Where the people and the buffalo roam: Cooke City, MT to Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP
Sunday June 9, 2013, 52 miles (84 km) – Total so far: 2,024 miles (3,258 km)
There is more activity at 6am in Cooke City than you might expect. But, if I learn nothing else in Yellowstone, I learn that the wildlife watchers are keen and many of them are on the road before dawn each day. They are in such a hurry though that there is no line at the bakery. I get an egg and cheese croissant to go and a pecan sticky bun for later. Excellent food and excellent prices here!
It’s pretty much all downhill from Cooke City to Tower Junction in the park. I stop at the entrance sign and then just inside the park. There’s a parking area on the south side of the road that has an excellent view of the Heart Mountain Detachment point. It’s all in shade this early in the morning, but I’m still able to have a good look and ponder while I eat my croissant. Then it’s a cruise down the Lamar Valley.
A few cars pass by me in the first hour of the day, but it is mostly just a peaceful cruise down a long, glaciated valley. Then, up ahead, I can see a whole bunch of cars parked along the side of the road. As I get closer I see people with very expensive telescope-type lenses and binoculars. They are conversing with others on walkie-talkies. People are standing on the very edge of the road. Cars are doing 6-point turns in the road while other traffic impatiently waits. Good grief, welcome to Yellowstone.
I don’t see anything other than bison. But I do make one incredible spotting. As I’m slowly rolling through all the congestion, I see David. I take a second look. Surely that can’t be him, he should be well on his way to Glacier by now. But that is definitely David. I first met him in Sundance at the RV park there. I didn’t think I’d see him again. Then we ended up at the same RV park in Buffalo. Again, I didn’t think I’d see him again as we had different itineraries and very different paces! Or so it would seem. Here it is, two weeks later, and there he is again, standing on the side of the road in the Lamar Valley. David is a retired lawyer who has just purchased a small Scamp trailer and is taking it on a trip of indeterminate length. He’s big into birds and wildlife photography. His photos are impressive. At each of the RV parks, we’d hang out for an hour or so in the evenings before he’d head out for dinner. We couldn’t have more opposite lives, but we both appreciated some intelligent conversation, I think.
I ride up to him and say, “David, didn’t expect to see you here. Shouldn’t you be in Glacier by now?”
He turns, smiles real big and says, “Oh, Emily, the crazy woman on the bike! It’s great to see you. These folks here have spotted wolves. Do you want to see them?”
The man with the expensive scope says, “Nah, they’ve moved off. Sorry.”
So it turns out David has been having such a great time photographing wildlife he’s spent longer here than planned. And slow Nerd Em has caught up with him. We both are heading for Mammoth today, so he says he’ll come find me for evening drinks later.
The peace of the upper valley is gone, and I ride the rest of the way to Tower Junction amongst people looking everywhere but the road. There are various bison jams the rest of the way down the road. I do not enjoy this all that much. There’s too much traffic to want to pull over and celebrate crossing 2000 miles. That can wait til we find a proper parking lot somewhere!
I take my 2000 mile picture at Tower Junction before heading into the ranger station to get the park map and brochure (entrance station was still closed on my way in this morning).
The ranger says to me, “Oh, you’re on a bike. Be careful out there. The drivers aren’t even patient with other vehicles, so there’s really not much room for you on the roads up here.”
Wow – that pisses me off. She is just trying to be helpful, but I find it really concerning when the view of the park employees is that cyclists are a nuisance and shouldn’t really be on the road. There is a lot of lip service in the park brochures about catering to cyclists in the road improvement plans, but in practice, the northern loop road is just not cyclist-friendly at all. Worse still, I don’t think adding a shoulder will really be in the plans when they do the re-paving. There’s simply not room in many places without blasting further into the hillsides, and I don’t see them doing that. My own solution: ban RVs from travelling on the roads before 10am or after 5pm. That way the cyclists and the wildlife watchers can get out and about without fearing for their lives….
I climb and descend, more climbing than descending, as the road follows flows of rhyolite, welded ash and basalt. The road passes lakes, climbs along cliffs and travels through high, broad valleys. I enjoy this scenery, but I have to be on guard all the time for RVs, and car drivers not used to mountain driving conditions, whom have no idea how to overtake a cyclist. I ‘voluntarily’ vacate the road twice for my own safety. It is certainly not the stress-free riding I’ve had the past few days. About 11 miles from Mammoth, I stop at a nature trail parking lot and consume part of my sticky bun. It’s easily the best I’ve ever had, I think. Happy 2000 miles! Verne and Kermit join in. Then, it’s all downhill to the very deep gorge of the Gardner River. Yippee!
I crawl up the hill to Mammoth Hot Springs, then zoom back down the hill to the campground. The woman at the campground office is very friendly. She says, “oh, a touring cyclist. Thank goodness. Someone normal. We’ve had some real doozies already today.”
I laugh and say, “Really. You just called us cycle tourists normal. I usually get people saying I’m crazy.”
She replies, “Oh no, you guys are just normal people doing extraordinary things. You have great stories. You are out there really living life – it’s to be commended. Some of the general public are, um, a bit odd… to say the least.”
She fixes me up with a hiker biker site, says she hasn’t had anyone down there in a couple days, but be careful because the mama elk likes that area and she is quite overprotective of her new calf.
No worries. I set up the tent, then wander up the trail to the old fort buildings. I do the historic tour, trying to imagine how strange such an outpost would seem back in the day with its sturdy, two-story buildings and sense of order, in what would have been an incredibly isolated location. I also thoroughly enjoy the paintings in the visitor centre. I do a quick wander up to the hot springs but will save most of it for a more complete investigation tomorrow.
I eat at the fast-food place – the food is expensive and absolutely horrible. Forget that! So I go to the general store and buy a jar of overpriced peanut butter and a bag of bagels. That’s just going to have to do for the next few days.