Helena, MT to Cody, WY 9/3-9/13/19

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September 13th 2019
Published: September 21st 2019
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Oh, dear, I have really fallen behind on my blogging. It is now September 21, and we are in Buffalo, Wyoming, headed slowly eastward toward Devils Tower, Black Hills, etc. I will try to be more disciplined - as if it really matters.... Best wishes to everyone!


We stayed a night in Bozeman en route to Yellowstone. Our drive through the mountains and river of the Gallatin Valley was gorgeous. We settled in at Mountainside KOA in West Yellowstone. Next day, we drove the upper loop of Yellowstone: held up by construction for less than a half hour, strolled around Mammoth Hot Springs, walked among the geysers at Norris Basin. Rain the next day, so we stayed put except for going out for breakfast and strolling around West Yellowstone. Then we drove the lower Yellowstone Loop. We stopped at the hotel, bought coffee and a sweet, and sat on a balcony there to watch Old Faithful spout.

Because rain was forecast for the next few days, we changed our plans and drove back up to Bozeman because we really like that town. En route, we drove to Big Sky which is quite an elegant town. Next day's rainy morning sent us to Walmart for a tire rotation. There was so much rain that the campground manager installed a sump pump behind our RV! We heartily recommend hamburgers at the Montana Ale Works. Next day, we visited the Historical Museum in Bozeman, which is located in the former jail. It was a fascinating visit. Then on to the other museum John had read about, the #1 recommended spot in town, a museum of computers and robotics located on the Montana State Campus.

Well, the rain was still hanging on when we headed from Bozeman to Red Lodge, a trip that seemed much longer thanks to the gloom. But the next day dawned sunny and warm for my bravest adventure of this trip - I drove the Beartooth Highway. We had been well fueled by a stop at Wild Table for coffee and peach bread pudding. The highway is awesome. And Red Lodge is a very lively town to visit.

Now we have progressed to Cody, to a particular campground for the third time in our years of road trips. It's sunny and warm at last, predicted to stay rainfree for at least a few days more.


My most memorable moments of our first night in Bozeman involved blaring signals, which I awoke thinking were a tornado warning or somesuch. After several minutes of alarm, I came to realize that they were train signals at a nearby crossing - they sounded as if the train was tearing through the middle of our RV. Breakfast in Bozeman almost made up for everything; imagine being unable to finish one solitary pancake, obviously a huge one. It is lovely to walk along the main street of Bozeman, especially in the early morning, past shops and restaurants, etc. etc.

John had made a reservation at a KOA in West Yellowstone, so we drove the seven miles west out of town to a KOA. It was, however, the wrong one. Our KOA was another one, a mile and a half further along the road. That was a bit strange.

We enjoyed our days in Yellowstone, but it did seem that we drove quite a long way ("only" an hour, early in the day with few traffic tie-ups to observe wildlife) to get to the beginning of a loop. Of course, there are lots of campgrounds inside the park, so that long entry can be avoided. Yellowstone is an amazing place, with broad fields, dense woods, tall mountains, and the many geysers and hot springs all over.

We have not often, on our many road trips, changed our itinerary in response to weather forecasts. But since I particularly enjoy Bozeman, it was not a disappointment to return there. We stayed in a different RV campground, where we could hear the train signals, but they weren't so alarming this time. In the History Museum (the old jail), we chatted with a woman who has good friends in Lee NH. I passed quickly past a balcony where there had been a hanging. John said the computer and robotics museum was wonderful, absolutely fascinating - if he understood any of it.

There is a lot of road construction around here. Most of the areas go on for miles and miles. We encountered a long stretch of muddy one lane washboard in heavy rain between Bozeman and Red Lodge, and were glad to reach our destination. It seems to me that Red Lodge has become more of a tourist town than it struck me last visit, but it is on the route to the northeast entrance to Yellowstone. I was proud of myself for driving the Beartooth Highway again. The rain we had endured had of course been snow on top of the mountain, and the top half of the road was closed overnight. But daybreak brought warm sun, and the road had been cleared and was open. It was fun to see a few inches of snow along the road, at the top. The first part of the highway is all switchbacks, though the guard rails along the precipices look plenty sturdy, and big trucks and rv's do use the road. My eyes were glued to the road and I kept trying to remember not to grind my teeth. We passed a single bicyclist, and at the first major viewing area, I chatted with him and his wife. She was in a separate vehicle. They were from Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he cycled a lot but the countryside is relatively flat. An hour or so later, we encountered them at a store partly down the mountain. I couldn't believe he had kept up with us, but he had abandoned his trip and joined his wife in their car a few miles back.

There are two ways back to Red Lodge: either retrace the Beartooth route, or continue in a wide loop on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and other state highways. We chose the latter. Chief Joseph was very scenic and not as hair-raising as the Beartooth.

On to Cody, through we did not then follow the eastern Yellowstone entrance into the park. (We had done that on previous trips.) We did visit the Buffalo Bill Dam, which is several miles west of Cody. The dam has quite a history because it was a huge challenge to build it through a ravine, in the winter.

And at the dam, we had one of the most touching encounters of the trip so far. It seems that at rv parks, most of the people we chat with have traveled a lot, and we share impressions of favorite places, etc. etc. Well, at the dam, volunteers drive people in golf carts from the parking lot to the visitor center. On our return trip, an older woman, and a younger couple who accompanied her, joined us on our cart. I overheard the woman tell the driver that this is the first time in her life she has seen mountains. She had a wondrous, appreciative look on her face. We dropped them off at their car, checking to see their license plate: Texas. For me, it reinforced the magic that travel can be. Dear woman.


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