Monday, June 30, 2014

US Hwy 191: Paradise Valley, MT

It was such a beautiful drive up the Gallatin River valley from West Yellowstone, that I decided to check out the Yellowstone River valley down to the Park's north gate in Gardiner, MT.

The road definitely did not disappoint... It's called "Paradise Valley" for a reason! (Click to embiggen)

Stunning views for 50 miles going south, then the flip-side views coming back north... What a drive!

Gardiner is a pretty typical tourist mecca, packed with wilderness adventure companies -- offering whitewater rafting, horse pack trips, extreme fishing, etc. -- and the usual assortment of motels, lodges, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, etc. I only stayed there long enough to have lunch, take Happy for a long walk and share an ice cream. (Of which my dog ate well more than her half!)

Although I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Livingston area -- and will happily come back for a longer visit some day -- I'm going to push north tomorrow. With all the Fourth of July rodeos and other festivities coming up at the end of the week, it's going to get crazy and crowded around here.

I'll be heading up into the hinterlands of Central Montana, nearing the completion of this road trip at the Canadian border... Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

US Hwy 191: Pine Creek Lodge

Ten miles south of Livingston, MT -- and just a half mile up the hill from my campground -- is an unexpected culinary treasure. I was referred to Pine Creek Lodge by my campground hosts when I asked if there was anyplace to eat in the nearby area. At first glance when I pulled up, I figured it was going to be a typical "lodge" with mediocre food and rustic ambiance. I was totally wrong.

It's a small place, with a half-dozen tables inside and a few more on a deck outside for use in warm weather. There's also a small bar with five stools, just the kind of spot I like.

Scott runs a quiet, efficient operation, the kind where it's obvious people know what they're doing.

Katrina is a delightful hostess and server, helpful with suggestions about the menu and perfectly attentive.

The menu is one-page, but surprising in it's breadth of offerings. The food descriptions are simple and concise, but make it clear that there's a real chef in the kitchen, not just a cook.

My dinner was perfectly delicious, an impossibly fresh garden salad followed by the kind of melt-in-your-mouth ribs that can only be accomplished by skill and time. In addition to al dente seasonal vegetables and a tasty potato portion, the plating included a delightfully unexpected black bean and corn garnish. Not your typical "lodge" food by a long shot!

If you're ever in the Livingston area -- for which I reprise my enthusiasm -- be sure to make the short drive down the valley to eat at Pine Creek Lodge. There's no better way to finish off a good day of exploration than by having a great meal at an unexpected culinary treasure!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

US Hwy 191: Sheep Wagon

This "Sheep Wagon" at the Yellowstone Gateway Museuem is typical of what Montana shepherds hauled from site to site and stayed in while their flocks grazed nearby. Built in the early 1900's, it is based on the centuries-old Gypsy wagons of Europe and later adapted to accommodate rubber tires.

Plus or minus a few amenities, it looks a lot like the interior of my modern camper... Sign me up!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

US Hwy 191: Livingston, MT

Livingston, MT, is a delightfully charming little town. The clean, tidy, historic downtown area has a lively and prosperous feel to it that's a very welcome relief from all the broken down towns I've so recently seen. The mountain backdrop only adds to its appeal, even on a rainy and overcast day.

Livingston was born with the arrival of the railroads and became an important depot in cross-country rail service. Freight still runs through here, but discontinuation of passenger trains made the stunning 1902 depot building available to become the Livingston Depot Center and the town's centerpiece.

The well restored interior offers a glimpse into what was once the grandeur of rail travel. Extensive exhibits chronicle every age and stage of railroad history, with special focus on Livingston's role in it.

Across the tracks and a few blocks away is the Yellowstone Gateway Museuem which shares county's broader history.

It's a well above average local museum, with wide-ranging displays of settlers' life, local luminaries and native history.

There's an especially nice exhibit about the Lewis & Clark expedition in the area.

When Clark reached the Yellowstone River here, he described it as "wide, bold, rapid and deep."

On its bank is located Livingston's third jewel, a beautiful little town park named in honor of Sacajawea.

