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Tag: us 89

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.

Malnourished deer


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.

Gibbon Falls


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



Lamar valley

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



Switchbacks

—-


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.

Day 5: Jenny Lake

Part 4: Antelope Canyon

Part 3: Zion National Park

Part 2: From Idaho to Page

Part 1: From Seattle to Idaho
Total Distance: 2060 Miles

This post comes to you from Kirkland. Two days late. Better late than never though.

Part 1: Salt Lake City

I-15 has no views of the Great Salt Lake. –CeG <oBelIX>

The night had been spent at a motel in Fillmore in Utah. Yes, there is an obvious joke about Fillmore that I will desist from making and carry on. The breakfast was a welcome change, cornflakes with milk and sugar. Cold milk, warm milk with corn flakes induces sleep and sleep is best not induced before a long drive. The long drive today was targeted towards Seattle which at 982 miles looked daunting and I had the suspicion, well, not suspicion, more like a gut feeling that I’d end up spending the night somewhere in Washington, Oregon or Idaho, perhaps 300 odd miles from home. I was in a hurry to get going and I think it was 9:00 by the time I was on the road after having filled up with gas.

Driving through central Utah is similar to driving through Nevada, except that the land is not as flat. The hills are bigger. I was on I-15, a dual carriageway which was smooth. The going was steady, comfortable and I was eating up the miles, listening to the narrator continue to vilify Phaedrus. One of the things that happens on long drives is a slight disassociation from time. I have forgotten the specific part of the book I was listening to that morning.

As I approached SLC, Utah, the expressway widened to three lanes. Traffic increased. People going about life. The number of lanes widened to four. I pulled into a center lane and slowed down – driving the speed limit is advisable in cities. I hoped to see the Great Salt Lake from the road – I had no plans of stopping, there was a long way to go.

I’d thought about going to Grand Teton when leaving Arizona. It seemed like a very worthwhile detour to make and I had deferred the decision. The time had come though. The exit for US-89 North towards Wyoming was coming up. I was chitchatting on the phone, explaining the dilemma. My head said to carry on North on I-15. The heart said to take the exit. I took the exit and it was one of the best decisions ever.

Part 2: US-89

Epic is an understatement. –CeG <oBelIX>

Subway FTW. –CeG <oBelIX>

The first stretch of US-89 as it leaves I-15 goes over a bunch of hills. At the time, there were low hanging clouds, a wide road through the mountains and lots of locals selling fresh fruit. On a drive, especially alone, and for someone who does not have a particular penchant for fruit, it makes no sense to stop for some. This does not hold for Washington Cherries though – they are amazing and one should always stop for Washington Cherries. Wikipedia points out that US-89 here follows Dry Canyon and crosses Sardine Summita t 5900 feet though I do not remember seeing this sign. US-89 eventually enters Logan where there is a branch of the University of Utah. I picked up a subway (yes, I persist with calling a sandwich
from Subway a subway) and carried on, further into more mountains. Here, US-89 is the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway and it is very scenic indeed. There is a stream, a highway and mountains that have lush forests. There are several trailheads. I had the good fortune of heading North – I had an empty road ahead. The majority of the traffic was heading south, back to Salt Lake City after the long weekend. The highway climbs and climbs and finally summits Bear Mountain at 7900 feet. There is a rest stop here and it is a great place to stop and take a look at Bear Lake which is a pleasant surprise to find.

Bear Lake!

—-

The road drops down into Bear Lake valley. It hits a bunch of cities, and I use the word city very loosely, all these cities have less than a thousand people and some are just a set of houses on the main highway itself. The first city is Garden City which is tiny. The highway turns North and crosses into Idaho and the cities of Paris and Montpelier. Wikipedia states that Montpelier was named after a town in Vermont but is mum on the topic of Paris, ID. There is not much of US-89 in Idaho, I did not realize how quickly I went from Idaho into Wyoming.

Entering Wyoming US-89 goes through a set of mountains (The Salt River Range) and the scenery is breathtaking. It continued to be overcast, typical Seattle weather. The road is twisty and turny and windy and hilly. It climbs up a summit called Geneva (no pun intended) at ~7000 feet. It was an exhilarating drive, I’d turned off the audiobook and at the summit there is a pullout with a bunch of placards that are fun to read.


