A Day Full of Forks

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Casper, Wyoming to Orem, Utah 475 miles

0826 Casper to Orem 475

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy of AAA

Breakfast at the Red Butte Lodge was being served at 7:30, so for once we were assured of a somewhat early start!  Ruth, our host, cooked a most delectable veggie omelet with fresh dill and served it along with a fresh fruit salad, a huge muffin, toast, and juice.  We had time to look around the property a bit and have our pictures taken next to the river and in front of the red rocks.  We were on the road by 8:30, with good suggestions from Gerise about places to stop along the way.  We checked in with Rex to see how things were doing on Tiki as Hurricane Harvey was making its way across the area.  So far, so good for us, but Houston was in for a very wet few days.

Our first stop was at Independence Rock.  All three of the main trails west, the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Pioneer Trail all followed essentially the same route to this point and about 100 miles farther before they branched off to Oregon, California, and Utah.  Like Scott’s Bluff, Independence Rock was a ‘register rock’, where many pioneers carved their names into the granite monolith.  Wagon trains first passed it on Independence Day, 1832, which is how it got its name. It is estimated that 50,000 emigrants passed this rock in 1853 as pioneers continued moving west across America.  We walked around the northwest side of the rock where most of the names are carved, and along the way we saw lots of rabbits, hawks, and one little frog.  Again, we were reminded of our many blessings and vowed to be more patient and ever grateful, especially when travel plans don’t go just the way we want them to.

Our next stop was the small town of Lander, WY, which was just a short detour north at the first fork in the road.  We parked and wandered down main street, stopping to buy some jewelry in a local art gallery/shop called Alchemy.  The women there told us we must go a bit farther out of town to see a river that flows into an underground cavern and then comes back out again a ways downstream.  We were really thirsty though, so first we stopped at a cute restaurant called The Middle Fork and sat outside to have a glass of tea.  Our tea turned into lunch (the first time we’ve had breakfast and lunch in one day!) and Kim had a grilled cheese with wilted spinach and I had a BLTA and fresh fruit.  Once fortified, we were ready to ride up the canyon to see the river whose name we couldn’t figure out.  We passed a sign that said something about the middle fork of the Popo Agie, but that still didn’t ring any bells…

Soon we came to the Sinks of the Popo Agie visitor center, so we went in to check things out.  Turns out the river’s name is pronounced ‘Puh – Po Shuh, and it’s thought to be a native American word for ‘gurgling water’.  At any rate, it was very cool!  The river comes down the steep rocky bed and flows into a cavern, where it disappears from view.  We hiked down to the cavern, which had a rocky but very sandy trail ending on a sandy beach.  We went back up, then followed a sidewalk down the hill and across the street and down the hill a bit farther until we were at the ‘rise’ of the river.  At this point, there was a huge pool of crystal clear water bubbling up from the bottom, and it was full of giant trout!  Big brown trout and beautiful rainbow trout were feasting on food thrown by visitors – it was quite the site!  The river flowed on from there – it was really pretty, and we were glad we had taken the time to see it.

We drove back in to Lander and retraced our route back to the highway, where we opted to take the right fork in the road and continue on the more scenic drive away from the interstate for a bit longer. Eventually, we would be forced to hop on I-80, but we could wait for that!  Once we did get on the four-lane, we were not surprised to see it reduced to two lanes, no passing, due to construction…  We crossed the Utah border and bypassed Salt Lake City, since we have been there before and seen the capitol (albeit when we were 12 and 13) and since it was after five on Saturday afternoon.  We made our way to the Hampton in Orem/Provo, and realized we were lucky to have gotten a room, since there had been a BYU game that day and there was an outdoor concert right across the street.  We found a cool place to eat and decided to Uber to it so Kim could have a break (and a drink or two!)

The name of the restaurant where we ate was called Communal, and there was a long table where many people could sit as well as several small tables.  Kim and I had a two-top, and our waiter explained that the menu was designed to be shared.  We had no trouble agreeing on an heirloom tomato, watermelon, feta, and watercress appetizer and an almond-crusted smoked sockeye salmon with creme fraiche and capers with a side of succotash of edamame, local corn, asparagus, tomatoes, and chives.  Dessert was fabulous, and we didn’t share it.  Kim had a sundae of Marionberry pie and blackberry- Oreo ice cream with warm cinnamon-chocolate fudge sauce, and I had a Nutella-banana pudding with crumbled shortbread and whipped cream.  DIVINE!!  Oh, and we each had a couple of local beers.  It was a wonderful night out and we were still in at a decent hour, ready to rest up for our trip along the ‘loneliest road in America’ tomorrow.

