ON THE ROAD AGAIN: 2009 GREAT WESTERN ADVENTURE Week Four, Grand Junction, Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Bozeman

Published: September 13th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

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Tuesday, June 16
Leaving Kate and Nathan to finish their garden and fencing on the ranch was not easy especially since, for the first time in a week, it was bright, sunny and warm! When we arrived last week we drove down Last Dollar Roadin the dark. This time, in full sun and clear blue skies, we enjoyed the yellow dandelions, blues of the wild iris, lupine and larkspur and soft corn silk wildflowers that dusted the rugged landscape framed by the snow capped mountain range surrounding us. Free-range cows occasionally stopped us in our tracks and we often had to roll up the car windows to avoid the dust of a passing vehicle. All this plus the fresh scent of pine and rich cow manure.

The Ute Indian Museum in Montrose was our first stop today. This small museum is located in traditional Ute territory where the famous Chief Ouray, “Chief of all Ute” and his wife Chipeta once lived. The Utes are proud of their beautiful bead work and much was on display here. I found several garments and belts with the US flag worked into the beading. Outside the museum, Dave and I explored the inside of several impressive tipis and I found the arch symbol once again (reminiscent of St Louis ’ Gateway Arch) through the opening of the tipi. Of the many Ute quotes in this museum, this one stayed with me: “There can never be peace between nations until it is first known that true peace is within the souls of men.” The “American Indians” became US citizens in 1924. The museum has a shop filled with good quality Native American Jewelry and before leaving I found a lovely silver and opal bracelet for my birthday.

The Museum of the West is an hour north in Grand Junction (so named because the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers join here.) This museum did a beautiful job covering Native Americans, cowboys, pioneers and early settlers in the region. We went up several stories to a viewing platform where the stunning red rocks of the Colorado Monument and the mesas were displayed in all directions.

On the way to our hotel we drove by St Mary’s Hospital where, over ten years ago, I had been at Kate’s bedside after her jaw was wired shut from an accident at Aspen. To create better memories of Grand Junction we drove out in the country past stands selling cherries to hear the Bluegrass band Alternate Route perform at the Two Rivers Winery this evening. The setting was spectacular with the late evening light gracing the red canyon walls of the Colorado National Monument in the midst of a vineyard. And the wine was not bad either.

Wednesday, June 17 Our car needed to be lubed and serviced this morning (and Grand Junction was likely the last large city until Bozeman , MT ) so we got off to a late start which was fine since it was quite chilly and overcast. By mid morning the skies in Grand Junction began to brighten giving us better light to view the canyon. Rim Rock Drive in the Colorado National Monument is 23 miles of red rock canyon vistas and stone monuments carved by ancient winds, frosts and waters. It was amazing to think that all of these high desert canyons and mesas were several times under water for millions of years. Evidence of dinosaurs is plentiful in the entire northwest region of Colorado garnering world wide attention and bringing another dimension to the complex history of this state but sadly we did not see any dinosaur fossils. We did however have some amusement when we followed a nice little BMW with its top down through the canyon. The couple did not seem to mind the fact that it was drizzling but I was quite amused when hands would wave then slap furiously at each other. They were being nailed by mosquitoes and it was either stubbornness or stupidity that made them continue for miles in this manner.

It was windy and threatening rain after lunch so we gave up the hiking trails in the monument and headed north on the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway towards Dinosaur, Colorado. Vast expanses of scrub pine, juniper and high desert sage were interrupted by gas lines weaving through high sand dunes that have been frozen in time and turned into sandstone. This is a lonely place where centuries old farms are left abandoned. A few hardy cattle, a solitary ranch and some gas refineries were all we could see in this desolate place, yet there was a feeling of serenity in the emptiness.

Dinosaur National Monument is divided between northeastern Colorado and northwestern Utah . Twenty three geologic formations are exposed here offering evidence of many diverse extinct ecosystems. The evolution of our planet is represented through the millions of years of history, and through that history a projection was made of where we will be 50 million years from now as continents change and waters ebb and flow to make things we know now unrecognizable, but then I doubt any of us will be reincarnated for that long.

In addition to the fascinating fossils, there are wonderful petroglyphs from the Fremont Culture still on rock walls in this area. Later the Ute Indians called this land their home followed by early ranchers who displaced the Utes. We drove through the Utah side of the park and dodging rain I ran from site to site to capture on film the historical evidence of a land that has known so much.

The rain came down hard and we had two hours of driving yet to go in the early evening (being wary of wildlife running in front of the car) to arrive at Flaming River Gorge. As we climbed on steep mountain switchbacks from 5500’ to over 9000’ the red rock landscape gave way to fewer craggy mountain tops and more densely forested peaks. Dave needed to be fed so we stopped at the Red Canyon Lodge in the Ashley National Forest for dinner. After dashing out in the wind and rain to grab the errant photo on our rush to dinner I was happy to warm my chilled bones in the rustic log room with the roaring fire. Our table provided a ring-side seat at the hummingbird feeder as Black Chinned Hummingbirds dove past the frenzied Cassin’s Finches at their own feeders to get to the hummer’s feeder by our window.

