Almost as soon as we finished last year's
motorcycle trip through Jasper, Banff, Kootenay and Glacier National
Park, we started thinking about where our next trip would be. For
both of us, the choice for that next trip was obvious: Yellowstone! It was
on the agenda for that last trip, actually, but by the time we were near
enough to it to go, the only way we could have done it would have been to
just have driven through the park in just one day and then left, and I
wasn't willing to do that. When I visit a national park, I want to
actually visit it, camp in it, go to visitors' centers, hike a
little bit... In fact, Yellowstone was a hope for Stefan when
he visited the USA back in 2005 and toured around for six weeks on
Stefan had been on a business trip to Mexico, arriving Thursday evening. He had to work on Friday, which meant we would be up late packing and making other preparations - and we were, up past midnight. Luckily, the house was already clean, per a visit just a few days before from James and Emily Littlewood, who were nearing the end of their round-the-world motorcycle journey - house has to be clean before we leave on a trip! Also luckily, I had booked the dog sitter to come on Friday, so Albi was taken care of while I ran around like a chicken. This time, I followed my pack list, rather than trying to pack from memory. And, therefore, this was the first trip where I did not forget anything substantial!
left late on Saturday morning - at 11:30 a.m. We drove around Mt. Hood,
which still had huge mounds of snow piled up in some parking lots from
various snow plows during the winter and spring. There were lots of
motorcyclists out and about, but we were the only ones loaded down. We
stopped in always-windy Dalles for frappicinos at Starbuck's, then headed
across the Columbia River on the steel
cantilever truss toll bridge - which is dreadful for
motorcycles - not fun at all!. We entered Washington state and turned
right, driving along state road 14 (which we love to take on day trips)
and then North on state road 142. After the bridge over the river, all of
this was a gorgeous drive - perfect for motorcycles, with winding roads,
good surface conditions, and lovely scenery. I can't believe we haven't
done this on a day trip yet!
Because of our late start, our only option for camping was Brooks
Memorial State Park, north of Goldendale, Washington. We also stayed
there at on our first night of our Canada
adventure last year; Stefan was hoping we would at least make it to
Lewis and Clark Trail State Park in Washington state, past Dalton (we've
stayed there twice on two previous trips; it's kind of become "our" park).
Brooks Memorial is not at all scenic, but it does have plenty of camping,
is far from the road, and has great facilities (flush toilets, showers,
plenty of sinks), and it's the only camping in the area at all. Stefan had
to drive my bike down the short hill to where we would pitch a tent - I
just didn't feel ready for even that tiny bit of off-roading.
Unfortunately, the camp host didn't feel it was his job to keep the peace,
so I had to blow up at a bunch of rowdy Christian campers who were under
the impression that tents are sound proof and it's just dandy to laugh and
yell long into the night. I really hate always having to be the bad cop
because everyone else is a wimp.
We were up early and gone the next morning, and had a big laugh over the
guide to splattered bugs at the gas station. We continued East on
Goldendale Bickleton Road, which is beautiful, but it's where I had my
first close encounter with a deer ever - and I did NOT like it. She jumped
out of no where from the right side of the road, right in front of the
bike, and she was so close I thought I had at least clipped her. I
instinctively slammed on my back break, then immediately realized my
mistake and let off. Oh yes, I fish-tailed, but I did NOT go down. I fully
expected to, and had accepted it was going to happen - and it didn't. Of
course, there was smoke everywhere from my locked back tire. There was no
where to pull over, so we continued on for probably two miles before we at
last found a place to pull over and I could gather my emotions. It was an
awful experience, and I know I didn't handle it as well as I should of,
but I'd like a little credit for not going down! For the rest of the day,
even while going through adorable Dalton, Washington, I kept waiting for
another deer to jump out of no where. I probably didn't go faster than 45
mph for the rest of the day.
worried that there would be no where to camp that night, since there was
no indication on our map that there was any state parks or national
forests nearby, but there turned out to be private camp grounds every few
miles on US Highway 12. Still, we wanted to stay somewhere run by a state
or national government (yes, that's because of ME - I prefer them to
privately-run sites). We were lucky enough to find the Pink
House Recreation Site camp site, managed by the Bureau of Land
Management (BLM) on US Highway 12 in Orofino, Idaho, along the Clearwater
River. It's great that this place has dedicated sites for tent camping -
wish more places did! - but because those sites are gravel-covered, we put
the tent up on the grass nearby instead (gravel is NOT good for tents! why
don't camp ground designers understand this?!). The camp hosts were
absolutely outstanding, super friendly and very proud of the
spotlessly-clean bathrooms they maintain. This was the third time we'd
been through this area, and it always looks completely different to me
It was one of the few nights it rained during our trip. I hate it because
the tent is yucky to pack up the next morning (and to unpack that night),
because I get wet on my way to and from the bathroom in the night, and
because, if there's no covered place to cook breakfast and make coffee, we
have to head out without such. But on the other hand, rain on a tent puts
me right to sleep.
We continued on US Highway 12 through Lolo Pass, which I always enjoy -
I know a lot of seasoned motorcycle travelers find it over-rated, but I
love it. The only thing I don't like it is the extremist signs here and
there, like the anti-Wolf signs or anti-UN signs - I don't know how I
always manage to see these things, no matter how tiny or obscured. I would
so love to go rafting in this area - the river looks like so much fun! We
passed a lot of motorcycle travelers going in the other direction - which
always makes me wonder, are they also passing a lot of motorcycle
travelers going in our direction, or are we the only ones? We stopped for
lunch and gas at Lochsa Lodge
(I'd really love to stay there for a few days some time), but before the
meal arrived, Stefan started to not feel well. As soon as we got up to
leave, I realized I didn't feel well either. It was NOT the Lochsa Lodge
restaurant that made us ill - it was something we'd eaten or drunk earlier
that day or the day before. It made the rest of the ride not quite so
pleasant as it should have been.
