7 August – Day 16
West Yellowstone, Montana to Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Seriously I don’t know how Harley riders ride without a full-face helmet. Maybe I’m a bit soft but I copped a dragon fly in the neck on the way back into Yellowstone and it stung like a %&$#@. Another indeterminable bug decided to provide Lauren with an up close view of its yellow guts on her visor. There also tends to be a general lack of consideration regarding what happens when skin hits asphalt, the majority of riders wear T-shirts and… here we are as I sit, a guy pulls up on his Harley in a T-shirt, shorts, shoes and a baseball cap… backwards… bet that’ll do a lot when someone runs into you! It’s getting hotter the further South we go, however both of us are still donning the full swag of protective gear favouring a bit of sweat over any other potential consequence!
The other side of Yellowstone is its natural thermal features of hot springs and geysers. Upon entering back into Yellowstone to continue South, and after experiencing another three ‘bear jams’ where driving etiquette gets firmly shoved out the window, we arrived at the Lower Geyser Basin where pools of boiling water and steam gushed to the surface emitting that pungent odour of rotten eggs from the sulphur. Continuing on, Old Faithful was the next obvious stop, being a geyser that that regularly explodes in a fountain of superheated water. For a natural phenomenon, it really is an enjoyable spectacle and provides a scene similar to the fountain on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra although not quite as high.
The rest of the day was spent tootling along at frustratingly low speeds and waiting at multiple roadworks that seem to involve extensive delays for what appears to be very minor work. Arriving in Jackson Hole quite hot and very interested in exploring the menu of one of the local coffee shops, we sat down and observed our surroundings deciding that they deserved closer inspection. We found a motel close to the centre of town and unpacked our gear to complete our shortest day ever of 202km. The rest of the day was spent moseying around the various shops and chilling out. Lauren found a yoga session running from 5.30 til 7.00 while I found a nice tavern selling microbrew beer and proceeded to sample the menu. We had live country music with dinner and dropped by a bar with a swinging jazz band for a nightcap on the way back to the motel.
6 August – Day 15
Red Lodge, Montana to West Yellowstone, Montana
The Beartooth Highway is one of the top motorcycle roads in the USA, extending from Red Lodge to the Eastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Sure we could have dropped a couple of 100 kms off the route by entering through the North, however having now ridden this highway I can now understand its popularity. It was chockers full of Harley riders in both directions, some off to Sturgis some just seeing the sights like ourselves, all of them enjoying the twists and turns up and down the mountain. The terrain changed from pine forest to alpine meadows to jutting rocky outcrops, all of which provided a beautiful backdrop. A bit of a crosswind combined with precious cargo meant I didn’t test the handling limits of the Beemer, suffice to say I had plenty of fun.
The last time I rode through Yellowstone back in 2007 it was breathtaking and it remains one of the must-see National Parks in the USA. The plethora of wildlife lining the roads is simply amazing with herds of buffalo (in the hundreds if not thousands) roaming the plains as we rolled by. Arriving at the Eastern entrance enabled us to explore parts of the park I hadn’t been lucky enough to visit previously.
The Upper and Lower falls of the Yellowstone River are dramatic and the view magnified by the stark multi coloured sandstone walls rising up each side. We managed to wrestle our way through the other snap happy tourists to take a few photos which will show up later. Somehow at the second viewpoint we managed to find ourselves walking the 320 odd steps down to into the valley along Uncle Toms Trail to get an up close view of the lower (larger) falls. Needless to say, dressed in motorbike jeans and boots, the walk back up was not as easy as it was down. Lauren leapt up the stairs, heart barely beating, patiently waiting for me to stagger breathlessly to catch up. I had justified going down by determining that the 320 steps could be taken two at a time on the way back up, who was I kidding?
We decided to head for West Yellowstone for the night and given the weather was looking good and the hotels were either booked or damn expensive, the decision was made to camp (yes our 3rd night in a tent). We found a dusty patch in a campground on the edge of town hoping to save some coin. That’ll be $43 + tax thankyou. Hmmm… When you are tired, can’t be bothered looking for anywhere else, and kinda scared of bears (camping wild) you do cough up ridiculous money for a place to pitch a tent!
On the way into West Yellowstone, we hit our first ‘Bear Jam’. I had informed Lauren of the ridiculous notion that a traffic jam could form in the middle of a National Park due to the sighting of some form of animal. Needless to say we were caught in one where some bugger decided to stop his car in the middle of the road somewhere ahead to observe a reindeer. Common courtesy tends to go out the window and by the time everyone else gets there the animal is no longer seen and everyone else is left to ponder what it was that caused the jam in the first place…