An elegant statue depicts her and her son on horseback while the animal drinks from the river.

The surrounding playgrounds, ball fields and picnic shelters are all tidy and inviting. A walking trail along the river offers a delightful stroll.

To say the least, I like Livingston a lot and strongly recommend it as a place to visit, enjoy and relax.

The skies are clearing, the temperatures are cool and the people are very friendly. There's a great little coffee shop, a few tasty looking restaurants and even a tiny downtown movie theater.

With all that on offer, I plan to stay here for another couple of days… Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

Friday, June 27, 2014

US Hwy 191: South-Central Montana

Driving north from West Yellowstone into South-Central Montana, US191 is simply a beautiful drive. Despite the residual clouds and overcast from last night's rain, I think you can see what I mean.

For nearly 100 miles, the route meanders next to the Gallatin River. It's in a lush green valley with Alpine hills all around and some majestic mountains in the distance. What's not to love?

The river is famous for fishing, verified by a large number of anglers parked at various access points. The river is also popular for rafting, and I saw numerous groups bundled and huddled in their craft.

Once reaching the city of Bozeman, MT, US191 joins I-90 going east for a short stint over a modest pass. At the town of Livingston, I drove a few miles south to a lovely little campground.

In very short order, my rig was set up and Happy was curled up in her comfy little doghouse. We just took a lengthy walk around the property which sits right on the banks of the Yellowstone River.

I think it's safe to say we'll stay here for a few days to enjoy the scenery and check out the area... Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

US Hwy 191: Can Ya Blame Me?

I'm taking an extra day to just hang out (and watch the World Cup game) at my camp in this valley…

Can ya blame me?

I plan to hit the road again tomorrow (or maybe the next day)… Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

Happy: We Found A Note!

Hi!... I'm Happy... I'm always Happy... Today I'm happy because we found a note!

When Macgellan was cleaning out our truck the other day, he found a note from one of the new young friends I've made on this road trip. Here's what it says:

In the short time I have known Happy, she became my inspiration. In life we do not always get a second chance. Happy went from being an unwanted and unloved dog to being amazing. She was saved and given a second chance. She was given the chance to do something spectacular with her life and she did it.

I recently got a second chance to do something, but after failing at it the first time, I have been hesitant as to how I will do this second time. Meeting Happy and learning her story has given me the courage to know that sometimes even though the first time at something may not work out, the second chance could be exactly what you need.

Happy is an amazing dog. I'm glad she got a second chance, and I have never been so thankful before for meeting a dog.

The best of wishes, Tara

Thanks very much for your note, Tara. I'm sorry it has taken so long for us to find it in our truck!

Always remember that the world is mostly full of good people who will help you out and give you a second chance when you need it. I hope your second chance is working out well and would love to hear from you about it in the future!

Love, Happy

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

US Hwy 191: "Unsigned" US Highways

In addition to US191, there are several US Highways which pass through Yellowstone National Park. Among them are US14, US16, US89, US287 and the portion of my old friend US20 that I was not able to drive in April 2013 due to it still being closed for the winter.

Technically speaking, these Highways are "unsigned" in Yellowstone, which simply means that there are none of the typically ubiquitous route signs along the roadways. It also means -- again, very technically speaking -- that they aren't actually considered to be US Highways within the Park.

The reason for this is that US Highways are required to be open for driving at all times. Since all roads in Yellowstone are closed in winter, they do not comply with US Highway requirements.

How do you get around a failure to comply? You say the rule doesn't apply to you. Hence, US Highways in Yellowstone are "unsigned" and therefore aren't actually US Highways. Got it?

Thankfully, GPS mapping systems either don't know or don't care about this technicality. All through the park, your map display will show the US Highway numbers. For example, here's a photo of my display just after I passed the intersection of US191 and US20.

The moment you drive out of Yellowstone, however, it's back to business as usual. Exiting the Park in West Yellowstone, you're greeted with all the appropriate US Highway signs to guide you on your merry way. Since you've also just crossed a state border, there's also a welcome to Montana!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

US Hwy 191: Yellowstone Express

I've been to Yellowstone National Park before and didn't really care for it, so my only purpose in passing through was to follow the route of US191 across its southwest corner as fast as possible.

