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The Westward Ho Epilogue: Acknowledgements,Reflections and Fun Facts

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

Paco and the Badger Den  leave for home
Paco and the Badger Den leave for home

To “Paco”: Where to begin in thanking the Outlaw Badger, Frank “Paco” Bartlett, for making this trip possible? He spent months in preparation: planning our route west, buying and testing out the camper (AKA, “The Badger Den”), putting new tires on the trailer, and undertaking countless other tasks during the winter and early spring. Most importantly, it was his diligence in tracking me down several years ago that led to our reuniting after losing touch with one another sometime in the mid-80s. If he hadn’t worked so hard to find me, none of this would have been possible.

During the trip he was the ultimate road warrior clocking up to more than 600 miles some days, listening to my stories and dumb jokes with patience and humor as the hours and miles ticked by, making sure we had Coronas in the cooler for the evening arrival celebrations, and preparing really good coffee each morning. He endured my occasional snoring, which he described as “two hogs fighting over a bucket of slops.” As unfair as that might be, it’s a pretty funny image and I forgive him for his lack of respect for my snoring.

Paco’s self-deprecating, earthy stories touched off many eye-watering laughing fits on my part and lessened the monotony of the long stretches of highway we had to travel. He encouraged my blogging, sometimes with relentless persistence when I didn’t feel like writing, to ensure we had an up-to-date record of our trip. He did so even when my blogging prevented him from lying down for a rest.

He also convincingly praised my so-called cooking—an accomplished acting performance for the ages. He took countless and outstanding back-up pictures with his phone camera since mine was unreliable and researched facts and figures. The blog is better for his many contributions.

As Cicero said: “Friendship improves happiness and abates misery by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.” For all of this, thank you, Paco!

 

Rosa, ready for Sturgis?
Rosa, ready for Sturgis?

To Rosa: Rosa’s consistent and enthusiastic support of this three-week odyssey and her positive response to the blog were immeasurably important to me. In fact, the blog was possible only because Rosa sent me a link to a website that walked me through the blog creation process. Without her help, the blog would not exist. And because I knew she genuinely wanted me to go on this bucket list lark, I was able do so with a light heart. She was left with care of our geriatric cat while she had to work each day, and sometimes travel, which necessitated having a cat sitter to feed Simon while she was away. So, my little excursion was not especially convenient for her, but she was always happy for me and was clearly pleased I was finally making a trip of a lifetime.

Thank you, Rosa, for all the love!

The Members of the Honey Badger Motorcycle Club: John, Ray and Steve—thanks for following us on the blog and for your continued camaraderie.

A Few Stats
• Left Reston, VA: May 17, 2014 at 8:50 a.m.; returned: June 7, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.
• Miles traveled in truck, round trip from Reston: 5,714
• Motorcycle mileage: 1,073
• States covered on the bikes: 9
• Longest round trip ride: 247 miles (Four Corners)
• Shortest round trip ride: 19 miles (Little Big Horn)
• Days away: 21
• Nights at Flying J Travel Plaza: 1
• Nights in RV parks: 15
• Nights in motels: 4

Things we were glad we had
• Pillows from home
• “Miner’s” lights (great for getting around in the dark RV parks or reading)
• Empty 1.1 liter plastic bottles (for nighttime emergencies)
• Extra sunglasses (my regular pair popped a lens the first day on the road)

Things we brought but didn’t need
• Tarp for shade canopy
• Extra face shield for helmet
• Multiple lanterns/lights
• Generator (we always found RV park with space and electrical hookups)

Things we should have had
• Portable electric heater (BD’s propane heater didn’t work)
• Antibiotic ointment (didn’t check supply in first aid kit)
• Extra motorcycle gloves
• Polypropylene base layers
• More rubber bands
• More kitchen trash bags
• Sandwich bags & aluminum foil
• Back-up prescription script for a hard-to-fill medication
• Roll of quarters for RV park washers and dryers

Hits and Misses

  • Big Hits: Yellowstone NP, WY; Black Hills, SD
  • Big Duds: Deadwood, SD and Sturgis, SD
  • Best Value: National Parks and Monuments Senior Pass (it costs $10 for a lifetime and we estimated we saved more than $100 in entrance fees)
  • Biggest rip-off: The $10 fee to ride through a short stretch of Custer State Park in South Dakota. A blatant rip off of tourists who want to drive through  parts of the Needles Highway or Iron Mountain Road which lie within the park’s boundary.
  • Worst Traffic Jam: Salt Lake City, the Friday before Memorial Day at rush hour in the rain with thoughtless drivers regularly cutting us off
  • Worst Interstate Roads: Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia
  • Worst looking Gateway: Wheeling, West Virginia
  • Worst drivers: On I-70 south in Pennsylvania and I-270 in Maryland
  • Most exciting motorcycle roads: Needles Highway and Iron Mt. Rd. in SD
  • Fun riding for scenery and roads: Lower Loop, Yellowstone NP, WY
  • Best pie: Strawberry-Rhubarb, Peggy’s Place, Keystone, SD
  • Dumb Tourist Award: Girl who leaned out the window of a car to pet a bison

Answers to Your Burning Questions

About the Badger Den (BD):
• How big  is it? Approximately 6.5 ft. wide and 9 ft. long
• How many people does it sleep ? Two adults comfortably
• Did it leak during rain storms? No
• Is there a bathroom? No
• Is there running water? No. We used a jug to hold water

Badger Water Supply
Badger Water Supply

• What appliances are in it? A propane stove, a refrigerator, a microwave, and an air conditioner. The fridge, microwave and A/C operate when connected to a 30 amp electrical service. The stove operates off a propane tank connected from the outside of the BD.
Food and Drink:
• What do the Badgers eat?
Typical Badger food shown below.

