Road Trip USA 2009 ...
Route 66, Canyons and National Parks
I expected the ride from Phoenix to Kingman along Route 93 to be a long, hot, flat one. However it turned out to be quite interesting. The road passes through the National Joshua Tree Forest. Joshua trees are very odd looking, I kept on wanting to stop to take a picture but there were very few places that were suitable for my bike and each one that was didn't have a Joshua tree near the road.
I stayed in a Days Inn in Kingman as I decided I wanted a bit of luxuary after two days sweating in the campsite at The Lost Dutuchman State Park. When I checked in, I asked the receptionist which way was east on the Historic Route 66. She pointed to the right, which I thought was odd, but the next morning I followed her directions. It was only after eight miles of thinking why is the morning sun behind my back that a sign confirmed I was heading west to Los Angeles! I just put it down to 'oh well I rode a bit more of Route 66 than planned'. The Historic Route 66 east of Kingman wasn't as good as I expected it to be. At each of the towns I expected to see funky Route 66 trading stations and old fuel stops but the small towns along the way, especially those in the Hualapai Indian Reservation, were almost deserted and the people looked very poor. I guess the Hualapai haven't tried the legalised gambling like some of the other nations.
The Historic Route 66, Arizona
I'm here at last! Route 66, Arizona
I did enjoy the Burma Shave adverts along the way though! They reminded me of a scene from 'The World's Fastest Indian' (a very good film) where the characters read out the signs to keep them entertained along the way. The adverts are split into a few signs seperated by about a quarter of a mile. For example one said "Those who overtake", "where they cannot see", "will see eternity", "Burma Shave". After a while I began to think I really did need a shave!
Trying to tell me something? Burma Shave advert, Route 66, Arizona
Seligman has really bought into the whole Route 66 cache, I think the town would not exist were it not for Route 66 tourists as it is a bit isolated off the Interstate 40. I spent some time wandering around buying a few stickers to prove I have ridden on Route 66 and looking at all the tacky tat that was on sale. I spent some time talking with the owners of Seligman Sundries. Apparently they mostly see Japanese tourists, normally by the coach load and they buy tons of memorabilia.
Seligman Sundries, Seligman, Route 66, Arizona
While I was in Seligman there were a large contingent of German tourists, who had come in by car. They went into The Rusty Bolt only to emerge with bandanas and tasseled waistcoats so they too can 'live the dream'.
Anybody for some tassels and a bandana? The Rusty Bolt Bikers Store, Seligman, Route 66, Arizona
Every now and then an imprompto parade, or maybe it is organised, runs though the town with a few beat up old cars and the truck from Seligman Sundries in order to drum up business for the gift shops.
Parade to drum up sales, Seligman, Route 66, Arizona
I'm not really sure I get the whole Route 66 thing! Most of the route has disappeared under Interstate 40, and no amount of dressing up in bandanas, chaps and waist coats that are more tassel than coat can bring back a time that no longer exists! Especially not when you are snapping it all on your $3000 digital Nicon and chatting on your iPhone! Besides there are much better biking roads running through towns that do appear to be stuck in a timewarp than Route 66! I can't help but wonder if those German and Japanese tourists go home feeling somewhat let down by the experience?
The only time I ever met anyone on Route 66 who looked like they embodied the spirit of the road was when I stopped to help a bicycle tourist. He was an old guy, with no teeth, brown from the sun or dirt who looked like he had been on the road forever. His bicycle and the trailer he was towing was held together more by hope than the many bits of tape and wire dangling from it. He had a puncture in his trailer wheel. Unfortunately we agreed that my repair kits would not fix his tire, but we spent fifteen minutes talking about what could have caused it and what we could do to fix it. He talked about maybe getting together a few bucks in the next town so he could buy a new wheel, but he thought that would be unlikely. I thought about giving him some money, but I had the feeling he would have been offended and would not have accepted it. As I left him, he was hoping someone would stop and give him and his rig a ride into Flagstaff about forty miles away!
The more bicycle tourists I meet, the more I am begining to think that bicycle touring is the best way to travel! It may be harder, and you may not travel as far but at least you don't have as many hassles like paperwork, services and fuel to worry about!
When I got to Grand Canyon, I was stunned. I never expected the scale of the place, you see it in pictures and on film but that just doesn't prepare you for just how big it is! For a big hole, it sure is mighty purty! I thought about how I would try and take a picture that would convey it's size but you just can't so eventually I decided that as I liked the layers on the walls of the canyon I would focus on those.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
There is a 'Rim Walk' that goes along the south side of the Canyon and I walked a bit of that as my bike boots and heavy jacket aren't really suited to hiking. There sure are a lot of Darwin award candidates out there as a number of them decided that climbing down to a ledge or standing, or sitting right on the edge was cool. They must think that the canyon sides are solid rock so hey what could go wrong. There are warning signs everywhere saying the edges are unstable but these lemmings obviously can't read.
Back a bit, a bit more, arrrggghhh. Grand Canyon, Arizona
There are trails that go down into the Canyon, and some that even cross it with a shuttle bus return journey. I would have liked do have done a few of these trails but I don't really have the right equipment for the job. A lot of the trails are marked as difficult, so I'm not entirely sure I am fit enough for them! They use a story of a girl, who at the age of fourteen had run the Boston marathon and who had died from heat exhaustion and dehydration while hiking in the canyon, to illustrate the dangers but my guess is there are still a few people who get into trouble every year.
