(AMA Conference is the third of four trips taken as part of Iron Butt Association’s National Parks Tour (NPT), where I visited at least 50 national parks, monuments, historical sites, etc., in at least 25 states in one year.)
Hello from Cooke City, Montana, which is a few miles over the border from Yellowstone in Wyoming. Today is a rest-from-riding day.
Left Pocatello at the butt-crack of dawn yesterday morning. You can’t believe how deeply golden the Idaho wheat fields are in the early morning light. The moment I topped the mountain pass that borders Idaho and Wyoming and saw the Grand Teton peaks jutting above the tree line, there was nowhere else on earth I wanted to be. Idaho? Very good indeed! Idaho from two wheels? Unbelievable!
This was taken at the entrance to Grand Teton National Park, the most scenic entrance I’ve ever seen, and it’s probably the most famous mountain range in the U.S. because of that beauty (and Ansel Adams). I’d boasted to Desha the night before how I was going to blow through the park and not spend a lot of time since I’ve been there before, but, in fact, must have stopped and taken 100 pictures! Here’s one more for your now long list of must-see parks.
Lizzie dreamily gazing towards the Tetons.
Here is where I had lunch. Those little tuna-and-crackers lunches on the go were made exactly for this kind of stop, don’t you think?
The only unusual wildlife I saw in Teton was a trumpeter swan — not at the lunch break but farther up the lake. Unfortunately, it was at the exact spot where major road construction began and there was no way to get a picture. Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America and regularly reside here.
Yellowstone National Park is a few miles north of Teton. We all know this was the first national park in the entire world, right? You can still see the devastation from the 1988 fire for the first 30 or so miles from the south entrance. There are acres and acres of new growth, although it won’t be fully restored in our lifetimes. Amazingly, 21 years later, you still can see hundreds of charred hulls of burned trees, but there is definite progress from when I last visited in 1998.
Speaking of the fire, the park video was terrible. In fact, it was so bad I walked out on it. Can you imagine anyone walking out on a national park video? The 15 minutes I saw was self-serving park service rhetoric justifying the 1988 fire. Nothing about park history or geology or animals. I can’t help but wonder if this was a rogue substitute for the real video, but the ranger confirmed that it was official.
Of course, Yellowstone is still the granddaddy of all the parks and monuments and will go at the top of the list I know y’all are keeping. (Har-de-har-har!)
The drive through the park was, of course, incredible. Saw waterfalls and many geysers. Hoo-wee! That sulphur smell is something else! In spite of that obnoxious odor, the thing I’ll always remember most about the park is the overall penetrating scent of pine.
Got a quick glimpse of some elk. Saw hundreds, maybe even thousands of buffalo. Here is a close-up of one of those amazing hulks. What do you suppose has gotten after those trees in the background? Elks in rut?
Part of the reason for staying overnight in Cooke City was to ride Beartooth Highway, which starts (or ends) here; but two separate groups of riders advised me not to do it on account of it being torn up with major construction. Thick, gravely switchbacks? Not me, man! I’d be sorely disappointed, but for the fact that I was able to ride it in 1998. Next time. . . .
Let us pause for a moment and allow your Auntie Biketrash to speak plainly and seriously to her dear readers about an important topic. For many reasons, more and more of us are asking the question, “What has happened to this country?” A few of you have lost or are about to lose your job through no fault of your own. Some of you are unhappy about past or present politics or the way our society is socially, morally, spiritually evolving. There are an infinite number of deeply felt legitimate concerns arising from our individual points of view.
(Cue in John Williams music and slowly build to crescendo.)
Now, if you’re feeling dissatisfied, discouraged or frustrated with a part of your American life, you get yourself to at least one of our national parks right now. No lame excuses! Or in case of emergency, you get yourself directly to Yellowstone, find a herd of peacefully grazing buffalo, inhale deeply and take it all in. Your American-born soul will fully recharge and you will know from head to toe that you are part of a great nation.
No, a national park will not do away with the issue causing your dissatisfaction, but you will remember who you are. That, my friends, is the thing that makes all the difference.
