Week Four

July 10
July 11
July 12
July 13
July 14
July 15
July 16

Easy to get lost in this

Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Got up about 4:30. Cool with no wind. Eastern sky was becoming light. Packed up my gear and the tent. I figured that I could hike out with everything. Still no sun at 5:10 when I started for the car.

In the dim light, the terrain’s features were a little hard to recognize from the day before. I plodded on, even after acknowledging this fact. The reason for this, I assume was my desire to return the rental on time. I was sure that the trail was further up the slope. When the terrain became much steeper and filled with dense vegetation, I realized that I was too high. Things got much worse as I headed down. I tripped repeatedly on deadfall and the branches pulled me down. The packs were becoming more difficult to carry. Panic started to sneak up on me when I could not see anything around me because of all the vegetation. It seemed to thin out a little above me so I pulled my way through the thick tangle to a more clear area. The sudden realization that I was totally lost fanned the fire of panic. I had no food or water and was becoming dehydrated already. My muscles were weak and shaky. Having almost no sleep the night before didn’t help matters. Wild scenarios flashed through my mind. One that could definitely happen would be that I would sprain an ankle and not be able to walk. I could not believe that the sun hadn’t rose yet. I think it was about 6:15. Took more deep breaths and tried to relax. I dug out my compass from one of the packs and studied it. I did not believe or understand how I got myself backwards. I was positive that through all that tangle of branches I was still following an easterly direction. I thought “there is lost, then there is hopelessly lost”. The compass told me that I must go in the opposite direction. I rested for a while, then set out following that heading. Then I noticed a small piece of very faded orange plastic ribbon - the kind surveyors and loggers use. Campers and hikers also use it to mark trails. It was tied around a tree branch. When I approached it, I saw another one and still another further on. I figured that this could be a trail, and since I didn’t have any better plan, and it was going in the general compass heading, I began to follow it. It soon ended. At this time, the sun peeked above a mountain ridge to my left. My compass confirmed that I was heading south. After a few more steps, I saw my meadow below me about a quarter of a mile. I continued down until I thought I saw the trail. This time I was more cautious and turned around immediately when I recognized nothing. I did this back and forth thing a number of times as I descended the edge of the meadow. Eventually, I was almost back from where I had started from and I still did not find the trail. The trail was very easy to miss in the 16 to 18 inch high meadow grass. In my mind, I tried to calmly retrace my path to the meadow that I had followed yesterday. Suddenly, I remembered that I had hiked UP the path to the meadow which meant that the car was BELOW me. I still had to make some direction changes as I went, but I got to the car very soon. It was 7:35.

I had seen, with my binoculars the evening before, that the crane was off the road which could mean that the road was passable. I took a chance with the road. There were no surprises, except the look on the crane operator’s face as he was coming up to begin work and I was coming down. There were also no construction delays as yesterday.

Made it back to Missoula with time to spare so I stopped for breakfast and visited the Smoke Jumpers’ Museum. Then I returned the car and loaded up the bike.

I headed south through the Bitterroot Valley on route 93. Beautiful country and, surprisingly, quite green. It was becoming very warm and I was very tired so I stopped in Hamilton. Checked into a motel. Showered and slept. Got up around 3pm. Did some laundry and washed the motorcycle. Temperature 99 degrees. Supposed to be 101 tomorrow. Rode only 61 miles, on the motorcycle, today.




Smoke Jumper's School and Museum



Thursday, July 11, 2002
I mailed old maps, books and gifts back to PA. Created much needed room the saddlebags. Left Hamilton around 9am. Saw the last of the Bitterroots. Encountered half hour construction delay. Construction zone was all mud for 6 miles and soon dirtied my recently washed bike. Also ran into a lot of bugs of all sizes. At Chief Joseph’s Pass (7264 feet), I turned east on route 43.

