July 2018 – Our spring travels through Utah, Wymoing, Montana and South Dakota have been awash in deluges of rain for the past few months. But while we camped in Cody, Wyoming, recently we witnessed the most astonishing blossoming of wild flowers that we have ever seen anywhere.
For us, this year, March through June showers have brought gorgeous July flowers!
After driving the eye-popping Beartooth Highway we decided to check out other scenic drives near Cody, Wyoming. But our quest for beautiful mountain scenery was quickly set aside when we drove into the National Forest and found ourselves surrounded by meadows of fabulous wildflowers!
We have never seen fields of wildflowers like this!
Buddy took off on his own, chasing the grasshoppers and butterflies all over the place.
There were pinks and yellows and purples and white flowers too. And they were thick across the meadows!
Wildflowers were blooming everywhere, so we decided to forego the scenic drive for the moment and try some hiking instead. Beautiful flowers lined the roads and trails!
Buddy posed for a shot with some flowers. Thank you, Bud!
Most of the colors so far had been yellows, purples, pale blues and pinks, but we rounded a bend to find our view filled with all of those colors plus bright red Indian Paintbrush flowers too.
Neither of us had ever seen wildflowers like this before.
I joked with Mark that when I bought my first house years ago I’d purchased a packet of wildflower seeds that had a photo on it that looked like these meadows. But that packet of wildflower seeds sure didn’t give me a garden like this!
We entertained ourselves with our cameras for a few hours as Buddy continued to chase butterflies. We were in heaven!
As we tromped around in the woods, we loved the logs and rocks that were peeking up through the tall grasses. They made for the most beautiful flower arrangements!
In some places the flowers arranged themselves together better than any floral arranger could do. Mother Nature’s work was infused with a divine and artistic flair!
Tucked away from the huge splashes of color we found some less common flowers blooming on their own.
If you happen to be in this area when it warms up after a very rainy spring, head down some of the winding dirt roads and trails that lead off the main highway. The flowers are spectacular!
The flip side of being surrounded by gorgeous and abundant wildflowers is being surrounded by the flying bugs that feed on them — and on you!! I’m not a fan of bug spray, but the eruption of bugs everywhere we’ve been in Montana and Wyoming lately has been really bad.
I hunted around a little online and discovered that some essential oils can be effective bug repellents. I’ve never been an essential oils person, but I picked up some lavender and eucalyptus, and when we returned to those meadows of wildflowers for more flower pics, I gave them a try.
Mark opted not to try the essential oils at first, and lo and behold, about 10 minutes into photographing the flowers he was ready to quit and run home while I hadn’t been bothered much at all!
The official recipe I found called for 15 drops of lavender and 5 drops of eucalyptus mixed together with 2 tablespoons of jojoba oil in a small bottle. But all I did was put a few drops of the lavender and eucalyptus on my arms, legs and face and spread it around, and it was like magic.
I have found I need to reapply it about every hour or so, and of course it’s not as effective as 40% Deet. But it has been good enough for us and Buddy to romp around in the flowers and be comfortable.
June 2018 – The Beartooth Highway is a spectacular scenic drive in Montana and Wyoming that is so awe inspiring it has been given the well deserved designation of “All American Road.” Few roads in America have been singled out for this distinction, and the others we have driven knocked our socks off.
So, it was with great anticipation that we set out from Red Lodge, Montana, to drive the 69 miles of steep and arduous switchbacks into the heavens, passing endless sweeping vistas and stunning alpine lakes as we made our way towards the northeastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
A glimpse of things to come on the Beartooth Highway scenic drive.
The first snow capped mountain peaks crept into view between towering rock walls on either side of the highway shortly after we left Red Lodge, and then we drove straight into the sky until we had a fabulous view of it all at the Rock Creek Vista overlook.
Magnificent views of the Beartooth Mountains from Rock Creek Vista overlook.
This first formal lookout has a big parking area and a low rock wall to keep people and puppies from falling over the edge.
Buddy liked the view too!
After the long grind going up the mountainside, our sweet pup Buddy loved seeing the view from the top! But he was most interested in the chipmunks that were scampering around on the ground!