Auntie Biketrash has spoken and she’s not kidding!
Here is one last parting shot, taken towards the northern section of Yellowstone in the late afternoon. THAT’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Glendive, Montana, which is about 35 miles from the border with North Dakota!
My, oh, my. . . . Just when you think it can’t get any better. . . .
Left Cooke City before 7:00 this morning in 37 degrees, dipped back down into Wyoming, and rode the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. All I can say is, my, oh, my! Colorado National Monument very well may have “one of the grandest scenic drives in the American West,” but Chief Joseph very well could be the grandest drive in all of America!
I left so early under a hazy sky that the lighting was not at all good for photos, especially from a point-and-shoot. Took a few, but they didn’t turn out. A girl could spend all day driving the 45 or so miles since there are many wonderful turnouts and historical sites as it follows along a fork of the Shoshone River. Practically zero traffic.
If you go to Yellowstone, count this drive as part of the plan. You won’t be disappointed. Seriously, if I was a photographer who wanted to portray the best of the United States, this is exactly where I’d start.
The Chief Joseph Byway is almost entirely open range, and I had to stop or slow down numerous times because of cattle on or beside the road. At one point I had to wait several minutes while an entire herd slowly sauntered single file across the road. As I pull up, they all stop dead in their tracks and stare at me for what seemed an eternity. Do you remember Gary Larson’s Far Side comics? It felt like I was right in the middle of one and that I was the punch line!
So when the herd finally finishes their crossing and I’m still laughing at myself and gingerly picking my way through all the very fresh and very slick, ahem, “contributions” left on the road, up flies an osprey from the river with a fish in its talons. Geez, Louise, what a sight! Less than an hour into the ride and it’s turning out quite well, wouldn’t you say?
Picked up a stamp at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (ho-hum!) and rode the Medicine Wheel Passage and Bighorn Scenic Byway. Wow! Stunning!
This next picture shows the Bighorn Basin, taken along Medicine Wheel Passage. Again, hazy. It’s hard to tell by this photo, but in real life it literally looks like a basin. By the way, you can’t believe how many switchbacks it took to climb up that high. Can’t say it’s super technical, but it sure gives a girl a chance to lean into the curves.
Got a stamp at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. The place was packed like sardines with tourists so got out as quickly as possible.
The flip side to riding these full-of-switchbacks scenic roads is that it takes quite a long time — not that I’m complaining! But I did have to haul ass all afternoon to gain some ground. And, let me tell you, a girl can definitely haul ass on the empty superslabs in Montana! Didn’t get as far as I’d hoped, so it’s time to hit the sack for another early start.
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Hill City, South Dakota, which is a few miles from Mount Rushmore.
Left Glendive, Montana, before 7:00 and got to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota as fast as I could. Not only did I want to pay my respects to the great conservationist, but was just plain looking forward to seeing it. Due to miscalculations that I won’t bore you with, I wasted a whole lot of time going to the wrong Visitor Center and didn’t have time to go back to the correct one. Very disappointing. The one and only thing I dislike about this push for the stamps is that there never seems to be enough time to fully enjoy. Aargh!
But these next two pictures give you an idea of what Teddy’s park was like. Did get to see some grazing buffalo from a distance. How ’bout that early-morning light?
This is the first time I’ve ever been to North Dakota and can now say I love the rugged, timeless beauty, Instead of national forests, they have national grasslands and shallow canyons. Lots of baled hay everywhere.
Northwest South Dakota wasn’t particularly interesting, but certainly not boring. My route took me through Sturgis, which is where the Black Hills begin, and ended up at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. By the way, there must have been thousands of people there. This has got to be one of the most popular national sites. This is the famous view. You can see all the rock-blasting debris piled below the presidents.
Here is one of the little wild mountain goats that live in the park. Cute, huh? He and his mother seemed real civilized, although I was sure hoping someone would bend over in front of them to test that theory!
