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.


  1. Love the new update with the Bison pictures. Wish I had the chance to experience it myself. I would totally be the idiot on the evening news "women rammed by bison, after attempting to stroke it".

  2. Another great post George! I too like the Bison incident. And I would've been like that other biker riding into town clueless.

    Great country and you got great photos of it. Looking forward to the next one!

  3. Crud! I think I just lost my comment!! I hate it when I do that, and it's the second time this week! :(

    Great post! I'd be on that rock until all the bison left town. I've tangled with cattle...I don't want to tangle with a bison!

    Beartooth pass is stunning! I've heard of it, and just thought it was a nice motorcycling road. I didn't know about the views. Added to my bucket list. :)

  4. Thanks to all :-)
    Mike: it is a great country and the more places I visit the more I love it, love the people, love the different customs from across this land, specially love the central/west part.

    Bluekat: You have to do Beartooth pass, amazing views and landscape and I didn't see any bison there ;-)

    Sunfire: Wanna go back? I would go back tomorrow.

  5. Really great pictures George, I enjoyed the Bison taking over the town! That picture of the lake in the middle of the mountains is especially picturesque and the scenery is certainly hard to beat here in SA although we have been caught by wildlife on the roads on some occasions. A great ride write up which I am enjoying.

  6. Awesome report! I wish I was there with you.

  7. Andrew: Thanks. Being caught by wildlife in SA can be a whole different game, I would be more afraid of buffalo, leopards or lions and so on.

    Michael: Thanks, you should have come with us.

  8. I think I took a picture of that same chipmunk this summer when we were on the Beartooth Highway. That road is so awesome. I love the herd of bison!

  9. That was amazing with the herd in the roadway and nothing anyone can do about it but wait it out. So far, I must say you are having an amazing trip. The pictures are beautiful but I am sure the memories will last a lifetime. Great writeup!

  10. Motoroz: Beartooth Highway was one of the best roads on the trip.

    Kenneth: Thanks, it was a great trip.