Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 19 - Worland - Keystone

We have been on the road for 18 days, we have covered many miles through this beautiful land and yet it feels like we just left New Jersey a few days ago, we get up and are ready to hit the blacktop, spirits up and full of energy day after day.
We leave the motel and after a short ride through town find the Rams' Horn Cafe, we quickly park our bikes and go inside for a full breakfast.  We had been hungering for a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, home fries and toast and the Rams' Horn Cafe didn't disappoint us even though the service was a little slow.

We leave Worland and head east on route 16 towards Ten Sleep, a tiny town with a population of less than 500. Ten Sleep was an American Indian rest stop, so called because it was 10 days travel, or “10 sleeps,” from Fort Laramie (southeast) or Yellowstone National Park (west-northwest).  The road just out of Worland offers us some spectacular views, a landscape filled with weird looking rocky and colored sandy hills.  This land never ceases to amaze me with its beauty.  Every day is a new surprise.

A few miles later as we approach Ten Sleep we pass farms with beautiful lush green fields providing a beautiful contrast against the reddish colored hills in the background.

It's a complete change of scenery as we approach Big Horn National Forest, the road now winding and climbing through a rocky terrain, a beautiful canyon with majestic rocky hills.  The forest is named after the Bighorn River, which is partially fed by streams found in the forest.

A little later we pull off when we see Meadow Lark Lake.  We take a quick rest and pause to admire the beauty and serenity of the lake and its surrounding area.

We continue east through the park towards Buffalo where we pick Interstate 90 and then it's a quick dash of 70 miles on the slab until we reach Gillette.  We get off the Interstate and head south on route 59 towards Wright and the Thunder Basin National Grassland, located between the Big Horn Mountains and the Black Hills to the east.  Further down the road we take route 450 east and travel through another 70 miles of mostly deserted roads until we reach Newcastle.

We reach Newcastle with our stomachs rumbling, it was time for lunch.  We see Donna's Main Street Diner and quickly head there when we notice the "Home Style Cookin" sign.

With our bodies replenished we leave Newcastle on route 16 and head towards South Dakota and the Black Hills National Forest.  The forest's ponderosa pines are a nice change of scenery.

Our next stop is at the Crazy Horse Memorial, a mountain monument under construction in the Black Hills of South Dakota, in the form of Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance.  We enter the memorial park and head towards the visitor center but were a little disappointed that we could not go near the mountain, instead having to look at the carving from at least half a mile away.

We go inside the visitor center and spend some time reading about the history of Crazy Horse and The Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand.  I find the history and battles of the Indian tribes against each other and the United States Army fascinating.  As a kid I loved reading cowboys and indians stories.  The visitor center is a beautiful wooden structure decorated with Indian artifacts and pictures.

The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is still far from completion.  If completed, it may become the world's largest sculpture.  I doubt I will ever see it completed at the rate it's moving.  We leave the memorial and head towards Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  We take the last picture of the day by the sign because by the time we reach Keystone the top of the mountain is covered in fog and we can't see the monument.  We head towards Keystone where we quickly find a motel and decide to call it a day.  I later walk into a local restaurant and end the day with a sandwich and a cold one.

We covered 340 miles from Worland, Wyoming to Keystone, South Dakota.  We visited two National Forests and the Thunder Basin National Grassland.  Another amazing day with good weather and beautiful scenery. Tomorrow will be our last touring day, we will visit Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park and then we start our trek back to New Jersey.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day 18 - Cooke City - Worland - Part 2

As I said on my previous post, there was much more to my Yellowstone adventure and I had a big surprise waiting for me as I left the park.  I pull into Silver Gate, Montana, the first town on the north east exit and immediately have to pull to the side and dismount when I see the town filled with bison.  I'm on a motorcycle, there's no way I'm going to challenge a very large herd of bison by riding towards them.

I walk behind some cars for protection while the "boss" stares me down from across the street.  The bison is a magnificent and beautiful creature.  The bison's temperament is often unpredictable.  They usually appear peaceful, unconcerned, even lazy, yet they may attack anything, often without warning or apparent reason. They can move at speeds of up to thirty-five miles per hour and cover long distances at a lumbering gallop.