We planned to spend the night in Manila, Utah, a tiny little town on the border of Utah and Wyoming . I had called to make a reservation at the Villa Motel and was assured there would be a room for us when we arrived. At 8:30pm there was no sign of life in this rural motel save the four tourists who already had rooms. There was no where to check in, the phone was not being answered and the only guests there told us to drive into “town” to the Villa Restaurant to get a key and “register”. When we got to the restaurant a call was made to Derrick, the motel owner who gave us the lock box number and said he’d see us in the morning. This is a casual mountain town of 663 residents who don’t take life very seriously.

Thursday, June 18 I awoke to pouring rain on my birthday. Nonetheless we packed up with optimism and headed to the Villa in Manila because it was the place to go for breakfast. All the cowboys in town were crowded around the bar and the few tables provided drinking coffee and doing their male bonding inside the dark restaurant. I felt like I invaded their private domain.

With coffee, eggs and quite good bacon to sustain us we left for Jackson along the Green River on the north west loop of Flaming River Gorge but the best views we were to see of Flaming Gorge were last night at dusk because this morning heavy rain and fog obliterated any views of the gorge on this scenic byway.

As we crossed into Wyoming the landscape opened to vast spaces of lush green rolling hills and although we did not see the hoped-for wild horses there were many sightings of antelope. Storm clouds hung low on the western horizon as we passed through open pastures and sparsely populated ranch lands and there were so few animals that at one point we saw one lone steer in a vast and empty pasture. For some entertainment we stopped in Farson, WY to see a station marker honoring the brave men who rode the Pony Express. Soon our patience was reward for an hour later the snow covered mountains rose on the horizon of this expansive prairie. Boulder provided another diversion where a general store (probably the only thing in Boulder ) was stocked with dozens of kinds of jerky but what caught my eye were the heads of deer, antelope and other wild animals hanging on the walls. I swear I saw tears in the deers’ eyes.

Leaving the prairie land of the cowboy we turned up the Wyoming Scenic Byway into Jackson Hole, elevation 6290 feet. Bubba’s BBQ was recommended for lunch and it did not disappoint. In the center of town a stage coach stood ready to take tourists on a tour of the town. Our “walking tour” passed through the famous elk antler arches in the park to the many galleries and shops. It was my birthday so Destination Dave let me take my time exploring the town and the wonderful National Museum of Wildlife Art before leaving the sudden rain and hailstorm in Jackson for sunshine in Teton Village and the enchanting Alpenhof Lodge (thanks again Kevin!)

The Alpenhof is listed in a Collection of Romantic Places worldwide and it was as charming and delightful as promised. The pine exterior of this Bavarian inn was typically decorated with carved hearts and inside the gingerbread interior a classic cuckoo clock hung on the wall. But what was truly special was our cozy room with hand carved furniture and a luscious down comforter on the bed where we had a wonderful view of Rendezvous Mountain. The food was as good as the service and I enjoyed delicious bison filets for dinner and a luscious dark chocolate fondue for dessert.

Friday, June 19 We woke this morning to crystal blue skies and a full buffet breakfast at the inn. We then walked to the gondola that took us to the top of Rendezvous Mountain where snow still covered the top and temperatures dropped to 45 degrees but the views of the Tetons were magnificent.

A forested dirt road connected Teton Village with Teton National Park and as we drove along this narrow road we stopped to see a moose with her calf near the side of the road. I was so excited I leapt from the car to join many other people with their cameras in hand. Quietly we watched as cow and calf foraged through the lush forested floor until Dave shouted that we were blocking traffic and needed to leave. It was a long, quiet drive into the park.

We were losing our light as the heavy clouds moved in so we pressed on to Antelope Flats where buffalo grazed in the open fields. Herds of elk were spotted throughout the park and I learned that grizzlys had killed several moose and elk this past week. Warnings were posted at nearly every pull-off to alert hikers of bear activity.

Later in the day as we headed north toward Colter Bay I had hoped to photograph the famous Ansel Adams photo of the Grand Tetons but the clouds had moved in to obscure my shot. In spite of many attempts to reach Colter Bay Village to reserve a cabin when we arrived they did have one cottage left, but it was a large1930s log cabin tucked in the hillside among the tall pines near Colter Bay. It was not the luxurious Alpenhof still it did have a rustic charm of its own and it beat freezing in a tent with the potential of being a bear’s meal.

Saturday, June 20 We walked down to the lodge by the lake for a large (and long) breakfast followed by a tour of the softly lit Indian Arts Museum where Native American artists were in residence to sell their fine traditional crafts. The sun was shining and the air was warm as we left Colter Bay and the Tetons for Yellowstone National Park. Driving on 89 north into the southern entrance of Yellowstone, the beautiful Teton monoliths stayed with us for miles as we neared Lewis Lake until the upward climb took us into the mountainous regions of charred timber and young evergreen denoting the fires that have ravaged Yellowstone over the past few years.

