Sunday, June 24, 2012

We falls in love with Yellowstone

David, Daniel and I met for breakfast at 6 a.m. at McDonald's at Sam's Town Casino, strapped on our evapo-cool vests, donned our sun glasses, applied SPF 50 to our noses and coasted out of the parking garage into an awakening Las Vegas headed for I-15 and points north.

We paused in Caliente, Nev. for a stretch. No need to cool off, it turned out.

Soon we were on US93, the Great Basin Highway -- a long, flat stretch framed by mountain ridges. At our first gas stop, we met Lon, a rider from Detroit riding a restored early-1990s BMW 850. He joined us for the next 150-mile leg before turning east.
A real challenge riding through the Great Basin was the distance between gas stations. Daniel had hoped to refuel his Buell Ulysses at this junction service station but, despite the sign, not even diesel was available -- the place was closed and the owners had moved to Utah, we were told. 

About 10 miles short of Ely, our first overnight stop, Dan ran out of gas and I rode to town, bought a one-gallon, plastic gas can, and got him going again. Ely proved to be much cooler (temperature-wise) than Vegas. I enjoyed my first -- and probably last -- elk burger at a diner in town. We camped at Cave Lake State Park. It was a pleasant, but very dusty, campground.
There was some construction on US 93 between Ely and Wells, Nev., but it gave us a chance to stop, stretch our legs and chat with some of the other adventurers on the Great Basin Highway.

Next morning, we continued north to Wells, where we had lunch at Bella's Espresso Diner. After two large cups of Bella's Cafe Americano, I stayed alert for the afternoon ride up to Twin Falls, Idaho, but I was up every two hours during the night. Bella herself was a tornado of activity, chatting up all the customers and storming around the dining room -- probably partook of a little too much of her own product.
We weren't sure whether the Giant 47 Pound Rooster, Rex-Goliath won the 30 gold medals, or whether the wine did, but we adopted the winery's slogan: "Long on fruit; short on attitude." Regardless, after a few hundred miles on the road, a few glasses of Rex-Goliath went down easily -- so easily, in fact, that we bought the big, 1.75 liter bottle the next chance we got.
This is a true adveture-rider breakfast: cold pizza, warm Indian Pale Ale and tap water out of a Gatorade bottle.
On the road from Wells, Nev. to Twin Falls, Idaho, we stopped at a rest area and met these Idaho dudes who were on their way to a boat race with their boat and all their other toys: guitar, paddleboards, skate boards, mountain bikes, spare V-8 boat engine and more.
In Twin Falls, we camped at a friendly KOA campground. A biker chick in black leather arrived shortly after we did on a mammoth Yamaha V-Max V-4 and pitched her tent next door. It was a toss-up which was more voluptuous, the gal or the motorcycle. When we crawled out of the sack at 6 a.m., she was long gone.
This is the Snake River Canyon where Evel Knievel attempted a jump in 1974 in the Skycycle X-2, which was a steam-powered rocket. The rainbow effect is from mist generated by the Shoshone Falls. 

A map for Shoshone Falls Park visitors shows the trail to Knievel's jump site. Knievel had  433 broken bones during his illustrious career. Flanman has had one sprained ankle. 

Our next destination was Yellowstone, but along the way, we stopped at Arco, Idaho, which is near Craters of the Moon National Park, a volcanic desert that is a little bit of the Big Island of Hawaii in the western Mainland. After riding through miles of a'a, David said: "Don't you wish we had some white rocks to spell out a message?" 

Here some park visitors climb a cinder cone of black lava.
And here, some others take advantage of a convenient ramp to check out a splatter cone. The area around Arco and Atomic City, Idaho is a flat volcanic caldera punctuated by massive buttes.

Arco is known to the casual visitor for being the first city in the United States to be powered by atomic energy and for having a cliff decorated by every graduating high school class since the 1920s. Nearby Atomic City is the home of U.S. Navy nuclear reactor research and development. 
At Pickles Restaurant in Arco, we met Four-Stroke Bill from Arkansas who pulled up at about 3 p.m. on his 250cc Kymco scooter. Bill is an enthusiastic scooter guy, having done more than 425 miles since starting out early that morning on his way to a scooter rally. He says the Kymco will hit 80 mph on the freeway.

Ah, Yellowstone!

After a pleasant cruise northward through eastern Idaho on US 93, we finally arrived in Yellowstone National Park for a two night stay at the Canyon Campground, one of a half dozen in the park.
We had barely entered the park when we happened on a welcome party of bison.
In the early morning chill, the many geysers in the park send up plumes of steam. Here's Daniel at the Norris Geysers, where a plank boardwalk lets visitors wander among the volcanic pools.
A new (to us) feature of Yellowstone are the big groups of Chinese visitors, a busload of which all crowded around to look at this unremarkable hole in the ground.
Daniel and I arrived at Old Faithful in time to have a leisurely breakfast before attending the next performance. Unlike most of the park's geysers, Old Faithful shoots both steam and water more than 100 feet in the air every 90 minutes, more or less. While we were enjoying the show, David was visiting Cody, Wyo. to have his bike's drive chain replaced. It had gotten noisy and kinky on the ride up from Las Vegas and he was fortunate to find a dealer willing to come in on Saturday and do the job.
The Lodge at Old Faithful Village is a vestige of an age of fanciful, rustic architecture. The lobby rises more than five stories with massive posts, a log ceiling and gigantic stone fireplace. After an earthquake shifted the support beams in the 1990s, visitors aren't allowed above the third story, but back in the day a band would play on a platform five stories above the lobby.
Yellowstone Lake is rimmed by hot springs and geyser fileds.
The Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River puts on a thunderous show. Notice the visitors on the observation platform on the brink of the falls at right.
A series of steel staircases -- more than 500 steps in all -- lead down to the Lower Yellowstone Falls. Daniel and I didn't go all the way to the bottom and took our time getting back to the top, resting every 25 steps or so. There was an overweight woman, red-faced and exhausted, sitting more than 400 steps down and refusing to move. "I just can't do it," she told her husband. We let the ranger at the top know that she was stuck down there. "I don't know what I can do," she said. "There's just me up here." The ranger was a petite 5-footer. Some visitors overheard us and said they'd check things out. There were many warning signs at the top of the stairs letting folks know what to expect, but ...
... after all those stairs, the Lower Falls looked much like the Upper Falls.
Sunday morning, we packed up and headed out of the park and over the Beartooth Pass. It was our best ride for wildlife: We saw a grizzly bear, hundreds of bison, deer and antelope. The pass had only opened 10 days earlier and there was still plenty of snow at the Top of the World. Here's Daniel and, in the distance, the Beartooth. 
And here's Flanman and the Tooth. It was our second visit in two years -- both times riding from west to east. This time the weather and road were perfect and the scenery stunning. So stunning, in fact, we plan to ride the pass again on Monday, this time from east to west.

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