Welcome to Big Sky, y’all

Friday, 6 August 2010  Red Lodge MT to Big Sky MT  ~250 miles

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We woke up feeling lucky to have found a room in Red Lodge, and even luckier to have found a room at The Pollard.  Even better, breakfast was included in the price, so it was our kind of place! We made our way down to the dining room and prepared for gastronomic delights!  We had the most delightful server who greeted us with a cheery smile and even made favorable comments about the Duke shirt I was wearing.  The breakfast choices all looked delicious and made it hard for us to choose just one.  Kim took the healthy route with the fruit plate, and I was lured in by goat cheese, as usual.  It’s a temptation I can rarely refuse, and today’s pairing was an asparagus and goat cheese omelet.  Mmmmm!!!  Everything about breakfast was perfect – darling napkin rings, cloth napkins, a civilized setting, orchids on our plates, a happy server, and scrumptious food.  If only every day could start this way!  After breakfast, we poked around the hotel for a bit.  We loved the beveled glass that we found in many of the common areas.  If you should ever find yourself in Red Lodge, we give The Pollard high marks!

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Even though we were not as far along as we thought we might be by now, we decided to take the scenic route to Big Sky.  The Beartooth Pass Highway is thought by many to be one of the most beautiful roads in America.  It cuts through the majestic Rocky Mountains in a series of switchbacks and hairpin curves, each with breathtaking views.  Even better, it would put us off near an entrance to one of our favorite National Parks, Yellowstone!  But first, we had a detour to make.  One of the reasons we were in Red Lodge was because of Kim’s summer job at Timbercrest Camp, a Girl Scout camp just a few miles away, so of course we had to go check out her old stomping grounds. The ride up was on a tree-lined, little-used road, and I could almost see why my sister, who HATED camp when we were kids (I tried to spend the whole summer at camp!) had loved this place.  When we emerged from the car to look around, I could hear the rushing water of a creek just below us.  The entire camp was encircled by gorgeous mountains, and the smell of evergreens and the sound of silence is unlike anything we experience on a daily basis.  We were a bit surprised that the camp was not full of campers in early August, as it did not seem to be abandoned.  There were still cots in the cabins and chairs and tables in the dining hall, but it was all locked up.  At least we got to look around uninhibited!  Maybe girls today aren’t interested in spending a week in a relatively primitive setting, with no flush toilets, blow dryers, televisions, or cell phone service.  Their loss!

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dsc_0465 After our little walk down Kim’s Memory Lane, we headed for Beartooth.  It was a wonderful drive, marred only by a good bit of road construction taking place.  That’s always a hazard of a summer trip in the northern states, since summer is the only time much work of that kind gets done.  We had one place where we had to stop for about twenty or thirty minutes to wait our turn for a one-lane ride, but even that was fun.  We were behind a pickup with the cutest dog in it, and we enjoyed listening to the tales of the many motorcyclists out that day.  While I suspect that there are always plenty of bikers out on these fantastic roads on a perfect day like this one, the fact that this was Bike Week in nearby Sturgis, South Dakota, even added to those numbers.  It would be a wonderful way to see the USA!  Just after we had finished our escorted one-lane miles we came across a small flock of mountain goats near the Wyoming border.  We were hoping we’d get to see plenty of wildlife once we got to Yellowstone, too.