I move to a nearby store and chat with town folk who are obviously accustomed to these events.  I notice a few young people perched on a huge rock surrounded by bison.  I ask the locals if there's another way through town since I still have to meet my brother but alas, Silver Gate has one main road, I'm stuck until the bison decide to get off the road.  The store clerk, a young fellow, informs me with a big smile that I might be stuck in town for hours since the bison sometimes stay put or continue walking down the street effectively closing the road.  Shucks, I have no cell signal, my brother is going to be worried, maybe even upset if he doesn't hear from me.

I buy a drink and a candy bar and wait for the herd to move down the street.  I move across the street and join the others on top of the rock.  I snap a few pictures as the herd walks away and chat with the other folk, all tourist stuck in town.

The herd exhibits much restlessness during breeding season. The animals are belligerent, unpredictable and most dangerous.   One of the larger males stops in front of a car and stands there for a while huffing and puffing, both motionless for a while until the bison decides the car is not a challenge and moves on.   We get worried when we see a biker coming from the opposite direction heading directly towards the herd.  One of the locals screams at him to turn around and go away but he's too far to hear him.  The rider stands his ground for a while but then abandons the bike and runs to a nearby house for safety.  We all breath a sigh of relief.

The herd walks along route 212 grazing along both sides of the road for about an hour and a half and then decides to move off the road and within minutes the entire herd has disappeared into the forest.  Silver Gate has a few stores, a few homes and the majestic mountains of the Gallatin National Forest for a background, I stood there admiring the scenery and then realized my brother is still waiting for me, I get back on the bike and leave in a hurry.

I pull into Cooke City, a slightly larger town and start scanning for the BMW GSA, my brother's bike.  I see lots of bikes but there's no sign of my brother.  I was starving and I knew we had a long ride ahead of us, I stop and have a quick sandwich at one of the restaurants, sitting outside just in case my brother comes by. With no sign of my brother and since there's only route 212 ahead, I decide to continue hoping to run into him down the road.  I was right, he was just outside town taking photos of a beautiful waterfall.

My brother's photo
We continue on route 212 which crosses back into Wyoming before returning to Montana and the start of the Beartooth Highway.  The Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Highway 212 between Cooke City, Montana and Red Lodge, Montana. It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana-Wyoming border to the 10,947 ft (3,337 m) high Beartooth Pass. The pass has the most daring landscapes we have encountered so far on our trip.

Because of the high altitudes, snowstorms can occur even in the middle of the summer and the pass is also known for strong winds and severe thunderstorms.  We drive the next 69 miles (111 km) from Cooke City to Red Lodge through amazingly tight switchbacks to the top of the pass where we stop for pictures.  It was cold at the top but no snow. 

The descent into Montana is even more dramatic with a continuous series of left/right switchbacks interspersed with the occasional lake, just beautiful, no wonder it's called the "the most beautiful drive in America".

The "cool" shots
We stop at the sign welcoming us to Montana.  We continue descending towards Red Lodge along the beautiful mountains of Custer National Forest.  I find a little friend that trusts me enough to grab peanuts out of my hand.

We stop in Red Lodge for a drink, walk around town and then continue east towards Belfry.  We pick route 72 south and head towards Greybull where I had planned on spending the night.  The road now opening up again into endless stretches of beautiful and deserted highways.

We arrive in Greybull late in the afternoon passing the South Big Horn County Airport where I snap one last picture for the day of some old planes parked outside. We start looking for a place to spend the night but quickly find out the few motels are all booked up.  We find two other fellow riders at a gas station and after a little chit-chat decide to follow their advice and continue towards Worland.  We hit the road and quickly cover the 38 miles to Worland. 

We see a lit "vacancy" sign in front of a motel and quickly pull in.  It turns out the owner is a very friendly man from Pakistan, we chat for a while about our birth places, I'm from Mozambique, he's from Pakistan, we both from the other side of the world and come to meet in Wyoming.  Strange and beautiful world.

I had a wonderful day covering about 380 miles through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, Gallatin and Custer National Forests, amazing roads and beautiful landscapes, saw lots of bison and met a very nice Pakistani gentleman, another perfect day.  I hit the pillow thinking about Big Horn National Forest and Mount Rushmore on tomorrow's ride.   I was beat, I quickly fell asleep.