Before coming to the States I considered white water rafting on the Colorado as one of the activities I'd like to do while here. Unfortunately you have to book 'months in advance' so I guess I'll have to return one day to the Canyon to hike and raft it.
While wandering along the rim walk I saw a Harley three wheeler towing a trailer. I have seen a few bikes towing trailers but never one towing a compact camper! Talk about biking in luxury!
Biking in luxury and style. Grand Canyon, Arizona
I stayed at Desert View campsite on the eastern end of the south wall. When I was pitching my tent, my Harley riding neighbour came storming out of his tent and started yelling abuse at his neighbours. I think the words 'it sounds like a f*&king zoo' were mentioned. It turns out his neighbour and her kids had spent the last half an hour complaining about the canyon, and the campsite (no hookups, water or showers) and he had enough! He was also trying to sleep off a six hundred mile ride through the desert the previous night. I initially thought that he wasn't a very pleasent bloke so decided that I would give him a wide berth, but later we got talking and he turned out to be a really nice guy. He was from San Diego, and was quite happy to give me a place to stay if I was ever down there. He had spent a lot of time living in Japan, and he and his Japanese wife both travelled on his Harley. I'm not sure where they put everything. He obviously thought me slow when I said I average about two hundred and fifty miles a day!
Where I'm headed tomorrow, Desert View, Grand Canyon, Arizona
I have always wanted to see Monument Valley, probably having been influenced by watching too many westerns as a kid so even though it was a bit of a detour I planned a visit to the valley as part of my trip. The ride there was quite hard, it went through very hot and dusty desert and through very poor towns in the Navajo and Hopi reservations. Approaching the valley you start to realise what a special place this is, you come over a small rise and all of a sudden the first 'monuments' appear out of the desert. When I stopped there was a German guy on an imaculate BMW 1200GS, dressed up in all of the best equipment taking pictures of his bike. Imagine a German Ewan McGregor and you get the picture, although to be fair he didn't have the same backup crew Ewan did. It made me realise just how silly I must look, taking pictures of my own bike as a mark that 'Troll was here'. I think he kind of looked down on my bug and dust encrusted Wee-Strom because he wasn't the most talkative fella.
Approaching Monument Valley, Arizona
Wow! Monument Valley, Arizona
He told me that a big bike ralley was heading this way. I think his plan was to join in. The last thing I like is crawling along with a hundred other bikes behind some form of police escort, it doesn't sound like biking freedom to me, so I quickly jumped on and rode up to the visitor center. The Navajo run the monument and funds from the entrance fee, $5, go towards the Navajo nation. When I rode up to the gate and started fumbling for my wallet, a huge truck appeared with flashing lights and a POW-MIA flag. The attendent at the gate said 'just go on', so well done Troll you managed to save $5 and now some poor Navajo kid won't get an education! I felt quite guilty about it.
The old visitor center has been replaced with a swanky hotel, gift shop and resturant and it looks over 'the view' that everyone comes to see. There is a dirt road that runs along the valley floor, but yet again my fears over falling and breaking another bone meant that I didn't ride it. Once I get over two years of recovering from a broken arm, I must go do a dirt riding course and try and build some confidence.
The view that everyone comes for! Monument Valley, Arizona / Utah
Navajo POW-MIA riders. Monument Valley, Arizona / Utah
I arrived just before the bike rally, so everyone there asked me if I was one of them. I said to them 'as I'm riding a Japanese bike and as I'm not Navajo, they'd probably stone me to death' was met with puzzled looks. I never did see that German guy, who wanted to ride with them, at the visitor center. I wonder if he made it!
It turned out that the 'rally' was actually the start of a ride from Monument Valley to Washington to deliver a petition asking (demanding?) better living conditions for Navajo veterans. They were riding under the POW-MIA banner. Although I agree with their cause, British veterns from the 'War on Terror' also have poor living conditions and support, I'm not sure whether I think it is healthy to focus so heavily on past wars. I think for example that the British nation could do with forgetting a bit and moving on from the Blitz and the Battle of Britain! Sometimes I think some people define themselves too much by a single influence in their lives, life after all is a patchwork of experience that makes us who we are. I am definitely not a Freudian, I do not believe that influences from childhood need shape who we are as adults or that a traumatic experience such as war need shape the rest of our lives.
Navajo POW-MIA bike riders! Monument Valley, Arizona / Utah
I didn't stay to long as there were a whole lot of speaches from different dignitaries, some which highlighted the divisions within the leadership of the Navajo people. Monument Valley was apparently 'finally chosen as the starting point after much argument over where it should begin'. Perhaps poor leadership is the root of the poverty you see riding through Indian Reservations, as it is in Africa!
Riding north from the visitors center you get a spectacular view down into the valley and you also get great views of some other 'monuments' nearby.
The view north of Monument Valley, Utah
On the way to Medicine Hat, named after a balancing rock that looks like a hat, you also ride past the Valley of the Gods which also looked spectacular. A dirt road takes you down into the valley, but I decided not to take it as I was low on water and it was very isolated.