We stopped at the visitor's center at the Idaho - Montana border, just as we always do (it's really great - free coffee if it's open!), and just as we were about to leave, a man and woman pulled up, two-up on their motorcycle, running on fumes. We gave them some gas, and they started showing us all the various ways they were not prepared to ride in the rain - they had a really great laugh about being so soaked. I'm usually not that amused at such an episode... We gave him our contact info, since the guy is a photographer and he took a bunch of photos, but he never got in touch with us... as is the case with MOST people we meet during our travels, unfortunately. We continued West on Highway 12, passing the national park campgrounds we've stayed in twice on other trips - Stefan told me later that he had hoped we would be staying there our second night, and we would have if we had left earlier on Saturday. We pulled into Lolo, Montana, where we spent far more time at the gas station bathrooms than we had scheduled. And then we turned South on US Highway 93, something we'd never done before - we wouldn't be on a road either of us had been on before for more than a week.
drove South on 93 for more than an hour, several miles of it on gravel
because of road construction. The road construction stopped at Darby,
Montana and we continued on, assuming there would be plenty of camping
farther on. But we could not find an open camp ground. The one national
park campground we found was entirely closed, maybe permanently, and
another small, private campground - the Sula Store and Campground - had no
one to tell us if they allowed tent camping (they had a phone number to
call for info - but there's no cell phone service, so that was rather
useless info). It was getting dark, we were tired, and we were not feeling
well, so we turned around and went back to Darby, and stayed at the
super-friendly Travelers Rest Cabins and RV Park. The manager was so sweet
and accommodating, and even though it was only our third day out, that bed
and immediately-available bathroom were oh-so-welcomed. We had our own
kitchen as well, which made cooking a pleasure. We went to bed early, got
more than 9 hours sleep, and showered in the morning - which is probably
why we were so quick to recover.
The next day greeted us with beautiful scenery and weather. And news that
armed anti-government survivalist militia leader was on the run in our
area after a gunfight with Missoula County sheriff’s deputies. We
hoped not to encounter him at any point.
We went back down Highway 93, cursing the Sula Store and Campground as we
passed, and then turned to Montana State Road 43, traveling through Chief
Joseph Pass and Beaverhead National Forest. It was a beautiful, very high,
and challenging ride for me - those hills felt so huge, and the drops off
the wide highway had my heart racing. The hill felt so steep that I was
terrified of stopping at turnouts to take in the view - I could just see
me falling right over if I tried to stop.
I saw a sign for the Big Hole National Battlefield, and we stopped
because, well, I can't pass a National Park or Monument site without
stopping. This site is where the Nez Perce Indian tribe made a last stand.
It was an interesting hour in the temporary museum - the main visitor's
center was under renovation. The surrounding landscape was everything you
expect from Big Sky country! We continued on and came upon a real
(not staged) roundup by real (not pretend) cowboys on horseback,
supported by a few cattle dogs. I was thrilled beyond belief - it was that
first oh-my-god-we're-on-an-epic-motorcycle-adventure that we both wait
for on every trip. Sometimes it comes a day after the start, sometimes not
for a few days. But you know when it happens.
In Wisdom, Montana, we changed from state road 43 to state road 278, and
route got even more beautiful. And the oh-so-many culturally-sensitive
portrayals of American Indians/Native Americans and photos of dead
wolves in small towns as we went - good times.
were shocked to find Nevada
City was a well-preserved "Wild West" city. - shocked because I've
never heard it was so before; I assumed it's wild west days were long ago
erased. Sadly, we didn't have time to go through the museum and into the
old town in the back of the main street. Knowing what I know now, as I
write this long after the end of our entire trip, we should have stayed
here overnight, so we could have enjoyed this area fully - we had time to
do so! We would love to go back here. I would particularly like to stay at
the Nevada City Hotel - the people at the front desk were super friendly
and only too delighted to let us see one
of the grandest rooms upstairs. To be honest, it was so awesome that
Virgina City, which is just down the road, is a disappointment - plenty of
places to eat and shop in that city, but it doesn't at all feel like a
"wild west" town.
just kept getting more and more beautiful. The landscape is
breathtaking - kind of ruins it for other states, actually.
We pushed on and, at last, came to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park in the crowded, busy town of West Yellowstone. As we approached to show our park passes, we saw that many camp grounds were already full. Yikes! We took our literature at the entrance (the NPS produces fantastic maps, which are included with your park admission) and started heading to what we hoped was a still-open camp ground father into the park, away from the entrances. Our ride was in for a long pause because of a herd of buffalo near the road. People actually freakin' lost their minds over it. I was excited, don't get me wrong, but people, please, breathe - you will see PLENTY of buffalo in the park without having to stop traffic, I PROMISE!
We went to two camp grounds that turned out to be full by the time we got
there - it's a shame they don't put a sign at the turnoffs from the road
to indicate that a campground is full, instead of your having to find out
only after driving all the way to the campground itself! We headed for the
Canyon Village camp ground, really worried it, too, would already be full,
and wondering what we would do if it was. It wasn't - yet. We parked
illegally - the parking lot was full - and went in to stand in the long,
snaking line around the lobby and hope there was still a camp site by the
time we reached the desk.
