Scattered toward every wind …


Day 4: Cowley, WY to Rosalyn, WA

sleeping under the milky way was nice … beautiful, for sure … but sleeping in a real bed was brilliant. being able to stretch out … being able to adjust the layers of blanket coverage. it was brilliant. after a good night’s sleep, Jeff and I were up and gathering everything in order to head out on our last long day on the road. there began growing in me at this point, a twinge of sadness, knowing the trip that had taken so much planning and so much effort to get going was coming to an end. these feelings were enough, at this time, to overpower my desire to be back in Seattle, something i wasn’t sure what to do with at the time … but, there were still many miles between us and our final destination.

while i’d rather not include this next part because it would spare me the embarrassment, Jeff would be upset if i didn’t include it … Jeff was up and showered first and had gone upstairs to gather some things and to hang with Mike and Carol for a bit … i got up and headed to the bathroom to shower, having not had a real shower in a couple of days. i turned the water on and waited for an appropriate temperature, so as not to scald myself upon entering … the water, at this point, was still coming from the main spigot. once the temperature was satisfactory, i was ready to hop in … only, i couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how to turn the shower head on. i scoured the tub/shower looking for the mechanism that would switch the water from the spigot to the shower head and … never found it/never figured it out, much to my chagrin/future embarrassment … i had to then, give myself a sponge bath of sorts trying my best to clean my road worn body. once i felt somewhat clean (or as clean as one could have gotten), i got dressed and headed upstairs with my things, making no mention to anyone what had just happened … only mentioning my ordeal to Jeff hours later while on the road. i am quite silly, i know.

Mike and Carol were already hard at work preparing a huge breakfast for Jeff and I. the grill was fired up, and bacon was being thrown on … each piece met the grill with a loud sizzle, reminiscent of applause, as Jim Gaffigan would remind us. Carol cut up some melon and beat some eggs to then give to Mike to prepare over the side burner of the grill, where the bacon was being cooked. once everything was complete and laid out before us, we, again, like the night before, felt incredibly indebted to our hosts and amazed by their generosity to relative strangers. over breakfast we discussed our route out of Cowley and into Yellowstone … Mike and Carol suggested a very specfic route that would take over a mountain pass by the name of Beartooth. the route would have us weave along the Wyoming/Montana border, entering and leaving each state several times before arriving at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Mike and Carol mentioned the towns we would be passing through and if there was anything worth stopping for in each town. As we finished breakfast, we helped clean up, and began saying our thanks. we couldn’t have thanked our hosts enough. Mike and  Carol were amazing. they treated us like old friends. they said that if i ever come back across the country, to stop in again … we had made new friends in Wyoming.

Jeff and I had the car loaded and pulled out of Cowley, heading west on 789. from 789, we turned north on 310 and entered Montana …

Montana ... we've got ... mountains!

Montana ... we've got ... mountains!

310 took us through various random small towns … i hate to say not worth mentioning, but compared to everything else … they aren’t worth mentioning. From 310, heading north and west, we turned on to Rt. 72 and headed south and west.

some scenery ...

some scenery ...

once on 72, we passed through a town called Belfry and turned due west onto Rt. 308, which would take us through the town of Bearcreek. Bearcreek is significant because the “worst coal mining accident in the history of Montana (occurred here) killing 74 men and sealing the fate of the coal mining industry around Bear Creek. Today, the rail spur has been removed, and no active mining is done in the area” [ Wikipedia ].

Bearcreek mine remnants ...

Bearcreek mine remnants ...

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the pictures above show a lot of mining buildings still standing, seemingly abandoned. it was all pretty eerie …

From Bearcreek, we continued on toward the town of Red Lodge, where Mike and Carol suggested we get gas because it would be the cheapest gas we could get for a while. they also mentioned Red Lodge being a quirky little mountain town. Jeff and i drove through and snapped a couple pictures of random things …

Red Lodge

Red Lodge

a river runs through it ...

a river runs through it ...

leaving red lodge, we drove into the mountains …

into the mountains ...

into the mountains ...

i would be lying if i said i wasn’t at all nervous about driving in the mountains after our experience the day before. headed south and west on 212 back towards Wyoming. between us and Wyoming was Beartooth Pass, with an altitude of over 10,000ft. Mike and Carol spoke of the drive up the mountain being really fun … steep grades and switchback turns. this excited me. the drive back down from 10,000ft. did not. nevertheless, we pressed on into the mountains. each mile traveled brought views more scenic than the previous mile. the scenery we began to encounter reminded me of when i had been in Rocky Mountain National Park two years earlier.

Beartooth Scenic Byway

Beartooth Scenic Byway

Huge tracts of land ...

Huge tracts of land ...

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hazards of the road …

hold on ...

hold on ...

tighter ...

tighter ...

if not for the sign, i'dve driven off the mountain ...

if not for the sign, i'dve driven off the mountain ...

after a series of switchbacks and steep grades, we arrived at …

The Rock Creek Vista Point

The Rock Creek Vista Point

breathtaking, no?

breathtaking, no?

