Remember what it was like? To work really hard all week and then pile the wife and kids into the truck and hook up the camping trailer and go to the lake for the weekend? To get away from it all, the phone, the computers, the demands of your day to day life. You could go 35 or 40 mph down the washboard gravel road because whatever was in the trailer was just the old camping stuff, none of it breakable or irreplaceable. You’ve been looking forward to this weekend for months, maybe all winter. Your buddy is coming with his family and his boat and all of you are going to spend three glorious days in the sun and water.
Then the guy pulls into the space next to you in a class A RV. They get out, set up, take the dog for a walk, get in their car, and leave. They don’t get back till after dark, and the next morning they are gone by six and they don’t get home till after dark again. On Sunday they sleep in till 8, get in the car and go, and are still not back when you leave. Except for the pass with the dog on the first day, you haven’t seen them. Not a bad sort to have for neighbors, but why would they come all the way out here to not be here?
Well, we’ve been asking ourselves the same question.
When we picked this campground at Cooney Reservoir State Park it had several things going for it, primarily that there was a site open with electric for the weekend and that it was a good day’s journey in the right direction, from Ten Sleep to Missoula. We did not know about the 5 miles of washboard gravel road to get in here, or the absence of cell phone reception or internet access. We figured we would take a day trip to Red Lodge because a friend had recommended it, but mostly we were just going to hang out at home, Shannon was going to finish his semester classes, and we were going to decompress after working so hard for the last three weeks.
Can you hear God laughing at our plans?
The first problem was our lack of connectivity. We have been exceedingly fortunate in that even though we were not supposed to have internet at Ten Sleep, our little wi-fi booster kept us alive so that Shannon was able to do all of his grading from our home. As long as we are camped at Cooney, we will have to go set up remote offices twice a day for Shannon to keep up with his work. We had been debating the necessity of purchasing a $500 cell booster, which would fix this problem, and I think as long as Shannon is still willing to teach, this experience has tipped us into the “yes” column.
The second problem, and the inspiration for this blog, is our proximity to Yellowstone National Park. Our usual limit for day trips is 100 miles. Our campsite is over 100 miles just to the Northeast entrance of the park. But this is Yellowstone, and we won’t be back in the area for several years at best. So, we examined our flat paper maps and decided what while we are this close, we should go for it. We would stop in Red Lodge for coffee and breakfast and for Shannon to work, follow highway 212 to the Northeast Entrance of the park, and go at least as far as Mammoth Hot Springs before deciding which route to follow home. By exploring the northern part of the park, we would have a more unique experience of it than either of us have had here before, and we would be more likely to avoid the hordes of tourists that plague Yellowstone this time of year. (I realize I’m part of the problem.)
We were on the road at 6:30, first stop Red Lodge. What a great small town! After a gourmet coffee/wi-fi stop we were on to Beartooth Pass, US Highway 212. In spite of its flat appearance on our paper maps, Beartooth makes Colorado’s Wolf Creek Pass look like a walk in the park. The signs prohibit any vehicles with a combined length of 40’ or more, but I can’t imagine taking anything more than a small class C, and certainly not with anything in tow. The road is two lane all the way, sometimes very narrow and sometimes without guardrails, and with only occasional pullouts. The east side is a series of long steep switchbacks, making the ascent quite a white-knuckle ride.
But the scenery is stunning, inarguably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
And we weren’t even in Yellowstone yet!
At the Northeast Entrance to the park, the ranger reaffirmed our suspicion that the road we were on was Yellowstone’s best kept secret. We entered the beautiful Lamar Valley, where hundreds of buffalo roam, and we saw many of them. After the valley, we came to a crossroads and the first sign of large crowds. But, we had made it this far, so after a light lunch at Roosevelt Lodge (named in honor of a Teddy visit although he never stayed here) we entered the Grand Loop Road and proceeded toward Mammoth Hot Springs and some of the features Yellowstone is known for.
At Mammoth Hot Springs we had the option to turn north, leave the park through Gardiner and travel home via the Interstate. We opted instead to travel the whole Grand Loop and go back the way we came. We knew that this would get us back to home base around nine o’clock, but wanted to stay in the park awhile longer and also avoid the Interstate. This still kept us in the northern half of the park and away from the most popular attractions. This route would take us to Norris Geyser Basis and Canyon Village where they have a Super Volcano Museum.
The long way ‘round also gave us some more wildlife sightings. We added a young grizzly bear and a black bear to our already formidable list for the day, and the mountain goat herd we saw in the distance while going over Beartooth was grazing right next to the road on our return trip.
In addition, we also had two wolf sightings but were unable to get any kind of pictures.
All in all, a wonderful day. Lots of driving, and we were both tired at the end of it. But I am convinced, you can’t overdose on beautiful scenery.
In spite of the over 20 mile drive from our campsite, Red Lodge became our hub for this four day stop . . .dining, shopping, internet access, church. Red Lodge is also the home of our second Peter Toth statue, this one carved out of Ponderosa pine, number 32 in the Trail of Whispering Giants series.
And in answer to my earlier question: Why are we all the way out here at Cooney Reservoir State Park? Because on Mondays it looks like this.