We leave the Grand Tetons, which we find as magnificent and awe inspiring as we did 30 years ago. The air is crisp, the sky deep blue, the sun rays warming gently. Perfect bike riding weather.
I have amused myself while riding in Wyoming with the colourful and evocative creek and river names: snake, rattle snake, badwater, muddy, tensleep, little bighorn, little goose and belle fourche, nez perce, gros ventre. Yes, I notice the French names, this area once claimed by France, Spain and England.
In Jackson, we cross the Snake River to follow WY22, a steep, 10% gradient, road taking us over the Teton Pass at 2,570 metre altitude. Glad we have kept our extra layers on and grateful for our heated grips. The views of the mountain range are stunning but it is the gentle rolling fields along the Swan Valley Highway on US26 which I particularly loved. The winds along that stretch of road were absolutely brutal, buffeting us from the left, and stopping there is not an option.
This is the furthest west in the US we will be going on this trip. We only picked Idaho Falls as it is the closest town to Rigby where Klim, the manufacturer of our jackets, are located. We decided to visit them after meeting some of their representatives at the Gunnison Motorcycle rally to give them feedback after 14 months’ constant use.
We had no expectations or any knowledge of Idaho Falls and it turned out to be a lovely surprise, once again. It is Idaho state’s 2nd largest city, with a population of just over 58,300. Our hotel happens to be located close to the “falls” of Idaho Falls, on the Snake river, the town being so named in 1891 in reference to the rapids located there. In 1909, a dam wall was built for a hydroelectric power plant and turned the rapids into falls. In 1969, the largest irrigation canal in the world was built, transforming the surrounding desert into one of the most productive farmland area in the US. The current dam wall was built in 1982 after the citizens of Idaho Falls voted to invest into more hydro electric plants which today generate 50% of their electric power needs!
You feel a sense of pride in their town. Lovely river walk, Japanese garden section, outdoor sculptures.
After a walk along the river and through the city centre, with its grand art deco buildings, we make our way to Klim. The 2 reps we had met are away today on a bike ride so Porsche kindly offers to give us a tour of their building. We had never expected such a welcome: we are introduced to everyone individually!!! It was great to meet Rhylea the designer and give her some feedback. But how painful to turn down the offer of a free pair of pants because they were way too large for me… Klim is a wonderful success story of a company started by one determined and inspirational man – such a shame Justin Summers was out that day.
Two hours later, we are off again. We know we are approaching Yellowstone national park when we see road signs: be bear aware, food storage required. We get to the west gate, pay our entrance fee and find out that every campground bar one on the far side of the park is full. We turn back and try the KOA 12 miles down the road. That too is full except for 2 cabins – lucky for us albeit outrageously expensive for what you get: $109 with no toilet, water or bedding. But we do get a chance to recharge all our electronic equipment. And there is internet. I do a bit of research on campgrounds in Yellowstone. That is when I find out that most campgrounds are fully booked by 7.30am!! Eek. That is going to require an awfully early start in the morning. We choose Norris: one of the most primitive, not too large, not too far from our entrance and doesn’t appear to book out until 9am and only filled at 11am today.
We are up at 5am – it is freezing, literally. As we get to the park entrance by 7am after breakfast and refuelling in the town of West Yellowstone, there are already queues to enter the park!! The lighting is magical. Steam rising from the creeks. It gets to literally 0 degrees celcius. Winter gloves, max heated handlebars, extra fleece are not enough to keep us warm. We can’t resist stopping at some stunning spots but we know we need to get to Norris campground as soon as possible as we are sure most people on the road right now have the same intention. We decide not to stop for another stunning spot. We get to Norris campground at 7.30, drive the A loop, all full. B loop, all full, C loop, get to the top and here is one spot. Check the tag, the previous occupants left this morning. We are in luck – and it is the most private spot!!! Absolutely perfect!!
I notice a path near the tent – this is not just person path, bison dropping (not bear I tell myself) and a running rabbit is proof. We will have to be careful and diligent with bear packing. Lucky they provide a massive bear proof food storage metal box for each tent spot.
