Day 6: Beartooth
Total Distance: 2711 miles
Part 1: Grand Teton National Park
Jackson Hole Coffee Roasters has good Egg Bagel sandwiches. –CeG <oBelIX>
Any road that says, “Scenic Drive” should always be taken. –CeG <oBelIX>
I will admit that I did not have a fixed plan when I woke up. I wanted to head generally north and generally west and so decided to drive through Yellowstone. After a quick cup of coffee and an egg bagel sandwich I headed back on the road I had driven last night, US-89 and north through Grand Teton. It was still cloudy over the mountains so I did not get to see the Tetons. I did see a turn for the Signal Mountain Scenic Drive and with nothing on the agenda I took it. It was a five mile drive up a hilly road. There were deer and these deer are very under-nourished when compared to the ones on Hurricane Ridge. I blame this to the lack of wildflowers. At the top of Signal Mountain is a view of the valley (or flood-plain or whatever-it-is-that-is-known-as-the-area-that-a-river-irrigates-or-drains). It was far too bright to get a competent photo.
That stretch of water is the Snake River
Jackson Lake and one of those insufferable Tetons
The next stop on the road up north was the lodge at Signal Mountain. There was a giftshop where I picked up assorted items and relied very deeply on the kindness of a total stranger. There were also boats and kayaks for rent but boating or kayaking on a hot day all by myself does not appeal to me. I headed further North, crossing a dam and more views of Jackson Lake. The best part of the scenery though was over by now. The road would be a very good road if there was no traffic and no park rangers but alas, this being one of the main entrances into Yellowstone, there were a lot of cars and a lot of Police.
Boating at Jackson Lake
Jackson Lake is big!
Part 2: Yellowstone
Yellowstone is crowded. –CeG <oBelIX>
There is a USPS office at Old Faithful. –CeG <oBelIX>
Mileage is a function of driving style. –CEG <oBelIX>
Yellowstone according to Wikipedia is the first National Park and it is very very big. I drove up from the South and the views are somewhere between awe-inspiring and breathtaking. The views are not even the best part of Yellowstone and I am getting ahead of myself so I will return back to a coherent narrative. There is no definition of the word done for which ‘I have done Yellowstone’ is a sentence that is accurate. I have driven through Yellowstone. The plan as I entered Yellowstone from the South (well, plan is too strong a word for what I had) was to exit it from the North, staying on US-89, somewhere in Montana. Whilst stuck behind a trailer or an RV or a camper I looked through the map. Lamar valley is to the east. There is also US-212 which courtesy of a very nice book which was once gifted to me I remember as being a very good drive. So, the new plan was to drive up North till the Mammoth Springs Visitor Center and then head east and exit via the North East entrance of the park. I am not keen on wildlife hence the drive along the lake to look at Bison and Water Buffaloes and Hippopotamii and Birds that have orange beaks and go squaaaak did not appeal to me. I wanted to see a geyser.
Random Lake. I stopped because there was a park ranger behind me who was getting antsy.
I reached Old Faithful at 1:15 in the afternoon after a nice drive through some quite decent scenery. I stopped here and there, to stretch the legs, to take in the view and for no particular reason. At the Old Faithful visitor center I was very pleased to hear that it is going to erupt at 1:19. I ambled in and sat down by one of the benches seeing steam coming out of the ground (yes, this is very weird, the ground is steaming) and waited for nature to do its thing. More people joined me and sat around. A ranger walked up to give what I presumed would be a blow-by-blow commentary on the upcoming spectacle. “How many of you just saw Old Faithful erupt?” she began. Everyone else raised their hands. I looked at her quizzically. Gradually, (insert very witty simile here) it dawned upon me that I had missed the eruption. I did sit through the entire talk though, it was fascinating. The difference between a geyser and a hot spring is that there is a constriction in the passage down below. There is a cavern under Old Faithful which a bunch of Geologists discovered by sending a camera down there. This cavern fills up with water and the heat from the magma underneath causes the water to become steam. The pressure keeps increasing until, well, eventually, it blows up. I am sure my description would have been better had I seen the geyser erupt but alas that was not to be.
Old faithful. Five minutes after it erupted.