Badger Food Supplies
Badger Food Supplies

–Breakfast: English muffins and coffee

Typical Badger Breakfast
Typical Badger Breakfast

–Lunch: Usually granola bars; we ate lunch out only 3 times
–Dinner: One-pot meals; sometimes freeze-dried camping meals, other times pasta/rice packets prepared in hot water along with canned vegetables, canned chicken or fish added in; occasionally we got Subway subs or carryout for dinner; we ate out once at a Golden Corral in Amarillo, TX, which was a BIG mistake, and once at a Denny’s, not so bad.
• What beer do the Badgers drink? Corona
• What’s the Badgers’ favorite hors d’oeuvre? “Easy Cheese” squirted on rice crackers
• What’s the Badgers’ favorite after dinner drink? Yukon Jack

What kind of computer set-up was used to write the blog?

A big goofy arrangement was required. See photo below.

Computer Set-up in the Badger Den
Computer Set-up in  Badger Den

Just before the trip, the screen on my Dell laptop went haywire. After consulting several PC experts I was told there was no fix. Rather than rush to replace it and possibly lose documents and pictures already stored on it, I opted to bring an old monitor and borrowed a key board from my sister, Barbara. All the components had to be connected and plugged in and arranged in the small space available in the Badger Den, which happened to be where Paco slept. It was a crazy arrangement but it worked.

(Message to Dell: Thanks for making a piece of crap which became a hi-tech paperweight in less than five years. There won’t be another Dell in my laptop future.)

Next Trip

We’re working on a plan. More on that  in a future blog.

Trail’s End: Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial

Hill City, SD

June 4, 2014

Route Map for Ride to Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse--June 4, 2014
Route Map: Ride to Mt. Rushmore & Crazy Horse Memorial–June 4, 2014

 

The giant faces of four presidents appeared in front of us, framed by the rectangular opening of the small tunnel we had just ridden through.  However, there was no place to safely pull over to capture a shot of this startling view of Mt. Rushmore from the heights of Iron Mountain Road. But not far from there, we found a genuine overlook with parking where we could snap a photo through the forest.

Mt. Rushmore as seen from the Iron Mt. Rd.
Mt. Rushmore as seen from the Iron Mt. Rd.

It seemed that we were getting close to our goal, having ridden about 30 miles in a loop starting from Hill City and going south on the Needles Highway* then aiming north east to hit the Iron Mountain Road to ride north to get to Mt. Rushmore. It seemed we were getting close but we really weren’t. We had to navigate multiple switchbacks over and over while playing the game of up-the-mountain, down-the-mountain, and repeat.

(*Needles Highway gets its name from the unusual granite spires that rise up in profusion along the route.)
We didn’t plan it this way, but both the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road took the award for the most gut churning curves on our entire trip. I can’t even call them twisties—how about corkscrews, pigtails, double hairpins, and uphill flips? There were 25 mph curves, then 20, 15, 10 and a couple of 5 mphs. Narrow, single lane rock tunnels, seven of them,  with one only 8 ft. 4 in. wide, had to be entered without knowing what was on the other side. We were wrung out by the time we rode up the steep access road to Mt. Rushmore.

Spires on the Needles Hwy.
Spires on the Needles Hwy.
Parked in the rocks on the Needles Hwy.
Parked in the rocks on the Needles Hwy.
Narrow Tunnel on the Needles Hwy.
Narrow Tunnel on the Needles Hwy.

We chose not to ride all the way to the visitor center and opted for photos from the access road. Right after we got our pictures, the sky became overcast and we knew that severe thunder storms were expected later in the day. We wanted some lunch and also were eager to fit in a visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial some 17 miles away. We got the evidence we needed that our bikes had reached Mt. Rushmore with its images of Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into the mountain side.  Pictures taken, we almost flew into Keystone.

 

The Badger Bikes at Mt. Rushmore
The Badger Bikes at Mt. Rushmore

 

There we had a satisfying lunch at Peggy’s Place that included especially delicious homemade strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert.

Peggy's Place
Peggy’s Place

 

Stawberry-Rhubarb Pie at Peggy's Place
Stawberry-Rhubarb Pie at Peggy’s Place

 

We next made our way slowly through Keystone.  This is another tourist spot and pedestrians seem to pop out of nowhere so we rode with great caution. At the edge of town, we turned on to Old Hill City Road. This was a delight after being scared witless by the mountain roads. We relished the 10 miles of manageable curves through meadows and pastures. As we followed the road, we crossed the same railroad tracks several times—this is a line that carries tourists on an old 1880s train from Hill City to Keystone. Coming around one curve while I was in the lead, I heard the unexpected blast of a train whistle and came to a very quick stop as the vintage steam engine chugged through the crossing. As we waited, the tourists on the train greeted us, especially the kids who smiled and waved enthusiastically at the two motorcyclists waiting at the crossing. We, of course, returned their waves with great fanfare.