While we waited in line, a park employee was walking down the line,
giving "the bear talk", explaining to people that they could not, under
any circumstances, leave food, cosmetics or toiletries in their tents,
even while they were sleeping, or unattended on tables EVER, that
everything had to be stored in people's cars, because the bear boxes were
still under snow. He got to me, gave me the bear talk (which I'd heard
several times already from when he told other people), and said, "We're
tent camping, and we're riding motorcycles. Where do we store our food?"
He looked at me, expressionless, and said, "You have to store all food,
cosmetics or toiletries in a car." I said "We don't have a car. We're
riding motorcycles. Where do we store our food?" He said again, "You have
to store all food, cosmetics or toiletries in a car." People around us
started to realize the comedic value of the situation, and I repeated, "We
don't have a car. We're riding motorcycles. Where do we store our food?" I
don't know how many times we had this exact same exchange, with both of us
saying the same thing again and again. He suddenly looked flustered once
he'd finally understood what I was saying. He said we could store it in
the camp site office. Looking at the chaos of the office, I knew we'd
never see our stuff again if we did that. So we stored everything
food-related or that might have any smell at all, in Stefan's panniers and
hoped for the best.
We got a camp site assignment (yeah!), road over to it (it was super far away), and found it completely covered in snow of several feet. Our option was to camp on the road next to the snow covered site (yeah, that is a SUPER safe thing to do with all the traffic) or try to get another camp site. As luck would have it, the people across from us, in a van, didn't like their camp site, which was also completely covered in snow, BUT, which had a completely-cleared parking space, which would fit both of our bikes and our tent quite nicely. Because I'm such a nosy girl and had overhead their conversation, I walked over and asked if we could have their site, since they were giving it up. So they gave us their site - Stefan drove over and held it - while I drove back to the offices with the other campers and we officially got their space, and they tried to get another (they did, by the way).
And I just want to pause here and say: why doesn't the national park
service get volunteers in to shovel out camp sites and bear boxes? Group
volunteering gigs are one of the most hotly-sought-after gigs there are,
especially when they involve parks and the outdoors. There are all sorts
of groups that would LOVE to come to a national park for a day and
volunteer to dig snow off of camp sites and bear boxes - no kidding! I'm a
management consultant - believe me, you could CHARGE people to do
I'll also note that we never expected the camp sites to fill up in
Yellowstone in the middle of the week, when there was still a lot of snow
in the highlands. We were WRONG. If you plan on going to Yellowstone (1)
call for reservations (2) at the time of your reservations, note that you
are on motorcycles and will be camping, and therefore need to have a space
that is not completely, utterly, buried in snow.
next day, our first morning, in Yellowstone was beautiful - clear skies,
and not that cold. I was surprised at how many other tent campers
there were. We spent the morning shoveling
snow - I saw people in a nearby camp site shoveling, so I walked
over and asked them if we could borrow the shovel when they were done. I
found out they had gotten it from the front office. I assured them I would
absolutely return it on their behalf, and I did - but not before both
Stefan and got some early morning exercise. We even managed to find the
fire pit and dig out most of the picnic table!
If you have never stayed at a National Park campground, here is some
things to keep in mind: there will probably be proper bathrooms all over
the camp site, with flush toilets and sinks, and they might even be
heated, but there are no showers there - those might be in the main
building of the camp site, but that could be as much as a 45 minute walk
away from your camp site, and there is often an extra fee to use the
One of the many reasons I love camping is that I love talking to people -
and I will walk right over and start talking to other campers once our
camp site is set up and I don't think I'll bother them. What we often find
when camping here in the USA is that many of the campers are from other
countries - most frequently from Germany, but also Canada, France, various
Scandinavian countries, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Camping in the
USA is legendary to people in other countries, and I really like asking
people where they are from, if the USA is meeting their expectations, if
people have been kind (they always report that people are super nice to
them), what's surprised them, etc. What's sad is that I rarely meet
Americans from various states - including my own birth place of Kentucky.
I also rarely meet black campers, and it really bothers me - so much that
I've joined the various social media feeds of Outdoor
Afro, which is encouraging more black Americans to get out and hike
and camp! I would love to see all Americans value and love camping
as much as people in Europe do.
After breakfast and snow shoveling, we decided we would spend the day doing the Southern loop of Yellowstone, which includes Old Faithful. I decided to ride my own bike, even though we could have saved gas - and gone faster - if we'd gone two-up on Stefan's bike. As Stefan said - I should get to say, "I toured Yellowstone by motorcycle" (thanks, honey). Soon after hitting the main road, near Fisherman's Bridge, we saw people crowding on the side of the road, so we decided we would stop too and see what it was - and it was worth it: a Grizzly Bear. He or she was far in the distance, and there were rangers there doing a great job of keeping people from being stupid. We heard later that he/she hung out there for a few days.
not going to review each and every site we stopped at that day, but I will
say that they were each amazing,
and it was impossible to stop at every one of them - there just wasn't
enough time. You could spend a week at Yellowstone and spend the entire
time driving to a new site of geysers and mudpots and then taking the
hikes available from almost each site and still not see half of them. One
of the most amazing sites was a place where all of the trees had fallen
over because, at some point in the not-so-distant past, the ground had,
literally, boiled, killing the trees from below. That Yellowstone is a
work in progress, with the underground channels of steaming water
constantly changing, is reinforced again and again in both tourist signs
and the landscape itself.