The valleys were lush and green and all the creeks and streams were full and flowing. The scent of pine and sagebrush was strong. I turned south on route 278 in the town of Wisdom. The landscape started to dry out and turn brown. Coming down from Big Hole Pass (7630 feet), I saw ranches that must have covered thousands of acres and had thousands of head of cattle. From one fence line that was perpendicular to the road to the next was over five miles. I am developing a greater appreciation of L&C’sI description of vast spaces and herds of buffalo in the 10s of thousands. What a spectacle that must have been. And, because of the scarcity of buildings and roads, I am getting a more clear and vivid picture of what they actually saw.

The landscape became more brown again as I headed south. Practically no wildlife. Just the eternal fences and these little rodents that would dart out into the road and back again. They were the size of a large chipmunk or a small squirrel. I was cruising along at 75 on the excellent road. I would see them in plenty of time to alter my direction. As one ran into the road from the right, I went left onto a very long asphalt “snake”. These are the black asphalt lines that fill in slight cracks in the pavement’s surface. When it is hot or raining, these areas become quite slippery. My bike started to shake violently which made it difficult to steer out of it. Fortunately, the “snake” ended and I was able to regain control. I determined that, from now on, those little critters would just have to take their chances out on the road. This was the most serious potential accident thus far on this trip. I also have renewed my wariness of the asphalt “snakes”.

At Dillon, I had to turn northeast on route 41 since there were no roads going southeast towards Yellowstone National Park. I realized that L&C didn’t go there on their expedition but a member did. John Colter did not return with L&C to Saint Louis. Instead, he headed west again with some other trappers. He is given credit for being the first white man ever to see Yellowstone.

Finally turned southeast at Twin Bridges on route 287. Very hot. Rolling hills with rock outcroppings, small bushes, and plenty of sagebrush. TV Western country. Made the town of Ennis about 3:30. Rode 226 miles.


Earthquake Lake

Friday, July 12, 2002
Left Ennis at 7:30am. Beautiful sunrise and cool temperatures. The ranches became smaller as I got closer to Yellowstone. Some “ranches” were actually housing developments. Each brand new log house and log garage, complete with green metal roofs, seemed to have ten acres of land because of the way they were spaced apart. They reminded me of toy Lincoln Log houses. I was on route 287 heading south and following the Madison River.

I made a stop at Earthquake Lake about 8:15. On August 17, 1959 a massive earthquake dislodged a section of mountain and, in less than a minute, those huge boulders with earth, trees, etc. slid into the valley and up the opposite slope about 300 feet. It killed 19 people, mostly families, and damned up the river creating Earthquake Lake. Some of the boulders were house size and weighed around 200 tons.

I entered Yellowstone from the town of West Yellowstone, elevation 6667 feet. From the entrance booths, I merged with all the other traffic, most of which was RVs. But they moved along at a good pace, and rightly so, since Yellowstone is a big place. The beautiful landscape still shows the scars of recent forest fires. Whole mountainsides of black-gray poles now show bits of green where new pines were springing up. I turned in at the Madison Campsite and my site was on a gentle slope with a few small ponderosa pines. Not much shade but it did allow nice views of the surrounding mountains. Elevation 6806 feet. My tent was set up by 10:00am. Then I left to tour some of the park and see the Grand Tetons.

I made frequent stops in Yellowstone to view the thermal springs and geysers. All the sulfur odors and hot water were not especially refreshing on a 95 degree day. “Old Faithful” was somewhat disappointing. My expectations were of a very high and spectacular explosion of water. It wasn’t very high or spectacular. I overheard some of the spectators’ conversation afterwards. It seems that new fissures in the deep underground rock have lessened some of the water pressure thereby diminishing the geyser’s power. They also said that, on the other hand, “Old Faithful’s” eruptions are never the same. So, maybe the next one will be twice the size. I didn’t stick around to find out.

I followed the Park road east and crossed the Continental Divide twice. Once at Craig Pass at 8391 feet and the other at West Thumb at 7784 feet. The views were spectacular. The motorcycle continued to run smooth and accelerate with no problem. I have always used 89 octane or higher in it. I did stop for gas at West Thumb and, after filling the tank, I spoke with another biker who just pulled up. He said, at this altitude, he only uses 90 octane gas in his V-twin. Probably good advice but my old ST was purring along with the lower grade.

