Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Big Sky Country; exploring southern Montana and northwestern Wyoming

 Debbie and I were thinking about taking a trip to Washington this fall to spend some time at the Smithsonian.  After we looked into the lodging, transportation and other logistics, we decided we’d rather not spend our vacation time in a big crowded city. It just didn’t seem like it would be very relaxing. Besides, if we wanted to fight crowds in a big city we could just go to Dallas and ride around on buses.

 After considering a few more places, we settled on a plan quite different than a trip to D.C.. We flew to Bozeman, MT, rented a car and drove around Yellowstone and on to Wyoming. We ended up in Billings, MT a week later and flew home from there.

 We arrived in Bozeman around 1:00 PM on Sept. 20. We picked up the car and drove around Bozeman a while then headed south to check in at the lodge. 

 Debbie picked Rainbow Ranch Lodge on the Gallatin River. Here’s their web site: http://www.rainbowranchbigsky.com/
 The drive to lodge was like a fantastic sightseeing tour. The road curved back and forth across the cold clear river while we climbed into the mountains. The golden aspens were intermingled with the dark green evergreens---spruce, pine and fir. The sky was mostly cloudy with a few blue patches where the sun shone through at times like a spotlight.  As the mountains became steeper and steeper we could hardly see the tops of them through the car windows. All the time we were going up the temperature was going down and when we reached our destination it was a cool 56 degrees.

Gallatin River near Rainbow Ranch Lodge

The road from Bozeman started in the prairie and climbed into snow topped mountains.
Club house and dining room.

Our room was on the bottom floor right behind...


Huge fly sculpture in front of club house.

Another fly for really big fish.

Pond in front of our room.

 If you followed the link above you saw the rustic beauty of the lodge and its setting. Debbie pick a great place for us to call home for four days.

  The first day we got settled in and talked to a few people about the surrounding area and about Yellowstone park. That evening we made a tentative plan for the rest of the trip.
Tyrannasarus (behind me).

 The first morning we drove back into Bozeman to see the Museum of the Rocky  Mountains. The highlight of the museum was the fossilized remains of a  tyrannosaurus discovered several years ago.

 The third day we went to Yellowstone

 Shortly after entering the park we saw a huge bull elk and his harem of cows on the far side of the Madison River. We stopped and took a few pictures and then headed for Old Faithful.

 A couple of miles from the elk we saw a small herd of bison milling around by the side of the road. The biggest one in the group wouldn't move for anything, not that anybody was trying to move him.
Elk herd across the Madison River.

We drove the car as close to Old Faithful as we could then walked a quarter mile and waited for it to erupt. It was actually kind of disappointing; not much to it.

 The area all around the famous geyser is a waste land. There are hundreds of places where putrid smelling water is spraying into the air. The ground is either crusted over or has hot water standing on it and looks like a hazardous material dump.  Where the ground isn’t level the hot water drains into the cold river producing more steam.
 The ground heaves and grumbles from the affects of the hot rocks and magma in the volcanic plume below the Yellowstone Caldera.
Debbie was stalked by a panhandling bird.
 We stopped to take a picture of the geothermal activity and were greeted by a raven which had no tail feathers. I don’t know if he had been injured by another animal or by the hot chemicals in the water. Regardless, the poor bird had been reduced to a parking lot beggar.
The amount of area already affected by the heat from the magma below Yellowstone is scary.


 On the way out of the park we past the herd of elk again but this time the bull was in the river with one of the cows. It looked like he was trying to keep her near the other cows and prevent her from crossing the river.

  Then I heard another bull bugle from upriver. The larger bull, in the river, lifted his head to catch the scent of the second bull and started toward the bank. He came out of the river with his antlers back and bugling. In a couple of seconds he spotted the smaller elk and start walking toward him at a fast pace. It didn't take long before the smaller bull turned around and left. The larger bull returned to his harem quickly and began to walk in circles around the cows. I guess he was making sure they were all still there and no more intruders were in the area.

This event alone was exciting enough to make the trip to the park worthwhile.

The larger bull came out of the river bugling.
The small bull heading back to where he came from.
 We had initially planned to cut across Yellowstone Park and go to Cody, WY to the Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West. Luckily we watched the weather the night before and found out there was a possibility the road would be closed in the higher elevations because of snow. Rather than chance having to back track we went around the park and stayed in the lower elevations.

 When we got to Cody we checked in to our hotel and went on over to the center. It is called a center because it houses four museums. There are separate  museums for firearms, the Plains Indians, western art and natural science.

 Volumes could be written about this center. All I can say is if you are ever near Cody you have to spend at least a day at the museums.

 From Cody  we went to Billings, MT where we relaxed and got ready to go home.

This was the best trip Debbie and I have been on. It was also a lot different than the trip to Washington, DC, which we had initially considered.  Just for grins I looked up the population density of Washington, DC, Wyoming and Montana. Well, DC has the highest in the nation with 9856.5 people per square mile, Wyoming has 5.8 and Montana has 6.8. I still want to see the Smithsonian some day, however, I am glad we decided to make this trip to a part of the country where there is some elbow room.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody houses four excellent museums.
This is a library in Billings, MT. It just happens to be across the street from Western Pawnbrokers, the best pawn shop I've ever been in. They have everything from Indian art to one of the largest selections of guns you'll find in any one store. No books though. They're across the street.

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