Wyoming

Go West? This was not my normal routine following Sturgis. This would normally be time to head back east. Time to slip back into routines. There are no more routines. This time I was headed to Yellowstone National Park. I decided to take a scenic route, riding numerous roads I had never ridden. That may mean going out of my way, but I was in no hurry. I rode north and then west to visit Devil’s Tower as I made my way toward Yellowstone. On the way, I passed this old coal mine. The Aladdin Coal Tipple is one of the last structures of its kind in the American West, constructed to store coal coming out of the mine and sort the resource as it moved down the chutes.

Passing slowly through Hulett, WY I rode by the Rogues Gallery. Hulett was one of those towns where I suspected a cop might be waiting to make sure one respects the local speed limit. I was correct. I had already slowed down to have look around because Hulett is actually an interesting looking town, but there was that Barney Fife awaiting the next unsuspecting passerby.

Then I went to have a look at Devil’s Tower. I had been here a couple times before. The smoke and sun weren’t ideal to photograph the tower in its glory. That was something I had to get used to. The fires from the west were obscuring a lot of the color that one would normally see in these landscapes.

I rode all the way to the parking lot at the base of Devil’s Tower, but I did not hike around. I’ve done it before and to be honest, I was tired after Sturgis.

I had been lugging around a big old Canon camera and hardly used it at all this summer. These prairie dogs seemed like a good opportunity to take out the big guns.

I wisely decided to reserve a campsite between Sturgis and Yellowstone. That would be my destination for this night.

In between some lonely stretches of highway, I would come across some signs of life, though nothing was moving that the wind didn’t blow.

Traveling through Clearmont I saw a sign that said Historic Site. It directed me to a two room jail. There were some turkeys wandering around outside in a park next to the jail. I grabbed a couple stray feathers to add to my handlebars.

The Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, WY goes back to the wild west days with former guests like Butch Cassidy and Calamity Jane.

From Buffalo, the road leads into the cool air of the Rocky Mountains. That is where I would be camping tonight. After a week of endless party, I had a nice peaceful site overlooking a rolling stream that would whisper me to sleep.

Within hiking distance to the campsite was a camp resort, with cabins and a restaurant where I grabbed a meal.

My instincts told me that a lot of hunters and trappers would stay here.

Others, like myself, were here to rest.

This rock was at the base of a tree by my tent. I thought it was a mushroom at first. So it actually made me laugh without the instructions.

In the morning I stopped by that resort for a cup of coffee, then rode off toward Yellowstone. Well, I was going indirectly to Yellowstone actually. I wanted to enter from a way I had never gone. As I rode along I saw a sign for a scenic view. I pulled off.

When I got to the top of the vista, I saw another biker. I quickly rode up alongside him and hopped off my bike. I yelled, “PAUL!” I saw his whole body jump just before I snapped this photo. It was Paul who I said goodbye to 250 miles ago and a day before at Sturgis.

It was funny as hell to bump into Paul like this. Long term, he was a little uncertain about which direction he was going. The one place he did know he was going was a brewery in Ten Sleep, WY. That was on my way too, so we rode through the smoky passes of the Rockies down to Ten Sleep.

We had a beer and talked about the next steps for travel. I recommended that Paul go south to Colorado. South enough to get around the I-70 mess. I figured that would be the best way to see the Rockies without all the smoke. I kind of envied the idea myself, but I had reservations in Yellowstone.

Back in Buffalo, WY (the day before), I had stopped at Subway to get a sandwich. The kid behind the counter was real chatty and he thought he was funny. When someone would ask for lettuce and tomato. He would hold up just one slice of tomato. Then he would say “Tomato or tomatoes?” I heard him use this line numerous times as I ate. I also heard him talking to a family from Lithuania. He told them that there was a town on the way to Yellowstone with giant hot springs and buffalo. I later asked him about that town. It was the town of Thermopolis.

As I looked over the edge of this pull off area I was amazed to see this geological formation. It looked a lot like Mammoth Springs in Yellowstone. Written on the side of the butte in large white rocks it says, Worlds Largest Mineral Hot Spring.

Mammoth Springs in Yellowstone is strictly off limits in terms of exploring the waters. Here you can jump right in!

There was also this strange structure. I believe it started out as a fountain and then began to grow as mineral deposits continued to form over time.

Riding toward Cody the skies were a mix of overcast and heavy smoke.

This strange building silhouetted on a peak west of Cody, WY is the Smith Mansion. It was never finished and has been sitting for over 20 years. The ride between Cody and the park is normally beautiful with giant brown rocky cliffs, but you can see just beyond the mansion how smoky it is.

When I got to the gates of Yellowstone, I was asked to remove my feathers. The ranger said it may be perceived as something I took from the park. GRRR! I liked my feathers.