Hill City to Keystone 1880s Train
Hill City to Keystone 1880s Train

 

Once in Hill City we rode the seven miles north to the Crazy Horse Memorial. When completed, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be the largest art project in the world, 563 ft. high, taller than the 555 foot Washington Monument, and 641 ft. long with a 219 foot horse’s head. In the making since 1948 and financed with only private donations, just the face of Crazy Horse has been finished. Tours can be taken to the work site but the visitor’s center has an observation deck for viewing the work-in-progress in the distance as well as an outstanding Indian Museum of North America plus a restaurant and gift shop.

Crazy Horse Memorial--Seen from the Observation Deck
Crazy Horse Memorial–Seen from the Observation Deck

 

Crazy Horse Memorial Scale Model
Crazy Horse Memorial Scale Model

(A little about Crazy Horse: literally “His-Horse-Is-Crazy” was born sometime in 1840 and was killed September 5, 1877). He was a war leader of the Oglala Lakota. He took up arms against the U.S. Federal government to fight against encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people, including leading a war party to victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876. He refused to sign any treaties with the whites and never submitted to living on a reservation.)

Native American Dancers at Crazy Horse Memorial
Native American Dancers at Crazy Horse Memorial

We watched an ethereal performance of Native American dancers, toured the museum with its intriguing and priceless artifacts and finally pulled ourselves away to return to the RV Park. Ominous black clouds drifted lower and lower as we raced down the hill hoping to outrun the rain that started spattering on us. We made it back, got the bikes in the trailer and ourselves in the Badger Den before the full force of the thunder storm hit us complete with pelting chunks of hail. It was our last day and the Moto Gods had smiled upon us. We ridden a mere 62 miles but it was packed with more thrilling riding than we could have imagined.

And now….Westward Ho Goes East.

Our Westward Ho motorcycle adventure is over; tomorrow the Badger Den will begins its 1,636 mile journey to Virginia.

Thanks to all our readers for your comments and your positive remarks about our blog. An Epilogue blog entry will be made after we return home that will summarize highlights of our trip, lessons learned, and favorite rides.

Ride safe,

Paco (Frank) and Rufus (John)

 

 

Black Hills: Devil’s Tower, Spearfish Canyon, Deadwood and Sturgis

 

The Black Hills
The Black Hills

June 2-3, 2014: The Black Hills

The term Black Hills is a direct translation from the Lakota words,  Paha Sapa. From a distance, the dark green trees, mostly  Ponderosa pine and Black Hills spruce,  make the hills appear black.

Traveling east toward the Black Hills from Wyoming, we made a  drive-by stop at Devil’s Tower a majestic natural formation that rises 867 ft. from its base. It’s 1,267 ft. above the river and 5,112 ft. above sea level.

Devil's Tower
Devil’s Tower

The Tower was formed about 50 million years ago when molten magma was forced into the sedimentary rocks above it. Then it cooled underground and contracted and fractured into columns. Over time (millions of years, actually) erosion of the sedimentary rock exposed Devil’s tower. The American Indian name for the Tower is Bear Lodge. Col. Richard Dodge named it Devil’s Tower in 1875 when he led an expedition to to confirm reports of gold in the Black Hills.

From the Tower we looped south then north toward Spearfish, S.D. for our stay at the Chris Camp RV Park. Our host, Lanna Christensen was welcoming and very helpful. Going over maps of the area, she plotted three great motorcycle loops that we could take and offered to answer any questions we might have about the roads and the sights.

The Badger Den at Chris Camp in Spearfish
The Badger Den at Chris Camp in Spearfish

The next day we rode down the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway as it curlicued past the shale, sandstone and limestone canyon walls with the  sparkling Spearfish Creek burbling along side. Aspen, birch and oak trees as well as the typical firs line each side of the road. Most curves could be handled at 30 mph or faster but there was no need to rush. Though it was threatening rain and very overcast, we took our time to soak in the scenery.

Route Map for Ride, June 2, 2014
Route Map for Ride, June 2, 2014
Black Hill National Forest Sign
Black Hill National Forest Sign
Spearfish Canyon
Spearfish Canyon

 

After about 30 minutes we reached the end of the by-way at the Cheyenne Crossing  and began angling north towards Deadwood, the old gold rush town.

Just before Deadwood we stopped at a well-known biker bar, ‘Lewie’s Saloon and Eatery,” for a photo op but it was too early for lunch  or a chance to get a glimpse at the 38 televisions installed at Lewie’s so every NFL football game can be seen on any Sunday.

Lewie's Saloon near Lead, SD
Lewie’s Saloon & Eatery near Lead, SD

Lewie might want to invest in fixing his rutted, potholed parking lot that’s more dirt than hard top next time he has a little disposable income. It was  a butt-clenching moment just trying to get the picture.

Deadwood was the next stop and it was dead. Early morning in a tourist trap during the week equals empty streets but a chance to have the run of main street to snap a few memories.

Main Street in Deadwood
Main Street in Deadwood

The Number 10 Saloon in Deadwood is reputed to be the place where Wild Bill Hickock was shot. While the old gold rush town has preserved many of its old, historic buildings, it seemed to us to have that crass “tourist destination” feel.