Me

Me

the view ...

the view ...

Jeff

Jeff

after many pictures and exchanging of amazed utterances … we pulled out of the vista point and to our amazement, continued to climb …

our pace was slowed not only by our ogling of the beauty all around us, but by the loose gravel of the roads, and the steep grade of the climb up to the pass. i cannot imagine that the road up here stays open very late into the fall … 10,000ft. is high for a pass. we continued climbing, encountered a bit of roadwork (surprise), and took a lot more pictures …

Beartooth

Beartooth

Glaciers

Glaciers

Ski lift?

Ski lift?

jagged

jagged

more ...

more ...

Bear's Toof

Bear's Toof

10,947 ft.

10,947 ft.

having passed over the west summit of the peak, the dreaded descent was upon us … though it wasn’t as fierce a descent as the one conquered a day before, there was more traffic to potentially complicate our drive … motorcycles and minivans and trailers and RVs to be exact … the pace down the mountain was acceptably cautious. we crossed back into WY on the way back down, only to cross back into MT not more than 30 miles later. the winding roads of highway 212 provided driving excitment and the views out the window remained breathtaking … plus there was the possibility of wildlife around every corner …

This is Grizzly Bear Country

This is Grizzly Bear Country

Down ...

Down ...

Down ...

Down ...

once we were back in MT, we drove through the small, touristy town of Cooke City, just outside of Yellowstone National Park’s northeast entrance.

Driving into Cooke City ...

Driving into Cooke City ...

we got to the entrance for Yellowstone. the fee was $25 for up to a week’s stay … we were just driving through, so it seemed a bit steep. the ranger at the pay station was nice enough … from MD … Havre de Grace, he said. we paid the $25, and entered the park with expectations of grizzly, wolf, elk, and moose sightings dancing in our heads, much like sugar plums dance in the heads of children at Christmastime (i think it’s time to update this saying.)

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

as we entered, stately evergreens stood tall looking over from both sides of the road … seemingly a perfect place to spot at least a deer … here is what we saw …

Bison hanging out in the woods by himself ... sad

Bison hanging out in the woods by himself ... sad

this is funny because once we drove out of the tree-lined entrance to the park and into the valley, there were hundreds of bison grazing … for whatever reason this one was in the woods … alone.

part of the herd

part of the herd

the view as we drove into the valley …

Waterfall

Waterfall

the bison and waterfall further raised our already too-high expectations for Yellowstone … especially for us driving through … as we drove along, we encountered a lot more bison on the side of the road … jeff spotted one on the right side of the road. i drew his attention to the left side, where i spotted this …

Pronghorn Antelope! again, all alone??

Pronghorn Antelope! again, all alone??

i pulled over and Jeff went in with his 80-300mm telephoto lens to capture the above photo … we piled back in the car after a few more photos and after pulling some eats out from the backseat. back on the road through Yellowstone …

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River

i’d like to skip over our next stop, but i suppose i can’t because it is something that we did … on our map of the park we saw a petrified tree monument or something to that effect. it sounded cool enough, so jeff and i decided it would be worth a stop. once we stopped and parked and walked up a paved walkway to the “tree”, we were amazed by it … not because it was so spectacular, but exactly the opposite. this is more of a product of our ridiculously high expectations. the actual tree, though not much to look at, was hundreds of years old and had survived the harsh climate and volcanic activity of those years. anyway, here it is …

Petrified Tree

Petrified Tree

after we felt we had wasted time at the Petrified Tree, he hauled ass, heading westward still in the park. Mountains, rolling hills, green meadows, waterfalls, etc. Yellowstone is a beautiful place.

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blurry, but beautiful ...

blurry, but beautiful ...

of course, the beauty of the park cannot be captured in a handful of images … even if i posted every last picture that Jeff and I took in the park as we drove through, the magnitude of the beauty wouldn’t come through. our time in the park was drawing to a close … saying our “time” was drawing to a close is a bit misleading. it was just that the road we were driving through on would soon exit the park and take us north toward I-90W. we climbed one last mountain in the park and once at the top, we were greeted with a pleasant surprise …

Badass Elk

Badass Elk

Elk!