I didn’t get assigned an actual campsite before arrival. They assign you at check in. When I arrived I realized that I has stayed at the Bridge Bay campsite years before and didn’t like it. I was in a large open field surrounded by RVs and generators. When the parks service person was helping me I questioned the area with all the RVs that she was pointing out as my site. She could see the horror in my face and said, “Wait, let’s see…It’s just you with a tent and a motorcycle? I think we can put you over here.” I was given this lovely site for tents only with plenty of trees, a picnic table, and my own bear box.

It did not take long to experience the Yellowstone wildlife. This young elk strolled right into the campsite. He hopped and jumped at the ground in this one particular area. At first, it seemed like erratic insane behavior as he attacked the turf. Then it became obvious that as he stomped he was creating a mud pool which he then jumped into and gave himself a mud bath. It was rather ingenious. But I still think there was something off about this guy.

During the elk visit I was talking to a neighboring camper. He was telling me about a place where I might see a grizzly, and another spot where there may be wolves. He inspired to me to get up early. In the morning I asked him to point these spots out on a map for me. I took off for the grizzly location first. On the way I noticed a herd of buffalo crossing the river.

I continued along and found more buffalo. It does seem that they are rather active in the morning.

I arrived at the grizzly lookout. The guy back at camp told me to look for a guy with a spyglass. Sure enough he was right there at a pull off as marked on my map. The man with the spyglass was very generous with people wanting to have a peek. He noted that not only was there a grizzy bear munching on a carcass, but there was a bald eagle waiting for a moment to get a scrap for himself. I noted both species with red arrows. Grizzly on the left, eagle on the right.

I rode on to another spot far north in the park. It is interesting how word of mouth travels quickly in the park. By this time I had heard more people speak of the potential spot for seeing wolves. Slough Creek is apparently a spot where the park rangers will drag a large animal that has been killed in the park. The wolves will then come down from the mountains there and feast on the dead animal. On the way to Slough Creek I passed a huge herd of buffalo.

Everything seemed peaceful until it wasn’t!

These two big bulls started going at it. It was fast, violent, and loud!

You were really able to see the speed, agility, and strength of these great creatures as they rammed their bulbous heads together.

And then they were done. Like nothing ever happened. But that is not always the case.

This came up on my news feed. Two bulls going at it. It could even be the same ones. But this time, there will be more food for the wolves.

Below you can see the area by Slough Creek, where the rangers bring the kill. I was not able to see any wolves during my visit. I saw a very healthy looking coyote, but he was gone by the time I got my camera out.

I did see a bald eagle in the distance.

Because of the smoke from the wildfires and general bad weather I didn’t focus my camera much on the landscape of Yellowstone.

As I was riding along the river toward West Yellowstone, I saw another bald eagle flying overhead. I turned around to find two eagles on the edge of the river. Then they took off separately.

More elk back at camp.

Here you can see Mammoth Hot Springs. See the similarity to the hot spring in Thermopolis. I have actually seen Mammoth Hot Springs drying up in my lifetime, (perhaps it’s seasonal). When I was here in the 90s there was much more water. It also smelled a lot worse from the sulfur.

On my way back to camp, it began raining again. Only this time it never really stopped. It let up to a light drizzle at one point. The problem is, I have no idea what to expect. There is no phone signal or electricity. I have no up to date news of any kind. That includes weather. There was this one couple a few sites away who (unlike most visitors), looked like they knew what they were doing. They had a nice set up with lots of wood that they had brought with them. They were sitting by their large fire when I approached them. I asked them if they had an idea of what to expect from mother nature. They did. They said to expect more rain and it’s going to drop about 20 degrees from what it was today. They said it would get down into the 30s at night. They were not wrong. Fortunately after my fall road trip in Vermont, I wisely got a better sleeping bag. I slept comfortably enough, but the sound of the rain was continuous. When I finally awoke in the morning, it hadn’t stopped. Neighbors, (who didn’t know what they were doing), had their sleeping bags hanging from trees next to a collapsed tent, as they slept in the car. Weather was bad and expected to get worse. It just didn’t make sense to stay and fight it. Getting supplies in Yellowstone is difficult on a good day. When you add bad weather and moronic drivers to it, resupplying would be a nightmare! The weather may never let up. It seemed wise, to just pack it up. I rolled my wet tent up and stuffed it in a air tight bag. It would have to dry out elsewhere.

In my mind I would ride far out of the great Yellowstone and end up somewhere sunny and wonderful. Reality can be so different.

It was in the 40s and I was on a motorcycle in the rain riding behind bad drivers with twitchy foot brakes on a small twisty road. The mist under my mask got so bad bad from the car tires ahead that I had to lift my visor and expose my face to see. My rain suit leaked. I was now wet beneath my suit and the cold quickly followed. By the time I got to the exit gates at West Yellowstone I was a different person than the guy who packed it up an hour ago. Dreams of sunshine and blue skies had been brushed aside for the bare necessities of food and warmth. I grabbed a coffee and looked for rooms. I could go no further.