We meet our neighbours Ed and Marte who invite us to join them for dinner tonight. While we chat, many cars pull up and ask if we are leaving. We got here just in time. Ed tells us that the reason this campground didn’t fill up until 11am yesterday is because a motorhome trailer jackknifed in the middle of the one way path and access was closed until 11am.
Visiting national parks in the US during the summer holiday period really isn’t the best time, and once again we find the roads and scenic spots way too crowded for us but we are here now so make the most of it to revisit some places we first saw 30 years ago and discover new ones. How things have changed in this time: signs stating drones are not allowed, signs warning of the dangers of geysers and that people have burned to death when straying off the path, and the size of the crowds, at Old Faithful particularly – when we first saw it, there were a few benches for people to sit on and wait and a simple low cord with a warning sign swinging from it.
I particularly enjoy stopping at the open meadows, dotted with wildflowers, and no one in sight. They feel so peaceful. And the Lake lodge, with its wide veranda and rocking chairs – so inviting: we enjoyed a drink and slice of cake overlooking Yellowstone Lake.
During our time in Yellowstone, we saw one black bear, many deer, lots of herds of bison, elk, swans and wolves, yes wolves (thanks to the visitors with powerful lenses and binoculars)!! A few years ago, I read an article on the history of wolves and the impact of the extermination of grey wolves on the whole eco system of Yellowstone and how 14 were re-introduced in 1995 and a further 17 in 1996. So seeing wolves was particularly special.
Although the park today was too crowded for us, we are glad we returned. Riding through the park was a true feast for the senses – the colours and lighting, the smells of pine and flowers, the sound of rushing creeks and rivers. And seeing nature being renewed – we saw huge areas of burned out forests with hundreds and thousands of tiny new pines growing amongst the burned out ones.
We return to our campsite after a busy day – Anthony points out the name of our tent – Yellowstone!! And relax for an hour before joining Marte & Ed ( and Annie the dog( from Phoenix, now Texans to be close to grandkids, for a Mexican dinner. Lucky our contribution and choice of bags of peanut M&M’s for desert are apparently Ed’s favourite. A lovely evening was spent chatting before turning in for the night.
As we are busy packing the bikes the next morning, Ellen whom Anthony chatted to while I was busy storing all our food away, comes over to me with a “you are invited” note to a home cooked meal or 2 or 3 and a comfy bed to her home in Vermont. How kind!!!
Yesterday morning was so freezing, we don’t want to leave so early today. The temperature doesn’t go down to zero but it is nippy enough at 5 degrees. We stay rugged up as we will be climbing for the first few hours. First along the Beartooth highway, they Chief Joseph Highway. Chief Joseph pass has some interesting historic displays: Nez Percé Indians, led by Lean Elk and Joseph outmaneuvered the US Cavalry in 1877 by milling their horses around in every direction and leaving a confusion of tracks and managed to escape the US Cavalry. The US Army’s continued pursuit of 750 Nez Percé Indians lasted over 3 months. Chief Joseph eventually surrendered but became renowned as a great peacemaker and humanitarian.
The scenery is incredible, the roads perfect bike riding roads and today is the best riding day I have had in a very very long time, with Streak performing brilliantly. I had been waiting to encounter high temperatures before I could confidently declare Streak completely fixed after our Denver fixes, and today we got all the conditions which have caused me problems over the last 7 months: acceleration, uphill especially, heat and less than half full fuel tank. We had numerous passes, twists, heat and long stretches between refueling. Streak is fixed!!
Today, we stop at Cody where we have lunch at Buffalo Bill Cody’s hotel named Irma after his daughter and stop for the night in Sheridan where we walk to Buffalo Bill’s other hotel, the Sheridan Inn, for dinner as there is no Walmart nearby for us to buy our usual humus, crackers, carrots or mushrooms for dinner.
We are hoping for a good night’s sleep tonight at our little motel as we are camping tomorrow at Devil’s Tower then we are off to Sturgis – not sure how much sleep we’ll get there…!!