We made it to Old Faithful with enough time to have a bit of lunch and to
hear the last ranger talk of the day at the site - I love ranger talks! I
usually lead the audience in the applause at the end. Then we got to hear
4 million people ask the ranger when Old Faithful would go off, which was
clearly marked on a sign right next to him, but he kept answering the
question each time as though it was the first time EVER. Eventually, we
were among a huge
crowd waiting for the geyser. The anticipation for the event was
thick - there's no exact time prediction for when the geyser will
go off, but she always does! I was getting really annoyed at the people
next to me, who could not stop complaining at the cold (they were in
shorts and t-shirts) and about the wait - and who could not stop talking,
period. The mother also happily encouraged her kids to feed the chipmunks
("There he is! Give him some food so he'll come to you!!"), which was
making me INSANE - had there been a ranger I could see, I would have gone
over and narc-ed on them. If you feed wildlife, you might as well take a
gun out and shoot them - same thing. ANYWAY...
At last, Old
Faithful at Yellowstone National Park erupts, just 10 minutes late
of its prediction (it can also start 10 minutes early of the predicted
time). I was thrilled, and cheered. Loudly. Wahoo!! I thought it was
terrific. The trashy family next to us, however, were vocal in their
disappointment - they went on and on about how it wasn't that high, it
wasn't that loud, it didn't last that long, blah blah blah - and they of
course had to say this loudly enough for EVERYONE to know their opinion.
watching Old Faithful erupt, we took a couple of hours to hike
around the immediate area and view the many, many geysers, hot
springs and other geothermal sites nearby. It
was quite windy. You really do feel like you are on another planet.
There are walkways through the vast area geothermal area, making hiking
easy - in fact, much of it is wheel chair accessible. It was a gorgeous,
sunny day, and I'm so glad we got to spend a full two hours strolling
It's super important not to get off of the walkways EVER, not only to protect yourself (the ground is not solid - and if you break through, you plunge into boiling hot water. Enjoy!) but also to protect the incredibly fragile environments. It's also super important to not throw anything in the geysers and mud pots, including coins - it has, in some cases, STOPPED the flow of water (almost clogged up Old Faithful completely at one point), not to mention how it pollutes the sites. What's particularly interesting to me is that these areas are all teaming with microscopic life, the kind we may someday find on another planet - this, as well as various minerals, create gorgeous colors in the water.
We walked back to the parking lot, toward our bikes, and I could already
tell my saddle bags looked different. The zippers had been moved. I said
immediately, "someone went through my saddle bags." I don't have the bags
locked - when my bike is unattended, there's nothing in them of value to
anyone but me, and since they are fabric bags, they could easily be cut
open. I could feel my disappointment and anger starting to rise, when I
heard a guy in a nearby car call out, "Those big black birds were all over
your bike, trying to get in those bags!" So it had been thieves, but not
humans! They had picked at everything shiny, including the zippers - I've
no doubt that they could have opened them completely if given more
We finally headed back to our camp ground to buy some wood and groceries
(there's a big grocery store and visitor's center across the road - not at
all with in walking distance of our camp site, however), to laugh at the
guy buying ice at the store (just grab some snow, dude!) and cook supper
cozy little "snow cove". We enjoyed Moose Drool beer and smiled for
the photos other campers took of us - they were amused by our snow
For our second full day at Yellowstone, we drove the Northern loop. It
was a much cloudier day, but a much prettier road to drive than the
Southern loop, as far as it being scenic from the road. The snow
on the side of the road went above our heads at times, and some
offshoot roads were still closed because of snow. There was law
enforcement everywhere, which I was glad to see - Yellowstone is a really
crowded park when the roads are clear, no matter what the time of year,
and law enforcement helps keep people from being, well, stupid. At one
point, we stopped for a break, and a
bison came walking down the road. I yelled out to Stefan to please
be careful, and he walked to the other side of his bike, putting it
between he and the massive beast, in case it came too close. We both
stayed calm, didn't get closer, and just enjoyed watching the magnificent
animal walk by near us. Then a car pulled up, people got out, and a young
woman started walking right up to the animal to take a photo. Yes, I said
something "Excuse me, miss? Please don't get close to that animal. He is
wild and he can attack you."
I said it nicely! She turned and looked at me with a look of hatred in her
eyes. And I thought, you know, if you are attacked, I'm staying right
here, not only to help out, but to make sure it's clear to law enforcement
that you were warned and were a dumbass and therefore can't sue the
National Park Service. Twit.
We stopped very briefly at Tower Falls and Petrified
Tree. Stefan stopped on the road to get
a photo of a bear and got yelled at by a park policewoman (which
meant I didn't have to do it), then headed to Mammoth Hot Springs for
lunch. This is the park headquarters, though it doesn't have nearly as
many places to eat as Old Faithful. There
were a lot of Elk everywhere - and a ranger trying to keep
people away from them. We grabbed some food (we should have just gotten
some lunch stuff at the grocery store at our camp site and had a picnic),
then walked through most of the trails of Mammoth Hot Springs our focus
for the day.
Hot Springs is SPECTACULAR. The springs are ever changing - a photo next
year of this site will not look the same as the ones we took - the springs
may even "move" elsewhere. Earthquakes cause the springs to move where
they pour out of the earth, which means the landscape of Mammoth Hot
Springs is ever-changing, not only year-to-year, but sometimes even
overnight! When the springs "move", they leave behind dry, very fragile
travertine - that's the white/gray stuff everywhere. I highly recommend
the ranger talk there, right on the trail - really interesting stuff!
There are information pamphlets as well at the trail heads - please leave
a donation! (I noticed most people did NOT).
Then we drove the road to the Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs.
Here's a tip: when you drive off the main road and into the area to view
these springs, don't panic if the first parking lot is full - there is
another parking lot later on, and when we were there, it was almost empty!
