Visiting Friends Near Big Timber, MT

Big Timber, MT

We left Red Lodge on a sunny Thursday and headed to the northwest for a visit with friends Janna and Michael near Big Timber, MT.  The short (80 mile) trip is filled with great views of snow capped mountains and swiftly flowing rivers and creeks.

Mountains and meadows along MT 421

Crossing the Yellowstone River near Columbus, MT

The Crazy Mountains come into view along I-90

We exited the interstate just east of Big Timber (pop. 1,641) and drove through the town to the Spring Creek Campground and Trout Ranch, located just a couple of miles south of town.  The campground is right along the Boulder River and has two ponds stocked with fish.  We don’t fish but the ponds did provide a nice view from our site.

Swift current in the Boulder River along the campground

Once set up we contacted Janna to let her know that we were on our way to their house.  As we headed south we had a great view of more snowy mountains.

Janna provided us with clear, detailed directions to their house, as it is very isolated and not easily found using GPS.  In her directions she said, “You will think no one can possibly live up here, but we do!”  As we proceeded up the drive we  kept repeating that statement.

Just as she said, at the end of that drive we came to their beautiful home.

Our hosts – Janna, Michael, and Emmi

After a tour of the house we hopped in Janna’s car and headed back out to the main road for a visit to nearby Natural Bridge Falls.   This is a spot along Boulder River where the water has eroded a large hole in the limestone and the water disappears down into it.

The water disappears . . .

After a short distance the water re-emerges, shooting out a large hole before continuing a ways to only disappear again.  In times of heavy flow from snow melt, the amount of water in the river exceeds the capacity of the hole.  The water then flows over the rocks, creating an eighty foot water fall.

. . . then re-appears below the now dry falls . . .

. . . and continues down the canyon which is generally dry

Returning to their home, Janna treated us to a delicious meal.  This is the second time we have tasted her cooking and both meals were excellent!

It rained all the next day so we spent some time exploring the little town of Big Timber.  We especially enjoyed the Crazy Mountain Museum, located at the west end of town.  It contains numerous displays and artifacts depicting the history of the area.

The Crazy Mountain Museum

Cowboy gear display – a must for any decent Montana museum!

Local History

A sheep herder’s summer home

Next up is a visit to Helena, the capitol city of Montana.  More on that later . . .

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Three Short Hikes Complete our Red Lodge Visit

Red Lodge, MT

Afternoon thunderstorms were in the forecast for each of our last three days in Red Lodge so we limited our hiking to shorter trails south of town at the base of the mountains.   The first was a hike up a portion of the West Fork Rock Creek Trail.  To get to the trailhead we drove south of town on US 212 just a couple of miles and turned right (west) on to West Fork Road.  After 2.8 miles the road makes a switchback to the right and leads up to a ski facility.  At the switchback we turned to the left and continued west (still on West Fork Road) for 10 miles to where the road ends at the trailhead.  The road is paved for half of that 10 miles before turning to a well maintained dirt track.

End of the road

The trail heads up along the creek through forest destroyed in the Cascade Fire of 2008.

While the remains of burned trees gives the trail an eerie feeling, a large number of young ones are beginning to gain some height.  The lack of trees does allow for great vistas of the mountains around you.

Can you spot the young hiker standing next to the boulder?

The trail goes through a large boulder field

A calm spot between two areas of strong rapids

Evidence of extreme heat in one of the large boulders

As we gained elevation we began to encounter snow blocking the trail.

Beautiful waterfalls dotted the canyon walls to the north.

After two and a half miles the snow began to increase.  It was beginning to soften so we couldn’t walk on top, causing us to sink in over our knees.  It was time to turn around and head back down the trail.

On the return hike we stopped to enjoy lunch along a stretch of loud, violent rapids.

Lunch with a view

 

On the drive back to Red Lodge we stopped at an interesting little lake on the north side of West Fork Road.