Number 10 Saloon exterior
Number 10 Saloon exterior
Number 10 Saloon sign
Number 10 Saloon sign
Deadwood Tourist Trap
Deadwood Tourist Trap
Another view of Main Street in Deadwood
Another view of Main Street in Deadwood

We had lots of time to spare after our quick pic visit to Deadwood so off we rode to Sturgis to see what it would be like before the massive biker rally hits town in August. Well, we had to see it to say we were there, but like Deadwood, it was too early for the bars and honky-tonks to be open and it was just as dead. Sturgis, by the way, is named for Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis, who served in the Civil War and fought in the Indian Wars.

Welcome to Sturgis
Welcome to Sturgis
Welcome to Sturgis, Paco
Welcome to Sturgis, Paco
Knucklehead Saloon, Sturgis, SD
Knuckle Saloon, Sturgis, SD

We got a few photo memories and had breakfast in a grocery store and decided to return to the RV park to plan our next move: Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.

 

Breakfast at Lynne's Dakotamart
Breakfast at Lynne’s Dakotamart

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Crow Tribe Territory

Entrance to Little Bighorn Battlefield
Entrance to Little Bighorn Battlefield

Near Garryowen*, Montana, June 1, 2014

(*Garry Owen was an Irish tune that the 7th Cavalry used a s a marching song and now the name of the “town” consisting of a memorial, a museum, general store, post office and gas station)

 

The day began with low clouds, chilly temperatures, and gray skies.  The weather seemed appropriate for a visit to a sad, lonely hilltop, the scene of the 7th Cavalry’s doomed efforts to follow orders to force several tribes on to a reservation. The Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho were steadfast in their resistance to  being ejected from their sacred lands and any attempts to end to their nomadic way of life. Although they won the battle, they lost everything a year later.

Monument to the 7th Cavalry--Mass Burial Site
Monument to the 7th Cavalry–Mass Burial Site

It’s not my intention to try to provide a history lesson about what happened at Little Bighorn on June 25-26,  1876, the year of the United States’ Centennial. The two leaders of note were George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull. Anyone interested in the details of the battle and the reasons why it happened can find a wealth of information on the internet. One web site that provides the Native American perspective is:  www.warpath2peacepipes.com/the-indian-wars/battle-of-bighorn.htm

Custer
Custer
Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull

Since this was a very brief motorcycles ride (19 miles round trip on laser straight roads from the RV park to the battlefield)  there’s nothing to relate of interest about the ride to the site.

Below, I’ve inserted some pictures from our visit to give you an idea of what we found at “Last Stand Hill.”

"Peace Through Unity," American Indian Memorial Honoring Tribes that Fought in the Battle
“Peace Through Unity,” American Indian Memorial Honoring Tribes that Fought in the Battle
Military Cemetery at LBNM
Military Cemetery at LBBNM

 

Native American Warrior Marker
Native American Warrior Marker

 

Black Elk's Mesage
Black Elk’s Message

The above saying is on the side of the visitor’s center.

 

Warrior Chiefs
Warrior Chiefs

Because we had extra time today, we shopped for gifts and indulged in a real lunch at the Custer Battlefield Trading Post & Cafe near the entrance to the Battlefield.

Beemer and Teepee

Above: My Beemer outside the Custer Battlefield Trading Post & Cafe

The food was excellent and our server, Danielle, was efficient and friendly and encouraged us to try the homemade pies. It was a tough decision but we rose to the challenge. Her creation of cherry pie with ice cream and whipped cream was a masterpiece and Paco ate every crumb.

 

Paco"s Dessert
Paco”s Dessert
Danielle, our server
Danielle, our server

After a relaxing lunch, we took a different route back to the RV park so we could detour to Garryowen where there is a tomb of an unknown soldier killed in the first engagement between U.S. troops and the Sioux prior to the battle at the Little Big Horn. This is the only other tomb of an unknown solider in the country, the other, of course, is the one at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

Unknown Soldier Memorial in Garryowen, MT
Unknown Soldier Memorial in Garryowen, MT

 

With the sun finally breaking through and cheering us up, we started back to the RV park but first Paco wanted a photo opportunity in front of the “Floating Jesus” sign on the corner of Reno Creek Rd.

Paco & Floating Jesus Sign
Paco & Floating Jesus Sign

We then carefully rode along the gravel road up to our spot in the park and landed safely  at the Badger Den to plan our next destination: The Black Hills of South Dakota, Mt. Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse memorial.

Badger Den & Big Sky Country
Badger Den & Big Sky Country

 

Yellowstone National Park—Part 2: Mammoth Hot Springs, Alpine Pastures, and a Snowy Mountain Pass

May 30, 2014

Yellowstone National Park Entrance Sign
Yellowstone National Park Entrance Sign

I think I’ve exhausted my portfolio of adjectives. Yellowstone National Park does that to you. You can get away with it the first time, but the second time you are stricken with a galloping case of redundancy. Reflecting on our 122 mi. circuit in the northern part of YNP, I realized that the same descriptive elements came to mind even though this area was significantly different from the southern portion. So, if I repeat myself, please be forgiving.