I then turned south and got a fantastic view of the Lewis River Gorge. These were just glances because the road curves and has no guardrails. And, it was a very long way down. I speculate about 500 feet or more. I could see the Tetons in the distance even before I left Yellowstone.

I believe that if Meriwether Lewis had viewed the Grand Tetons, he would have called them “sublime”. I’m sure that he would agree that no words could do them justice just as he admitted in his journal that no words could describe the Great Falls. They seem to arise out of Jackson Lake the further I rode south. I made a right turn onto Teton Park Road and rode even closer to these towering, snow-capped peaks. I left large Jackson Lake behind and now rode alongside the much smaller lakes of Leigh, String and Jenny. There’s a wonderful rest stop on Jenny Lake. Across this, two-mile, body of water these megaliths rose into the shimmering sky. The day was excessively humid so the summits’ details were not all that clear. Nonetheless, they were truly majestic. They appeared as if they were born and thrust up out of the water just last week. The peak of Mount St. John (11,430 feet) was flanked by Mt. Thor (12,028 feet) on the right and Mt. Grand Teton (13,770 feet) on the left. They filled my field of vision and wonderment. The more of the west I see, the more I am intrigued by Native American Religion. The idea that humans and nature are inseparable.

I turned around at Moose Junction and headed back the same way I had come. This was one time that I did not mind back-tracking at all. Did not see much wildlife except for some deer and a bull elk. Arrived back at my campsite at 8:30pm. I ate a supper of a pack of cheese crackers, a handful of almonds, and an apple, with water to drink. I guess that I didn’t need all that much food after a day like this. Sure, I was very tired, and I had stopped for lunch, but I was still “pumped” by all of what I had seen and was totally satisfied. Rode 308 miles today.


Yellowstone Geyser

The Grand Tetons

The Grand Tetons

Saturday, July 13, 2002
I had intended to tour the northern part of Yellowstone. However, there was heavy construction on its main road. I would also have to use it to return to exit the Park at West Yellowstone. I decided that Mammoth Hot Springs would have to wait until some other time.

I left Yellowstone and headed north on route 191 toward Bozeman. Once there, I took I-90 west to Three Forks and the return to stifling heat. Three Forks is really the “three forks of the Missouri”. It is at this point that the waters of the actual Missouri begin or end, depending on which way one is travelling. The three rivers are the Jefferson, the Madison, and the Gallatin. Near this confluence I made an interesting “find”. There was a plaque alongside the rode that was almost hidden by the tall grass. It indicated where an Indian pictograph was located. I eagerly walked to a small outcropping of rock. The space under it was short, so I had to knee to see it. It was tiny and very faded and old. Much older, I realized, that Clark’s signature. A white man’s graffiti gets bullet-proof glass protection while A Native American’s gets a little plaque. It a few short years, this pictograph will be gone. I wondered how many more have been destroyed or damaged beyond recognition?

The ride from Three Forks to Helena was very hot and tedious. Another immensely large, flat and brown landscape. Huge fields of wheat and hay were irrigated by self-propelled systems of pipes. The source of water appeared to be the streams and occasional river that were full flowing. The wind from riding on the motorcycle was like a fan in a furnace.

Arrived in Helena at 2:45pm. Checked into a motel and the weather station’s temperature for the local area was 102 degrees. The local newspaper’s headline announced that yesterday’s high was 105. Rode 206 baking miles.


"Gates of the Mountain"

Missouri River near Helena, MT

Sunday, July 14,2002
Left for the “Gates of The Mountains” boat tour around 8:30am. Took I-15 north 17 miles and 3 miles on an exit. This exit was really the Helger ranch’s driveway. The tour’s headquarters was on their property. The tour showcased the rock “walls” that illusionistically “open” and “close” as the boat goes around a bend in the Missouri. The guide was very good. He spoke on many topics relating to the river and gorge. In all, it was a very beautiful and wild place. As an artist, I have appreciated the continuous changes in the color of the Missouri. Often, it reflects the colors of the surrounding landscape or sky. Sometimes, it’s just muddy brown. Here, on this day, it was a beautiful blue with the contrasting reflections of the yellow and red-brown rock walls that towered above.