Valley of the Gods, Utah
I had been advised to take the road north out of Medicine Hat even though it had a dirt section, not knowing the state of the road (easy, wide, hard I found out later) and having a fear of dirt riding by myself in the middle of nowhere I decided to take a detour around it, to join Route 95 north. This road and Route 24 west turned out to be the highlight of Utah for me. It is difficult to describe these roads and the variations in scenery along them, perhaps Dvorak's Planets is the best description. Along this route you encounter scenery from each of the planets. One second you are riding though red canyons on Mars, turn the corner and you are riding on the moon. Ok so the moon is not a planet but you get the idea. As I was riding down into Glen Canyon, I got all choked up and may even have cried a little at how lucky I was to be able to see this. I guess if I was at all manly I would blame it on sun stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration but the landscape is simply out of this world. The camp ground host at my camp that night also told me she had cried seeing it under starlight. I didn't take a lot of photographs along the way, as there are not many hard shoulders to pull off on and I did not fancy struggling to lift my bike out of a ditch, but I will remember the ride for the rest of my life!
Carving canyons on the way to Glen Canyon, Route 95, Utah
Entering Glen Canyon, Route 95, Utah
Amazing colours and rock formations, Glen Canyon, Route 95, Utah
Aquatic invaders in a desert? Glen Canyon, Route 95, Utah
A poor photograph can't capture its' beauty! Glen Canyon, Route 95, Utah
Once you come out of the Canyon you are suddenly in the middle of a very sandy desert, I tagged onto the back of four Goldwings and let them drag me into Hawkins. Hawkins is a dusty crossroads, featuring a gas station, a boat yard (in the middle of the desert) and Ol Jed's Smokehouse. I had been told that if I saw a smokehouse I should stop and have some buffalo jerky, so when I saw it I went inside. Ol Jed, well not really, a young guy gave me samples of every type he had. I bought peppered buffalo, as it was most similar to biltong, but they were all really good! He complained to me that he had to get USDA approval so he couldn't give me the really good stuff! I suggested he look up some biltong recipes and start making that, but I think he was more interested in making jerky out of exotic animals like Kangaroos.
Ol Joe's Smokehouse, home of spiced rubber oops I mean jerky, Hawkins, Route 95, Utah
From Hawkins I took Route 24 down towards next objective, Bryce National Park. I had noticed Capitol Reef National Park on the map but hadn't thought much of it. When I got there though I was astounded, it just continued the excelent ride where Route 95 left off. Capitol Reef's rocks look like they have been shaped by water because there are lots of curves and hollows in them.
Capitol Reef National Park, Route 24, Utah
Some of the rock formations even look like icing cake decorations, almost fluid, like you could go and shape them with your hands if you wanted to!
Capitol Reef National Park, Route 24, Utah
I also kept running into the same guy riding a Goldwing, he would suddenly appear in my mirrors. I would move over, stick a foot out to indicate to him to pass and he would shoot past and dive into the next bend with a cheerfull casual wave. There is no better sight than seeing a big Goldwing being hustled into corners by someone who knows what they are doing.
At one of the stops in the park I met Chris, she had ridden her Bonnie down from Washington, and it was the first Bonnie I had seen since being in the States. We talked for quite a while about the usual thing, routes, destinations etc. I would have liked to stay at Capitol Reef a bit longer but as it was getting late I had to find a campsite, so we parted company but not for long it turned out.
Chris's Bonnie, Route 24, Utah
The campsite at Capitol was surprisingly full, the first time I have come across a full campsite mid week, so I had to continue south on Route 12 towards Bryce. Only a few miles away from the Capitol Reef campsite I came across Singletree campsite up on Mount Boulder. It was a great campsite surrounded by pine trees with a stunning view of the valley below. The camp site hosts were very welcoming as well and I talked to them for a while about campground hosting. It seems like a good setup, especially for retired people. I asked him what being a campground host entailed and he said 'cleaning any trash left on a site after someone has left and cleaning the restrooms'. I asked if there was anything else and he said 'no that's about it'. They also get paid! He and his wife work as campground hosts in Utah during the summer and then work as campground hosts in Texas in the winter. What a cool setup, when the Troll grows up he wants to be a campground host.
I also me a fellow biker at Singletree, he worked as an aircraft performance engineer highup the scale at Boeing. I hinted as hard as I could about any jobs, but alas he didn't offer me one. Oh well the journey continues!
The next morning was cold up on Mount Boulder and I wasn't surprised to see snow up on the top of the mountain pass. I stopped at the visitor center in Boulder but it was closed, as I was standing there I heard the distinctive sound of a British parrallel twin go buy. It was Chris! I quickly put on my helmet and gave chase, it wasn't easy catching her. We spent the rest of the day riding together to Bryce and looking around Bryce together. It was good having a co pilot after 28 days of riding alone. She even said it was nice riding at a slower pace (my pace) as she normally rode a lot faster and missed some things, I'm not sure if that's a compliment.
The road south of Boulder was scary, it runs right along the top of a ridge with big drops on both sides of the road. It's a bit like riding a curvy razor blade, I wanted to look at the scenery but didn't want to go plummeting off into the abyss.