The car at the top of the summit.



The Salt River Valley

The road then goes into the valley and the town of Afton comes and goes. The only noticeable thing about this town was that there was a great big arch made of elkhorns. It was advertised as the largest Elkhorn arch in the world and I will take their word for it. The road is mostly flat after this as it follows a very agricultural valley. Zen at this time, I remember was talking completely about Greek philosophy. I was not very interested, having only heard the names of the principal characters involved, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates. I had stopped following the discussion around now because it got very detailed and into minutiae of Greek Philosophy which I will read someday. Greek Philosophy is not really high up on the list of things I need to read – it does however exist on that list.

Next stop on the road was the town of Alpine which when I got there I thought existed only as a Junction town between highways. Wikipedia however states that it is also the junction of three rivers and a popular ski resort. I stopped here for petrol and because there was a policeman who had been following me for quite some distance. The Snake River (the same one that runs through GTNP) flows here and there is a very high bridge that crosses the river. It is here I realized that the majority of the traffic on the road was either trucks (the GM/Chevrolet/Ford kind) or SUVs. There were far fewer sedans and far far fewer fast sedans. This surprised me given the roads out here are so much more conducive to driving such cars.

Part 3: Grand Teton National Park

Most other times, I would have blasted through the road from Alpine to Grand Teton (US-89). It shares many of the characteristics of US-89 as it enters Wyoming. Windy, Twisty, Turny etc etc. It is slightly better because there is a river running next to it and the river has very beautiful white water. The drive continues mile after mile after mile. The book at this point, and I remember this clearly because I was paying a lot of attention, talks about Phaedrus’ life, specifically the part where he challenges his Philosophy teacher. I liked the story of the character Phaedrus in the book (aka the narrator). I liked some of the ideas better, especially towards the earlier part of the book. It seems though that I do remember some parts of the book, I will append my earlier hypothesis, there is only so much that can be associated with certain times. When all my energy is focused on the drive I forget what was going on in the book. When I am less focused on the drive (in this case there was a police car two cars in front forcing everyone to go speed limit) I remember more of the book.

GTNP is superb. It is not GNP superb but comparable to ONP. It is the weather and my general mood that provides this bias. It was overcast and drizzling intermittently. Typical Seattle weather. The Tetons, this towering mountain range of several 10K feet mountains which are visible on every postcard, were shrouded by clouds. There were no people. I was not disappointed though. I drove into the park, the lady at the booth greeted me with a very polite smile which I returned and headed towards Jenny Lake. The leaflet had a hike called Inspiration Point which sounded interesting and it was in the Jenny Lake area. At around 6 pm, feeling generally very happy I pulled into the Jenny lake parking lot. The hike was 5 miles round trip and common sense suggested avoiding a two and a half hour walk with moderate elevation gain at nearly sundown on an overcast day after having driven over 400 miles. I took a smaller trail by the lake shore.

Trail

Jenny Lake, named after the wife of a settler dude, is beautiful (I will leave that there as a note to my future self – as an example of poor sentence construction – the settler dude completely takes away from the beauty of the lake). It’s big but not oceanic. It was not deep blue or turquoise but just a very calm peaceful blue-grey. The sun was far too shy for it to shine deep blue. It was very quiet, It was also crystal clear water. Cold. It reminded me of Lake Crescent. I had the lake to myself for a long time. Later on, a kayaker took his kayak into the center of the lake. He did nothing there. Just sat. It was such a moment.

Jenny Lake

—-

Solitude.


The Tetons in the background


A Wyoming rainbow – when I walked back to the car after Jenny Lake.

Part 4: Jackson, WY

Jackson is a small (tourist?) town that borders GTNP on the South. It is expensive. It is also quaint. Again, my opinion is biased, I was in an incredible mood. I might have found it cheesey on another occasion. I stayed at a motel in downtown Jackson and walked down to Pinky G’s Pizza. I had a couple of glasses of liquor while I waited for my pizza. The pizza was decent, do not expect “Bar-Del-Corso” or “Tuttabella” out here. It was warm and had many toppings and was only the second non-subway-non-maggi meal I had had in 7 meals on the trip. This was a day, carpe-diemed.