Poor ole Lizzie has layers of bugs on top of layers of bugs, mostly bees. In fact, those dead bees must have been giving off some strong pheromones, because Lizzie has been a bee magnet at every stop since Idaho!
By the way, so far the count is 12 states with 32 stamps. Want to get it up to at least 15 and 40 by the end of this trip. Piece of cake!
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Scottsbluff, Nebraska, which is in far West Nebraska. This is the beginning of a new phase in the adventure, since the view out my hotel window is a cornfield instead of mountains! Also, no bear-proof containers anywhere in sight!
Left Hill City this morning in light intermittent fog. While that is no good at all for pictures, it sure creates a dreamy, mystical look to those Black Hills of South Dakota! Drove by the Crazy Horse Monument, which was entirely shrouded in fog.
With all the tourists at home on a Monday, it was such a pleasure to ride the sweeping turns to Jewell Cave National Monument, which is west of Custer. Fantastic park video!
The fog having lifted, this was taken on the way to my next stop, Wind Cave National Park. It’s typical of all the beautiful rock formations in the area. Still in South Dakota.
On the way to Wind Cave came across a herd of buffalo in Custer State Park, so you know I couldn’t help myself and had to stop. The next picture shows how close they were. That horizontal line going through the middle of the picture looks like a pathway, but it’s actually a patch of some type of grass. (Lots of different types of grasses around here.) There was also a prairie dog town a little too far away to show up in the camera. Man, those prairie dogs can make a lot of noise when they get excited about something!
Met an interesting couple from Switzerland on this stop. They’d come to the US on the Queen Mary, taken the train, rented a car, and now had a motorcycle for a month. Talk about an adventure! It was sure fun talking to them.
Leaving the Black Hills pretty much brought an end to all the majestic, grand scenery of the past few weeks. No doubt there will be quick flashes of brilliance on the road back to Austin, but I won’t count on much. Rode through national grasslands getting into Nebraska, so it was mile after mile of gently rolling prairie. Love the green. Here is a nice little spot in Nebraska. Um. . . just ignore that third green of the golf course there at the bottom.
Stopped in at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska. Now, if you had told me before this trip started that I’d be so interested in fossils, I’d have said you’re crazy, but the fact is I’ve discovered I’m fascinated by them. You should have seen me out there on that windswept prairie digging out the Tevas so I could hike up and see amazing fossils embedded in the cliffs. Had to strap that obnoxious high-vis jacket down so it wouldn’t blow away while I was gone!
Among other things, I got to see some fossilized eight-foot burrows dug by an ancient beaver called Palaeocastor. The burrows are called Devil’s Corkscrews and literally look like a giant stone corkscrew. Who would’ve thought?
This is what the fossilized burrow looked like up on that hill. There is a plexiglass screen around it, I’m sure, to protect it from vandalism.
Next stop was Scotts Bluff National Monument. Got there pretty late so only had time to watch the park video, which was interesting. Learned a whole lot of interesting facts that they sure didn’t teach us in American History back in the seventies! Scotts Bluff is different from everything else I’ve seen because it’s not so much about the flora and fauna, but the unique stories and perspectives of the pioneers as they made their way west. Sounds like it could be boring, but its the kind of history I appreciate so much — told by the individuals who lived it.
You won’t hear from me for a few days. Tomorrow I get to meet up with my long-time high school buddy Connie and her partner Marg in Omaha. Also, I found a place that will do an oil change so will get that taken care of. Lizzie never, ever complains, and I sure want to keep it that way!
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Fort Scott, Kansas, which is in Southeast Kansas just a few miles from Missouri.
After a nice visit with Connie and oil change for Lizzie, got going early this morning and made good time. First stop was Homestead National Monument of America in South Nebraska. The Visitor Center was about as Midwestern as you can get and definitely captured the feel of a farm. Park video was pretty good and, believe it or not, gave equal time to the flip side of homesteading: the devastating consequences to Native Americans. All in all, it was honest and interesting.
Speaking of Midwestern looking, this picture was taken at a Nebraska rest stop. Love those sunflowers!