This is a map of our ride today:

Route Map: Ride #2, Yellowstone NP
Route Map: Ride #2, Yellowstone NP

We began by retracing our route east from yesterday but went north at the Norris Junction. Road work was under way and we had a 15 min. delay. We rode British style on the left as the traffic alternated one way north and south. It was a rough trip—the road was in bad shape and the bikes hopped all over the uneven surface as the contact patch of the tires was often lost. Deep but camouflaged potholes had to be sidestepped quickly. As the road climbed higher we could see Bunsen Peak (8,464 ft. elev.) and the Blacktail Deer Plateau in the distance.

Blacktail Deer Plateau
Blacktail Deer Plateau

Then we bounced down through two hairpin switchbacks into the valley where Mammoth Springs percolates. And, yes, it is mammoth. With an interesting hoodoo in the foreground, the springs sit on huge mound of sulfuric looking deposits.

Mammoth Springs Hoodoo
Mammoth Springs Hoodoo

 

Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs

Across from the springs, we had a picnic lunch, I re-inflated my rear tire that had lost pressure in the cold air overnight, and then we saddled up to ride east along the base of the Blacktail Deer Plateau.

Re-inflating that pesky rear tire
Re-inflating that pesky rear tire

The motorcycling here was exquisite. We passed tranquil alpine pastures, streams and stands of fir trees covering the hillsides. The tarmac here was fresh and smooth and our tires gripped perfectly through the twisties and sweepers that demanded attention but didn’t overwhelm.
As we swung our bikes south, we stopped at the Tower Falls for quick photos and then the fun began.

Tower Falls
Tower Falls

The route started its ascent near Mt. Washburn, a big boy with an elevation of 10,243 ft. The temperature dropped more than 10 degrees as we squirmed our way toward the Dunraven Pass (8,859 ft. elev.).

Banks of snow, some towering over 12 ft. , lined the east side of the road. The posted speed limit for the numerous curves never got over 25 mph. We were on the outside of the mountain; there were no guardrails and the drop off was unnerving.

Some cars and trucks like to blast their way up to the summit and get disturbing close to bikers like us who have every reason to play it safe by sticking religiously to the designated speed limit. I think it’s called survival of the smartest. We just pulled over for these hot shots and assumed that the Darwin effect would justify our cautious approach.

Dunraven Pass
Dunraven Pass

 

Snow Bank--Rufus in Background
Big Snow–Rufus in background dwarfed by the snow drift

Cruising down from the pass we got to the Canyon Village Junction, gassed up and started our return trip along, by now, a very familiar route west since this was the fourth time we’d followed the 28 mi. stretch along the Gibbon and Madison Rivers. We knew the road well and our bikes seemed to know the way, too, happily sailing along at 45-50 mph in a sweet spot of motorcycling bliss.
The road passed through what I had begun to think of as “Bison Valley” and the scene brought to mind passages of the 23rd Psalm—phrases like green pastures, still waters, and restoration of health seemed so congruent with what we saw.
I felt incredible happiness seeing bands of noble bison plodding along, grazing and resting and caring for their young. They seemed so dignified and in complete harmony with the land and water. It’s no surprise that Native Americans honored their spirit. These shaggy but perfect animals provided food, shelter and clothing to native people and they, in turn, were grateful for the abundance these incredible creatures provided them. It would advance our culture immeasurably if we could see animals as beings more like us than different and part of the web of creation we share.
After that, we made one stop at the “rim of the caldera” where the ancient volcano collapsed after eruption and left high walls in place. There Frank took a photo of his motorcycle,”Sheba.” It was a lovely shot that Honda could use for advertising purposes.

Rim of the Caldera
Rim of the Caldera
"Sheba" at the Caldera
“Sheba” at the Caldera

During our caldera stop, we spied what I believed was bison poop. Frank (Paco) wasn’t sure. He scientifically inspected one of the “pies,” gave it a good sniff and pronounced it as authentically bison poop.

Is This Bison Poop?
Is this Bison Poop?
The Sniff Test
The Sniff Test
Yes, It's Bison Poop!
Yes, it’s Bison Poop!

And so we departed Yellowstone National Park. I may never return here again, but my heart is full forever with memories of its haunting beauty.
Footnote: Thanks go to Frank “Paco” Bartlett not only for his steadfast camaraderie during all these outings but also for supplying several photos, acting as the chief science officer for bison poop, and serving as key researcher for facts and figures used in this narrative.

Yellowstone—Part 1: Bison, Geysers, Canyons, Lakes, and More

May 29, 2024, West Yellowstone, WY

Old Faithful Geyser, Photo by Frank Bartlett
Old Faithful Geyser, Photo by Frank Bartlett

Yellowstone was the United States’ first national park. The wisdom and foresight of those who helped create this sanctuary, including Teddy Roosevelt, deserve the thanks of every generation.
The Park is a treasure chest of natural beauty with so many interesting combinations and varieties that your senses overflow with joy. Riding a motorcycle through the lower loop of the park brings you close to all these elements. You can inhale the scent of fir trees, watch the bison grazing, their new-born calves wobbling beside their mothers, see steam rising from the hot springs, feel the cold winds blowing across the ice floes of Lake Yellowstone and smell the ocean-like odors of the sulfur fields.
The riding is pleasant and affords scores of opportunities to lean into delightful sweepers. There aren’t any terrifying twisties and even hopping over the Continental Divide wasn’t a chore. However, we were dogged all day by a persistently aggressive breeze that knocked us around regardless of our direction which required keeping our attention on the road and not the unfolding spectacle of scenery before us.