Canyons south of Boulder, Utah
Before going to Bryce I persuaded Chris to go see the Kodachrome Basin State Park, on the basis of information I had been given in New Mexico by a fellow rider. It turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, the scenic 'road' wasn't actually a road but a trail, and we didn't have enough time to get off and walk.
Bryce Canyon is amazing, it looks a bit like a mixture between one of those bottles of layered coloured sand (remember those, haven't seen one for years) and coloured spires that are called Hoodoos. At first I thought, it can't be real. Someone must have gone down there and painted the spires that colour, they were so pink and so uniform in colour. The layered sand on the edges of the canyon also hadn't mixed which I couldn't understand.
I think a Pauite Indian legend describes best how they were formed, the scientific explanation of alternating heating and cooling causing erosion sounds too dull when looking at such beauty:
Before there were any Indians, the Legend People, To-when-an-ung-wa, lived in that place. There were many of them. They were of many kinds-birds, animals, lizards and such things-but they looked like people... For some reason the legend people in that place were bad. Because they were bad Coyote turned them all into rocks. You can see them in that place now; all turned to rocks; some standing in rows; some sitting down; some holding onto others. You can see their faces with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks...
There are trails that go down into the rim, but the sweaty tired look on the people who dragged themselves out of the canyon persuaded Chris and I it wasn't a good idea to hike down.
Did someone spray paint those colours? Bryce Canyon, Utah
Can't fit it all in one shot! Bryce Canyon, Utah
There are a number of viewpoints from the rim of the canyon and the scenic road continues to climb above 9000ft to give long ranging views all the way to Navajo mountain a hundred miles away. While at one of these views I noticed a warning sign, I'm still not sure what to do in a lightning storm when on my motorcycle.
Stay in my car but I'm on a bike! Bryce Canyon, Utah
After a fun day riding together we parted company, Chris had to head north and I had decided to camp at Bryce so I could do one of the trails in the cool of the evening and wearing my sneakers rather than my bike boots.
It was a good decision to stay, because from the bottom of the Canyon the view is even more spectacular. The trails, although short (1.5mi) drop steeply into the Canyon. I made the comment 'it's like plummeting into the bowels of hell' which raised a few nervous laughs from a German tour group.
Plummeting into the bowels of hell! Bryce Canyon, Utah
The view is worth it! Bryce Canyon, Utah
The view is worth it! Bryce Canyon, Utah
Close up it is even harder to believe that the pink color is natural as it is so vibrant and uniform. It is also quite hard and doesn't rub off! Dulux anybody?
That pink is unbelievable! Bryce Canyon, Utah
The next morning I left way to early, the sun had barely risen and at 8000ft with a clear sky the previous night the temperature had dropped to around zero. I froze on the bike until getting to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I had decided that as I was here and as I already had a valid pass to the north rim, that I may as well take the 200 mile detour south to go and have a look. The north rim is not as busy as the south rim and it has a fantastic lodge that clings to the edge of the canyon, you could have a beer while looking at the view (if only drinking beer wasn't so taboo). Most of the views are very similar to the Desert View on the south rim, but I was glad that I made the detour even if only to make sure I didn't regret it later. I think the north rim would be a good place to camp and hike from.
I had planned to spend the night at the north rim, but all the campgounds were full so I decided to make for Zion and camp there. This took me along the escarpment of the Colorado Plateau through the Arizona desert. I saw a sign for Pipe Springs National Monument so decided to stop, it was worth the short break. Pipe Springs consists of a Musuem telling the history of Paiute Indians and the Mormon settlers in the area of a natural, reliable spring. It has a few buildings from the Mormon days, including Winsor Castle!
Paiute shelter, who needs a mortgage! Pipe Springs, Arizona
My transport if I was a mormon settler, Pipe Springs, Arizona
The guide who took us around Winsor Castle was a bit of a character, he didn't have much to work with since it is not really a castle (although built for defense it was never tested) as it is really a farmhouse. He talked a bit about making cheese and butter and then transporting it to market in St George and every now and then he'd pick something up and say 'any idea what this is?' and I'd say 'candlestick maker' or 'fly trap' and the rest of the group would look at me disparagingly as some sort of know-it-all.
Winsor Castle? One is not amused! Pipe Springs, Arizona
The rest of the ride to Zion National Monument was not much fun, it was hot, very windy and dusty. So I was not impressed when I got there and discovered that all the campgrounds were full and I was even less impressed when driving the scenic drive through the park that all of the viewpoints were full. Topping it all off was a guy in a 4x4 who insisted on driving one inch off my rear wheel. I pulled over to let him past, lost my temper and yelled an insult at him. It was only later that I thought he may not understand what that particularly British word means! I decided to get out as quick as I could. Do not go to a National Park on a weekend!
I stayed in Glendale campground for two nights under a nice orchard with some donkeys and alpacas for company. I also met two German bicycle tourists, they had started in New York but had been defeated by the winds on the plains and in Texas at various points and had hired a car. We tried to go to the only resturant in town for a beer, but it was closed on a Saturday night! I did manage to go to resturant on the Sunday during the few hours it was open, they served game meats and real micro-brewery ales! Talk about finding the unexpected in a small town. I ignored the 'Rocky Mountain Oysters' on the menu as I thought they were actually oysters. It turns out they were Buffalo testicles, if I had known that I would have tried them!