Our first stop was to see the West Thumb Geysers. Steam rose from colorful pools nestled in hot white sands overlooking Yellowstone Lake . Framed by the snow-capped Absaroka Mountains in the distance, this was an extraordinary site. An extensive system of boardwalks keeps visitors’ feet from burning on the scalding hot sands that comprise this thin crust geyser basin. As I rounded a corner I nearly bumped into four elk grazing on these hot sands! We stood gawking at these beauties as they continued feeding on the young vegetation that grows in this primordial place. When they were finished, they threw their heads in the air and glibly walked across the boardwalk right in front of us to “greener pastures” as we marveled at their grace and beauty.

From West Thumb we drove north on the eastern edge of the lower loop in intermittent rain and sun stopping at the bubbling Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron along the Yellowstone River . Wildlife was not bothered by the weather and neither was I as I repeatedly jumped out in the rain and wind to photograph elk, bison and deer. By the time we reached the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the view of the spectacular 308’ upper falls at Artist’s Point, it was pouring rain. Hoping for better weather we moved west then south towards the historic Old Faithful Inn. Sadly it was still raining pretty hard as we checked into this beautiful inn built in 1904 with rough hewn lodge pole pine logs. You could see the iconic Old Faithful from the entrance and even better, from our tiny log cabin-like room! It seems that most places out here are dimly lit and this place is no exception but we enjoyed the warm fire from the massive stone fireplace that complemented the 65 foot vaulted ceiling with its six interior storied balconies in the lobby of this historic hotel. After a terrific dinner of wild salmon and bison we listened to a wonderful pianist and classical violinist play on the second level balcony and I was moved when the violinist finished with the Ashokan Farewell. We then took our after dinner cordials onto the upper outdoor viewing balcony in the chill and damp evening to watch Old Faithful spout its mighty eruption.

Sunday, June 21 Father’s Day! Rain seems to haunt us on this trip and today was no exception. Destination Dave had a surprise gift this morning after an Old Faithful performance and lovely breakfast. I had ordered a navy blue tee shirt with bold yellow letters imprinted on the front saying “It’s The Journey…” The journey shirt didn’t help Dave to accept the frustrating lack of information and coordination at this resort within the park nor did it make the rain go away or make Dave get out of the car for most of the remainder of our Yellowstone tour but I simply donned my raincoat and camera and when the sun broke through the clouds I sought out some of the most beautiful photo ops at the colorful Sunset Lake and Emerald Pool in Black Sand Basin. (I think I am more impressed with these colorful bubbling cauldrons than the spouting geysers, although they are pretty cool too). Sapphire Pool at Biscuit Basin was uniquely different with its deep crystal blue water, but I think my favorite was the largest and most spectacular 370’ diameter Grand Prismatic Spring which was flanked by white-capped mountains. The deep prism colors make it so beautiful that I don’t understand Kipling’s reference as “Hell’s Half Acre”. Dave did venture out for a long hike up to Artist Paint Pots but by the time we reached Steamboat Geyser and Norris Geyser Basin the temperatures really dropped and it began to rain in earnest so Dave stayed behind. In spite of the weather we managed to see a grizzly bear sighting along with many elk, deer and other wildlife. As we were leaving the park we drove around Mammoth Hot Springs in the rain before heading into the quaint town of Gardner, MT where we found a tiny log cabin at Jim Bridger’s Lodge (again with limited light) overlooking the Gallatin Mountains and adjacent to the Yellowstone River where we saw antelope grazing on the hill at dusk. We walked to a surprisingly good dinner next door at the charming Yellowstone Mine Restaurant, and then toured the town until it got too cold and rainy.

Monday, June 22 Before leaving Gardner we had breakfast at Tumbleweeds Bookstore and Café, a wonderfully funky coffee and internet café that reminded me of Comb Ridge Coffee in Bluff Utah. After a satisfying chai tea and breakfast burrito we headed north on scenic 89 with the dark rain clouds behind us in Yellowstone .

The drive to Bozeman exemplified the Big Sky Country with wide open spaces and long valley views. First on our agenda in Bozeman was to visit the Museum of the Rockies. This museum is a must if you are at all interested in the formation of our planet and the dinosaurs that roamed it. In addition to dinosaurs a restored home and gardens from the mid eighteen hundreds was on the grounds of the museum. Women and children in period costume tended the heritage garden and performed household chores helping us to step back in time in early Montana history. We could easily have spent the day here but lunch beckoned so into the smart college town we went to enjoy a light repast at Bozeman ’s Over The Tapas Restaurant before heading to Helena, Montana ’s capitol city.

They must roll up the streets early in this historic mining town for by six o’clock there was little open, but luckily we found an information center with maps and tour information. The sun helped to take the chill out of the evening air but as the winds picked up it soon drove us in for a light organic evening meal at the Windbag Saloon, a former bordello, where we got to sample some of Montana’s finest beers before calling it another long day.


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