So as soon as you head out of Glacier Nation Park, it is straight into prairie land. For miles, farmland and grass stretch out into the distance. The tallest thing on the horizon are the grain mills. However, the contrast of coming out of Glacier with it’s tall jagged peaks and the rolling grass of the mountain basin. We headed through Great Falls and Bozeman, Montana heading mostly south towards Yellowstone and Cody. However, driving through the rolling plains, we came across the best architecture for an espresso shop. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop.
Hidden in the rolling hills is the point where three rivers that flow through Yellowstone join together – the Madison, Gallatin, and the Jefferson. The point these magnificent rivers join together is the headwaters of the Missouri River. This area of Montana is know as Triple Fork. It is also were I came across my favorite sign of the trip so far!
As we approached Bozeman, we broke out of the rolling plains into smaller mountains and butte formations. The geology of Montana is constantly changing as we travel through. It cruise into Bozeman to find some dinner, but it’s a Friday night and everyone is out. Bozeman looked like a fun town with everyone walking around on the main street. But we were hungry and the place we tried had over an hour wait to eat. So we headed back out to the next town – Livingston.
Livingston was much smaller than Bozeman, but had an adorable main street. We went to the local Mexican restaurant and shared fajitas. The food was fantastic and we had finished our dinner before we would have finished the wait at the restaurant in Bozeman. Dark has already settled in as we continue South to Yellowstone National Park.
I wasn’t expecting to go all the way into Yellowstone since finding a camping spot in the park on a Friday night is pretty much impossible. At about 10:30 p.m., we drive into Gardiner just north of the park and Dad says he feels fine to keep driving. Plus, we are planning to stay up until midnight to try to see the aurora borealis that was predicted for the night. So we headed straight into the park at the Mammoth Hot Springs North Entrance.
For any of you, who’ve ever been to Mammoth, you have to drive up and hill to enter into the park. Mammoth is headquarters of the park, so there are a lot of buildings besides a lodge and restaurant. As soon as you hit the top of the hill and drive into the buildings, the main road becomes super wide and has three large grass medians which are about 30 by 60 feet. Every time I’ve been through Mammoth, there is always a large herd of Elk that hang out on that median. The first time, I can remember looking at a huge bull elk looking forward and thought it was a statue until it turned and looked at me. So driving into the park, the herd was there as always.
On the last of the grass median, there were at least 30 cow elk laying around and eating. I could see a bull on the far side of the median because it’s rack was showing up in the lights. My dad couldn’t see the bull, so I said to just drive around the median so he could see the bull. We had the windows rolled down in the Rav4 and were driving slow so we could look and not run over any elk if they crossed into the street. As we rounded the top of the median, I look over to see if I can spot the bull elk, which I most definitely did. Charging straight at my dad’s driver window is the bull with his horns down read to gore the car! I scream, Oh My God, thinking the horns are coming through the window and getting my dad. My dad sees the horns of the elk as well and swerves to the left and steps on the gas so the bull misses us. My heart is is completely in my throat. Did I mention that this was not a young bull. This bull had a 6 point rack!
So we need to turn back around to continue on into the park, so we go around the end of the median to continue on. I said I don’t want to go back around to see the elk again after that encounter. But the damn bull watches us go around the median and head back, he crosses the median and lowers his horns as we pass him. My dad steps on the bas and we speed past but he chases us down the road away from his harem.
That bull was definitely in rut and protecting his harem. We aren’t sure what triggered his aggression towards us. We did have the music on with the windows down and both dad and I were pretty damn stinky by this point, so maybe that’s what set the bull off. Since it was late, we couldn’t find a ranger to tell him about the aggressive bull, so hopefully no one get hurts. There are always people and cars driving through that part of the park. Luckily, we came out of that unscathed but with a fantastic story for the journey!
So we continue into the park and take the norther route towards Tower. It’s getting close to midnight, when the northern lights had been predicted to be the best. We pull over on a ridge heading up Mount Washburn. The stars were so bright, but the moon was still close to full so it was nice to see at night. We sat there for a while, even long enough for a coyote to walk past us. We headed on an saw the run that headed up to Mount Washburn, which I’ve never been to. Up we went, and at the top there were several other cars out there looking for the northern lights just like us. We sat out looking until 1 am in the morning but the aurora borealis never turned on for as south as we were.
Finally, we headed out to find a place to camp for the night. We checked all the camping in the park and it was full, so we headed out the east entrance hoping to find an open national forest campground. The first one we found was Three Mile Campground and it was closed. It was already 2:45 am and we just wanted to stop. We had pasted a lodge a little ways back, so we turned around and camped in the parking lot. The lodge ended up being Pahaska Teepee, which was Buffalo Bill Cody’s hunting lodge. No one bothered us about camping in the parking lot which was a relief for me. Plus, we spent the morning exploring the lodge.