Back in Helena, I had a late lunch at Frontier Pies. It included a terrific ham sandwich, cup of chicken gumbo, and a piece of raspberry pie for $6.49. Afterwards, I went to the Montana Heritage Museum. It featured the history of Montana that began with the “Clovis” period. From there it included the coming of the white man, the Indian wars, the mining, lumber, and cattle industries, etc. Upstairs, “Big Medicine” was on exhibit. He was a stuffed white buffalo and considered sacred to most Indian cultures. This one was born on the Blackfeet reservation in 1932 and was well cared for so it lived much longer than most buffalo in the wild. It died in 1959. Some tribes considered the buffalo to be their “cousins”. To them, the buffalo was life. Looking at him, I could definitely see why they worshipped him.

Got back to the motel just before a thunderstorm struck. It featured heavy rain, much lightening, high winds, and marble-sized hail. A typical Montana summer afternoon rainstorm. The temperature before the storm was 98. Afterwards, it was 63.

Saw an ad in one of the motel’s many brochures for the Rocking Z Guest Ranch. I really thought that I should ride a horse before my trip was over. And, after all, this was Montana.

I called and set up a ride for the next day. I chose a “package” that included a room and food. The Rocking Z was located north of Helena and I was heading towards Fort Benton.

Monday, July 15, 2002
Arrived at the Rocking Z Ranch about 9:15am. I felt some apprehension about this whole venture since I don’t really know how to ride a horse. I had ridden horses a few times in my life. But most of them were like robots that I couldn’t control and I rode them in single file in flat, predictable terrain. I wanted something more, but I didn’t know how much I could handle.

My apprehension quickly evaporated in the friendly atmosphere of the ranch house. Pat Wirth, one of the owners, introduced herself and Philip Waters who was seated at the very large dining table. Philip and his girlfriend, Jacinta, had been at the ranch for a few days already. He said that they had been on numerous rides and that they were all fantastic. Before I left for my ride, I met the other owner, Pat’s husband Zack. They both made me feel right at home.

Out by the barn, I was introduced to “George” my horse. He was nine years old and was reddish brown with traces of gray on his forehead and rump. The guide, whom I later learned was Maria, was one of the daughters of Zack and Pat. She adjusted my stirrups and said that “George” was one of their best horses. The ride group included just Philip, Jacinta, Maria, and myself. I was hoping it would be a small group.

We rode along a small creek for a while with two of the ranch’s black and white dogs running nearby. We trotted for a while then slowly galloped a bit. “George” responded to my directions very well. He made me look good.

We then entered a rolling brown grass plain that led into a wide treeless valley. We ascended this valley, stopping a few times to give the horses a rest. Maria had told me not to let “George” eat. But, even at a gallop, he would snatch mouthfuls of grass. This I gave up trying to control.

The valley became narrow as we gained altitude. Dark brownish-purple rocks became more numerous. These rocks appeared to be shale-like and somewhat slippery for the horse’s hooves. The valley then became a canyon with the sides becoming increasingly steep. The horses were now following a foot-wide path that had been worn into the side of the slope. We found ourselves getting higher than the bottom of the canyon which was now becoming a ravine. The bottom this ravine was filled with large boulders and dead trees. We were trying to cross this steep incline on the edge of the ravine when our progress was halted by a small pine. Maria dismounted and started to hack away at the tree. I was behind her horse and Jacinta was behind me with Phil in the rear. Suddenly, Jacinta’s horse, “Denny” began climbing the steep slope. His hooves slipped on the loose stony surface and it looked like he and Jacinta were going to go over the edge and tumble into the ravine. She was attempting to dismount as he was scrambling to regain his footing. Then she sort of jumped and fell off him on the upside of the incline. “Denny” regained his footing but had completely turned around. It could have been a bad accident. However, both Jacinta and “Denny” were fine. Phil remarked that it would have been a real tragedy because “Denny” was carrying our lunches. I, in the meantime, had dismounted and, now, I went to chop down that troublesome tree. The axe was quite dull and the air was heating up. I finally chopped enough of the eight-inch diameter tree to break it off and allow us to proceed. Soon, we encountered another tree. This one was even larger. Maria took a few swings, then Phil took over and cut enough of it to push it out of the way. I scouted ahead on foot but couldn’t see a clear path. I asked Maria which way to go but she wasn’t sure. She said that she hadn’t been down this way in a long time. We clearly could not go up the ravine because it was blocked by dense vegetation and large rocks. Maria finally said that we should go up the slope and then she would know where to go from there. We all started leading our horses up the loose rocky incline and soon Maria mounted her horse. We all followed suit and started riding our horses zig-zag up the slope. Then we traveled across and up to the top of the mountain. Here we had our lunch and the horses got a good rest.