Elk!

growing some antlers ...

growing some antlers ...

the space that was full of elk was a courtyard in a little town in the park. it reminded me so much of estes park, CO, which is the  town right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, where elk roam through the streets and gather in a park on main st. it was a good way to end our time in the park. the descent from the courtyard took us down into another valley where we exited the park, passed through the town of Gardiner, MT and headed north on Rt. 89. for some reason, we didn’t end up with many pictures from this part of the journey. this, however, is in no way an indication of lack of beauty. it was really no different than being in Yellowstone still, just higher speed limits. we encountered a touch of rain on the way up to I-90. upon further inspection, once we left the park, the next pictures are from when we filled up in Missoula, MT … weird. i guess every photographer needs a break … so Jeff took a break.

one thing i do remember from this leg of the trip is the delicious homemade conchord grape jelly (courtesy of jeff’s grandmother in law) that we had on PB&J sandwiches. so delicious. there is something about a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich …

this was our longest day in the car because of the time we took to drive through Yellowstone. we, as i said, stopped in Missoula, switched places, grabbed a little treat for ourselves, and headed out. the treat i refer to, and i am ashamed to say, was mcdonald’s. before you begin to pile on the criticism, all we got was one order of fries and two apple pies (one each). just a little treat to keep us going. jeff took the wheel, and we headed north and west on I-90 toward our destination.

The route through Montana ...

The route through Montana ...

i had my fun on the roads earlier when we conquered Bear’s Tooth, and at this point in the trip, Jeff got his fun. I-90 west of Missoula and into Idaho turns into a winding speedway. The car handled wonderfully. Jeff was loving every minute of the drive and the scenery was no slouch.

Montana

Montana

Idaho

Idaho

west with the sun in our faces ...

west with the sun in our faces ...

Idaho ... more than just potatoes

Idaho ... more than just potatoes

the bitterroot mountain range is stunning … not so craggy as the rockies, but covered almost exclusively in coniferous trees. the sun hits the trees and and creates intense patches of light and dark. it was just sad to see Idaho go some quickly … something like 63 miles … and then …

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Spokane River

Spokane River

Washington State

Washington State

we had finally reached washington, but it was later in the day than we expected. the sun was setting and we still had 2-3 hours left of driving before we got close to the campgrounds. once we entered washington, the earth flattened out. the mountains were behind us, for now … we pushed further into washington state as the sun began to set, not only on the day, but on the trip itself.

Setting ...

Setting ...

this was a difficult time on the road … washington state drivers seem to be unable to grasp the concept of the left lane being the fast lane … so we’d end up behind a minivan going 65mph in a 70mph area, and of course everyone around this minivan was going 65 as well, which made passing near impossible. it was just a very frustrating stretch. on top of this, with the sun setting and darkness coming, the campground we initially had pinpointed as our stop for the night was looking to be a little bit too far off of I-90 for us … so i had go into my phone and vigorously search my nav software and google maps in order to find a more convenient campground for us … after a little research, the R & D (that is, whoever was passenger with the phone) found a couple sites closer to I-90 … but the drive was still tedious. we had about 80 or so miles to the campground, traffic had cleared up enough to where the darkness and lack of traffic started to wear on us … 4 days on the road will eventually wear you down. we were tired. we wanted to be at the campground, out of the car, enjoying some hot tea and a clove, but we still had a ways to go.

i was sad that it was dark when we crossed the Columbia River Gorge. going over the bridge at night is an interesting experience, especially when your car is buffeted by crosswinds … i am curious to see how it is to cross in the light of day.

soon after crossing the gorge, we stopped for fuel and some candy, as a little pick-me-up … the home stretch was proving a bit tedious. a little while after our stop, we were jumping off I-90 again towards the campground. after passing through the small town of Cle Elum, we were ensconced in the tall pines of central WA. it got very dark, very quickly. we saw our first sign for the campground … the distance didn’t at all agree with what google maps was telling us … this is the part of the trip where it seemed like we were in every horror movie ever … lines like these started from our lips …

“it’s just up here a bit further …”

“maybe we should stop and ask for directions …”

“huh … my cell phone just died …”

ha, it was a little creepy, to be quite honest. each little town we passed through seemed more deserted than the last. it wasn’t all that late, and yet, we saw nary a light on. the part about the cell phone isn’t completely true … it didn’t die (even if it did, i had a car charger), but instead it lost reception completely. no gps, no incoming or outgoing calls. google maps still gave us a map, but the gps was no longer following our progress. after a while, we passed the point on google maps that was supposed to be destination. we were now relying on street signs and our own sense of direction. after a little while longer, and many more jokes about being in a bad horror flick, we pulled into the campground. we promptly parked at the first site we saw. upon turning the car and lights off, we were hemmed in by the black of night; swallowed up in its darkness. it was black. can’t-see-the-hand-in-front-of-your-face dark. we had a single flashlight by which we were meant to set up and get around by. we grabbed some things from the car, plugged in the water for hot tea, scoured the site for a suitable tent location, and began setting up for the night. it wasn’t too bad, actually, but mostly because jeff is a whiz with camping gear, having camped in many settings and circumstances. props to jeff …

got settled, layered up (it was cold and getting colder … into the 40s by morning), poured ourselves some tea, and lit a clove. the day was nearly over … it was a long one.

with the evergreens of washington state towering over us on all sides and the stars, with their ancient light, suspended overhead, we slept. comfortably nestled in the belly of blackest night, we slept.

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