Yellowstone Ride #1,Route Map
Route Map: Rite #1, Yellowstone, NP

Our day began with a 10 minute wait to get into the west entrance to park but we were soon rewarded with the chance to go into a turn-out where bison grazed at the edge of the parking area.  Across a gentle river more bison rested in the grass with their young.

Bike and Bison
Bike and Bison
Grazing Bison
Grazing Bison
Beemer and Bison
Beemer and Bison

From that point on, we followed the path of many tourists before us. The tourists in their cars, vans, campers, and mammoth RVs, not the wild animals, were the real danger to us. They abruptly pulled out on to the roadway or lurched suddenly into a turn-out to click away at the bison or the landscapes. To make matters worse for me, the horn on my bike inexplicably conked out just when I needed to warn more than one driver to pay attention.
We took a death-defying three mile to loop on a rough one-way road with loose gravel, no shoulders or guard rails to Firehole Falls which seems to rush out of nowhere and plunge down, its waters churning furiously.

Firehole Falls
Firehole Falls

Then it was on through the hot springs and geyser basin until we came to Old Faithful. Luckily, we only had to wait about 45 minutes before we witnessed the glorious three-minute eruption with its rooster tail of steam spewing into the clear Wyoming air. Yellowstone Park is reputed to sit on one of the hottest hot spots on earth.

Paco at the Geyser
Paco at the Geyser
Rufus at the Geyser
Rufus at the Geyser

From there, it was over the Continental Divide—the road actually crosses it twice, once at about 8,300 ft. and then a few miles later at 8,400 ft. After dropping down another 1,000 ft. in elevation, we encountered massive Yellowstone Lake, with 141 mi. of shoreline, still covered in spots with slabs of ice. The lake sits at an elevation of 7,733 ft. and has a maximum depth of 410 ft. It’s the largest high mountain lake in North America and is believed to be the crater formed by enormous volcanic activity. An impressive sight.

Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake
Ice Floes on Yellowstone Lake
Ice Floes on Yellowstone Lake

After passing the Mud Volcano and the Sulfur Caldron, which you smell long before you see it, our next stop was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a narrow canyon that goes straight down for 800 ft. to 1,200 ft. without any interruption to the Yellowstone River.
From there we continued northward a few miles and finally turned westward back toward the west entrance enjoying the afternoon sunlight on the rivers and running the straightaways, a bit over the posted limit, and leaning into more of those sweet sweepers until we left the park and returned to West Yellowstone.

Paco by the River
Paco by the River

Before we turned down the street to the Bear Crossing RV Park where the Badger Den awaited us, we saw the Westward Ho Motel. Hey, they named their place after our trip. How cool is that?

Westward Ho Motel, West Yellowstone, WY
Westward Ho Motel, West Yellowstone, WY

The total for an all day trip: 126 delightful miles, not our longest ride but one with a surprise at every bend in the road.

The Grand Tetons and Jenny Lake Ride: May 27, 2014

The Grand Tetons
The Grand Tetons

Before I dive into our latest adventure, warm thanks to everyone for your comments. Funny or serious they are appreciated as are  all the good wishes you’ve sent. Sorry I haven’t been able to reply individually.  My computer set- up is so inconvenient in a very small camper that simply keeping up with blog entries is a challenge. But keep your comments coming. We read all of them and enjoy the banter. And I promise I will avoid using the term “girl” ever again, except in regards to cowgirls, as cow-women seems degrading to our comrade sisters.

This will be a rather short entry. Although we put in 149 miles from Hoback Junction,where our RV park was located, words seem so inadequate to describe this magical part of our country.

You don’t ride into the Tetons, you ride past them. Rugged, majestic and covered in deep, deep snow. Snow lingers on in this part of Wyoming into late spring. We had hoped to ride up to Signal Mt., but the road was closed because the snow was too deep. On the route going north, the Tetons seem close enough to reach out and touch. The above photo was taken on the return route going south and the Tetons appear farther away and are viewed across a broad valley dotted with fir trees and and rolling pastures. In the winter, elk roam this valley to graze.

The map below illustrates our route past the Tetons and the loop to Jenny Lake.

Route Map: Grant Tetons Ride
Route Map: Grand Tetons Ride

Riding north through the park, with the Grand Tetons to our left, we found the one- way loop road to Jenny Lake, a 200 ft. deep body of cold clear water formed by ancient glaciers as they carved out a basin and then melted.

 

Jenny Lake named for the Shoshone wife of trapper and guide "Beaver Dick Leigh
Jenny Lake named for the Shoshone wife of trapper and guide “Beaver” Dick Leigh

After our visit to Jenny Lake and a granola bar lunch, we returned to the main road, rode north to Malone where we turned south on the park road for the trip back to Jackson.

With the Grand Tetons now to our right,  so many photo ops presented themselves that we had to choose just one to capture the beauty of the scene. With the massive mountains in the background, our motorcycles appeared tiny and insignificant.

Grand Teton Scenic Turn-Out
Grand Teton Scenic Turn-Out
"Paco" and the Grand Tetons
“Paco” and the Grand Tetons

Although we had been warned to look for for deer, elk, and possibly bears, we encountered only camera-laden tourists from across the country and around the world. Just the same, warnings about wildlife are clearly posted on the highway.