Rock Creek Vista overlook is just the first big viewing area on the incredible Beartooth scenic drive, and from that point on we were on top of the world with jaw-dropping views out our windows in every direction.
With every bend in the road the views got better and better!
Light clouds teased the mountain tops.
A recent snowstorm showed the mountains off in their Sunday best!
My camera shutter was clicking as fast as my fingers could go. When I turned to look at Buddy, his eyes were glued to the view too!
Buddy’s eyes were like saucers as we drove!
There are pullouts and overlooks all along the Beartooth Highway, and we had lots of chances to get out and stretch our legs and soak in the view.
A view even a puppy can love!
The Beartooth Highway is closed during the winter months, and it opens over Beartooth Pass only when the road is fully cleared and safe to drive. It had been open for a few weeks when we drove it in late June, but a cold snap had drenched us with rain for a few days down in the valleys, and that same rain had buried Beartooth Pass in snow once again and had even closed it for a day or two right before our drive.
This divine intervention meant that we were treated to lots of snowy vistas and the views were just magnificent.
Signs of spring were everywhere, though, and as we climbed through elevations between 7,000 and nearly 11,000 feet we saw a wide variety of wildflowers in bloom at each altitude.
There were wildflowers blooming everywhere.
Some of these wildflowers are extremely tiny and delicate and not more than a pencil eraser in size!
Pink jewels in the meadows.
Tiny tiny sapphire blue flowers.
The flowers were blooming in every possible shade, and some meadows were filled with mixtures of yellow and blue and pink.
A spray of yellow.
Familiar wild lavender colored lupine bloomed in thickets here and there as well.
Familiar wild lupines stand tall.
One of the most dazzling images we found were the bright blue alpine lakes that shimmered in the sun between snowy banks.
What a view!
And patterns appeared on the hillsides showing a special kind of asymmetry that only the finest artist could render.
The snow made patterns on the mountainsides.
The Beartooth Highway is beloved by motorcyclists because it is truly the Ideal Ride. Groups of motorcycles and individuals were riding in both directions and loving the scenery with fresh air and no windows.
What a place to ride!!
At last we reached the actual Bear’s Tooth Pass.
Before we did this drive, back when we were down in Red Lodge, we had stopped into a cool metal works shop and starting chatting with a gal who worked there. She had moved to Red Lodge so she could ski as much as her heart desired, and she spoke warmly of the spring skiing around the Beartooth Highway that begins on Memorial Day and continues through June.
We saw skiiers hitting the slopes, and gingerly walked out onto the thick snow ourselves. Much of the rest of America was experiencing a massive heatwave at that very moment, but up here on the Beartooth Highway life was cool.
Buddy loved playing in the snow.
Truly awe inspiring!!
Our cameras were going full speed ahead, and so were everyone else’s too. This is a place where digital photography is a true blessing. I can’t imagine how many dozens of rolls of film we would have both gone through if we’d been using film cameras!
We got portraits and selfies…like everyone was doing…who could resist?
In some places the snow banks along the highway were still 12′ high, and people were decorating the drifts with all kinds of graffiti. We had to add ourse too!
We put our own graffiti on the snowbanks too.
And then, after cresting the top, we came upon the most incredible view that stretched for miles and miles out to the horizon. Just glorious!
The view after cresting the summit took our breath away.
The Beartooth Highway deserves more than one cursory drive-through, and we ended up driving all of it or part of it on three separate occasions. This gave us a day with fabulous storm clouds and a day with perfect blue skies and lots of time to savor the various overlooks until we reached saturation and returned home, satisfied in our hearts that even if we “left early” we’d be back in a day or two to take in a little more.
It is best to hit the Beartooth Highway early in the day, and on our first trip we discovered that starting from Red Lodge at 7:00 a.m. wasn’t quite early enough! Lots of people have the same bright idea of starting early, so there was a surprising amount of traffic on the mountain.
We started out another day shortly after 6:00 a.m. and when we arrived at Beartooth Lake, which is easily seen from the road about 53 miles into the drive, the water was as still as glass and held reflections of the mountains like a mirror.
Beartooth Lake was perfectly calm in the early morning hours.