Wild Bill Lake

The next day we drove about twelve miles south of Red Lodge on US 212 to a point just before the highway begins to climb up into the mountains.  We turned right (north) on to a road leading to the Parkside Campground.  The road leads up the valley past a number of camping areas, but we parked in the first lot for the Parkside Picnic Area.

The picnic area is the beginning of a short hike up to Greenough Lake.

Roaring stream going through the area

Colorful flowers brightened the trail

Open meadow along the trail

Greenough Lake is small but picturesque.  It is a very popular fishing spot for campers.

Our final hike in this area was on the Lake Fork Trail.  To get there we again drove south on US 212, this time for just under ten miles.  We turned right (north) on to Lake Fork Road and drove 1.8 miles to where the road ends at the trailhead.

Like all the streams right now, the Lake Fork Creek is rushing with snow melt.

About a mile and a half up the trail we had to cross a small stream just before it emptied into the Lake Fork Creek.

We crossed that with not much problem, but encountered a much stronger and wider stream a bit further up the trail.  Not feeling comfortable about that crossing, we turned around and headed back.  On the return hike we spotted a large waterfall above us.

Since we cut our hike short we decided to drive back up the Beartooth Highway to see what a couple days of warm weather did to the snow pack.  We were surprised how much had melted in the 72 hours since our first visit.

Snow on Sunday . . .

. . . versus snow on Wednesday

The views are still fantastic

As we drove along we noticed a sign that had been covered by snow during our first visit.  The sign identifies the feature that gives the mountain range its name: The Bear’s Tooth.

The small point designated by the arrow is the Bear’s Tooth

As we drove back north we came across a skier taking advantage of the snow and the wind at 10,000 feet.

That wraps up our visit to Red Lodge.  It is a neat little town surrounded by natural beauty.  Next up is a short stop to visit friends.

More on that later . . .

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Top of the World – The Beartooth Highway

Red Lodge, MT

The number one reason we wanted to do a return visit to Red Lodge was the opportunity to drive the Beartooth Highway, one of the most beautiful roads in the country.  We have driven the road twice before on motorcycles around the same time of year, but we wanted to see what this heavy snowfall this past winter looked like.

The Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Wyoming just north of the town of Cody.  It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana-Wyoming border to the 10,947  foot high Beartooth Pass. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 to 8,000 feet in 12 miles in the most stunning of landscapes.  The late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt called the road “the most beautiful drive in America.”  Most of this blog is made up of pictures, as words cannot describe the beauty of the Beartooth Mountains.

Heading south out of Red Lodge

Snow cover increasing with elevation gain

Looking down at the highway below

About half way across the 30 mile drive is the state line.  Crews on the Wyoming side just finished clearing the snow off the highway two days earlier.

The highest point on the road is in Wyoming, so the snow is deeper there.  We saw many spots where skiers were hiking up hillsides to enjoy a ride back down.

The dot on the left is a snow boarder heading up the hill

A zoom of the snowboarder

Cross country skiing across the meadow

Drifts are a bit high on the Wyoming side

A local poet in contemplation

There is a single tow line for skiers on the Wyoming side.  Since the road just opened, allowing travel to the tow line, it wasn’t operational yet but they were working on it.

Heading down the south side of the drive the snow decreased, but the scenery maintained its beauty.

We turned around and headed back north to re-cross the pass.  At one point we could see the road ahead zig-zagging in front of us in a series of switchbacks.

Friends Steve and MonaLiza (Lowes Travels) visited the pass a few years ago during  July.  We looked at their blog from that visit and found a very cool photo of the elevation sign at the high point on the highway.  MonaLiza gave us permission to include the photo for comparison.

The scenery we observed driving over the Beartooth was stunning!  The trip will undoubtedly be the highlight of our visit to Wyoming and Montana.

We’ll be in Red Lodge for a few more days and have a couple of hikes planned during that time.  More on those later . . .

