while we looked for a campsite. At first, we thought we'd try the KOA in Deadwood -- but that turned out to be hot, congested and right on a busy road. So, we headed for a private campground, Trout Haven Resort, which is in the middle of the Black Hills at the nexus of several excellent motorcycle roads.

Since Hawaii and Alaska became states, Belle Forche, S. Dak. now claims to be at the geographic center of the U.S. Well ... the exact spot is inconveniently a few miles outside of town. So, the local folks put up a marker right outside the visitor's center. Much more convenient.

David tests the water pressure at our Trout Haven campsite.

We had pizza and beer for dinner in a Rapid City sports bar, right across the street from a hill topped by a concrete brontosaurus, part of the display at Dinosaur Park. Shades of Salen Sue!

Next morning, we went to Sturgis for breakfast at Weimer's on Main Street, the same place I stopped for a meal last year.

Notable motorcyclists are memorialized in the brick sidewalk in front of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame, which occupies the former Sturgis post office.

Exhibits included this silver and gold embellished and engraved Harley, said to have been the world's most expensive motorcycle when it was new. Given the price of gold and silver, it might still be.

There were many more bikes on the streets of Sturgis this July than last May. The weather was great and the roads in the Black Hills are spectacular. It's no wonder so many people come to the area to ride. The annual August rally is just another excuse to enjoy the area.

We left Sturgis to break camp at Trout Haven and then enjoy a few of the great roads through the hills, eventually checking into a campground at Custer State Park. Someone had fastened a makeshift "No Buffalo Riding" sign to the gatehouse where we checked in.

Custer is a popular park. A campsite can be hard to find -- especially on the weekend. When you want to stay more than one night, sometimes you have to pull up stakes and move from one site to another.

Once we'd settled in at Custer, David tried out his new hammock.

Sunday evening, we went to the Crazy Horse Memorial, under construction near Custer, and waited for the sun to break through the clouds to get this shot.

Monday morning, we rode a loop through the Custer State Park and came to a tunnel. It took a second look to realize the opening framed the Rushmore monument. It turned out that there were three more tunnels just like this on an incredible road that featured several "pigtail" bridge/road corkscrew descents.

We blew off the fancy new visitor center with its $10 motorcycle parking fee and still got a great view of the monument.

Coming around a corner, suddenly there was George!

After Rushmore, we turned west again toward Sheridan, Wyo. This was our first view of the Rockies, still with snow in the higher elevations.

In Sheridan, we hunkered down Monday night at a pleasant KOA that actually had shelters and concrete pads for the picnic tables. Pretty plush. Our neighbors were Harley riders to the core. This guy's full-dress Ultra sported red LED lights on the engine. Even his tent was orange and black with the Motor Company logo and name. Brand loyalty run amok.

Here's our route from northwestern North Dakota down to the Black Hills and out to Sheridan, Wyo.

From Sheridan, we headed up over the Big Horn Pass, our first Rocky Mountain high.

The deer were playing, but we didn't see any antelope.

At Big Horn national Forest's Shell Falls we got another glimpse of the power of this year's extraordinary snow melt ...

... and met some hummingbirds enjoying breakfast.

On the other side of the pass was a long, empty stretch across the desert to Dubois, Wyo. Along the way, we stopped to help a gal from Blair, Neb. whose camper had blown two tires. She had the spares and just needed some muscle to jack up the trailer.

Dubois (pronounced "doo-BOYS" in these parts) had a Wild West feel. We set up camp in the KOA along the Wind River.

On Tuesday, July 26, we'd arrive at Grand Teton National Park, the gateway to Yellowstone.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hoofing it across the prairie into the Badlands

Spending the afternoon and night in an air conditioned room at Motel 6 in Bismark was a godsend -- I posted to the blog and David caught up on sleep. After an overnight snorefest, we awoke on Wednesday, July 20, to find our laundry was still damp despite hanging on the clothesline we strung across the room for 16 hours. It was that humid.

Fortunately, the weather broke as we crossed the Missouri and temperatures dropped into the 70s. However, the 100-degree-plus heat wave moving east was sucking all the air out of the upper Midwest and with westerly winds of 45 miles per hour or more arrived with the cool.

