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Albert's Western Stimulus Package


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Our plan was to head west this year and visit the prominent national parks in Wyoming, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. After lots of preparation an itinerary emerged that would take us from South Dakota through Wyoming, Montana and Idaho before we were done. Being of the non-camping faith, our second goal was to visit historic and/or unique lodgings along the way. In the end we succeeded at both goals and packed much more into the trip as well.


We started our two week journey in South Dakota’s Black Hills region staying in Custer. A picturesque little town centrally located to the area’s major attractions. Included were visits to Crazyhorse, Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park. The Needles highway is great. Big 270 degree turns have you passing over and under the road just traveled via curved bridges. As we would find out, buffalo are everywhere in the region.


Crazyhorse Monument



Mt. Rushmoore (with 2 extra heads):



Custer State Park:



There be buffalo in them hills . . .



And burros . . .



From Custer we travel on to Buffalo, Wyoming for our second layover. Some people see “boring” but crossing the Thunder Basin national grassland instilled a sense of awe in both of us. For easterners who rarely see such a vast landscape, there’s a real feeling of the power of the land to be had here.


Thunder Basin National Grasslands (Wyoming):



Buffalo offers the historic Occidental Hotel and provides our first taste of something unique in lodging. The “buzz” about town on our Wednesday arrival was the weekly bluegrass jam session at the Occidental Saloon. The hype did not disappoint. I counted at least 15 musicians playing at one point although there may have been more. A really fun and memorable night.


The Occidental Lobby:



They have running water too . . . :grin:




The Saloon:



This is Ed. He's 81 years old and, when he's not "keepin' the peace" he's busy building the Stone walls along the sidewalk in front of the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum in Buffalo (by himself!!).



From Buffalo we headed west to Red Lodge, Montana. More to come . . . .


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Joe Frickin' Friday
Some people see "boring" but crossing the Thunder Basin national grassland instilled a sense of awe in both of us. For easterners who rarely see such a vast landscape, there's a real feeling of the power of the land to be had here.


Here you've touched on some of the appeal that Nebraska has for me. Montana calls itself "big sky country," but they aren't the only state with that attribute: all of the Great Plains states share it. Moving across wide-open spaces like that conveys (to me at least) a far greater sense of epic-long-distance travel than winding through the forests and tiny farm fields of southern Michigan.

Great pics! Looking forward to round 2... :lurk:

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Here's another one from somewhere east of Cody I think. There's something hypnotic about a road arching into the distance like that.



By null at 2010-10-04

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From Buffalo we head northwest to Red Lodge, Montana. The ride takes us along US 14A where we cross the 9400 foot Summit Pass. This was our first (and thankfully only) snow event of the trip. We started up the pass from the east in a very light drizzle. After a few miles, knowing my partner would be cold, I joked over the intercom, “gee that looks like a little snow mixed in there”. My joke became a full reality a few miles later. First the ground become covered, then the shoulders of the road. Finally a strip of slush formed in the center of the lane between wheel tracks. The RT’s thermometer was reading exactly 32 deg F (freezing for all of you of the Celsius persuasion). I will admit to feeling some “pucker power” for the next few miles as conditions stayed about the same. Finally we began the descent on the western slope and things improved quickly. At the base of the range the RT thermometer had reached 66 degrees F. Had we taken any pictures (we didn't!), they would have looked something like this:


[ ]


While in Red Lodge we did the Chief Joseph Scenic highway and the Beartooth highway (twice) with its 10,970 ft pass. The Beartooth highway crosses an impressive and rugged bit of countryside. On the morning of the ride we ran in to some other folks on bikes at the gas station. They had just returned from the Beartooth pass where they were forced to turn around due to heavy ice on the roadway. Since my plan was to first head east then south and pick up the Chief Joseph before the Beartooth I felt we’d be fine by the time we got there. The day was crystal clear and the sun was warming quickly.