Then we rode over the top and started down toward the ranch. This time we were going down and the valley became green and filled with ponderosa pines. We had traveled about 10 to 12 miles and returned to the ranch okay. Except, as we were crossing the bridge with no railings, “Denny” got spooked by a deer and tried to bolt. But, his rear legs slipped out from under him and he went down on his knees. Both were okay. I figured these things happen with animals and I was a “tenderfoot”. I felt that I definitely did not have a “tourist” ride. It was a wonderful time. It was stripped of artificiality and was real.

We had pork chops for dinner and, right after, a range fire. Two acres worth, according to Zack. Lightening had struck a high hilltop upwind of the ranch. If the wind blew hard, the dry pine forest would catch and spread the fire down to the ranch. Phil, Jacinta, Zack, his son Dan, and myself piled into Zack’s old Blazer and drove out to the fire zone. It rained very heavily on the way out and I said that any fire would be extinguished. Zack said no. He explained that the embers could smolder for days and erupt again. So, a lot of volunteer fire fighters showed up real fast. I was impressed with their response time and thoroughness. Five or six climbed all the way to the top for a close inspection. They would use a Global Positioning System to pinpoint the are for a helicopter inspection the next day.

I wondered later if the unexpected happens regularly on the Rocking Z. If it does, I’m sure it will be met head on by a “pioneer” spirited resourceful family. A special kind of family where the father is the head of the household but readily shares it with his wife. Zack and Pat were independent, resourceful, and strong individuals who were raising like-minded children. A real place to take a horseback ride anytime.


Mishap along the Trail

"George" and Me, Rocking Z Ranch

Coming Out of the Mountains

Wolf Creek, MT.

Bronze Statue of "Shep"

Tuesday, July 16, 2002
After a great breakfast of bacon, eggs and pancakes, I was on the bike once more. I quickly covered a lot of miles on I-15 north. I picked up route 87 at Great Falls and arrived at Fort Benton at 1:30pm. Very hot. I called White Cliff Tours and got the answering machine. I figured I’d just try again after I got settled.

Fort Benton is basically a one street town if you’re a canoeist, rafter, or tourist. This is where a lot of float and boat trips start for viewing the white cliffs area of the Missouri. It has a colorful history and a pretty good little museum of frontier life. Another museum worth a look is the Agriculture Museum that has a buffalo exhibit that used to be in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. It also has an excellent diner and two fine restaurants.

Finally, it has “Shep”, the “ever faithful” dog. They have a bronze statue of him on the main street. The actual “Shep” is buried on a little hill above the train station. After an unidentified sheepherder’s body was sent east in 1936, a collie mix sheep dog started meeting all the trains coming to Fort Benton. The manager of the station pieced the story together and took care of the dog. There were lots of offers of adoption but he knew it wouldn’t work. On January 12, 1942 the dog slipped on the tracks and was killed. He was quite old by then.

I checked in to the Pioneer Lodge-Motel on the main street which I found out was called Front Street. Susie Yager was the manager and she offered to call White Cliff Tours for me. It seemed that she and her husband had already taken one of the tours and she swore that it was fantastic. After placing some my luggage in my room, I toured the town. Got back around 5pm and saw Susie talking with Daryl, the owner and guide of White Cliff Tours. I chose the all-day tour and he said that he would pick me up at the motel tomorrow morning at 8am. He liked to get a good start before the heat of the day. I couldn’t have agreed more. Rode 115 miles today.


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