Slow Down Wildlife on Road Sign
Slow Down Wildlife on Road Sign

 

Reluctantly, we left Grand Teton National Park and returned to Jackson to stop in for peek at “The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.” The bar dates to 1937 and received the first liquor license in Wyoming after Prohibition. Frank had been there on a cross-country skiing trip in 1988 and claimed it was a “must see” bar. Frank was true to his word. It’s unique. The bar stools are horse saddles, the ridiculously long bar top has silver dollars imbedded into it and the interior is made of large knobbled pine. A more Western, cowboy-themed bar does not exist.  We broke our solemn rule not to drink while out on the bikes and each had a beer with some chips. Having a drink there was almost obligatory.  Saying, “I’ll just have a sasparilly,  Maam,” to the bartender would have been criminal.

The Cowboy Bar, Jackson, WY
The Cowboy Bar, Jackson, WY
Ride 'em Cowboy!
Ride ’em Cowboy!

We walked around the town square for awhile which has arches of made of scores of elk antler horns at each corner entrance to the square. (No elk are harmed; they shed their antlers annually which were collected for the archways.)

 

Under the Antler Arch
Under the Antler Arch

It was time to return to the Badger Den at the Lazy J RV Park in Hoback Junction and ponder the beauty we had experienced–all of it too exquisite to try to put in to words.

Badger Den at the Lazy J RV Park
Badger Den at the Lazy J RV Park

 

Sawtooth Mountain Range, Idaho, May 25, 2014

 

Sawtooth Mt. Ride Map
Sawtooth Mt. Ride Map

We left Ketchum around 10:30 a.m.–late for us to start a ride but it was in the 40s when we got up. Once the sun was a bit higher, the temps rose and we went north to the Sawtooth Range.

Galena Pass
Galena Pass

Leaving the expensive houses and ski condos of Ketchum behind, the route run straight north on Rte. 75 to the mountains. Within 20 miles, the Sawtooth Range rises up, jagged and powerful, still draped in snow.

The road then wriggles its way higher and higher with a series of twisties until the summit is reached at Galena Pass, over 8,700 ft. high. Snow banks were still hugging the road in three foot drifts and piled up near the overlook parking lot.

We stopped there for photos and to appreciate the majesty of the range before us and the peaceful valley below.

At the overlook of Galena Pass
At the overlook of Galena Pass
Sawtooth Valley
Sawtooth Valley
Frank at the Snowy Galena Pass Overlook
Frank at the Snowy Galena Pass Overlook

Then it was down the down the mountain into the valley and on to Stanley for lunch. The route to Stanley is flat and devoid of trucks, or much traffic of any kind. We pushed the bikes to 65 mph without a hiccup, sometimes getting up to 70 mph, as the Salmon River flowed along side us. We passed verdant horse pastures and ranches in the brilliant late morning sun.

Papa Brunee's in Stanley, ID
Papa Brunee’s in Stanley, ID
View from Stanley, ID of the Sawtooth Range
View from Stanley, ID of the Sawtooth Range

The food at Papa Brunee’s (just about the only place open) was tasty and the people friendly. As we were about to leave, a Harley rider and his girlfriend arrived and he was astonished that our bikes sported Florida and Virginia plates. As much as we’d like to burnish our macho image of Iron Butt Bikers, we quickly explained our system of hauling the bikes to fun places to ride.

Reversing our route, we climbed the mountain, appreciating the change in views going north to south this time.

On the edge of Ketchem we swung into the small and well-cared for town cemetery to pay our respects to Ernest Hemingway who is buried there. He and his wife, Mary, rest side by side. Hemingway moved there to enjoy the outdoors he loved so much but sadly took his life in 1961. Near the grave was an empty whiskey bottle, two empty packs of cigarettes, and scores of pennies and small change. I don’t know the symbolism of any of these tokens but it seemed to me  it indicated that “Papa” was being remembered after all these years by visitors seeking out his final resting place.

Grave Site of Ernest Hemingway
Grave Site of Ernest Hemingway

We left the cemetery and returned to the Meadows RV Park and the “Badger Den.” It was a short ride by our standards, only 140 miles, but a wonderfully satisfying and memorable one.

Four Corners Ride, May 22, 2014

Four Corners Ride

Welcome to New Mexico

Our intrepid wheel man, Paco, drove the Badger Den and trailer 543 miles from Russellville, AR to Amarillo Texas for an overnight stop and then we pushed on to the Desert Rose RV Park in Bloomfield, NM, which is northwest of Albuquerque, a total distance of 453 miles from Amarillo.
Crossing the top of Oklahoma was a dispiriting trip and I was thankful we were in a heavy truck instead of braving howling winds sweeping across the featureless landscape on a motorcycle. Likewise, the panhandle of Texas held nothing that was memorable. But all of this effort brought us to New Mexico to set up our Four Corners trip on May 22nd.

Route Map: Four Corners Ride
The Silver Streak at Mesa Verde

As is painfully obvious, we’ve spent a lot of time hauling the bikes from one area of the country to another to do a one day ride. However, we were well-rewarded for these long slogs with a breathtaking circuit from northwestern New Mexico into Colorado and on to the Four Corners Monument with a short leg of the trip into Arizona, returning to New Mexico. We did clip a very tiny corner of Utah, so I’ll claim that we rode Utah.