It's absolutely surreal up there. The highlight of this tour is the
Orange Spring Mound, which has slowly consumed a few trees. It could stop
at the next earthquake, with the spring moving elsewhere and creating
a new "living" sculpture. We were blown away by it all. Pictures
just don't do it justice, but we tried!
We stopped at the oh-so-massive Norris Geyser Basin, and I have to admit
- I was getting over-geysered. This is the site of Steamboat Springs,
which rarely erupts - the indication it's about to is when Cistern Spring,
which is quite a distance away, empties or its water level lowers. There
were geyser groupies there, who monitor the geyser four hours on end and
were NOT amused by my jokes about geyser anticipation (lighten up, geyser
geeks). This would have been a great area to hike for a couple of hours -
was our third night in the Canyon Village camp ground at Yellowstone
National Park, and it started snowing just after supper. I decided I was
going to go to the ranger talk that evening, and schlepped for 45 minutes
back to the main office - only to find out the talk wasn't for another 90
minutes. WHY not post the times of the ranger talks in the bathrooms,
Yellowstone? WHY? Walking back, I passed an Aussie who was almost dancing
because of the snow, and chanting over and over "It's snowing! It's
snowing!" He made me happy.
That night, it not only SNOWED - it also became bitterly cold. Our trusty Aldi tent held up great, but my sleeping bag wasn't enough to get me through the night without shivering - no kidding, I was shivering in the middle of the night. Because of how cold it was that night, after this trip, I bought a liner bag to put into my sleeping bag on such nights, to increase the sleeping bag's warmth by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. I also now measure all night time camping temperatures to "Yellowstone camping cold." See all of my packing advice for women motorcycle travelers.
After three nights at Yellowstone, it was time to move on, but we decided
we wouldn't go far at all - just into Grand Tetons. And that meant we
would spend most of our time that day still in the Yellowstone. We stopped
at the Canyon Village visitor's center to look at the exhibits and learn a
bit more about the super volcano that is all of Yellowstone and how it's
moved ever East over millions of years. We also had a look at the nearby
falls, the "Grand
Canyon of Yellowstone" - we guess this yellow stone is where the
park gets its name. We stopped for a few more geysers and hot springs and
hiked around. At one site, someone said, "Hey, look at that wolf!" and I
looked up and, indeed, saw it, but just a glimpse - very large, still with
its white winter coat - running away. Some of the mudpot sites on this
last day were our favorite of the whole trip - the
pink ones that made a lot of noise, for instance! Our last wildlife
siting was a
coyote running in an open field.
our way out of Yellowstone and into
Grand Teton National park, we stopped
at an ice-covered lake. After freezing the night before in
Yellowstone, and because I wanted a shower, I decided we needed to get a
cabin. We paid big bucks for a room at Colter Bay Village, and it was so
worth it - super cozy, and a real bed! Stefan
serviced the bikes parked outside of our cabin- tightening and
lubricating the chains and otherwise checking the bikes, but with a
careful eye, because we had been warned there was a Grizzly Bear and her
cubs about (we didn't see them). We found out later that they had yurts
available - that would have been cheaper, but I have to admit that I was
so delighted to have a proper room, with a bathroom in the same building.
The road into Grand Teton National Park provides some spectacular
views and plenty of places to stop and enjoy them. At one place,
there were signs noting: "Due
to bear activity area beyond this sign CLOSED to all travel" and
"Removal of this sign may result in INJURY to others and is punishable by
law." I take these warnings seriously - if it says don't go here 'cause
there might be bears, I don't go there. I'm wacky that way.
We stopped in Jackson, at one of the outdoors stores there, to meet up
with my friend Keith. We went to Western
Kentucky University at the same time, and know a lot of the same
people - and, yet, we don't think we ever met before this trip. I had
friended Keith on Facebook because I could see we had a lot of the same
friends and he road a motorcycle and took a lot of really great trips.
Poor Keith - I badgered him with questions about Harrison Ford, whom he
waited on once (he bought shoes). After perusing the goodies in the store,
we left Keith alone at last and went to have lunch at a nearby Mexican
restaurant. Then it was time to head out - we wanted to see Craters of the
Moon, and had a very long way to go. It was a very sharp incline out of
Jackson, then a very sharp and twisty decline on the other side. I'm still
a newbie motorcycle rider, and my heart was pounding. Seeing bicyclists
riding up that massive hill just made my jaw drop - I respect the heck out
of bicycle travelers, truly, but they never, ever, look happy. At least
not whilst riding.
We passed through Idaho Falls and... wow, I was unimpressed. It's one of
the saddest American cities I've ever seen - incredibly ugly chain stores,
trailers, some people on the street who seem to be struggling or not
really give a damn - it depressed me. What does a teenager do there? Once
the city fell away, the wide open spaces produced a horrific wind. I have
never experienced wind like that while on a motorcycle. I was terrified
for most of the ride, fighting against the relentless wind, almost getting
blown over at a gas station, and being quite unimpressed by the landscape
until near sunset. I HATED THE WIND. It started to rain, spoiling any
enjoyment I might have had of the slightly improving scenery, and Stefan
said he wasn't feeling well - which is really rare for him to say. So we
decided, for the third time on this trip and the second night in a row, to
get a room - if we ever managed to be in a town again. We felt truly in
the middle of NO WHERE. And night was falling.
We made it to the small town of Arco, and the Lost River Motel looked perfect - and it turned out to be a great choice - very comfortable, affordable rooms, and a very friendly, bike-friendly owner. I know I've said this before, but I LOVE motels SO much more than hotels - they are more friendly, more customer-focused, and more appropriately-priced than hotels, with things you actually need in the room (fridge, microwave, etc.). We were able to park our bikes right outside our door - another thing we can't do at a hotel. We walked over to a convenience store and got some Old Faithful Ale, then spent the rest of the rainy night in our room, watching TV, listening to the wind and rain outside and relaxing, happy to be dry and in a real bed. We went to bed quite early, so Stefan could recover.
