Monday, 20 October 2008.
This was supposed to be another "drive until you drop" day to get all the way to Idaho Falls. I needed to be there by 6pm for a welcome meeting and dinner. I wound up not making it on time, but they were okay with it. Besides, I blame the bear. And Google Maps.
Perhaps I should explain.
I slept in a little this morning to let the weather warm up. I knew I had plenty of time to get to my meeting. The drive across the rest of Wyoming and up into Montana was fairly uneventful. It was a cool but mostly sunny morning and I started getting plenty of miles under the bike. Besides fuel stops every 150 to 200 miles, I only stopped once to take a picture when I started getting close to the mountainous part of the middle of the state. I was just hoping that my route wouldn't take me high enough to reach the snow line on them. It looked really cold up there. Fortunately, the interstate did a fine job of winding its way between the mountain ranges and it stayed a cool and sunny drive.
My first sign of trouble came after I had turned south onto highway 89. Thus far Google maps has done a fine job of getting me where I needed to go pretty efficiently. Speed limits out here, even on the state highways stay around 75 and I had been making good time all morning. As I got to the Montana/Wyoming border, I entered the town of Gardiner. I pulled over to get a quick picture of a motor lodge that consisted of tightly-packed log cabins. The place looked like a Route 66 transplant, complete with a sign right out of the 40s. If it had fit my schedule I would have loved to stop there for the night. As it was, I continued to the other side of town and got lost. The highway seemed to come to an end. The road teed. To the left was an "employees only" gate and to the right was a small secondary road. After driving around for a few minutes trying to get my bearings, I rode back to the town gas station. The nice lady inside let me know that I was at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Officially the highway ended at the gate. She told me how to get through the park and continue on my way. Technically, Google Maps was right because the roads connected the way it said. The problem was that for the next 60 miles I was going to be on National Park roads - speed limit 35 or 45 mph through the whole thing. Dang. With no quicker options available, I paid the $20 fee at the gate and headed in.
Within the first couple of miles, I encountered my first wildlife. Silhouetted against the sky on a high ridge were two more big horn sheep (they're not mountain goats as I first claimed - it's been a while since I watched Animal Planet. Sorry). I wasn't able to get a good picture before they bolted, so I drove on. The pace was starting to get to me as I watched the clock on my dash move a lot faster than I was. Still, the drive was beautiful and started thinking that it wouldn't be such a big deal if I was late. I had never been to this park and I was really enjoying this drive.
As I got to the "town" of Mammoth Hot Springs, I nearly ran into more wildlife. Strolling around the town like they owned the place were more than half a dozen large elk. They were just eating grass from the median and generally just seemed unconcerned about the few vehicles trying to get past. I was waiting for one to just plow me off my bike, but it didn't happen. Those dudes were BIG!
The coolest encounter of the day happened about 20 miles outside Mammoth. As I came around a bend, I discovered a couple of dozen cars parked on the side of the road. There were a couple of park rangers keeping things orderly. The drivers and passengers were all gathered in small groups at the edge of a small lake just off the road. Most of them had cameras with huge lenses or large binoculars on tripods. I asked a ranger what the big deal was as I drove past. She pointed across the lake. A huge grizzly had killed an elk and was eating it at the edge of the lake. Four wolves were also prowling around waiting for their turn at the carcass. While I knew I was on a time crunch, I also couldn't pass this up. I jumped off the bike, zoomed in as close as I could with my little digital pocket camera, and got a decent shot of the bear. Although I couldn't get the wolves in the shot, it was still a very exciting thing to see. I quickly got back on the bike and drove off, stopping only to take one last picture of a lone bison grazing in the distance.
As I exited the park more than an hour later, I saw a sign telling me that I had more than a hundred miles to go still. I hit the gas and did my best, but wound up arriving at my hotel almost an hour late. The meeting was still going on and I got caught up quickly. There was even some food left on the free buffet, so I got dinner out of the deal, too. Then I headed up to my room to crash. This had definitely been another surprising day in which I hadn't expected to see much but wound up with a couple of very memorable experiences. I guess I can forgive Google Maps for taking me through the park, considering that I got to see a wild bear for the first time in my life.
Miles under the bike today - 585. Total miles this journey - 2134.