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Three Hikes Near Lander, WY

Lander, WY

Between the frequent rain drops, we did manage three nice hikes during our week long stay in Lander.  Our first outing was a short but steep hike called the Lower Climbing Buttress  just inside Sinks Canyon State Park.  This trail starts across from Sawmill Campground and climbs to the top of the Tensleep sandstone cliffs on the south facing slope.   It’s a short (a bit over a mile round trip) and steep hike up the side of the canyon and back.

Our target for lunch with a view

Told you it was steep!

Looking south up Sink Canyon

As we approached our lunch spot we could hear footsteps behind us (over the noise of our breathing).  A single runner came bounding up the trail, said hello, and continued up the steep slope.  Soon he appeared along the ridge far above us.  The little dot on the ridge line indicated by the arrow is him.

After enjoying our lunch we began heading carefully back down the trail.  As we descended we spotted that runner going down a nearby alternate path.  We could soon see him in the parking area below us as he entered a vehicle, took a drink from a container, ran across the road to the rest room, and took off running back up the trail again.  We had initially thought we were quite the strong hikers when we got up to our lunch spot (after catching our breath) but this mountain goat quickly dispelled that feeling!

Lunch with a view

The next day we drove through the state park to a trail leading up to the PoPo Agie Falls (locals say “PoPo A Gee”, park info says “PoPo Shia”).  This is a beautiful hike up to a series of scenic water falls.  The road up through Sinks Canyon State Park runs for about three miles before entering Shoshone National Forest.  At that point  it takes a sharp turn and heads steeply up into the mountains.  But during our visit the road was closed due to heavy snow at the higher elevations.  We drove right to the gate closing the road and parked in what’s called Bruce’s Parking Area. We walked across the road and took the footbridge across the river to the trailhead kiosk.

Footbridge over the PoPo Agie River

From there it is 1.8 miles up to the falls.  For the first half of the hike the trail runs right along the river.

In some spots it leaves the river and goes through a cool boulder field.

Returning to the river, the trail went by a series of small falls.

About the half way point the trail begins to go up a bit more steeply.

As it went up, the views of the river below became more interesting.

After a bit we came to a fork in the road (and we took it, Yogi!).  Go left and the falls are about a quarter mile away.  Go right and you can hike for many, many miles into the national forest.  We turned left.

Just after crossing the little bridge the trail rose up and over an area of slick rock.  As we looked back we had a nice view of the trail behind us.

Interesting!

As we crested the slick rock the series of water falls came into view.

We continued down the trail, crossing a fairly new wooden bridge over a wet area, and came to the end of the trail at a nice bench with a great view of the lower falls.

Lunch with a view

Many colorful flowers brightened the trail as we hiked.

Our final hike in Lander was on a trail called The Bus Loop.  To get to the trailhead you go north on Main Street.  Just past the Safeway turn west on to Baldwin Creek Road.  Drive 4.2 miles and park in a small pull-off on the right side of the road.  The trail begins across the road from there.

The bus loop is a series of hiking/biking/riding trails on BLM land.  The trails are unmarked so you need to check your route on a map before you head out.  The trail is named for the remains of a small bus lying in a wash along one of the trails.  Who knows how that thing got to were it is.

Just a few yards from the bus is the remains of an old Dodge that provided someone with a good shooting target.

We hiked past the “junk yard” to a fork in the trail.  One of the paths lead up into some rocks that looked interesting, so we went that way.  We found that it lead up into a large area of slick rock.

We climbed up to the top of the rocks in hopes of getting a nice view of the valley below.

Lunch with a view and blue sky

While we sat eating our lunch and looking at the blue sky, we heard a rumble of thunder.   We then turned around to see the dark clouds forming over the mountains to our south.  The thunder and storm clouds made us reconsider our hike.  We quickly made our way back down the rocks and headed for the Jeep.

Time to head for home

Shelter in sight

Of course, no rain ever fell.  But the slick rock was the highlight of the trails, so we don’t think we missed much by cutting the hike short.