Hopped onto the Flint Hills Scenic Byway in Kansas and was pleasantly surprised. Never knew Kansas could look so good! The byway led directly to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, in a partnership between the National Park Service, Nature Conservancy and Kansas Park Trust. You get to see mile after mile of green prairie tallgrass and lots of wildflowers.
The Visitor’s Center is located in a huge stone barn and the gift shop is in a beautiful stone house, both built in the 1800’s. I swear, the barn with its oily wooden floors smells exactly like Grandpa Swinney’s old garage! By the way, the reason prairie grass can survive hard freezes and periodic fires is because the root system goes 15 feet into the ground.
This preserve is interesting and certainly worth seeing, but might be appropriate for the middle of your places-to-visit list.
Here is the historic house, which you can walk through.
This pic shows the stone barn. They’d pull their wagons up that ramp on the right to gain access to the third floor. Fancy!
Of course, just as I’m leaving the preserve, the temporary crown put in after a root canal a few days before leaving Austin decides to pop out. Let me tell you, those aren’t so easy to get back into place with grubby hands, crouching in front of a motorcycle mirror! Can’t say the dentist didn’t warn me about eating peanuts! Doh!
Made it to Fort Scott National Historic Site just before closing. Got the stamp, watched the video and left. Lots of cool old buildings. While I know it’s important to our American history, can’t get excited about this one.
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Ada, Oklahoma, which is in the south central part of the state.
So far this entire trip I’ve probably ridden in an hour’s worth of rain total, which is next to nothing. However, today . . . . Got packed and out of Fort Scott just as the rain was starting, but it soon was coming down harder and harder.
By the time I reached today’s first destination, the George Washington Carver National Monument in Missouri, which was only about 70 miles, those Olympia pant liners I’m always bragging about were leaking. Ended up with a soaked bum and water dripping down my left leg and quickly got cold.
Of course, watched the park video, which was a bit sappy, and learned a lot about this remarkable man. Left a wet spot on my theater seat — but it was the rain’s fault! Really, I swear!
The park ranger felt sorry for me since it was still pouring down when it was time to leave and kindly researched several weather websites, which was a big help.
Normally I do well in the rain, but this drenching-downpour stuff is no fun at all. Planned on grabbing two stamps in Arkansas, but they’ll have to wait for another time. Dug the electric jacket out of the saddlebag, changed course 180 degrees, headed west for blue skies, and in a short time drove out of the storm. In fact, I’d become so chilled that I kept the heat on until the outside temperature reached 82!
My revised route into and through Oklahoma was quite scenic and enjoyable. I’m mildly disappointed about not making it to Arkansas, but am ever so thankful for the sense to turn around! Tonight the hotel room has still-wet clothes hanging everywhere! I’m sorry to say I was in no mood to take pictures today, but think you’ll understand.
Tomorrow I’ll grab a stamp and then head for Austin. Sure hope those UT fans going to the home game are off the road by then. May have showers tomorrow, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be anything like this morning.
Peace on the Road!
Hello from Austin, Texas!
Grabbed a stamp at Chickasaw National Recreation Area as soon as the Visitor’s Center opened and made a bee-line to I-35. Between a mass exodus of red-shirted Sooner football fans on their way to Dallas and all the Labor-Day sales, the super-slab traffic was heavy and log-jammed at the outlet malls, but I survived without incident. In spite of being unmercilessly thrown into the unforgiving free-for-all, I’m glad to say my peaceful Chief-Joseph-Scenic-Highway serenity was not affected by the 300 miles of game-day/Labor-Day traffic.
By the way, not once during this entire trip did anyone pull out or over on me, so it looks like I’ve found a good combination with the high-vis yellow jacket and red reflectors and lights. Now, that’s something to write about!
Apparently my sheet with original odometer reading was inadvertently left in Fort Scott, but it looks like this trip was at least 5,600 miles. Here I am, overheated and red faced, but safely home.
Thank y’all for sharing the ride! Long live long rides!
Peace on the Road!