We stopped at the overlook and then wandered down to the boat launch to see these wondrous reflections a little closer.
A short stretch of rapids broke up the reflecting images in the most beautiful way.
The mirror reflections were disturbed by some silky rapids.
Where the water was still, the air was even more still. It was a crystalline moment in a world apart. As we stared at the view we were alone in the universe save for a few chirping birds in the trees.
On our return trip past the lake the wind was whipping. How fortunate we were to see the water like this earlier on!
Like much of Montana and Wyoming, this area was deluged with snow and rain this year and the lakes and rivers were overflowing. As I looked into the water from the shore I was amazed to see a beautiful clump of yellow wildflowers happily blooming under a few inches of water!
Overflowing water submerged a bouquet of yellow wildflowers!
A little further on we came across the Crazy Creek waterfall. Here we could see and feel the extraordinary power of the waters that had been elevated and swollen by unusual amounts of snow and rain.
Wildly frothing Crazy Creek Falls.
The sound was deafening and the water was leaping and spraying across the path above the rapids.
The water pranced and sprayed and exploded everywhere.
The Beartooth Highway ranks among the most stunning scenic drives we have ever done. How wonderful it is to find that even after eleven years on the road we are still making fabulous discoveries, and what a thrill it is to witness such an astonishing place.
We’d never get tired of these views!
If you are taking an RV trip towards Montana or Wyoming, the Beartooth Highway is well worth a big detour to see.
Bigger RVs are not recommended on this road. There are signs suggesting that rigs longer than 40′ not drive it at all, and we saw less than a handful of Class C and smaller RVs. However, Mark felt fully confident that he could easily take our trailer on the drive if we wanted or needed to. We just wouldn’t have been able to stop so often or so easily, and it would have taken a lot of concentration on his part.
Beartooth Highway rates among the most spectacular drives we have done anywhere. Do it!!
A little while after we drove the Beartooth Highway, we met a trucker who has been in the road construction and trucking business for many decades. He told us that he had been hired to help film an Ice Road Truckers commercial on the Beartooth Highway a few winters back. Rather than fly the film crew to Alaska where the TV series takes place, it was much cheaper to film the ad here in Montana and Wyoming. So, they did it on the first switchbacks of the Beartooth Highway on the Montana side.
His stories were fantastic as he described the week-long creation of this video which was, in many ways, quite similar to the three days of filming we participated in as part of an ad campaign for Camping World last winter.
The film crew needed four inches of snow on the Beartooth Highway, so it was plowed to leave four inches of snow behind, and when that melted more snow was piled on to bring it up to four inches. A frightening sequence where the truck skids backwards down the mountain was actually filmed on level ground while he and his fellow workers pulled the truck backwards with chains attached to another truck.
The film director wanted to stage a horrific rollover accident, and he had some fancy and expensive equipment made to help simulate the rollover. However, the equipment was designed and built on the California coast, and the difference in altitude between there and the Montana Rockies wasn’t taken into account in the design and the equipment failed.
In classic down home fashion, the Montana boys on the film set said, “Hold my beer,” and huddled together to come up with a solution. Using a truck with chains again, they put chains under the semi and jerked back on them with to flip the truck on its side (with no one in it, of course). The film director was delighted with the perfect shot and said, “I didn’t need anything from California. All I needed were some good Montana boys!”
I’m not 100% sure that the following video is the actual ad or is perhaps just a bit of footage from it, but it is definitely an ice road trucker on the first switchbacks of the Beartooth Highway in Montana, and the various sequences appear just as described. Enjoy!
July 2018 – Every year we are somewhere different for the 4th of July, and this year we were lucky enough to find ourselves near Cody, Wyoming, a vibrant town just east of Yellowstone National Park that celebrates the 4th of July in style.
This morning we found a spot to watch the 4th of July parade opposite the historic Irma Hotel. Buffalo Bill built the Irma Hotel in 1902 to encourage tourism to the town of Cody which he and several other investors had founded in 1896.
The crowd gathers in front of Buffalo Bill’s historic Irma Hotel for the 4th of July Cody Stampede Parade.