The Chief Joseph Scenic Highway



Notice the switchbacks winding into the valley below. :thumbsup:




I’m not sure if the Chief Joseph was the most picturesque road of the trip but it’s a strong contender. From the east, the road climbs from rolling hills to rugged peaks near the tree line. Snow capped ridges surround some sections. Switchbacks, ever changing geology and amazing vistas from the high passes are a treat to be sure. Not to be outdone, the Chief Joseph runs into the aforementioned Beartooth Highway if you’re looping back to Red Lodge. As if to live up to its name, we spotted our only bear of the trip as my wife snapped a picture of momma with two cubs along the road.


Bear to the lower right, cubs a little left:




Along the Beartooth . . .



Keeps on climbing . . .



Above the tree line and into the snow again . . .



After a couple of great days riding around Red Lodge we head west again, for Yellowstone. Stay tuned . . . .

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Traveling from Red Lodge to West Yellowstone Montana on the western side of the park itself, meant we could once again ride the Beartooth, this time in the other direction (yay). Following that we entered Yellowstone via the northwest entrance and made a complete east to west crossing after entering. One consistent feature of Yellowstone became evident immediately – wildlife! The number and variety of animals and birds is incredible. Buffalo, elk, pronghorn, eagle, osprey, you name it. Every day offered a new and amazing encounter. After three days we concluded there were probably as many buffalo in Yellowstone as there were motor homes and trailers. Trust me, that’s a lot!


Why yes, that's a buffalo.



But the elk are plentyful too.




This is one of my personal favorites. With early morning temperatures in the 30's, the hot springs appear practically devilish, sizzling in the crisp air.




The Mamoth Hot springs area offers plenty of thermal features.




A visit to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a must as well.



One of the numerous guysers in the Norris guyser basin.



And of course Old Faithful is, well, spewing faithfully (and regularly).



Colors are almost unearthly around the geologic activity.



The West Thumb area of Yellowstone Lake contains more thermal features.




And of course, the ever present wildlife.




Next it's south through Idaho on the road to Jackson Hole and the Tetons. Stay tuned . . . .

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From West Yellowstone we headed south to Jackson. I chose the Idaho side so we could see the Tetons from the western side. The choice offered the Mesa Falls Scenic byway which proved a wonderfully scenic stop. The 110 foot falls of the same name churned out a continuous rainbow among the tall pines lining the shore, on that sunny morning. A real unexpected gem to start the day.


Mesa Falls SP, Idaho.



Continuing south we cross Idaho farming country via the Teton Scenic byway keeping the range always on our left. All around us sprawls rolling hills of vivid gold and green. A really lush environment with the snow capped Tetons as a backdrop. Still further south we come to the Palisades Reservoir on the Snake River. We twist and bend our way north along US 26 into Jackson. Another fun filled and memorable section of highway.




Continuing further south we eventually reach the Palisades reservoir on the Snake River. Following the Snake into Jackson, it's easy to see how it got its name.



Of course I'm not lost, I have a gps.



Once into Jackson we make the obligitory pilgrimage to the "Million Dollar Cowboy Bar". Can you believe it, I got stuck on a childs saddle which made the rest of me look even bigger.



Jackson marks the last of the turns and we begin our eastward legs from here. Stay tuned . . . .

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Following our stop over in Jackson it’s north again, through the Tetons, finally turning east in Yellowstone, aiming towards Cody, Wyoming. The eastern edge of Yellowstone seemed to display the worst of the devastation caused to the vegetation by the pine beetle infestation. Vast tracts of gray, dying forest blanket many of the hillsides. Continuing east the terrain becomes rocky canyon reminiscent of any cowboy movie ever made. I love this stuff.


The road through Grand Teton NP offers incredible views of the range.




One of the more spectacular vistas is the view across Jackson Lake to the Tetons.




Heading east to Cody.



The Buffalo Bill reservoir outside Cody is like an oasis. Its unique green color was something we didn't see in any other body of water on the trip.



In keeping with the cowboy theme, we roll into the historic Irma in Cody. A great old hotel and saloon built in 1902 by none other than Buffalo Bill Cody himself. The evening’s festivities begin on the street outside the saloon in the form of an old western shootout. I opt to stay indoors and chat with a “real” old cowboy sitting by me. His terse critique of the show is “it’s an insult to our western heritage”. I tend to agree but steer the conversation in less confrontational directions. After all, my wife’s outside soaking up some of that that faux heritage right now!