I was amazed at the German bicycle tourist's 'rig', he rode a recumberant bike and said it was a lot easier to tour on than a normal bike as you can move around on it, your arms don't get as tired and it is less affected by the wind. She was riding a normal bike, but I think was a bit jealous of his bike. Maybe I need to add one of them to my toy collection when I eventually get home!
Recumberant bike touring! Tough Germans, Glendale campsite, Utah
During the night my old one man tent failed, both fibreglass poles broke. The heat of Arizona had caused them to bend permanently and the cold of Utah must have made them brittle. So one of my objectives for the next day was to buy a new tent.
After a relaxing day off the bike in Glendale it was time to head north again, up the US 189 which ran along a broad valley in between two snow covered mountain ranges and which passed through a number of small Mormon towns. I stopped for breakfast at the Butch Cassidy Cafe, when I asked the significance of name I was told that he had a house in Gunnison. I had always thought he was a fictional character.
I also stopped at the Fairview Musuem, while parking my bike an old battered truck pulled up and the old battered man (not really but it sounds good) driving it said I could drive up on the pavement and park in front of the main doors in the shade. It turned out he was the Museum's director, but that day he was also its gardener. The Museum was quite facinating, it had a mamoth skeleton, a collection of local art, an extensive collection of sculpture from Avard T Fairbanks (a very famous Utah artist) and a collection of domestic items. I really liked the collection, especially the old clothes washers. There was also an old milk seperator that was just like my grandfather's one, I guess it is not a good thing seeing items you used as a kid in a Museum collection. The director was a very helpful guy and he pointed me in the direction of a scenic byway that crossed the famous Skyline Drive.
The byway was fantastic, although it was very cold with snow covering both edges of the road. Electric Lake was amazing.
Electric Lake, US 264. Utah
I should have camped at Scofield, as the campsite looked very nice but I decided as it was early I would carry on. It took ages before I found another campsite at Starvation State Park, when I pitched my new Walmart (the only place I could find selling tents in the small towns) tent I discovered that it did not have any guy ropes, was very flimsy and had only a tiny fly tent. In short it was a complete piece of junk, the first fifteen knot breeze would have carried it and me with it across the lake.
Cheep Walmart tent, this won't work! Starvation Lake, Utah
Utah delivered one final surprise, Flaming Gorge National Park. The Gorge is entered by a red walled gorge, hence the name but it could be just as aptly named Flaming Gorge as the forest had been hit by a huge fire in the past. The ride through the pass was stunning, and the corners were also very tempting.
Utah's final surprise, Flaming Gorge National Park, Utah / Wyoming
Nice corners too, Flaming Gorge National Park, Utah / Wyoming
I had a choice, either continue up the US 191 (original plan) or take the smaller US 530 which looked a lot closer to the park. I opted for the second, I still wonder if that choice was correct as the US 530 was long and straight and rather windy. The US 530 also proved to be a taster of the day's riding, when I pictured Wyoming I always though of it as a state of trees, lakes and plains. I did not expect it to be like Arizona! South West Wyoming is wide and windy! For the whole day I had a westerly gale while I was heading north so I had to keep the bike lent at about 20 degrees to try and make it go straight. I even tried sitting with one butt cheek off the saddle but that was just uncomfortable. As each oncoming truck passed me it was like taking a punch in the head, as it first sucked me in and then slammed me back in the slipstream. After a few hours I was exhausted and very sore!
A taster of the day's riding, long, hot, flat and windy, Flaming Gorge National Park, Wyoming
I stopped at Rock Springs Tourist Information where the assistant was the most informative and helpful I have met in these places. He selected and gave me a whole bunch of maps, drew out the best routes. He told me to look out for wild horses on leaving Rock Springs, but with the cross wind to deal with I never did get a chance to look out for them. I am not even sure if I could tell the difference between a wild horse and a tame one!
He also told me that I had to stop at Farson Merchantile for the icecream and needing no further encouragement I obeyed his advice. I had two scoops of Maple and Walnut and couldn't finish it. The only smaller size was a one scoop child portion. The menu went up to five scoops! While eating my icecream I got talking to the four year old son of the waitress, well actually it was the other way around as he was busy talking to me showing me where his dad goes deer hunting and where his favourite fishing spot was on the postcard display. My friend also has a son about the same age and it was amazing to listen to the differences in their experiences, my friend's son will talk excitedly about petting an animal at a petting farm and here this kid was telling me excitedly about shooting an animal. It's interesting how our environment and our experiences shape us as people.
Farson Merchantile, icecream everyone stops for, Farson, Wyoming
Another recomended stop along the way was Pinedale Mountain Man Museum. I was a bit tired, but managed to work my way around the museum, I really liked their display of commerative Winchester rifles. The museum celebrates the role the Mountain Man played in opening up the west. Outside the museum I got chatting to a guy who was dressed as a Mountain Man in front of a teepee tent. It turns out I had just missed a demonstration of Mountain Man skills to about five hundred odd schoolkids, including firing of black powder musket rifles. I don't think the display included a reinactment of the cussing, whoring and fighting that Mountain Men were also legendary for, but I dared not ask! He told me he eventually had enough of his big city job and life out east and had moved to Wyoming opening his own museum (he was just helping out in Pinedale) doing daily reinactments for school kids and tourists, interesting career move one which I could relate to.