David did some research and found a few scenic drives in western North Dakota on the Internet. We started west, plowing into a head wind, on "Old Red Old 10." The "Old 10" part was clear -- it was the former US 10, which was bypassed by I-94. We haven't figured out why the road is also known as "Old Red."

Salem Sue, the world's largest Holstein, can be seen from miles around from her mountain-top perch above New Salem, N. Dak., which is on both "Old 10" and I-94.

Sue is so famous in these parts that there is an entire line of Salem Sue merchandise available at the nearby gas station and convenience store.

The store also sells bait, of course, but customers are admonished politely not to play with the minnows in the tank -- even if they beg for it.

David stops for a stretch as we plow our way across the rolling prairie.

We noticed old combines have been repurposed as signboards for farms or decoration -- never thrown away. In this case, five of the old harvesters form a potentially sinister coven outside Dickinson with no apparent purpose but to attract tourists with cameras.

After a ten-mile stretch of gravel and a stop at Hebron, the brick city of North Dakota, we arrived at Dickinson and turned north toward some promising byways in the Missouri Breaks north of Killdeer. The westerly breeze was now a crosswind from the left trying to push us off the road. Big trucks roaring southward would create a hole and we'd topple left toward the center line; then, the wind would blast us again to the right. Naturally, this slowed us down. Northbound traffic hurtled by us at 65 miles per hour, while we dipped and swerved at 40 or 45.

Eventually, we made it to Killdeer, only to discover from a local traveler at a gas station that the scenic byways we were heading for were closed under flood water.

As my GPS likes to say, we were "recalculating." We'd been told there was no place to stay in Dickinson to the south, so we called Theodore Roosevelt National Park, about 45 miles away to the northwest -- 30 with the wind on our noses and 15 with the cross wind. There were campsites available, so we sucked it up.

The flag at the Teddy Roosevelt visitor center was straining at the halyard when we arrived.

We made camp in the park but couldn't fail to notice some very large hoof prints in the soft dirt near our campsite.

On our way to dinner in Watford City, the nearest town with food, we met the creature who made the hoof prints and decided to wait for him to find his way across the road.

Watford City, it turns out, is a boom town. Oil rigs are going in all over this part of North Dakota and Watford is where the workers sleep, eat and spend time when they aren't drilling holes, driving trucks, paving roads or doing all the other boom town stuff. Just south of town is an incredible city made up of hundreds of small camper trailers.

Back at the park, our friend Ralphie was waiting ...

... and managed to corner a couple of ladies at a scenic pullout.

We were only "home"for a few minutes before there was a commotion and a few of Ralphie's friends came clumping through the campground ...

... and waded across the Little Missouri River.

David watches the bison cross the river. The river bank was ravaged by the recent floods and by the giant beasts who simply plunge down the eroded banks, leaving scars behind.

Still, the Little Missouri at sunset is a gorgeous sight.

The night in camp wasn't without further adventures. About midnight, we woke to the sound of giant hooves thumping though our campsite accompanied by a growling noise, which sounded like a grizzly bear. It was our bison friend , back to pay us a visit. No harm done, but it took some time to get back to sleep.

In the morning, we got up with the sun to ride the 14-mile scenic road through the park, which was once a ranch owned by Theodore Roosevelt.

The park is set in the North Dakota Badlands carved by the Little Missouri River over millions of years.

The spectacular rock formations this year are set off by unusually colorful, lush vegetation, nurtured by the historically wet spring.

We found the park's bison herd enjoying a feast ...

... in the high pasture above the river valley.

David makes his way down to a stone overlook built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.

Too late, we found a warning about our campsite visitors. Fierce looking and sounding, they proved to have little interest in humans, but found the park's roads useful for getting from meal to meal. Bison weigh between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds and eat three to 4 percent of their weight daily.

We plan to meet our friend Daniel in Montana on July 27, or thereabouts. He's picking up a motorcycle he bought from someone in Billings that day and will join us to ride through Yellowstone and beyond. So, with time to kill before moving further west, we turned the bikes south, toward the Black Hills of South Dakota.