Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day 74...Friday, September 26, 2008...Custer's Last Stand...and...All of the Strange Things That Have Been Going On...Answered!

Buzzzzz...whoa...that alarm is going off pretty early this morning...5:00AM! Get up, get dressed, make some coffee...wait for sunrise. Now, roll up my sleeping bag (thanks, Shannon, I needed the 30 degree bag last night), roll up my sleeping pad, break down my tent, pack up...and, I'm off.
When I was a boy, I read every book available on the Civil War. And that's how I learned about George Armstrong Custer...who was one of my boyhood heroes. Why...well...he was from Michigan (Monroe)...and he had "style"...the long blond hair, the great marching song "Garryowen"", the cool personal motto..."ride to the sound of the guns"...plus...Errol Flynn (another personal hero) played him in the stirring, albeit historically inaccurate, movie..."They Died With Their Boots On". With that in mind, I was humbled at this site. Small white markers are in place where each member of Custer's troop died. On that morning, July 25, 1876, Custer rode out from his Fort and split his troupe in three...Major Kehoe took one, Colonel Benteen another, Custer the third. Benteen was attacked first, a few miles from Custer's troops...but those attackers joined several hundred more and met with Custer's roops. The rest is history...sad...solemn.
Back in the parking lot, I met up with some folks from Michigan and mentioned that I was headed to northwest Wyoming. And...that's when I heard the news...northwest Wyoming was quarantined...something about a military "accident"...a nerve gas release. I'm thinking that this is bullshit...I'm seeing all of these trucks...Piggly-Wiggly, Baskin Robbins, etc...headed that way...Why? I'm thinking that the "government" has created some "cover"...something so "scary", that it will clear four hundred square miles of every living soul.
So...I'm heading to my "coordinates" in Wyoming...along the Interstate...until...roadblock! So, now I'm heading off on Route 24...closed!...roadblock. Next, I'm trying Route 14...another roadblock!. OK...the only way that I'm getting where I need to go...is "off road". So...now I'm heading off on County Road 6, then into a farmer's field...whoa...through a fence...wow, there's a helicopter releasing some kind of "gas"...I duck down ...then...then...I finally see something...through the grass...through the trees...there it is...what I've been searching for!
At the base of the "monument", it's all lit up...they're playing those six musical notes I've been hearing. I meet a French guy and a boy, Barry...Barry has just been on a long trip and invites me to go on another...no... I tell him "no"...I've been gone long enough...time to go home.
Later, I check in at the Best Western in Hulett, Wyoming. Dinner at the local bar...Buffalo Rib Eye...not bad. I'm not ordering "wine" in Cowboy Country...they have a sign behind the bar..."Our House Wine is Jaegermeister"...so...it's a beer with my steak.
Now...off to bed.

Day 73...Thursday, September 25, 2008...Yellowstone (Day 2)...Hiking to Mystic Falls...Visiting the Grave of a Childhood Idol...When Elk Go Bad

I was up before sunrise, eager to explore the "Southern Loop" of Yellowstone...hopefully avoiding the canyons of yesterday.
I decided to hike out from Biscuit Basin, along the Little Firehole River, to Mystic Falls. This was a great hike with beautiful views of thermal activity at the beginning, the Little Firehole River along the way, and Mystic Falls at the end. I wanted to get to Mystic Falls because my Guidebook to the park mentioned that, in a cave behind the falls, are interred the remains of "Boo Boo", famous from the Yogi Bear Show of my childhood. There's a path that leads you from the trail, behind the falls, to the cave. Alas, on this day, the trail was closed...and I was not able to see, in the cave behind the falls, what my Guidebook described as "a bronze picnic basket on which are inscribed the words...
Ever reasonable and the voice of restraint, he was
truly 'smarter than the average bear'."
Bummer!...but...on to "Old Faithful"! I could not visit Yellowstone without seeing the iconic "Old Faithful"...so, following my hike to Mystic Falls and back, I drove another 20 miles or so to the bottom of the Southern Loop. I had time for a quick lunch...terrible pizza at the local "snack bar"...then on to Old Faithful. I arrived 15 minutes before the next scheduled "eruption" and joined two hundred or so other people around the geyser area...waiting for the big show. Well...Old Faithful was about 10 minutes late, but the show was spectacular.
I would have liked to do some more exploring today, but my plan is to get out of Yellowstone very early tomorrow...if I leave by 8:00AM or so, I can get to both the "Little Big Horn Battlefield" as well as another, unscheduled, stop. So...after Old Faithful, I'm heading back to my campground to pack up as much as possible before morning...after one last waterfall.
Things have been getting very strange here of late. First, there's the music...I keep hearing these six musical notes in my head...over and over and over. Then, there's the weird "static" on my satellite radio...at first, I thought that it was just random beeps...but it's not...it's a pattern of numbers...two sets of three numbers...44.48.74 and 104.83.60. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what these numbers were...then...it hit me. Before I left on this trip, I studied "cartography"...mapmaking...that first set of numbers...is a latitude! Two sets of three numbers...degrees, hours and minutes. So...I went down to the park bookstore and checked their globe...one finger tracing "latitude", the other tracing "longitude"...my fingers met somewhere in northeast Wyoming. So...I bought a geodesic survey map of Wyoming...I wanted it accurate down to the square foot. Now...I know where I need to go tomorrow after visiting the Little Big Horn Battlefield.
I stopped in again at the Lodge for dinner...another round of Prime Rib and mashed potatoes. I was embarrassed when, in mid-dinner, I glanced up to see people at the surrounding tables staring at me. Apparently, I had been completely preoccupied "sculpting" my mashed potatoes into...what?...I just don't know!
It's Elk "mating season" here, and they are everwhere ...around my tent at night, in front of the lodge, on the roads...everywhere!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Day 72...Wednesday, September 24, 2008...Yellowstone!