Mountain man tent, good enough for them, good enough for me, Pinedale Mountain Man Museum, Wyoming
After the museum I rode up to Lake Fremont campground, the hills around the campground were covered in snow and the campground was almost deserted. When I completed my self registration (most forestry campgrounds have a system of self registration where you fill out an envelope, put the correct amount of cash in it and put it in a slot) and posted it in the slot it fell right through onto the ground by my feet. Not sure what to do I left a note and took my cash with me. A ranger never did come around to talk with me. The campground was quite primitive with lots of scary warnings about bears like storing your food in a bear canister (I don't have one) or tying it up in a tree (no rope) and having nothing that smells like food or toiletries in your tent (don't I smell like both). So it was going to be a sleepless night listening for imaginary bears about to pounce on my tent!
Bear warning, Lake Fremont campground, Wyoming
My new tent pitched, go away bears, Lake Fremont campground, Wyoming
Although it was freezing the sunset made up for it.
Sunset at Lake Fremont, Wyoming
From Lake Freemont it was a short hundred and fifty mile ride to Jackson Hole through a fantastic pass, gateway to the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Initially I thought about staying the night and maybe having a beer or two in the local pubs but one walk around the place convinced me to carry on. It just reminded me too much of ski resorts and apres ski type 'fun', especially reminding me of Courcheval 1800 with fancy designer stores and themed bars. Yuck, give me a tent any day!
The square is perhaps the most famous part of Jackson, featuring arches made from antlers. Don't worry no deer where harmed in the making of these arches, the deer naturally shed their antlers each year. Apparently the local scouts movement collects them and auctions them off, mostly to asian customers who use them in making an aphodesiac, for charity.
Jackson Hole Square, Wyoming
Riding up through Moose into the Teton's showed me a view that told me loud and clear that I was in for something special.
First sight of the Tetons, Wyoming
As I was trying to get a shot of the Tetons and I, I almost lost my camera to the wind as it was almost blown off the bike (I use the self timer and a bit of guesswork) and then my helmet was blown off the bike breaking the visor. The visor is badly scratched but still works but it would be nice to find a new one (always carry a spare). This convinced me to park it up for the day even though it was only midday.
Walking towards the camera as it's about to be blown off my bike, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
I headed for Lake Jenny campground, there was still snow on the ground but the view across the lake of Grand Teton was spectacular.
View of Grand Teton from Lake Jenny, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
After putting up the tent, I had the rest of the afternoon free for a hike. I went to see the rangers and asked them for a relatively easy five mile hike, they suggested a walk around Lake Jenny to see the Hidden Falls. She said to me 'there is probably some snow on the ground', it turned out there was quite a lot of snow and it was exhausting and very wet just doing the two and half miles to the falls. The altitude, 9000ft, may also have played its part in tiring me out.
Where am I? This doesn't look right! Go away bears! Hiking to Hidden Falls, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
The Falls turned out to be worth the hard walk, especially as the snow was melting so there was a lot of water crashing over them.
The beautiful Hidden Falls, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
After the falls I decided to hike up to Inspiration Point, a mere half a mile further. This path turned out to be a bit of a climb along a ledge cut into the side of the mountain. Along the way I met my first moose, it was just lying twenty yards off the trail muching away. It had been there for some time as all the hikers mentioned it. Further along the trail I also met a 'mountain beaver', someone told me it was just a groundhog but 'mountain beaver' sounds better!
My first moose, twenty yards away and I'm not in Canada! Hiking to Inspiration Point, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
The view from Inspiration Point lived up to its name, especially the view back across Jenny Lake. The trail climbed a further fourteen miles up the Canyon to the glacier, but I had enough for the day and decided to catch the last ferry back across the lake. On the ferry I met a father and daughter who had hiked five miles around the other side of the lake. They were from Tennessee and the father was an ex-biker so he talked about bikes the whole way back, I never did get to talk much with his, rather nice, tall dark haired daughter. Damn, Troll strike two!
View of Lake Jenny from Inspiration Point, campsite behind trees and snow on lake shore! Hiking to Inspiration Point, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
After a 'delicious' meal of Spagettios and meatballs, I went and sat at the waters edge to watch the sun go down behind the Teton's. It didn't so much as set as suddenly turn off as it soon got very cold. During the night the temperature dropped to 29F, so it was let's say 'rather bracing' in my tent.
