Saturday, July 21, 2007

Big Springs, Idaho - the begining of the Henry's Fork

About five miles from Henry's Lake is Big Springs. Here, waters from the Yellowstone Plateau have percolated down through the basalt and come out, thousands of gallons a minute, forming the headwaters of the Henry's Fork of the Snake River. From 1929 until 1953, a German immigrant named Johnny Sack lived in this little cabin he built himself, which is now open for visitors and run by the Forest Service. See the moose?

This is just one small "corner" of the springs, where the water flows out of the ground.

Trout and whitefish gather at the springs to feed and spawn, depending on the time of the year, and these huge trout were just hanging in the water below the bridge.

This young moose was enjoying his lunch of rich vegetation from the springs.

Upper Mesa Falls, Idaho

As I type this, we're camped at Henry's Lake State Park in northeastern Idaho - about 15 miles west of Yellowstone. A couple of days ago we took the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, and came to Upper Mesa Falls. Henry's Lake and the Island Park area are in a giant caldera, similar to the one at Yellowstone. The Henry's Fork (of the Snake) originates here, and flows south and "off" the edge of the caldera at Mesa Falls. We visited the upper falls, which has an old inn/lodge and pathways with viewpoints. Since we visited in the morning, we caught the sun in the right place to see the rainbow!

How I Spent My Birthday, Part 3: Red Lodge to Cody

The next morning, we partook of the free breakfast at the hotel (carbs, carbs, carbs - the only protein was a hard-boiled egg), and headed back to Cody. Back up we went, this time stopping at the West Summit for a while for some picture-taking. To the left, in the center of the photo, is the Bear Tooth, for which the mountains and the highway are named.

If you look closely, you can see a lone mountain goat grazing in the lower center.

I really don't like having my picture taken, but I've been told that it's necessary for "posterity."

This picture, to the right, is now in at least five other vacationers' photo albums. We stopped at Little Bear Lake for a while, so Don could try fishing that one. So many people stopped, got out, and exclaimed, "Look, a fisherman. What a great picture!" or something along that line. Indeed, it was a beautiful shot.

Here he is, letting go of a small brook trout from Little Bear Lake.

How I Spent My Birthday, Part 2: Cooke City to Red Lodge

The Beartooth Highway leaves the valley of the Clark's Fork and goes up, up, up, to the "Top of the World," where Beartooth Creek flows along the road for about two miles. Of course, Don could't resist getting out his rod and giving it a try.

About the third cast, he got a strike, and caught (and released - he always releases) several small brookies.

From the "Top of the World," which we learned really isn't the top, the road begins to wind its way upwards, past dozens of lovely alpine lakes, including this one. I made Don slam on the brakes so I could get a picture of these two, just because I thought they were so beautiful.

After you reach the summit, there's a lookout to the west at the top of Rock Creek Canyon. See the U-shape? That's a classic example of a (formerly) glaciated valley.

My camera doesn't show the depth here - it's really much steeper down to Gardner Lake than it looks.

Here's another view of Rock Creek Canyon, from the place where you start heading down.

Back to the geology lesson - doesn't that rock look like Yosemite's Half Dome? That's because it was formed exactly the same way. Once upon a time, it was a rounded huge granite knob, and then the glacier, through centuries of grinding, cut it right in half as it passed.

I just love taking pictures of alpine lakes.

From here, the road drops down into Rock Creek Canyon, and goes north into Red Lodge, Montana. We had a reservation at Rocky Fork Inn, a nice-looking bed and breakfast. We pulled into an empty parking lot, confused by the signs in the window that said "No Room at the Inn." We assumed that all the rooms were taken, so we proceeded to take our bags out of the truck. As we headed for the front door, the owner came out to inform us that her sewer line had broken, so she couldn't give us a room. Ack. What to do? She said that all the other B&B's in town were full, and it was a loooonnngg ride back to Cody. So, we took a room at the Comfort Inn. Not exactly plush, nor was it the "Romance Room" I'd booked at the B&B. But we made the best of it, and enjoyed a great dinner at a local restaurant- probably the best filet mignon I've ever eaten. Don had a buffalo ribeye and proclaimed it excellent as well.

How I Spent My Birthday, Part 1: Cody to Cooke City

July 10 was my 51st birthday, and we decided to really have some fun. I'd made reservations at a bed and breakfast in Red Lodge, Montana, and we drove the famously beautiful Beartooth Highway to get there and back from our campground west of Cody.

After an early breakfast, we drove north out of Cody through some beautiful country, and went up to the top of Dead Indian Summit. Way back in the late 1800s the Nez Perce made their infamous run through the northwestern U.S. in an attempt to escape the cavalry and get into Canada. Chief Joseph led them down the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone and up over this pass, which back then must have been horrendous. One of their party fell ill and was left to die at the summit, hence the name. From the top you can look west into Yellowstone country, with views of the Absaroka Range and the canyon of the Clark's Fork.