I have been fortunate to visit some of the greatest National Parks/Forsts/Monuments on this trip...Denali, Olympia, Crater Lake, etc., but Yellowstone National Park is an icon...the very first National Park in history.
I was out of Bozeman early...taking I-90 west to connect with Route 89 south to the north entrance to the park. I arrived around 10:00AM and immediately checked in at the Mammouth Hot Springs Campground. I had given some thought to staying at the Mammouth Lodge, but the opportunity to actually camp in Yellowstone was too great to resist. After securing my campsite, I set off without delay to explore the park.
There are two "loop" highways in Yellowstone and, on this day, I drove the "upper loop" down to the Norris Basin...a site with a lot "thermal activity". I hiked the Norris Basin Trail, about a mile and a half but, with "side trails", more like three. It is difficult for me to describe the beauty of this hike...spouting geysers, steaming vents, shimmering pools of the bluest water I've seen outside of the Caribbean...all surrounded by a bleached white "post-apocalyptic" landscape that defies description. I was careful, very careful, to stay on the "boardwalk" through the basin. There are warning signs everywhere, in every language you can think of (see photo) but, still every year, a couple of people decide to get a little closer for a better photograph...and they step out onto, not "ground", but "crust", underneath which is 400+ degree water. Just two years ago, a ten year-old boy died from burns suffered after stepping off the boardwalk and through the crust.
After a few hours in the Norris Basin, I set off to finish the rest of the Upper Loop. Unfortunately, I did not consult my map and guidebook regarding this part of the "loop" which took me along the rim of Yellowstone's "Grand Canyon"...great...thirty-one miles of "white-knuckle" driving along the edge of canyons thousands of feet deep. I stopped at one "scenic overlook" (see "tepid" photos) but, on reaching the platform extending out over the canyon, I was swept with waves of vertigo...needing only Kim Novak at my side to complete the picture.
Back at my campsite, I bought firewood and set about pitching my tent and preparing for the night. Last night in Bozeman, it was COLD but, tonight, I'm lucky...it's much warmer here in Yellowstone. My campsite secured, I headed off to the Mammouth Springs Lodge for dinner...good, but not great...French Onion Soup, Caesar Salad and, as always, Prime Rib...a Martini, a glass of Eyrie Pinot Blanc and more Elk Cove Pinot Noir.
Back at my campsite, I built a roaring campfire and enjoyed a few beers. I had a chance to look at the stars on a very clear night...the best I've seen the sky since Alaska...Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Orion's Belt...big and bright. Then, early to bed...much exploring to do tomorrow.
I normally upload between five and ten pictures per "post" but, here in Yellowstone, I took more pictures than on any single day of my trip...so...this post, fifteen photos!

Day 71...Tuesday, September 23, 2008...Surviving Idaho...On to Yellowstone (Almost)...In the Footsteps of Lewis & Clark