The parade announcers were set up on an upper deck and they entertained us while we waited for the parade to begin.
The announcers got the crowd going.
The American flag was on proud display all over town.
We saw lots of American pride.
And lots of folks were dressed in stars and stripes or at least in red, white and blue.
Young and old alike waited patiently while more and more people showed up along the parade route, camping chairs and flags in hand.
“I hope it starts soon!”
Cody, Wyoming, is accustomed to extending a warm welcome to throngs of summer tourists who drop in for a visit on their way to or from Yellowstone National Park.
The town hosts a professional rodeo — the Cody Stampede Rodeo — every night all summer long. It is held in their huge rodeo arena on the edge of town. The Cody Stampede Rodeo also hosted this 4th of July parade, and some of the rodeo folks rode their horses up and down the parade route, waving to friends and keeping an eye on things.
Riders from the Cody Stampede Rodeo rode up and down the parade route.
This 4th of July Parade in Cody was actually the third parade this week. A kiddies parade was held on July 2nd and a preliminary 4th of July parade was held on the 3rd!
Finally the big parade began, and it began with a flourish.
At last the parade began with a grand military display.
Then a whole slew of Rodeo Royalty went by, each of the girls and women more beautiful than the last. There were Rodeo Queens from various cities and states, and there was even the Rodeo Queen USA, if I caught her title right.
Miss Rodeo Mississippi.
A few days earlier we had bumped into some younger rodeo royalty at a parking lot in town. Blair, the Junior Cody Stampede Princess, and her older sister Bridger, also a member of the Cody Stampede Royalty, had just finished doing the first of the three parades, and they posed for me next to their horse trailer.
Blair explained to me that becoming the Junior Cody Stampede Princess involved not only equestrian skills like barrel racing, but a modeling contest, a written essay exam and an oral exam as well. Congratulationss to her and all the other rodeo princesses and queens!
We caught up with Rodeo Princess Blair and her older sister Bridger a few days prior.
There was royalty of another kind too. A woman who has appeared in the Cody 4th of July Parade for 35 years walzed by with her famous pink poodle. She hammed it up delightfully and showed us all what it’s like to be 82 years young.
82 years young — in high heels — with a pink poodle to boot!
There were floats of all kinds.
“Riding hogs and chasing chicks!”
And a lineup of wonderful antique cars.
Antique cars that might have driven through Yellowstone National Park back in the day!
One local family was celebrating 100 years in Wyoming since their ancestors arrived as homesteaders in 1918.
The Fales family homesteaded in Wyoming 100 years ago.
The theme of this year’s 4th of July Cody Stampede Parade was “Wyoming – Buckin’ through time,” and with that in mind a few of Wyoming’s early mountain men went by.
Before the homesteaders there were the mountain men…
One of the really fun local tourist attractions is a shooting range, the Cody Firearms Experience, where you can shoot all kinds of intriguing guns, including a gatling gun from the Civil War era. They showed it off during the parade!
This guy shooting the gatling gun was having too much fun!
You can shoot the gatling gun too over at the Cody Firearms Experience!
There were also marching bands of all kinds. The Cody High School Band strutted past and quite a few other bands from other Wyoming towns went by as well.
No parade is complete with out the local high school marching band!
There were lots of marching bands from all over the place.
The city of Cheyenne sent quite a bit of talent to the Cody Stampede Parade. This was very impressive since Cody and Cheyenne are in opposite corners of Wyoming, over 400 miles apart!
There was a bagpipe band too!
You can’t have a 4th of July parade without some noisy fire engines, and sure enough, If the gatling gun and marching bands weren’t loud enough, the sirens on the fire engines certainly were!
The fire engines made the most noise, of course!
Wyoming, like all the western states, is beset by wildfires every summer, and just as there is a “snow season” and a “fall foliage season” there is a “wildfire season” too. A big round of applause went up for the wildfire hot shot firefighters as they went by.
The wildfire hot shot fire fighters are much appreciated every year come wildfire season!
We were also treated to a sighting of the Wells Fargo Stage Coach. This is a really ornate and beautiful stage coach, and the folks riding inside and on it were all members of the Wells Fargo family.