The rest stop/viewpoint is populated by dozens of little chipmunks, who apparently have been fed by humans and expect handouts from everyone. This little one was hoping I had some treats on my toes!

It was windy and cold up there, so we were glad we'd brought jackets.

Along the road into Cooke City we stopped to fish Fox Creek and the Clark's Fork. Don hooked some nice cutthroats and brook trout.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

It's All About the Buffalo

On Friday, we left Red Cliff Campground to go to our next destination near Cody, Wyoming. On the way we had to drive through Yellowstone National Park, where the only traffic jams were those caused by buffalo. This one held up traffic for only 5 minutes or so on the road between Norris Junction and Canyon.

This is part of the enormous herd that was sprawled all over the Hayden Valley. Near the Mud Volcano, we were stopped again by one stubborn buffalo who stood in the middle of the road blocking traffic for 20 minutes!!!!!! It was almost comical, but I'm sure that folks were getting a bit aggravated about the backup of hundreds of vehicles. We were about fifth in line, and could see him just standing there, chewing his cud, and refusing to budge. When he finally began moving, everyone who had been standing around gave sighs of relief and got back in their cars to move on.

After the drive through Yellowstone, we came out the East Entrance, picked up the road along the North Fork of the Shoshone, and stopped at our "home" for the next 8 days, Yellowstone Valley Inn and RV Resort about 15 miles west of Cody, Wyoming. Yesterday we did what we've been looking forward to for this stop, which was spend the whole day at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. It's 5 museums in one complex - one dedicated to the life and times of Buffalo Bill (William Cody), another to the Plains Indians (that was my favorite), another to the natural history of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, another to western art, and one to firearms. We spent 6 1/2 hours there - and probably could have stayed longer if our knees and backs hadn't started hurting from all the walking and standing. What a great place to go!!!!

I also located the local needlework store - Iron Kettle Needlework, and picked up some patterns and supplies. I want to go back when I have more time!

Don's already been fishing a great deal on the North Fork of the Shoshone - it runs right next to the campground. Right now he's upstream a few miles - trying out some spots recommended to him by the owner.

Red Cliff Campground, along the Gallatin River

We spent four nights on the Gallatin River, about halfway between West Yellowstone and Bozeman. There were two things I really liked about this campground: 1 - it had electricity, and everyone knows about the heat wave we've been having. We were able to use the air conditioner when it got hot! 2 - we had the site at the end, where no one was next to us, and it was about a 20-yard walk to the river. The only down side was that we didn't have water or sewere hookups - meaning no shower for 4 days!

This was our "front yard" - trees and the river.

Our second night there, we were joined by some friends of ours who used to live in Yucaipa but now live in Bozeman. Doug and Margo are such wonderful people with huge hearts, and they've raised four fabulous kids. That's Daniel, their second-oldest, who was a student of mine in 9th grade English. He played on two soccer teams with our son Kenny. Taylor, their oldest, isn't in the picture because he went fishing before dinner. They have two daughters, Maggie and Hayley, who were also students of mine when they were freshmen.

Margo took this shot of Don and me so you can see what we look like these days!

Doug and Margo had just finished taking a course on using dutch ovens, and they brought theirs along to use for special dish. All I can remember is that it had red rice, diced squash, tomatoes, fish sauce, and Chinese 5-spice powder. While Don, Doug, and Margo liked it, Daniel, Taylor, and I didn't. Oh well. Maybe too much of the 5-spice powder.

It was such a fun time catching up with them on everything, and finding out what their lives are like in Montana. I didn't know that they lived there before they came to California. Doug recommended a fishing spot on the Madison River between Hebgen and Earthquake Lakes, so we went there the next day. Talk about beautiful! And since it was the fourth of July, it was pretty busy --must have been 50 people on the 3-mile stretch between the two lakes. But he had a nice time, and I spent it cross stitching. That will be the subject of other posts.

Sula, Montana

Our first extended stop was at the campground at the Sula Country Store in southwest Montana. This used to be a small KOA - and it's got to be one of our most favorite campgrounds. It's right on the East Fork of the Bitterroot River, where Don can step out back and fish for browns, cutthroats, and rainbows. He spent lots of time out on this river, but we also went to several other great fishing spots. One day we drove up Skalkaho Creek to Skalkaho Falls - and the photo at right doesn't really show how high they are.

Lots of Bighorn Sheep live in the area around Sula, and we were pleased to spot a small herd (about 12) grazing on the hill right above the campground.

Another day trip took us to Lake Como, which is about the size of Big Bear, but had a fraction of the people and none of the development. The road doesn't even go around the lake, as it ends right at the campground and picnic area.