Later in the morning, we drive make it into Cody, Wyoming and head over to KOA to get cleaned up. We spend the afternoon in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, which is the largest museum of western US history. When I had gone 25 years earlier, the museum was impressive. But it’s been completely overhauled into one of the most amazing museums I’ve been too. It used to take two days to go through the museum. But, now with the impressive signage and set up, it only took us an afternoon to enjoy the curation. My favorite section was the art museum, which covered western art from both the past with Remington and Russel to modern artists. The art was from both white people and Native Americans, so had great perspective of the West. However, my dad was disappointed in the art, since when we came 25 years ago, there was a lot more art from Russell. So it looks like we are going to have to stop at the National Gallery of Art when we hit Washington DC.
Venus of the West
We head back into old town Cody to check out the Irma hotel, which was Buffalo Bill’s hotel. The interior bar was absolutely beautiful and a gift to Bill from Queen Victoria. We wandered outside to watch a Wild West gun fight, but it was a little too slow for us to stand and watch. So we walked down the old town exploring the stores and grabbing dinner at the Proud Cut Steakhouse. The meat was fantastic. We had prime rib and baby back ribs. This is definitely the place to eat in Cody.
The next morning, I we head out to explore some scenic routes in Northern Wyoming – Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and Beartooth Scenic Highway that would take us out to Red Lodge, Montana. The Scenic Highways were breathtaking and mindboggling. The road was so close to the edge on the Beartooth Highway, you could see straight down on the small cars making their path up. Since we weren’t able to do the Road to the Sun in Glacier, this was the first route that took us over the treeline.
After about 4 hours of scenic routes, we made it to Red Lodge which is a super cute mountain town. We went to Red Lodge Pizza and grabbed a late lunch. The pizza options were very meaty, but still tasty! I had a Red Lodge Scotch Ale to wash it all down. Defintiely, a most excellent meal. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo at Red Lodge Pizza, but the cafe across the street, which was closed, had an amazing sign.
I was not through with the scenic routes for our drive through Wyoming. Rather driving across on I90, i wanted to go through the Big Horn mountains that west of Sheridan, Wyoming. When we went to Mount Rushmore as kid, these mountains were my favorite part of the drive so I did not want to miss them. This time we took the most northern route across the Big Horn Mountains, which is also the steepest route. From the Wyoming basin, we climbed up switch back after switch back to head up the mountain. At the top of the mountain, was Medicine Wheel Historic Site. It was right around freezing and the wind was howling, but we started to walk out to see the Medicine Wheel. We are walking at 9,600 feet and it’s a 1.5 to get to the site. I make it all the way to the base of the hill to the Medicine Wheel but it is straight up and I get altitude sickness. So I took my frozen ass back to the car, but my dad went up and got these pictures. This stop also ended up being one of my first challenges. All I’m going to say is make sure you bring toilet paper with you even if you are going to a pit toilet. But I survived the challenge and all is good.
The sun was setting as we finally started heading out and down the mountain. We drove into a high mountain valley, and I saw my first moose of the trip. We then had to drive down a dirt road to see if we could get a better view of the moose, since they are one of my favorite animals.
We finally pull into Sheridan around 9:30 p.m., but there are not a lot of great camping options so we continue down to Buffalo where I had found a cheaper option. The Big Horn Mountain campground was the most country campground we’ve stayed in so far. Half of the campground was field with permanent residents. But it was mostly dark and quiet and served it’s purpose. We were woken up in the middle of the night by the campground camp paying us a visit. I don’t have glasses or contacts on, but my dad said the cat was sticking it’s paws in through the cracks in our windows. The next morning Dad had to wash the paw prints off his car.
In the morning, we head over to the Bear’s Den or Devil’s Tower. (Nerd Alert) This has always been one of my favorite rock formations, since I saw it in Close Encounters of a Third Kind. We went here when I was kid, but my dad was too cheap to pay the entrance fee so we had to see it from the little tourist stop below. But this time, we went al the way up and walked around the base. Devil’s tower is the harden core of magma from a volcano. The hardened and cracked into huge columns. It is a climber’s paradise, and we saw 10 climbers up on the rock that day. The other amazing aspect of walking around Devil Tower was the smell of the Ponderosa Pine. The smell was sweet and refreshing. Devil’s Tower is also a holy place for over 22 Native American tribes. I said my prayer of gratitude for this adventure and ask for safety on the journey at the base of this incredible rock.
Devil’s tower was our last stop in Wyoming as we head further east and finally enter into South Dakota.