The folks in and on the Wells Fargo Stage Coach were from the Wells Fargo family!
Perhaps my favorite part of any parade is all the kids running around. I just love the excitement, and they are so darn cute. Lots of the parade folks threw out candy for the kids, and they ran after it with glee.
The cute kids chasing the candy were my favorite part of the parade!
It was a wonderfully warm and sunny day, and whether they had barefeet or boots on, the happy kids were running wild and free.
Nevermind the candy. Just running around barefoot is fun!
Shorts and boots and stars and stripes!
Sometimes the littler ones weren’t quite quick enough to get a handful.
Oh, I didn’t see that one!
But there was plenty of sharing going on too.
“Here, have some.”
The Cody Stampede Parade was just terrific. If you didn’t catch it this year, perhaps you will next year!
Small villages and hamlets dotted the landscape, and when we pulled into the town of Choteau (pronounced “show-tow”), it was so cute we had to stop and have a look around.
Tiny Choteau, Montana, was so intriguing we had to stop and check it out!
Choteau seems to love summer and summertime visitors, and we were intrigued by a collection of little buildings that stood side by side on the main drag. One was an ice cream parlor and another was a one room school house!
Choteau had a unique flair that was very inviting.
We really liked the slightly funky spirit of Choteau and got a chuckle out of seeing two dinosaurs in town.
…and his sidekick.
We always enjoy visiting mom-and-pop coffee shops, and we noticed an “Espresso” sign in front of a shop called Maddimo & Company.
Maddimo turned out to be much more than just a coffee shop!
Their front door was made of old barn boards and was very cool.
The boards in this door were once part of a barn!
Inside Maddimo we found the most intriguing and inviting little boutique shop filled with home decorations and plaques with cool sayings on them and a coffee bar too.
The owner, Samantha, started chatting with us as she made our yummy drinks. She explained that she holds crafting workshops right there in the shop, and she showed us a wonderful table filled with paints and other artists’ goodies.
Samantha offers workshops on how to make these wonderful plaques and home decorations.
Samantha makes all the plaques she sells, and she teaches other people how to make them too.
One had a saying that is perfect for would-be adventurers who are on the fence about becoming full-time RVers!
Samantha also sells stencil templates so craftsy people can make sets of plaques for friends and family.
‘It’s a work in progress,” she said, gesturing around the cute little shop. Growing up in Choteau, Samantha’s family had owned a deli restaurant that they eventually sold. After she moved away and lived elsewhere for a few years, Samantha and her husband decided to move back to Choteau and, along with her mother, they bought back the deli and opened it again.
This was the first season for their new venture, and the place was hopping. How satisfying it must be to return home to your roots and buy back and reopen the family business to great success!
There were lots of neat sayings and stencil templates to reproduce them easily.
We continued on down the road towards Great Falls, Montana, which has always had a special place in my heart even though I’d never been there. One of my childhood idols, the figure skater John Misha Petkevich, grew up in Great Falls. For years I cherished an embroidered patch from his figure skating club in my collection of club patches, and I always wondered what his hometown of faraway Great Falls was like.
We aren’t city folk, but with a name like Great Falls, we figured this town had to have some kind of fabulous waterfall, and sure enough there are several.
We drove to Ryan Island at the edge of town, a lovely little grassy park that is accessed via a suspension bridge for walkers. Tall shade trees fill the park and a short and pretty trail takes you to an incredible view of Ryan Dam and the Missouri River spilling over.
The grassy park at Ryan Island has lots of big shade trees. A bald eagle had a nest in one!
Great Falls, tamed a bit by Ryan Dam.
Back in 1805 when Lewis and Clark made their 16 month trek across America from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Coast at the mouth of the Columbia River, they came upon these waterfalls. At the time, of course, the falls flowed freely and unhindered. I got goose bumps when I read a plaque that said Merriweather Lewis had likely stood right where I was standing.
Merriweather Lewis stood somewhere near here!
Mandan Indian Chiefs had told Lewis that his group would encounter the falls during their voyage on the Missouri River. Lewis wrote in his diary:
“…my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arrise above the plain like a column of smoke…..it began to make a roaring too tremendous to be mistaken for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri.”