After a night of blissful, wonderful sleep, Stefan felt much better. We had a bit of breakfast and then packed up. Right next to the motel is a submarine tower - the conning tower of the "fast-attack" nuclear submarine USS Hawkbill (SSN-666), aka "The Devil Boat." In a large metal shed on the grounds, there is a tiny WWII museum with various navel artifacts, and the day we visited, there was an Arco resident and WWII veteran happy to talk on and on about how great nuclear bombs are. I kept trying to get him on ANY other subject, but he just kept coming back to his love of The Bomb. We found out later that the town was re-named "Arco" long after its founding, for Georg von Arco (1869–1940) of Germany, who was visiting Washington, D.C. at the time. He was an inventor and a pioneer in the field of radio transmission. The town was moved at least twice before the 1920s. Arco was the first community in the world ever to be lit by electricity generated by nuclear power - in 1955. On January 3, 1961, the SL-1 reactor in Arco melted down, causing three deaths and becoming the world's first fatal reactor accident.
We pushed on to Craters of the Moon National Monument, and both the road, and the weather, were beautiful. We had no idea what the park would look like - we just liked the name and how relatively big it looked on the map. It turned out to be spectacular. Pictures don't really do it justice. We spent a lot of time in the visitor's center, we took a couple of very short hikes amid the black, dried lava, and I even hiked quite a ways up the Inferno Cone. We spent probably 3 full hours there, but I wish we could have been there all day. Yet another incredibly unique place on Earth that feels oh-so-un-Earthly. We would have loved to have camped in the park - we don't mind pit toilets at all - but decided to push on, in case we could make enough time in a couple of days to get to the Burning Moto Man gathering.
A word about National Park passes - we
bought our pass, which is good for two people, back in September of last
year, when we visited Glacier National Park, and, therefore, it was still
good now, nine months later. It got us into Yellowstone/Grand Tetons and
Craters of the Moon on this trip, and later in 2011, into Crater Lake
National Park. I decided to do some math and figure out just exactly when
a national park path pays for itself, and this
is what I came up with.
At some point on this trip - I'm not sure when - we hit a long patch of road construction that required us to go about 25 miles on a mix of hard packed gravel and dirt, following a "follow me" traffic truck. My heart was pounding - I am terrified of gravel. I'm terrified of having to stop on gravel because I know it means I will fall on gravel. I was so ready to get the hell off that stuff. I'm just not at all ready for it. I know the only way I will get ready for it is to practice on it...
We stopped in a city called Mountain Home, at the visitor's center -
which, of course, was closed. Looking at the various brochures hung on an
information board, we figured out that there was a state park nearby, but
there was no indication if it had camp sites. We just crossed our fingers
and hoped. And note to all visitor centers for citys, towns and states:
always have a map that everyone can see, even if you are closed, showing
everywhere there are camp sites in the area! Bruneau
Dunes State Park was a bit hard to find, and was a longer "out
there" schlep than we were expecting, but we were very pleased with it.
Like most state parks, it has much better facilities than a national park
camp site (showers!). It also has covered picnic tables, something that's
common in Europe but quite rare in the USA, which makes it really hard for
tent campers to cook.
This park has the added bonus of an observatory, with telescopes - but, sadly, it wasn't open the night we were there (which I grumbled about endlessly). Bugs were super bad until night fell and the wind picked up. Star viewing that night was awesome before the moon was up, and there was an adorable large and unique-looking mouse hopping around the bathrooms building in the night.
We woke to the sound of coyotes in the distance - once of my very favorite sounds. It felt so great to not be freezing in the night! We packed up, chatted with other campers, then drove up Nevada state road 78, through the Owyhee Uplands, which is a desolate yet interesting area - especially if you get offroad, which Stefan dared to do at a BLM rest stop for just 10 minutes. We continued going North and West in Idaho, then crossed over eventually to US Highway 95. It wasn't the most beautiful ride we've ever done, but it was interesting enough, worth it even if just to say we'd driven across lower Idaho, something not many people have done. It was sad to go through so many dieing little towns - there's just no opportunity to work in them.
A note here to say that, just as happened on last
year's motorcycle trip through Jasper, Banff, Kootenay and Glacier
National Park, partridges were everywhere, loving to run in a line
right in front of our bikes. We find them amusing, and will continue to do
so until we hit one/some and I have to pull over and cry. But if the
coyote weren't already our animal symbol, the partridge would be.
We road into Eastern Oregon, which I had never been to before. And if you want to meet adventure motorcyclists from various parts of the USA - and even from other countries - hang out at the gas station in Jordan Valley, Oregon, where US Highway 95, heading East, suddenly takes a sharp turn North, and meets Trout Creek Road, heading into Idaho. During the time we were stopped there at the convenience store, I bet 30 bikers stopped, most of them loaded down on dual sports or souped up dirt bikes for adventure off-roading or far away travels. We met two guys on BMW heading up from California on their way to Alaska, and I met a very short woman motorcyclist who was so supportive when I told her I was a very new rider, giving me great advice - like never, ever being ashamed to say, "Hey, can you help me push my bike out of this space?"
We decided to head North, on Oregon state road 78 (the Steens Highway),
to Seneca, and stay at a place that Stefan had stayed the year before with
about a dozen other Honda Africa Twin motorcycle riders. The
ride was gorgeous - though open range (careful!).