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Before long we came to the northeast entrance of the Park and we were  almost immediately rewarded with a spectacular sight – fields FULL of bison!  We got really tickled when one big ole bison dropped down into the dirt and started rolling around.  Dust was flying everywhere and he looked so happy – guess he just needed his back scratched! We drove through Mammoth Hot Springs, which was bustling with activity, but once we got back on the figure eight road, most of the traffic was going the opposite direction – lucky us!  A bit later we saw LOTS of cars pulled off to the side of the road and even some rangers directing traffic, so we knew it must be something good, and it was – a black bear was cavorting on the hillside!  And some people who had left their brains at home were hopping out of their cars and campers, cameras in hand, and heading straight for it.  The rangers were doing their best to remain calm and get people back to their cars, but some people were actually arguing with them!  They are probably the ones who would sue if the bear attacked them – go figure!  As we got closer to the geyser area of the park we expected to see herds of elk, and we did – so fun!  There was more road construction, and while we were stopped, one of the bikers who was behind us drove up alongside us to chat.  He had been behind us on Beartooth Pass and recognized our car.  He and his friend were from Regina, Saskatchewan, and they continued south toward Lake Yellowstone as we exited the park at West Yellowstone.  HERE is a great guide to what you may want to do/see at Yellowstone.

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Once we were on the road to Big Sky, it was a pretty straight shot, and before we knew it, we were passing Buck’s T-4 (a restaurant that had been recommended to us by our Red Lodge friends) and soon we were headed up the mountain to Jan and Ed’s place.  We were in luck for a few days as we would be staying in a fantastic condo belonging to Rex’s cousin and her husband.  It was so nice!!!  It was so hot when we got there that we put on our shorts and pulled the cushions out for the furniture on the rooftop balcony and popped a chilly one.  About the time I got comfortable and had my kindle in hand, it clouded up and got chilly!  The view was spectacular and it was really great to be in a real home and in the same place for two nights!  We were about to get hungry, so we opted for an early dinner and rode back down the mountain to Buck’s.  YUM!  One of our best meals so far!!  We started out with a couple of drinks – a gin and tonic for Kim and a huckleberry mojito for me, and then Kim had the prime rib and popover special and I had bison.  Both were served with mashed potatoes and broccolini and we shared a delicious wedge salad.  We talked to a delightful couple from Billings at the table next to us – they started salivating (but resisted) when they saw our chili chocolate pots de creme.  Oh man, was it ever GOOD!!

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Once we were back at the condo, we attempted to get online, but we had no luck.  Rats!  Oh, and did I mention that the condo was on the third floor and that the elevator decided to go on the fritz right before we got there?  At least we were getting our exercise!  We ended up just watching a little TV and chilling until bedtime. What a perfect day!

Dreaming of dark, rich, chocolate with a chili pepper kick,

Jan

Day 5 Red Lodge to Big Sky

Rockpile to Red Lodge

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Gillette, Wyoming to Red Lodge, Montana ~ 325 miles

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Kim was rarin’ to go this morning, as she hopped aboard Old Paint here at the Rockpile Museum in Gillette.  We grabbed a little bite to eat as we left the Hampton, then stopped for some tea at the Subway across the street, and soon we found ourselves at the Rockpile Museum, which we thought was going to be a rock museum…but not!  It was a really well-done exhibit of lots of old West and old Wyoming relics and history.  The entire wall that you can see in the photo behind Kim was full of rifles, and the entire room was full of guns of some sort.  They had license plates from every year for this county in Wyoming, and one room was full of vehicles and cowboy equipment.  As you might expect in Wyoming, rodeo is a big deal – one whole room was dedicated to local high school rodeo teams and stars.  Several local families have been rodeo winners for generations, both girls and boys.  We spent over an hour here – it was worth the stop to take in the local flavor, and it was free.  You may have noticed that $5 is about our limit for attractions unless they are really, really good, so free is gravy for us!

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Our destination today was originally Big Sky, Montana, but we’re thinking we might not get quite that far.  We left Gillette with a bead on Billings, but we had stops planned in Story, WY (for lunch) and at Little Bighorn (for history), and then we were taking a side trip to Red Lodge so that Kim could skip down Memory Lane a little bit.  As we got off the interstate to make our way to Story, we thought to call the place we were planning to eat lunch.  Rats – the phone had been disconnected!  We decided to check out the town anyway, just to get off the interstate for a while.  Sure enough, we found the place we had read about in Road Food and it was indeed “Shut”.We liked the look of it and wondered how badly the economy was affecting things out this way.  Still hungry, we wound through town and found the Wagon Box Inn and Cafe, even seeing a cool statue in a creek and a fawn crossing the road on our way.  As we pulled into the parking lot, the car behind us unloaded with a couple from Memphis.  Small world, huh?  We sat outside and enjoyed sandwiches and the 75 degree sunny day.  Aaaahh! On the way out of town, we stopped at the Post Office to mail some cards to Mom.  It had a little garden planted in front of it and there was the sweetest black lab out front who really wanted to come with us.  Too bad the car was full!