Buffalo Bill's world famous cherrywood bar at the Irma.




Following the non-lethal shootout on the street we mourn the victim’s non-losses by toasting their non-deaths - repeatedly. We do this until we were sufficiently intoxicated to stagger up the steps to our room with all the authenticity of a real drunken cowboy (and girl). Yippe-tie-one-on!


From Cody it’s over the Cloud Peak Scenic byway and back into Buffalo Wyoming. The weather begins to cool and the wind picks up. There’s a definite feel of Fall in the air. Back in Buffalo, the Mansion House Inn provides more period accommodations and western hospitality. It’s a brief stay over and we strike out early the next morning for Rapid City. This last leg will take us through Devils Tower on the way.


One of the many views of Devils Tower from the path surrounding the base.



Hey does this rock make me look thin?



That's it for the story of our little journey. Thanks for following along. We're already thinking of what's next, so who knows . . . .


Did I mention they had buffalo out there? :wave:



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Did ya make it to the night blast at Crazyhorse?


Yes we did Whip, thanks for the heads up. It was really an incredible night, Korczak's (the orginating sculptor) wife spoke along with some other dignitaries. I tried for some pictures but, with my little point and shoot without a tripod there was no chance. Besides it went down to around 28 dgrees that night and I was shaking a bit. :grin:

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Did ya make it to the night blast at Crazyhorse?


Yes we did Whip, thanks for the heads up. It was really an incredible night, Korczak's (the orginating sculptor) wife spoke along with some other dignitaries. I tried for some pictures but, with my little point and shoot without a tripod there was no chance. Besides it went down to around 28 dgrees that night and I was shaking a bit. :grin:


I watched it on their webcam. It was amazing. The sound must have been awesome.


Thanks for posting all the pix.


I love that part of our country.



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Albert, thanks for taking us along and also your sacrifice to stimulate the economy. I notice that both of you found gold while enveloped by the rainbow at Mesa Falls.

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Nice report and pictures! :thumbsup:


I went to most of the same National Parks on my return trip from the UnRally this summer. Yellowstone NP and southwest South Dakota with Crazy Horse/Rushmore/Custer State Park and Needles Hwy. are a must see for everyone!

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Nice tale, although you seem to have omitted the parts between SD and PA.


Bill, my ahem, photographer, flew in and out of Rapid City. :grin: Let me summarize graphically for you. :rofl: The dashed lines approximate the turns in the interstates. :grin:



Pittsburgh,PA---------------Chicago,IL------------------Fairmont,MN----------------Rapid City,SD



Rapid City,SD---------------Austin,MN------------------South Bend,IN---------------Pittsburgh,PA

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Good stuff Al......that brings back a lot of good memories from my trip back in '05. I think I might need to do it again sometime soon.


BTW....speaking of snow. Notice the big tall stakes along the roadway. Thats so people don't drive off the cliffs in the winter. Now thats some deep snow



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Beartooth Pass. Brings back good memories of a solo trip to Yellowstone in '86 on my R90s. Thought it might be a neat road to get me into Yellowstone. It was a little more than that.


Got to ride it again in '98 going to Missoula for the MOA Rally. Again, it was just fabulous.


thanks for sharing.



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For easterners who rarely see such a vast landscape, there's a real feeling of the power of the land to be had here.


Having traveled all through that area, I’ll agree with you that there is nothing like the American West. I try to not take for granted where I live.


That said, having traveled through parts of the eastern United States, I still have the same sense of seeing beautiful scenery. Traveling through the Amish Country in Lancaster County, PA up to Nazareth to the Martin Guitar Factory is no less scenic than anywhere else. It’s just different.


One afternoon, I left DC headed west on I-66; turned south at Front Royal and for the next week didn’t put a tire on a four lane road until I needed to come home. Simply stunning. I want to see it all!


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I try to not take for granted where I live.


I totally agree with that sentiment David. I'm definitely blessed to have wonderful riding areas all around my home.

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Great photos and trip! Did you happen to visit the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody? Reminds me of the vastness of this part of the country and those blue skies are something.


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