That concludes our stay in Lander.  Although the rain curtailed our activities all too often, we did get to complete the hikes at the top of our list.  Deep snow up in the high country also prevented us from some adventures, so a return visit may be in our future.  Next up is a visit to Red Lodge, MT.

More on that later . . .

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Traveling to Lander, WY

Lander, WY

Saturday morning dawned with bright sunshine lighting up the snow on the mountains overlooking Provo, UT.  We pulled out of Utah Lake State Park a bit after 9:00 heading north on I-15.  After just a few miles we exited the highway on to UT-52 and drove east for about 3.5 miles.  At that point UT-52 ends at the intersection with US-189.  We then headed north through the beautiful Provo Canyon and continued for 21 mile to Heber City.

Provo Canyon

Mountains along US-189

In Heber City we turned north (left) on to US-40 and continued for 18 miles to where it intersects with I-80.  We then headed east on I-80 into Wyoming.  It was about 150 miles on the interstate to Rock Springs, where we exited the highway on to US-191 north.

I-80 near Green River, WY

There is certainly a sharp contrast between driving on I-80, filled with truck traffic, and US-191.  Apparently not too many people were headed into central Wyoming on that day, as we saw very little traffic (or any other sign of life, for that matter except for cattle and pronghorn).

Traffic along US-191

After 40 miles we came to the tiny crossroads community of Farson, where we turned right (east) on to WY-28.  It was a 75 mile drive across the high prairie and over a high pass before descending into Lander, where we had a reservation at Sleeping Bear RV Park.  The first half of the drive on WY-28 was straight across open prairie, not too exciting.  But for the second half of the drive the road goes over South Pass (over 8,500 feet), where it is still winter!

We arrived at the Sleeping Bear RV park after a drive of over 300 miles (more than we like to do in a day) and settled into our site.  The park sits on a hill overlooking the town of Lander.  We pulled into our site nose first to give us a great view of the town and distant mountains.  The only down side is that the little dog area is right in front of us, allowing for a bit of foot travel around our site.  But the park isn’t that big so we think use of the area will be minimal.

View from the front seat of the motorhome

On our first day in Lander the weather report had the possibility of thunderstorms, so we didn’t want to stray too far from cover.  So we drove a few miles south of town for a visit to Sink Canyon State Park, one of the “must see” spots in the area.

The state park is named for a portion of the Popo Agie River where it flows into an underground limestone cavern, named the Sinks, and emerges a quarter-mile down the canyon in a pool named the Rise.   We began our tour at the small visitor center next to the Sinks.  From there you can walk a short distance to a point where you can see the water disappear, then take a short path down to the water.

The Popo Agie River just before the Sinks

The river heads into the Sinks

Just inside the alcove the water flows into a little pond and disappears.

During periods of heavy snow melt the volume of water in the river exceeds the capacity of the Sinks.  Water then overflows that spot and the excess spills over into a seasonal stream bed called the overflow channel.  The snow melt hasn’t begun in this area yet since it continues to snow even though it is the end of May.

The overflow channel

About a quarter mile down the canyon the river reappears in a large pool called the Rise.

The Rise

Note the water flowing out of the rocks

At one time no one was certain that the water emerging at the Rise was the same water disappearing at the Sinks.  But dye tests have shown that the water is the same and takes over two hours to make the 1/4 mile journey.  Geologists think that there are many winding underground passages the water has to work its way through before it bubbles back up at the Rise.  It is also likely the water underground mixes with water from other smaller sinks in the area, as the volume of water entering the Rise is greater than the volume entering the Sinks.

We then drove further up the canyon and came upon a series of rock walls high above us.

We were surprised at the number of vehicles parked along the road.  Where were all the people?  A closer look at the rock walls above us revealed a number of climbers hanging on ropes as they climbed the steep face of the walls.

The next two days have rain in the forecast so our outdoor adventures may be limited until later in the week.  But we always find something interesting to do to keep us busy.