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We got back on the interstate long enough to get to Montana, then we hopped off again to visit this museum, which shared land and signage with a Conoco gas station in Garryowen, Montana (gotta love that name!).  You never know where your next history lesson will find you!  We were not allowed to take photos inside the museum, but it was worth the stop.  Lots of original photographs of native Americans and Army personnel were housed here, and there was an interesting movie full of even more conflicting information about the Battle of Little Bighorn.  As we drove through the hills and valleys of the high plains, we could just imagine the prairie being full of grazing bison, teepees dotting the landscape, and we wondered how things got so out of hand as Americans moved west.

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At the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, there were memorials to the US Army personnel who lost their lives in June, 1876, and there were also memorials to the horses who perished and to the Indians whose lives were lost.  Although the Indians won this battle, the public outcry over the loss led to the ultimate demise of the native Americans of the west.  Being in the area makes me realize that in many ways, the battle continues.  Kim and I have talked a lot on this trip, as we always do, especially when we are out west, about early settlers and the obstacles they faced.  Geography, up close and personal, really helps history come alive.

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From the Little Bighorn, we sped up to Billings and managed to find the Rex Hotel.  How could we resist?  We weren’t ready for a meal, so we just enjoyed a bit of liquid refreshment on the patio.  It was fun people-watching – the Rex is downtown, just across the street from the Depot.  As we left Billings, we passed a Muffler Man – this one was holding a rifle!  We just had to stop for this photo op! By now, we were fairly certain we would not be making it all the way to Big Sky, so we decided to find a place to stay in Red Lodge.  Not only that, we had a dinner recommendation!

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The neon at the Red Lodge Cafe was great, but the food was lacking. And if you can tell us exactly WHAT a halibut loin is, you’re smarter than we are.  We ate it anyway!  We had noticed that the Rotarians were in town (“Welcome, Rotarians!”) and motorcycles were in abundance, so we thought we should find a place to stay.  That proved to be not so easy, but we finally found a room at the Pollard.  Nice place!  Once we’d secured our room, we hit the streets (well, the street), hitting the Montana Candy Emporium and then stopping for dessert at a local restaurant, Bridge Creek Backcountry Kitchen and Wine Bar.  Too bad we hadn’t eaten dinner here, too.

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Totally worth it!  Not only was this peach blueberry cobbler delicious, we met some very friendly people who gave us a ton of restaurant suggestions for us to try out in Seattle.  Names, addresses, and phone numbers – we may have to stay there for a week to eat our way through the town!  It’s been a wonderful day!

Visions of good meals dancing in my head!

Jan

Day 4 Gilette to Red Lodge

Three States, Snake, Center, and Tower

Wednesday, 4 August  2010

Medora ND to Gillette WY  ~390 miles

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While I worked on the computer this morning, Kim went for a walk around the old West town of Medora.  While out, she spotted a good place for breakfast, which was right behind our hotel.  The Cowboy Cafe is known for its sour cream raisin pie, which is evidently a local favorite.  We haven’t tried it yet, and today would not be the day, either, as they hadn’t made the pie yet.  But we were here for a substantial breakfast, and we got one!  We each had eggs and meat and shared a fruit bowl, then we sat on the terrace of the newly restored Rough Rider Hotel and Conference Center and wrote some postcards to Mom, since we were right next door to the post office.  And then we were off to explore nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