That night I met Darrell and Kelly from California, they were very friendly and welcoming and invited me over to their campsite for beers around their fire. Upon finding out that I'm partly South African Kelly said 'I know a South African, he's the coolest guy', I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that or to live up to those high standards but a few beers later we were chatting away quite freely about all sorts of subjects. I spent quite a bit of time talking to Darrell about his hobby / passion of bow hunting, it sounds very skillfull and a much more challenging way of hunting than sitting in a hide with a high powered rifle with telescopic sights. If all folks are like this delightful couple in California I can't wait to get there! Darrell also invited fellow neighbours Paul and his son around, Paul works as a catalytic converter designer, when I suggested he makes them smaller, lighter and cheeper for bikes he said that they were really in the business of selling platinum! Paul's son was off for work experience in Idaho Falls as Mechanical Engineer for the Department of Energy. For a young engineer he seemed remarkably sober, apparently he doesn't even like the taste of beer! I can't remember much from when I was twenty but I don't think I had much of an adversion to beer.
Watching the sun go down and the reflections in the clear water, Lake Jenny, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
I decided to spend another day at Lake Jenny and headed off on a ten mile hike to String and Leigh Lakes, the early morning calm was perfect for those relecting lake shots.
Lake Jenny reflecting the Tetons, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Lake Jenny reflecting the Grand Teton, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Initially the hike was easy going, but as I approached String Lake the snow got deeper and slushier making it much harder.
Hiking to String Lake, note Edwardian pose! Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Hiking to String Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
After a great couple of days in the Tetons it was time to head for Yellowstone, unfortunately timing meant I would arrive just in time for the Memorial Day weekend rush but it couldn't be helped.
The road to Yellowstone proved to be challenging as there was a long section of road works where we had to ride over gravel, water, broken asphalt and probably a bit of ice. I just stood up on the pegs and hoped for the best, especially hoping that when I came off the tail gaiting idiot behind me wouldn't crush me too bad.
Approaching Yellowstone the snow coverage got heavier and heavier until I ended up riding between two banks of snow I couldn't see over. Travelling into the park I passed a real hippy looking hiker (long hair, berret, small pack) hiking down the road. Over the next three days I passed the same guy, and I also passed him on leaving the park. It would have been facinating to talk to him.
Snow at the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Hope it's not all like this, I don't have snow pegs!
My first objective was to secure a campsite before they all filled up, so I rode passed all the sights. A Madison campground they just looked at me as if I was mad when I asked if they had a tent site for three days so I thought oh no, here we go. Fortunately the second campground, and the best I saw at Yellowstone in my opinion, had some space so I quickly paid for three days and put up a tent.
Then I set off on the 'southern loop' of the park which takes in the geysers and lakes. Norris campground is right next door to the most active and in my opinion most interesting geyser basin. Unfortunately the park's and world's biggest geyser did not decide to go off while I was there, it is unpredictable with a period of four days to fifty years. I really enjoyed the trek around the basin despite having to do it in bike boots and carrying my heavy bike jacket, Yellowstone is a mixture of high altitude (cold) and low altitude with in built heating (hot). The pictures of the geysers and springs always came out looking rather lame so I began taking more general shots of the different landscapes, apparently dead (they are not really dead as many microbes feed on the Hydrogen Sulfide turning it into Sulfer Dioxide which when mixed with water produces acid that disolves the rocks into mud) hot ones and live ones.
Norris geyser basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Norris geyser basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Norris geyser basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
A number of the basins were clossed to 'human traffic' as the bears were coming out of hibernation and they apparently use the basins to recover from their long sleep. Being a law abiding type I obeyed the signs, especially as I thought seeing a basin is not worth having grumpy bears, but a lot of other people didn't obey the signs and just walked in. There are even the really stupid types who ignore the signs telling you not to leave the boardwalks, those that do usually find out the hard way that the ground is usually a thin crust over superheated water and steam.
One basin which was open featured Saphire spring, the colour was so deep and inviting I wanted to jump in which would have been a bad idea as the water was boiling hot. The young couple who took this photograph for me, in exchange for my offer of taking one of them, did not find it very funny when we got talking about 'Yellowstone the supervolcano that will destroy humanity' and I said 'typical of the yanks to own something that's going to kill us all'. They just laughed nervously.
Saphire spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Last stop on the geyser trail was Old Faithful, I found it very impressive despite being told by a Kiwi couple in the Teton's that it wasn't as good as one back in New Zealand.
Thar she blows! Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
I also enjoyed watching the expressions on peoples faces as they watched it go off.
The crowd enraptured! Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The guy sitting next to me told me of two guys who had snuck in one night and pee'ed in Old Faithful. Apparently they were caught on camera and baned from the park for two years. I'm not sure if it's a true tale or not.
South of Old Faithful you climb a pass that crosses the continental divide.
Crossing the continental divide again! Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Lake Jackson was the next stop, I was amazed to see that this huge lake had completely frozen over. It didn't stop the bird watches though, they were busy taking photographs of a lone pair of brave but cold ducks.
Frozen Lake Jackson doesn't stop the bird watchers from taking photographs of the only two ducks brave enough to swim in the cold water! Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
After only seeing wildlife way off in the distance, a whole herd of bison came into the field below our campground so I spent a few hours just watching them as the sun went down.
A herd of bison right on our doorstep Norris Campground! Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
And so it was onto a northern loop of Yellowstone, along the way I passed 'Roaring Mountain' which does make quite a loud noise from all of the steam escaping the fumeros.
Roaring mountain, it really does! Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
At Mamouth Springs they have a huge number of small springs that have combined over the years to build up terraces or steps.