The moment I arrived at the south entrance, I pretty much knew what my drive was going to be like. From there, the road is a long, narrow, uphill slog with lots of blind corners and cyclists to deal with.

The main reason I don't particularly like Yellowstone is that it just isn't that pretty. Because of its altitude, it's mostly scrub pines, bare rock and a few lakes. There are so many other, lesser known and visited areas that are just so much prettier in my book. Looking at the quantity of vehicles on the road, in every turn out and marginal parking spot, I'm obviously in the minority opinion on that score.

One amusing factor, however, is that because of how the road is laid out, it crosses the continental divide three times over the course of just a couple of miles. I grabbed shots of two signs, but missed the third because my hands were busy with the wheel to avoid a collision. The traffic was crazy.

The most famous of Yellowstone's features has got to be Old Faithful, for which -- in the photo below left -- the sign says to keep right. I took the left lane and viewed a few of the caldera's many other geothermal areas in passing. I kept saying to myself, "Don't stop when you're on a roll!"

From there, the road follows the Firehole River downhill, eventually exiting the park at its western edge. The total road distance between the south and west entrances is about 70 miles. I drove it in just about two hours, which is a pretty impressive "express" pace considering the conditions. Upon reflection, I think it's quite possible that I have logged the shortest visit ever to Yellowstone Park!

I'm now camped in a lovely valley just west of the park. I plan to stay here for a couple of days to relax and enjoy the beautiful Montana landscape and skies... Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

US Hwy 191: Leaving The Tetons Behind

Rolling by and through Grand Teton National Park, US191 is a good quality two-lane affair that's mostly wooded but offers frequent views of the mountains. What I failed to mention in my post yesterday, is that you can enjoy most of what the park has to offer from the highway!

I drove at the frequently posted speed limit of 45mph, but still found myself pulling out pretty often to let streams of cars speed by. I promise, that's all I'm going to say about the crowds today!

Past the northern boundary of Teton Park, the road continues through a lovely alpine valley on its way to Yellowstone National Park. Just beyond that distant rise is the next big park adventure!

I ended up transiting the entire southwestern corner of Yellowstone today, but that's a story which deserves a post of its own… Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

Monday, June 23, 2014

US Hwy 191: Grand Teton National Park

Visiting Grand Teton National Park today was a bittersweet experience. I've been here four, now five times in my life, once per decade since my early teens. With each visit, I've found myself more melancholy in the aftermath.

Teton Park is an impossibly beautiful place, and easily one of the most visually stunning in the world. (You know I'm qualified to say that, right?) Besides the sweeping mountain vistas, it encompasses several ecosystems and is a mecca for wildlife viewing. A river runs through it and it is steeped in history and heritage.

The park is also easily and readily accessible from all points, not only of the compass but of the world. There in lies the problem, at least for me.

There's something disheartening about standing in a wilderness paradise and having a steady stream of commercial and corporate jets on final approach right over your head. Buses full of tourists noisily unload at every viewpoint. Cars, trucks and RVs in all shape and size fill every parking lot to capacity and beyond. The once sleepy little town of Jackson, WY, has become a tourist town on par with Vail and Aspen, CO.

There's also the problem of pace. Teton is only a few miles south of Yellowstone, and is often a place people "do" in a day on their way to that far larger, far more famous park. Hence, they are typically in a hurry to see it all and do it all. If you prefer to take your time and "be" in a place rather than "do" it, you're likely to be as frustrated — even annoyed — as I was.

Case in point: I started my day with a drive along the Moose-Wilson Road, a scenic, seven mile route from the south entrance into the park. The whole point of the thing is its remote woodsiness as a good place to see wildlife.

The speed limit is 25mph, driving at which would be like running your cart through a supermarket and calling it shopping.

I found myself moving at less than 10mph, and pulling over every minute to let a string of cars race past me. My guess is that they were in a hurry to say they "did" the road.