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This park is the northern reaches of the Badlands, which stretch all the way to southwestern South Dakota.  The park was dedicated in 1949, and it is a real monument to Teddy Roosevelt and his love of the Badlands of the west.  We found it prettier than the Badlands in South Dakota, probably because there was more vegetation here. It is very close to the interstate, and there is a 36 mile loop (two way, thankfully!) that you can drive, stopping for photos, hikes, or whatever.  Just after we began there was a huge prairie dog town, so we stopped for a minute or two to listen to the chattering animals and watch them peeking up out of their burrows.  We got some good photos from several of the scenic pull-off areas, and then we decided to take a short little ‘nature’ hike.  Little did we know what an exciting National Geographic moment awaited us…We were just ending a delightful, not too hard Ridgeline Nature Trail walk – on the steps on the way down to the parking area, when right next to my right foot (clad in open sided Keens, not hiking boots!) I heard the unmistakable rattle of a you know what.  So what if I’d never heard it before or that I couldn’t see anything – I skeedaddled!  Behind me, Kim (wearing sensible hiking boots and socks) actually SAW the source of the noise and stopped.  And backed up!  So now we were separated by a snake!  Just as Kim finished telling me it was a small one, it decided to cross the path.  Suffice it to say that any snake that is as long as the path is wide does not fit my definition of small… Kim changed her mind, too, both about ‘small’ and about crossing the path anytime soon.  I, of course, took the opportunity to get some really great photos!  Once the snake decided to stay put (it actually acted like it might cross again, and at one point Kim reported it was in ‘strike position’) Kim got brave and scampered down the path.  We quickly alerted the family with three young kids coming up the path to the danger, and they opted for another fun activity.  The dad tried to get some pix, but the snake was no longer cooperating.  So down we all went to the parking area, where I was able to at least share the pictures on my camera.  We finished the rest of the loop without incident (and without getting out of the car!) and then went to Painted Canyon, another part of the park several miles east of the main entrance.  We had been told not to miss it, but we were underwhelmed.

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Leaving the Badlands behind, we retraced our route toward Dickinson, ND, and turned south towards the geographic center of the United States.  In 1959, the US Coast and Geodetic Survey officially designated a point 20 miles north of Belle Fourche, SD, as the Geographic Center of the Nation.  While we drove right past the actual point, we stopped in Belle Fourche (pronounced ‘Bell Foosh’) to see a newly built monument.  It was the map of the US mounted atop a compass and surrounded by flags of all of the states, and it was made of South Dakota granite.  It was in the back yard of the Tri-State Museum, so of course we checked it out, too.  The ride down here was the most boring so far.  Kim kindly drove and I unkindly slept!  But it was my turn back at the wheel, as we were off on another detour.

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We should have known better, but we were lured by the promise of a fun, funky, fifties roadside attraction called Boondocks, just south of nearby Deadwood, SD.  Since we skipped both Deadwood and Sturgis when we were out here three years ago (www.roadsidegiants07.blogspot.com) we decided to give it a try.  And why should we have known better?  Because we know that the first Saturday in August is Bikers’ Week in STURGIS, SD!!!  And this was on the first Wednesday of August…we may as well have been invisible, arriving as we did in our Prius, which makes NO NOISE.  All told, we could have done without Deadwood (now officially designated as the Sassy Sisters’ Gatlinburg of the Badlands) and we had to drive through it TWICE, and we sat in a diner at Boondocks for easily ten minutes without being acknowledged (or finding anyone who cared) and yes, it was open.  But, we got some pix and we can say we have been there, done that and we never need to wonder if we have missed something good!  Onward we went to Devil’s Tower, which we did miss the last time we were near.  However, due to our time wasted in Deadwood, we decided not to actually go into the park, as we figured we had seen what we came for!  We were so hungry by now (breakfast being a LONG time ago now!) that we even ate at the KOA Kampground.  Not worth wasting words on, but at least we were no longer hungry and they served beer.

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The sky had been gorgeous all day, but it was clouding up.  While that meant we might get a beautiful sunset (and we did), it also meant we likely would not get to see the Northern Lights (we didn’t) on the last night possible.  It also meant there was a big storm coming, which we really wanted to avoid.  We had heard at the Tri-State Museum that they had had six INCHES of HAIL the day before.  If you follow along with us regularly, you know that we attract hail like some attract lightning.  I think my insurance company would get suspicious if I asked for a third hail repair…So without further ado, we made a beeline for Gillette, WY, and shelter from the night at a Hampton Inn.  We got there just before the sky opened up!

Tomorrow will be another fun one!

Jan

Day 3 Medora ND to Gillette WY