Hot spring steps. Mamouth Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Mamouth Springs also had its fair share of 'wild' life, a herd of elk wandered around town munching on the grass and posed for photographs.
Couldn't have posed it better, elk, flag and wheel in front of historic Fort Yellowstone building. Mamouth Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The bird watches were out in force as the town also had a bald eagle nest, everyone was running around trying to get the best shot. I almost saw one watcher get run over as he was focused on a flying eagle and just walked out into the road.
Bald eagle watchers will go to any length for that one shot. Mamouth Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The northern loop also had a giant petrified redwood tree, apparently it used to be one of three but rock hunters took the other two apart piece by piece.
Petrified tree, what it's scared of I don't know! Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The final stop along the way was the Yellowstone Grand Canyon, I didn't expect much having just left Utah's beautiful canyons but was surprised by just how beautiful it was. I think it was the waterfall that really made it and the rainbow it made, combined with the red and yellow rock and white snow.
Yellowstone Grand Canyon! Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
People viewing the awesome Yellowstone Grand Canyon! Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Lower falls, Yellowstone Grand Canyon! Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
That night we had a bit of excitement as four bison just crossed the river and wandered about our campground munching on the grass. They seem very tame, a bit like big cows, but I gave them plenty of respect given their reputation and the reputation of African buffalo. I can't help feeling that a lot of people get squashed approaching a bison for a photograph!
Those bison are a bit close, Noris campgroup, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
I spent my final day in Yellowstone going to West Yellowstone to see the museum, including a short ride into Idaho so I can say I have ridden there (cheating I know). The museum describes the early development of tourism in Yellowstone including the role the railways played, it seemed like a much more civilised time. For example one of the favoured jobs for women was working in the railway depot as a waitress, one of their tasks was to line up each moring and sing the guests a breakfast song. I can't remember how it goes but it includes eggs and bacon! They also told the story of how tourists could see twenty to thirty bears on the trip, the hotel garbage was lit at night so guests could watch the bears scavenge food. Finally they told how it was almost a requirement to have a picture of oneself dressed in a cooks uniform dipping a fish still on the line from the lake straight into the hot spring to cook it (this used to be possible, catch a fish, turn and cook it instantly).
Buy your very own painted bison, West Yellowstone Museum, Wyoming
Riding or driving in Montana can be a sobering experience, the Montana American Legion mark road fatalities with white crosses. It is quite shocking to see how many fatalities there are and the strange location of some of them, for example on a perfectly straight prairie road. I think it is a great way of remembering those who died while at the same time encouraging people to drive safer, much better than the speed camera obsessed approach we have adopted in the United Kingdom. I rode US 89 which after a great ride through the Lewis and Clark National Forest broke out onto the prairies. I had initially planned to spend a night in a motel in Great Falls but rooms were very expensive and to be honest I did not like the city. I continued north on US 89 looking for a smaller and cleaner town, I really liked the look of Fairfield but the rooms were too expensive. Eventually I landed up in a small farming town called Choteau for the night. I especially liked the customer notices in the room as pictured below.
Hotel Rules, Choteau, Montana
The next morning I left early determined to make Glacier National Park, the ride alongside the Rocky mountains through rolling farmland was great. All of the towns along the route are tiny, if you blink you'd miss them. I stopped in Dupuyer for breakfast at a smallroadside cafe which had a sign proclaiming it as 'open' but it wasn't, neither was the town for that matter. It seemed to be completely deserted.
Busy city center at rush hour, Dupuyer, Montana
As soon as I entered the Blackfoot Reservation I began to notice that the ranches were a lot smaller and a lot poorer, each house also had two or three rotting cars on blocks in the yard.
Entering blackfoot reservation, Montana
The road in northern Montana and Blackfoot reservation, note snow capped Rocky mountains in distance.
My intention was to ride the famous Logan Pass from the west entrance of the park. Fortunately my Montana map included a telephone number for information on the park and the pass, a call to the park resulted in a change of plan. I would have to ride US 2 to the east entrance as the pass was closed until late July.
Before riding US 2, I stopped at the Musuem of the Plains Indian in Browning. The town of Browning itself is a real dump, it is poor, dirty and very badly maintained. In contrast the museum appeared to be well run and well funded despite being told that 'entry is by donation, but only donate if you really want to'. The museum contained cultural exhibits of the plains tribes including clothing, toys and weapons of each tribe, and a small art exhibition by local artists. I especially liked the Medicine Rock, apparently a raiding party thoughtlessly rolled the rock down the hill, therefore offending the spirits. Only two of the raiding party returned, so now offerings of tabacco, beads and paint are left to make the spirits happy!
Medicine Rock, Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning, Blackfoot Reservation
There was a huge Alberta tourist information center in West Glacier so I stopped and asked them what I would need to enter Canada, they didn't seem to think that I would have any problems entering Canada. Despite Logan Pass being closed the park entry fee was still $12 for a motorcycle so I setup camp and rode the few miles of paved road that were open.
Another great scenic road, Glacier National Park
A real purty creek, Glacier National Park
Huge areas of the park had been burnt in 2003 which some visitors thought made the place look ugly, I thought it made it look very spooky.
Fire damages but at the same time creates, Glacier National Park
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