At my speed, I saw a half-dozen moose, twice that number of deer and what I'm pretty sure was a small black bear, all less than 25 yards off the road. Even my dog Happy got up from her usual back seat sleeping to stick her nose out the window and notice all the wonders of where we were.

What did all the racers see? My guess is not much. I can report, however, that I caught up to them when they were all clustered at a large, establish parking lot, viewing a single moose cow in an exposed bog at a distance of at least 250 yards. I'm glad they got to see their moose.

Nevertheless, I made it a good day moseying throughout the park, trying in vain to get an iconic panorama of the majestic mountains. Here are a few of the least disappointing: (Click to embiggen)

My biggest peeve about the park is its fascist policies about dogs. Here are just a few of the especially egregious rules:
• Pets must be kept on a leash not to exceed six feet in length.
• Pets are prohibited on park trails.
• Pets must stay within 30 feet of any roadway.
• Pets are prohibited from making unreasonable noise or frightening wildlife.
• Pets are not allowed on the multi-use pathway.
By all means, let your pack of wild kids make enough noise to clear a herd of bison, trample all the delicate flora in the park and jump out into traffic whenever they mindlessly please, but don't you dare take your dog more than 30 feet from the road, let alone for a nice little trail walk. Bastards.

I know this all probably sounds like a rant. That's not my intent. I'm just reporting my findings.

If you're a tourist, by all means visit Grand Teton National Park. If you're a traveler — especially one with a dog — I suggest you skip it. It's a stunningly beautiful place with horribly ugly conditions. Sometimes the gain just isn't worth the cost.

I'll be continuing north on US191 in the morning, transiting right through Yellowstone National Park. Based on my experience in Teton today, I seriously doubt I'll bother making any kind of re-visit to what's guaranteed to be a madhouse. But, you never know… Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

US Hwy 191: To The Tetons

I'm inclined to say it's a shame the day was so overcast and cloudy, but it certainly adds some drama to the photos of my drive north on US191 from Rock Springs to Jackson, WY.

I'm camped right next to the Snake River in Jackson. If the weather holds, I plan to visit my old Teton Mountain friends in the Park tomorrow... Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy: Road Work Day!

Hi!... I'm Happy... I'm always Happy... Today I'm happy because it's a "road work day"!

Yesterday, I told you about my work on chore days. Today, I can tell you about my work on the road!

On "road work days" Macgellan does all the driving. I sometimes ride in the co-pilot seat, but I prefer to ride in my back seat lair. I've got a really comfy bed and there's a lot more room to stretch out and sleep! Here you can see me poised and ready for action on a moment's notice:

Whenever we stop -- which is pretty often! -- Macgellan and I both get out and do different jobs. He usually looks out and around, I guess to figure out where we are and where we're going.

My job is to put my nose down and check out everything. There are always so many new smells! After that, it's back in the truck and on to our next place. I love all my work days!

US Hwy 191: Flaming Gorge, Into Wyoming

Leaving Vernal, UT, driving north on US191 is another long, steep, uphill slog to a pass at almost 8,500 feet. I stopped at a viewpoint part way up to take a last look at the Uintah Basin geology.

Over the pass and down quite a few steep switchbacks, this sudden view demands another stop.

Standing on the primary fault that is the source/cause of all the amazing local geography, you can really see the up and down shifting that is called the Flaming Gorge. The ancient Green River still runs through the middle of it all, now dammed to create an extensive reservoir and recreation area. Bad luck that it was so hazy and overcast today, because the colors are world famous!

Continuing down the Gorge is a lovely drive, with many twists and elevation changes. If you look closely, you can see the road in the distance and the prospects yet to be navigated.

Just about the time you cross the border into Wyoming, the beautiful part of the Gorge is behind you. It's still an enjoyable drive as you traverse the green rolling hills of the high plains.

I've stopped in the town of Rock Springs, WY, where you may recall I passed through on my US30 coast-to-coast road trip. You may also recall that I got marooned here for five days of bad weather last spring during my US20 coast-to-coast drive. Because I know the area so well, I'm only planning to stay for the night and continue north to Jackson, WY, in the morning... Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.