I draped my wet filthy tent and tarps across the bathroom. Fortunately the motel room had a heater in the bathroom. Other wet things were laying all over the rest of the room. I put on some dry clothes, went to a local restaurant and ate a buffalo steak that they called the Tomahawk Prime Rib. It was expensive and just OK, but it gave me some normalcy to sit down and have a meal. You have to realize, not only did I just have this days experience with bad weather, I have not slept in a bed in two weeks! I’ve been sleeping on the ground everyday since I left Colorado before Sturgis. I was frazzled! I chewed that buffalo down, and then told the lady at the motel to add on a second night. It was going to take my equipment a while to dry out and I needed a recharge myself.

Coming out of the high elevations of Yellowstone was a welcome relief, weather wise. I knew that the relief came with mixed blessings. It was time to make my way east. I was still west of the Yellowstone mountain range, so I had to go south and around it. But a heavy heart and a worn down body knew that the open-ended part of the adventure was winding down.

The ride itself was nice, winding through farmlands and small Wyoming towns.

It was getting damp and chilly again as I got back into the mountains overlooking Jackson. Jackson Hole is a cool place, but I wouldn’t be visiting this time. I had to escape this weather.

Now on to the high plains! I stopped for gas and some grub at Daniel Junction.

Inside the dining area, people display their many kills.

I stopped in the town of Rawlins for the night, where you can find this old Texaco station.

In the morning I visited the Wyoming State Penitentiary.

While looking it up the night before I read a review on Google:

The tour felt rushed. The guide spoke quickly, and was difficult to understand (maybe because he wore a mask?) The prison was interesting, but we were still a bit disappointed.

Well what are the odds that I get the same tour guide…100%!

Right away I knew my tour guide was the one the lady in the review was talking about. She didn’t mention that he is an annoying little shit as well. He tells jokes that he thinks are over your head, because you don’t laugh. He even said once, “It’s a Pink Floyd reference, you probably don’t get it.” I get it! Your jokes are rushed and not funny. Do I look like I am laughing?

You got to love the Hopalong Cassidy blanket in a prison. Now that’s funny.

At one point during the tour, the guide stopped to ask me what I thought so far. I said, “It’s OK. I’ve visited many prisons around the United States.” He said, “Oh really? What did you like best about them?” I said, “They were self-guided.”

Up the stairs and through the yellow door is death row.

Here’s a look inside is the gas chamber. When you pull the lever on the left it drops a cyanide pill into another compound inside the chamber to gas the condemned man strapped to the chair.

After doing my time in prison, I rode forth to have my final look at the Rocky Mountains before crossing the lonely flat plains. I was concerned because from this point of view the mountains lie nearly obscured in a smoky pool.

Once I got up into the mountains things looked much clearer.

This is Medicine Bow Peak, 12,000 feet high!

A plane crashed here in 1955 killing 66 passengers. The plaque below commemorates them.

Coming down from the mountain I passed through the small town of Centennial. Here they have a museum consisting of old buildings and equipment from the period of the towns founding.

Inside the train depot there was a very nice lady hosting from behind a desk with a donation jar. There are also a few rooms made up with various antiques like the one with the bathtub below.

Other buildings included old farming and mining equipment.

There was an old school.

It was neat to go inside of a caboose.

I would have thought this space inside would have been better utilized. You see it on pretty much all cabooses. Why is the upper level there? If it is to see the rest of the train, why is it so inconvenient to get to the windows? I have questions!

This is the interior of a skid shack. It is explained below.

I have seen these giant metal structures before. I never really understood their purpose. I asked the lady in the station house and she told me they were for burning all the scraps from a lumber yard. They are giant furnaces.

While I was about to leave the outdoor museum, a man pulled alongside my bike. He was cleaning his windshield. He was a retired school teacher as well. He said he rides a motorcycle and told me some story about riding into a swarm of bees. He also told me about a road. He said it was a dirt road with wonderful rock formations. I said it may be close to where I am going. I was taking a paved road. I saw the dirt road the man spoke of as I passed some of the rock formations. They were large pink and gray granite protrusions in the landscape. Maybe it was the smoky haze, but they almost looked painted into the rolling hills. A questionable apparition to remind you of what you are leaving behind as you return to the east.

Nature’s landscapes would be replaced by man-made structures creating new metallic textured landscapes or more often than not, nothing at all.

Things become flat. Mile after mile of farmland. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll run out of gas before I see another town. The Emerald City can be seen off in the distance towering above the horizon, or so it seems until you come upon it and recognize the giant grain elevators. These monuments of America’s heartland let you know civilization is at hand every once in a while.

Before leaving Wyoming it seemed appropriate that would bump into this small herd of longhorns to bid farewell.

It’s now time for that long ride home.

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