After arriving at the falls, the entire Corps of Discovery team, about four dozen people, spent the next three weeks carrying all their boats and equipment 18 miles around the falls so they could continue their journey afloat on the Missouri River.
In contrast, we had driven up in an air conditioned truck with music playing over multiple speakers and had adjusted our heated and vented electric seats just so.
Interestingly, Captain Lewis had stood pretty close to where we were standing on Thursday, June 13, 1805. It was now Tuesday, June 12, 2018. The dates were so close yet were separated by over 200 years and such radical change. How awesome!
The Lewis & Clark expedition had to carry their boats and equipment overland 18 miles to get beyond the series of waterfalls.
We continued our back road RV travels in Montana heading east and south from Great Falls. Pastures and farm fields stretched in every direction on gently rolling hills.
Our drive through rural central Montana took us past beautiful rolling farmlands.
We passed an old truck with a straw man riding a stack of hay bales bronco style in the bed. Cute!
Within a few minutes we saw another Amish horse and buggy go by. How fun!
As we dropped south and approached the small town of Harlowton, Montana, we suddenly started seeing a different kind of farming: wind farming. There were rows and rows of windmills in huge clusters here and there.
We came across a different kind of farming!
We stopped in Harlowton and noticed that windmills adorned a lot of buildings and business logos.
Windmills are a common theme on stores and businesses in Harlowton, Montana.
Even the local brewpub, Gally’s Brewing Company, had a windmill on their logo!
We decided to grab a pint and stepped inside Gally’s Brewing Company. I asked the bartender why they had a windmill on their logo and why windmills were such a popular motif all around town. She explained that the wind farms were bringing a lot of money to the community.
The brewery wasn’t open for a few more hours, so we didn’t get to taste any of their brews, but we continued chatting with the bartender and she explained a little more about these wind farms. The ranchers graze their cattle on their land and also lease it out to wind generating companies to erect windmills. The cattle just munch the grass all around the base of the windmills.
So, the ranchers make money from the leases, the community makes money from taxes that the wind generator companies pay, and there are a few more jobs to be found. “It’s a win-win,” she said with a smile.
There was even a windmill on the brewpub’s logo!
We continued driving south towards Big Timber through this is a very quiet part of the country. There were lots of open spaces and small peaceful spots tucked under the trees alongside streams and rivers.
Big storm clouds swept across the sky, whipping themselves into a frenzied windy storm that dumped buckets of rain across the land.
Afterwards, a beautiful rainbow appeared.
Stormy skies and a huge rainstorm produced a beautiful rainbow.
And then the sun set in vibrant shades of pink and orange that filled the sky.
If you are traveling across Montana, whether with or without an RV, these quiet roads through the middle of the state make for a rewarding trip, and the village of Choteau, the waterfall and dam at Ryan Island in Great Falls, and the town of Harlowton are fun stops along the way.
Perhaps you’ll catch Gally’s Brewing Company when they’re open for business in the afternoon and you can sample some of their brew and tell us how you like them!
June 2018 – We have visited Glacier National Park three times, and each time we have seen another jewel in this appropriately named “Crown of the Continent” National Park.
Glacier National Park has several entrances, and all of them head towards the mountains in the crown. Like all the biggest and most famous National Parks, it deserves at least a week of exploring — or many return trips — to experience the beauty in any kind of depth.
As we approached Many Glacier the mountains rose before us in the distance.
The most popular entrance to Glacier National Park is on the west side at West Glacier, but some of the most jaw-dropping views are on the east side, 120 miles away via an easy drive around the park or 50 miles away via the twisty, curvy mountain road that traverses Logan Pass in the middle of the Park.
However, if you don’t have your passport with you, Many Glacier is very similar to Waterton Lakes and is truly awe-inspiring as well.
Many Glacier at Glacier National Park in Montana
When we visited Many Glacier this year, we got excited as soon as we saw the mountains appearing down the road in front of us. We stopped to enjoy the glorious wildflowers that were blooming along Lake Sherburne.
Montana had an enormous amount of snow this past winter, and the rivers and lakes have been swollen for weeks as the snow has melted.