More on that later . . .

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Cottonwood Trail Hike – Then On the Road North

Kanab, UT

For what turned out to be our last hike in Kanab we  headed just south of town to the Cottonwood  Trailhead.  To get there we drove south on US-89A less than a mile from the traffic light and turned right (west) on Kanab Creek Drive.  After two miles we turned right on to Stanfield Drive, which terminates at the trailhead just below a water tower.

The trail begins by going up the road towards the water tower.  Just a short distance before the tower follow the trail sign to the left.

The trail is easy to follow with some steep spots and a lot of ups and downs as it crosses several ravines and washes.

The Cottonwood Trail goes west for about four miles before ending.  We went two and half miles out before turning around and returning as the wind picked up and the clouds darkened.

We had one more hike planned but two days of rain put an end to that.  We had intended to stay in Kanab for a week before continuing north to Bryce Canyon.  But heavy snow in Bryce and rain all over southeast Utah forced us to stay put a bit longer than planned.  But we did enjoy ourselves the entire time, despite the spells of poor weather.

While in Kanab we stayed at J & J RV Park, a half mile east of the junction of US-89 and US-89A.  It is a basic commercial park with a wide paved road and gravel sites.  The park is fairly new so all the utilities are excellent.  We enjoyed the park and will stay there again if we visit Kanab in the future (a good possibility).

Finally, on Friday the weather cleared sufficiently for us to continue our journey.  We were up early and on the road headed north on US-89.

Good-bye Kanab Creek Bakery

As we said, we had planned a four day stay at Bryce Canyon, but snow and cold caused us to cancel that.  We also had an overnight planned at Jordanelle Lake State Park outside Park City, UT.  But the weather there had snow in the forecast so we booked a site for one night at Utah Lake State Park in Provo, located at a lower elevation.

Heading north on I-15

We have stayed in this park twice in past travels through the area so we knew they had nice pull over sites that would accommodate us, with great views of the mountains to the east.

The view from our window

Deep snow covers the peaks east of Provo

In the morning (Saturday) we will head northeast into Wyoming for a week-long visit in Lander, located in the Wind River Mountains.  The nimble hiker has been busy researching hikes in the area so we will certainly keep busy.

More on that later . . .

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North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Kanab, UT

With a cool, wet, windy day predicted for Kanab we decided to take a drive south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, a drive of about 80 miles one way.  We left Kanab and headed south on US-89A.  The North Rim is over 8,000 feet of elevation (Kanab is about 5,000) so we anticipated seeing some fresh snow on the ground.  After only about 20 miles we began to climb up and came upon some fresh white stuff.

At Jacob’s Lake we turned right on US-89A and headed south on AZ-67.  As we drove along we passed through a section of the pine forest that had burned in a fire about 15 years ago.  We recall seeing the destruction  here when we rode through it on a motorcycle trip in 2006.  Recovery is a slow process, as the area looks pretty similar to what we saw back then.

As we continued south the temperature dropped.  We drove through a series of snow squalls that made us feel like we were back in Pennsylvania in January.

Once through a squall the sun would peak out and create a beautiful scene with the fresh covering of white.

Not something we anticipated seeing the third week of May! (at least the plow was up)

Arriving at the North Rim Visitor Center we were surprised to find the parking area very crowded, even though they had just opened the previous week and the cabins were still closed.

A young college student worked to keep the streets clear!

After enjoying the views of the canyon (photos to follow) we headed back north toward Kanab.  At times the wind blew hard, creating blizzard like conditions.

But the drive through the snow was definitely worth it.  The views of the canyon were impressive as the sun peaked through the clouds.  We’ll finish this post with a few pictures of the view from the lodge located on the edge of the canyon.

 

The weather for this week still has quite a bit of rain and wind in it, so we’ll delay our trek north (we’re headed for central Wyoming) for a few more days.  There are a couple more hikes on our to-do list we hope to complete during breaks in the rain.

More on those later . . .

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