Continuing North the road is full of just out of this world stuff. It is surprising to see, for no reason whatsoever, steam coming out of the ground. There are also very beautiful canyons, rivers and forests. All this comes over a very large distance, on the order of many twenties of miles. There are also many animals around. I saw a set of cars pulled over and immediately pulled over. I asked a hippie dude in shorts and an inverted-mercedez-benz-save-the-world-logo-t-shirt what was up. He pointed to the side. I went back into the car and got my glasses. It was a Bison. It was a Bison in a field with yellow grasses. There was a mountain in the backdrop. I carried on, impressed by the image. However, it is worth mentioning that Bison are very common, especially on the road East from Mammoth Springs. They are just everywhere. They are, for want of a better phrase, like the noodles in a bowl of Maggi.
Bison and Mountain
The road into Mammoth Springs is top notch. Apart from the aforementioned geysers which are very cool it drives through a canyon. Mammoth Springs itself is an utter disappointment. I say this only because I got in there rather hungry. The café/grill was one of those commercial fast-food chain things and I had the worst five dollar chicken sandwich ever. Do not eat at the grill at Mammoth Springs. It is just intolerable. I headed east and after a small detour on a dirt road which in hindsight was not the best idea – dirt roads heading into plateaus are great to sit and look for wildlife – not so much if you are not all that keen on wildlife. I went through Lamar valley which is another spot to see fauna in the evening. Also, most wildlife comes out in the evening and 4pm is not really evening. Binoculars would also be useful (note to self) for wildlife viewing. After crossing Lamar Valley I headed towards the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone. The book was coming towards an end as well, the final few chapters left where Phaedrus takes control. It was an interesting part of the book, all story and no philosophy. The moment was near.
Avoidable one laned dirt road
Part 3: The Beartooth Scenic Highway
If a road says “Scenic Highway” then take it. –CeG<oBelIX>
The Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness area forms the Northeast border of Yellowstone National Park. The Beartooth highway passes through this wilderness which is mostly mountainous and at an elevation of 10,000 feet over the Beartooth pass. The elevation rises from 5200 feet to 8000 feet in less than 12 miles. The Highway is open from May to October, so less than six months of an year. I crossed it in about 1.5-2 hours. I encountered less than ten cars. The reason for the existence of this road baffles me – there seems to be very few people driving it and very few people who live in that area. I am not complaining – it was a most excellent drive.
From Yellowstone, the road climbs a little bit into Cooke City with a turnout promising a scenic view. I took this turnout dutifully and was disappointed. The road continues on. It is a very good road as it climbs. This is not because of the views – when considered in isolation I’d think they were splendid but given the scenery I had seen over the past few days they were average. The thing about this road is that it is just one turn after another after another. There is nobody around. Absolutely nobody. It climbs and climbs and climbs. I pulled over at another turnout while climbing and found out that the radiator fan on my car will run even after the car is turned off if it thinks that the car is too hot. After a little more driving and passing a service station known as The Top Of The World (which I did not stop at for reasons that are unclear) the road crosses the treeline and enters a plateau. This plateau is just rolling undulating hills with mountains in every direction. There are lakes scattered here and there. These lakes are not the normal watery blue. They looked viscous and not full of water but of something more metallic, like a mixture of molten silver and sapphires. After a very satisfying time of changing from second to third and back to second I crossed over into Montana. At a rest stop I walked out onto the walkway and looked down at the road ahead as it switch-backed its way down into a valley and to the town of Red Lodge. I stood there for quite a while, eating from a packet of Khatta Meetha and letting the first few drops of rain fall. It was finally time to head west.
The road out of Yellowstone. Mountains!
The moment of discovery – the fan will keep on running even after the car is switched off.
Lake by the side of the road
Higher and higher
The backdrops are just stunning.
The jagged peak in the middle is Beartooth
Lakes of molten silver and sapphire
A storm is coming
The walkway out into nowhere
The road back home
On edge, with quite a lot of adrenaline in the bloodstream I pulled into Red Lodge which was a coal-mining town and now is a tourist town offering primarily backcountry hiking, whitewater rafting etc. I had dinner at Red Lodge Pizza Company which was a simple straightforward affair and got onto a state highway in Montana, one that would take me back to I-90. I started Zen once more, the last few chapters were left and as I tore through the deserted Montana landscape I heard Phaedrus’ story come to an end. It was an expected end, having heard the prologue which had robbed me of all suspense. It was a fitting end. “Drive 700 miles on I-90 West,” the lady on the GPS said as I settled down for the drive back home.