We had had such an amazing trip up to that point, and I was really
looking forward to staying at this legendary place - though I was a bit
suspicious, since everyone described the place in such beautiful terms,
but said over and over about the owner, "Well... he's different!"
Unfortunately for us, the attempt
to stay at the BearCat Lodge turned out to be a disaster, and nearly
ruined the entire trip. The proprietor is a deeply disturbed man who had
no qualms about throwing us out after dinner because he didn't agree with
something I had said - and it turns out this is something he's done to many
people - he apparently delights in throwing people out after dinner for
real or perceived insults. My
very popular review on TripAdvisor will give you enough of an idea
of just how frightening he is to know just how close he came to ruining
our wonderful vacation, and I'll be happy to give you all the
details in-person. Here's a charming
story of his threat to sell his business to white supremacists,
something he will strongly deny if you ask about, claiming he was only
kidding - until he gets really drunk and admits (as he did with us) that
he talked to a rep of the group and was willing to do sell if the group
had had the money, in cash.
Forced to pack up as fast as possible and flee, then ride our motorcycles
late at night, in an area full of wildlife, with no places to stay within
an hour's drive, and after we had had drinks, was, of course, terrifying.
After finding every hotel in the town of John Day booked, and no hotel
clerk in John Day with any knowledge of the area (the Best Western clerks
on duty that night were beyond rude), we drove on and found the Clyde
Holliday State Recreation Site not too far out of town, and it had just
two camp sites still open. It was well past midnight when we set up our
tent, but I couldn't sleep for at least two hours more - I was too upset
at having been put in such incredible danger. I was so stunned that
someone would put his ego and asshole beliefs above the safety of his
guests, even if he decided suddenly that he didn't like them. I've no
doubt that if we had hit a deer and been killed, he would have laughed. We
started packing up at 6 a.m. - I hadn't had 4 hours sleep, certainly
nothing continuous. But I wanted to get up and moving. I wanted to recover
from that awful night, and try to get back to thinking of this as a
wonderful adventure motorcycle trip. I couldn't even get excited about the
sign at check in that said there had been a cougar sighting a while back.
We stopped for breakfast at a restaurant in the town of John Day, rather than cooking - we felt like we deserved it (we usually cook breakfast and supper at our camp site). Then we visited the gold-era Chinese herbal and goods shop in the city, but unfortunately, there was only one tour, and it was already over, so all we could do was look in the windows.
We drove through John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, stopping at one overlook and then at the visitor's center. The area isn't super interesting, visually speaking, but when you know just what a treasure trove of fossils it is, and how it is used to measure several different epochs on Earth, and when you learn the extent and diversity of animal and plant life in the area during various times before man ever walked the Earth, it becomes almost magical to look at. The visitor's center is fascinating, and the short film they show every few minutes is a MUST see to understand the area. We were lucky enough to get there in time for a ranger talk (hurrah!!), and I talked to a young ranger-in-training about her experience there so far, and how she handled people who think the world is only 6000 years old. I also made sure she and another ranger knew how much I love the John Day Facebook page and web cam - I've been a big fan for many months now!
We stopped at the historic xxxx house - there isn't a huge amount to see,
but it was worth a stop. It's
my dream house, actually. Yes, I know I say that all the time but,
really, this is high on the list. Then we drove on, through beautiful
curves and landscape that was becoming more lush. Dayville is adorable. We
stopped in Mitchel, however, a sad little town that's seen better days.
The old grocery store was sparsely stocked, but the wooden floor sure was
It was hot. When we stopped, we always looked for shade to stand in. Such is life when you are on a two week trip and going to such different landscapes - some nights will be below freezing and some nights you will sleep on top of your sleeping bag because you are so warm. Some days you will wear several layers and your winter gloves, and other days you wish you could ride naked.
camped in Ochoco National Forest campground. I love national forest
campgrounds, because the sites are relatively far apart, and they are
usually somewhere worth being. This camp ground had plenty of waste water
dumps - but no water! Water is absolutely essential for camping - for
cooking and for washing. I got a bit from the camp host, who was kind
enough to share, thank goodness. Stefan built a fire - he's masterful at
finding firewood in campgrounds, from previous campers. I fired up the
stove and we had beef hot dogs, instant mashed potatoes and instant gravy.
As usual, the other campers were super friendly - one couple had two dogs,
both Australian Shepherds. They made me think of my
beloved Wiley, and what great
times he and Buster had with me camping. Good memories.
My air pillow finally gave out completely. This was my second air pillow
- they just do NOT last. And I have to have such - the pillow I make with
clothes and the sleeping bag sack is never, ever comfortable, and being
Ms. Acid Reflux, a good pillow is a must. A trip to REI for a better
camping pillow is in my future. As we packed up, we heard very loud cows
in the distance. I joked about how we needed to move on soon, because THE
ANGRY COWS WERE COMING.
We passed Goose Flats, which was full of pelicans - an amazing sight! We
should have stopped and taken a photo, but we pushed on, driving through
Prineville. The courthouse there is lovely - would love to see inside
someday. We stopped for ice cream at Goody's, a very traditional-looking
ice cream parlor in Redmond. I kept thinking about how shot my diet was,
but at the end of the trip, I had lost 2 pounds! We drove on through Bend,
which is where I wish we could live, then decided to head to the National
Volcanic Monument that is a part of the Deschutes and Ochoco National
Forests. And we were LIVID to find that the visitor's center and ALL
related sites are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In June?! I was furious.
drove up horrible Highway 97 to La Pine for supplies, then camped at in
the huge Crane Prairie Reservoir camp ground. There was just one other
camper in our loop. I cooked Farmhouse Mexican rice (out of a box), adding
in tomatoes and already-cooked chicken we picked up at a convenience store
- Stefan gave it a thumb's up. I'm getting way better at cooking on the
backpacker stove we use - it has only two settings: high and off. As long
as I have water and a bit of oil, I'm pretty sure I can cook anything.