“Rufus” at Mesa Verde
“Paco” at Mesa Verde

The change in environment from New Mexico to Colorado was striking. We went from an area of dry mesas and barren hills almost devoid of vegetation to landscape of lush forests and snow laced mountain ranges and, important to riders, better roads. The 20-plus mile ride up a twisting, serpentine road to the top of Mesa Verde offered inspiring and distracting views of the valley below us. That part of journey alone would have been more than enough for a satisfying motorcycle adventure.
We were determined, however, to find the Four Corners Monument, and so we left Mesa Verde, gassed up in Cortez and pressed on to the FCM.

“Paco” at Spruce Lodge Ruins, Mesa Verde

There the wind was ferocious. The flags of the four states and the Indian nations that have custody of the monument were flapping strenuously, ready to rip off the flagpoles. The road into the Monument was unpaved as was the area surrounding it and was an unstable surface for motorcycles.  But as can be seen from the photo below, a number of bikers—all Harley riders—were as resolute as we were to experience being in four states simultaneously. We strolled around the plaza filled with tourists from around the world, gawked at the markers and plaques, and Paco had his first taste of traditional fry bread prepared by a Ute woman.

“Paco” posing at the Four Corners Monument
Four Corners Monument Maker
Bikes Parked at the Four Corners Monument

After our visit to the Monument, we rode south into Arizona, then turned east toward Shiprock, NM to begin the final leg back to Bloomfield. Shiprock—the rock, not the town—is an imposing landmark that dominates the horizon to the south as you travel east on Route 64. It rises up from a flat plain, 7,100 ft. high, and it’s hard to not be mesmerized by the sight. This section of highway was very uneven and a brutal cross-wind continued attacking us, so I finally pulled over for a photo op to capture the scene and focus on keeping the motorcycle upright for the rest of the trip.

The Silver Streak with Shiprock in the distance
The Silver Streak with Shiprock in the distance

Shiprock, the town, is within the Navajo Tribal boundary and the tribe’s headquarters are there. The next town was Farmington where we made a brief visit to the local Wal-Mart for a few supplies that we could carry on the bikes. I mention this only because we were just about the only non-Native Americans in the store—we were the minorities there and it felt like we had been transported into a village of Navajos, Hopis, Utes, and other tribal populations. We were the outsiders. It was humbling experience.

Two humorous episodes deserve comment: in the store, I passed by a Native American man sporting a Dallas Cowboys t-shirt and later on the highway to Bloomfield we spied a large billboard sponsored by the local Catholic diocese that displayed a picture of Christ. The text below, “Jesus is watching you.” Directly behind the spot where the billboard stood was a commercial property—the site of an adult video store. There was only one car in the parking lot at the video store so perhaps the billboard was having the desired effect. It merited a photo but we didn’t have time. However, Paco later found the picture on the web and I’ve  included it so you can see it for yourself. Obviously, we weren’t the only ones who found humor in the juxtaposition of the two signs.

Jesus is Watching You!
Jesus is Watching You!

We returned to the Desert Rose, toasted our 247 mile Four Corners Tour with cold Coronas and started planning our route north to Idaho as the next destination.

 

Ozark Ride, May 19, 2014

Russellville, Arkansas

May 20, 2014

DSCN2155
Ozark National Forest Entrance Sign

 

Route Map: Ozarks Ride

 

Paco and I rode a 200 mi. circuit starting in Russellville, AR. We began north along  Route 7–a winding scenic road that runs through the heart of the Ozark National forest.  After about 80 miles, we traveled east on 206 just north of Dogpatch, AR (yes, it’s a real place) where we picked up Route 65 and turned south. Just before Marshall, AR, we shifted west on Rte. 74 through Snowball, AR to eventually connect with Rte. 27 and back to Route 7.

DSCN2147
Ozarks Overlook

Impressions: we rode so many twisties, I Iost count.   While there were occasional 50 mph sweepers, it was a series of challenging sharp curves, with 20 and 25 mph speed limits. At the beginning of the ride, we encountered chilly temps and then very dense fog that reduced visibility to just a few feet. Later the sun broke through and it turned out to be a clear warm day so we could enjoy the overlooks of the “Grand Canyon” of Arkansas.

At the top of mountain: Ozarks Ride
At the top of mountain: Ozarks Ride

The population of Arkansas is slightly less than 3 million people in 52,000 square miles. You can ride back roads for many miles and not see another car. Most people were friendly, helpful and interested in what we were doing. Not many bikers ride BMWs in this part of the U.S. so my bike was a bit of an attraction.

We stopped at the Big Piney Ranger Station for a break and information. The lady ranger was welcoming and went over our route on one of her maps. She had some photos of a big snow storm that hit the mountains a few years ago and explained that the residents of Snowball were without power for six weeks. Ouch. We returned to the “Badger Den” at the Mission RV Park in Russellville, tired but satisfied with a rewarding day’s ride.

Today was a travel day through OK and TX. Tomorrow, we plan to drive to an RV park near Farmington, NM and start the Four Corners tour the next day.

DSCN2140
Paco says, “Alleluia, we did it!”

End of our blog for today.  Cheers, “Rufus” & “Paco”