He he he...I know that all of you have been on the edge of your seats...wondering...did he make it out of Riggins? Well, obviously, yes...no abduction by local vampire cults.
I headed out of Riggins early this morning with the goal of reaching Yellowstone by nightfall. U.S. 97 out of Riggins, while mountainous, was beautiful as it followed the Salmon River for miles. to Grangeville, where I picked up Idaho Route 13 for forty or so miles before connecting with U.S. 12.
I did not have to pursue my own search for the Northwest Passage through the Rockies...Lewis and Clark had already done the work for me over 200 years ago. Between 1804 and 1805, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled the Midwest and the West, ultimately finding the "Northwest Passage" linking the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. Today, I followed in their footsteps for about 200 miles along U.S. Route 12...the Lewis and Clark Trail. And a beautiful trail it was...along the Clearwater and other rivers...through, rather than over, the Rockies. I stopped several times along the Clearwater River and, each time, I was struck with a sense of history...realizing that over 200 years ago, the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed by the exact point where I was standing. And I thought about how difficult it must have been to travel back then...into strange and unexplored territory. There were no cell phones back then, and Lewis and Clark often had to travel for days, sometimes weeks, before getting to a "land line" to phone in their expedition reports. Interestingly, this U.S. 12 is the same U.S. 12 that travels through Michigan, where it is known as Michigan Avenue, terminating in downtown Detroit.
At the Idaho/Montana border, I went up and over the Lolo Pass...descending down into Montana and, ultimately, the town of Missoula.
Missoula is having their "Testicle Festival" this weekend (whatever the hell that is) and I thought it ironic that on this very day, my cat, Jonesie, was, as of about 2:00Pm, officially "ineligible" to participate in this particular "festival".
I had hoped to make it to Yellowstone today but, as the sun went down, I decided to stop for the night in Bozeman, Montana. I checked into the local Comfort Inn and asked about a good Steakhouse. Everybody recommended "Louie's Down Under"...so off I went. I immediately headed over to the bar to eat but the bartender, Roger, told me that they don't usually serve dinner at the bar. Roger doesn't realize it yet, but he is solid "management material"...because at that instant, I was prepared to leave and eat somewhere else...Roger, however, wisely "bent the rules" and relented.
To me, that is management of the highest order...anybody can blindly follow the rules...a great manager knows when to bend those rules. So...I settled in for a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris with a poached lobster tail in mango vinaigrette (outstanding) and a very tasty N.Y. Strip with a glass of Elk Cove Pinot Noir (also outstanding). Talking with Roger, I discovered that he was a life-long fan of the University of Michigan...a good manager AND a smart guy!
I liked my time in Bozeman...however short. It's the home of the Montana State Bobcats...and it had that nice "college town" feel. I wished that I had more time to spend, but I'm off early to Yellowstone tomorrow...so...early to bed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Day 70...Monday, September 22, 2008...Another Day (and Night) in "Hell"

I've made it through the night. No cult members have attempted to breach the doorway to my room while I slept...at least not as far as I can tell.
A quick breakfast at the Salmon River Lodge, and I'm ready for more fishing. I head for a different spot than the two I fished yesterday, and this one looks promising. I'm looking for "pools" among the rapids and rocks behind which trout like to rest from the current. I'm using my "killer" Mepps spinner...the one that I caught a trout on while fishing the Kenai River in Alaska. It had a treble hook, but I've clipped off two of them and crimped the barb on the remaining one...I want to give the trout a fighting chance and avoid doing too much damage so that I can "catch and release". About the fourth or fifth cast, I feel a little "strike"...there are trout there. Next cast, I've got one on the line! It's a "baby" rainbow trout about five inches long, and I don't know who's more shocked...him or me. I'm able to slip the hook out easily...and that little trout gets to swim another day.
Another three hours or so more of fishing at two more spots are unsuccessful but, again, the scenery is beautiful and the fishing is relaxing. I'm hungry, so time for lunch. I pull into the "River Rock Cafe" in Riggins...nice place, decent menu. I order a "handmade" calzone...pizza dough, mozzerella cheese, tomato sauce, pepperoni, onions...it's good, very good.
Then, back to fishing. The next couple of hours, I don't get so much as a nibble...so...around 4:00PM or so, I decide to call it a day...back to the lodge. The view from my balcony is magnificent...I am at the exact point where the three rivers converge...and all of those mountains. Because of the time difference (Mountain Zone), Monday Night Football is coming on at 7:00PM. I decide that I'll catch the second half and head back to the River Rock for dinner.
Another steak for dinner...decent...a little more Idaho Cabernet...decent...and a blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream for dessert...excellent.
Back at the hotel, I'm watching the end of the Jets/San Diego game...Bret Favre is NOT having his best game tonight. Then, time for bed...I'm not taking any chances, so I'm locking and bolting my door again tonight. You can't be too careful.
Tomorrow, I'll be heading out of Idaho into Montana...I want to get to Yellowstone, or close to it, before dark. I'm excited about Montana...like North Dakota, Alaska, Oregon and Idaho before it, Montana is a state that I have never visited. And, after Montana, I've only got Wyoming and South Dakota to go...then I will have visited every state.
I'm a little tired of mountain driving, and the Rockies are between me and Yellowstone. I need to find a way through the mountains instead of over them...something closer to ground level...a "passage" if you will...somewhere out here in the Northwest.