We took a walk to the lake and a bit around the grounds - it was really
lovely. He built another fire with scrounged wood from other fire pits. I
was realizing that I really do need a full day of NO riding during a
two-week trip, a day where I hike or just lay around and relax. It would
keep me mentally sharp for the rest of the trip.
I wondered yet again why so many Oregon forests seem to be made up of
skinny trees, far apart, with little ground cover around. There doesn't
seem to be many old forests, like those East of the Mississippi, with
undergrowth so thick you have to stick to the trails. Is that just how
trees grow here, or is it because so many forests have been harvested?
Just before we left the next morning, the camp hosts walked by and said,
"Stay warm today!" No problem, we thought - the day before had been so hot
and sticky, so why would today be any different? We drove North on Odell
Road / Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, around Mt.
Bachelor. And indeed, we were back
in snow. It turned out it was the first days of the road being open
at all - we saw people gleefully taking out their cross country skis from
the backs of their cars. It was a lovely ride. We stopped in a city park
in oh-so-charming Sisters, lunching on turkey jerky and frappicinos.
Stefan was convinced we could get over McKenzie Pass, but as soon as we
turned off for the road, there was a large sign announcing the pass was
closed. We went
to the Sisters Ranger Station to confirm. He just could not believe
it, and wanted to try anyway, but I refused. And it's worth noting that, a
year later, when I did finally go over McKenzie Pass, I was SO glad I'd
refused to go on this trip - I cannot imagine going over it with even a
hint of ice or snow.
The alternative ride was beautiful. We drove over 126, what was the Santiam Wagon Road once upon a ride. We stopped at the Fish Lake Picnic and Interpretive Site, and went onto the trail and back into what was the old Fish Lake Ranger Station. The site dates from 1906. From 1896 to 1906, this was a way station for Santiam Wagon Road travelers. There are several buildings still standing from the early 1900s, including this log cabin, which served as the summer field headquarters for the Cascadia Ranger District of the Santiam National Forest. We stopped for the night at the Olallie campground, in the Willamette National Forest. All of the lower loop spots were full, so we camped in the upper loop - which is super loud, right next to the highway.
My fellow campers did not understand the importance of closing the lid on
pit toilets, and always keeping the door to such shut - they seem to think
it helps vent the smell, which it doesn't - instead, it brings in bugs. I
kept threatening to put on my green glowing vest and start walking around
and explaining bathroom etiquette, knowing people would listen if I wore
the Magical Vest That Makes Me Official.
We were tired, we were in dire need of showers, but we decided to head to
Burning Moto Man, an annual event by our dear friends Gail
and Eric Laws, who almost as famous as Ted Simon for their world
travels by motorcycle. They live 40 miles east of Eugene, near Oakridge,
Oregon, on a large spread on the Middle Fork of the Willamette River.
Their annual gathering is for people who travel internationally by
motorcycle - or want to. We hadn't planned on going this year, but we
hadn't been stopping much in the last week at all - we should have. We
came down the Aufederheide
Scenic Drive and into
Westfir, then headed to Gail and Eric's. It was fun to surprise
them, since we had originally said we couldn't make it. We set
up camp almost in the same place as we had last year, but with the
difference being that I was on my own motorcycle instead of a car this
time around. We headed over to the grocery in town to pick up some things
to eat that night, then came back to
socialize with the other riders. There weren't many - it was a
smaller turnout than 2010, but we really enjoyed it. And even though I
would be home in the next 24 - 48 hours, I took a shower - and felt
renewed for the rest of the evening.
The next morning, Saturday, we talked about possibly staying another
night or heading home. We didn't feel like going on the
group ride - we were really tired. And since there wouldn't be
anyone to hang out with during the ride, we decided that we would cut our
trip short by one day, and we'd head home - but not before we made a
sign to add to Eric and Gail's latest display. To be honest, the
horrible experience in Seneca was hanging over everything, and we just
couldn't seem to purge it. Plus, the idea of being home a day early
sounded really appealing - it would give us a full day to relax and unpack
before work on Monday (yes, I have a job - it's called FINDING A JOB).
It felt great to be home - safe and welcoming. I curled up with Albi for
a while, just really happy to be with her again. We unpacked, sorted
things for laundry and cleaning and storage, and then Stefan downloaded
all of his photos to his computer - we spent the evening going through
them and reclaiming our trip.
I started this travelogue in 2011 - and didn't finish even half of it,
because I was still upset at The Big Bad Event. Now, more than a year
later, it's been much easier to finish it, although I'm sure I've
forgotten a lot of fun details. I'm glad I waited until now to finish it
because, now, when I think of this trip, I think primarily of what I
should: the incredible vistas of Montana, oh-so-fascinating Yellowstone
National Park, the warm welcome in Argo, the surprisingly interesting
Craters of the Moon, the deserts of Idaho and Eastern Oregon, and the great
time we had.
See pictures from this and other travels.
From Oregon to the "Lost Coast" of Northern California (Horizons Unlimited 2010 California meeting) - August 2010
Oh, Canada...Two-Week Canada/USA Tour by Motorcycles (Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Idaho) - September 2010
Crater Lake, Oregon 2011 (photos only)
Any activity incurs risk. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this document.
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