A waterfall to our left on the road alongside Swiftcurrent Creek that is probably very modest at other times of the year was crashing over the rocks in an all fired rush to get downhill.
The waterfall on Sherburne Creek was roaring!
Montana had big snows and a rainy spring, so the water was rushing at full throttle.
We walked along a short trail on the edges of the waterfall to get a closer look.
At the end of the road leading into Many Glacier we crossed another area of rapids that is just upstream from the waterfall.
And then we arrived at the most fabulous view. Jagged mountains formed a fantastic backdrop behind Swiftcurrent Lake. In the distance, the historic Many Glacier Hotel proudly watched over the lake as it has for over a century.
Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier!
Many Glacier Hotel is a Swiss Chalet style hotel that was built in 1914-15.
We were mesmerized by the view, and we both shot at least three photos with every step we took as we wandered around on the shore. Looking at our photos later, Mark noticed he had captured a butterfly in one of his images. How cool!!
A butterfly flitted through Mark’s pic!
The weather was constantly changing with the clouds chasing the sun away and then the sun trying very hard to chase the clouds away.
Many Glacier is so photogenic we had a blast wandering around taking pics.
The valleys left by the immense earth-moving forces of the glaciers are all U-shaped with sloping sides and rounded bottoms.
There is a small gravel beach along the shoreline and a dirt road wanders around the hotel property.
A dirt road wanders near the shore and hiking trails go all over the place.
In 1914-15, long before Glacier National Park was created in 1932, the Great Northern Railway built the Swiss Chalet style Many Glacier Hotel on the banks of Swiftcurrent Lake. The railroad barrons at the time wanted to encourage people to travel on their trains, so they went to great lengths to create enticing destinations at the ends of their lines.
What a fabulous property Many Glacier Hotel is, and how exotic it must have been to journey there and spend some time over 100 years ago. It would be fabulous to stay there now!!
Many Glacier Hotel
Many rooms not only have lake views but have a porch that opens onto the lake.
Some rooms have a little porch and a fabulous view.
As we wandered around the hotel we noticed two restaurant workers from the fancy Ptarmigan Dining Room taking a break and soaking in the views from the parking lot.
I started chatting with one of them and discovered that he was living right at Many Glacier in dormitory style housing while working at the restaurant for a four month summer job gig. It was his fourth summer doing it, and he absolutely loved it.
“All you need to bring is your hiking boots,” he told me, “and we make great money too!”
He’d had restaurant serving experience before, but he said the hotel was still hiring for this summer and that folks with no restaurant experience bus tables and do other entry level jobs.
Climbing up on the hillside opposite the hotel we got some wonderful shots.
Future full-time RVers often wonder how they can make money on the road. Working at a restaurant overlooking a stunning view serving happy guests who are on vacation in one of the most picturesque spots in our country wouldn’t be a bad way to pick up some pocket money.
And for folks who don’t need a summer job themselves but who know young adults who’d appreciate a thrilling summer experience, what a fabulous summer that would be! You have to be at least 18 to apply. I know I would have far preferred working in the Many Glacier Hotel kitchen over the urban kitchen that did employ me my 18th summer so many decades ago!
What a place to call home for a few days or a few months!
We just scratched the surface of Many Glacier on a quickie in-and-out visit this time around. But we will be back to explore it in greater depth in the future. Unfortunately, adorable puppies aren’t allowed on National Park hiking trails, which hampers us a little nowadays. For folks without a dog in tow, there are oodles of hikes and alpine lakes and mountain views all around Many Glacier. What a jewel it is!
Looking back across Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier Hotel.
The restaurant hadn’t yet opened for the season when we visited, so we didn’t have a chance to check it out. But many tables are situated next to big windows that look out on the lake, and the server I talked to assured me the food was really good. Sounds awesome! It is on our list for next time!
June 2018 – America’s stunning National Parks get all the press, but sometimes the drive towards them is almost as beautiful. As we made our way to the eastern side of Glacier National Park in Montana via US-2, the image of a mountain reflecting in a pond caught our eye.
US-2 is a beautiful drive. These pretty reflections made us stop.
We just had to pull over for a closer look. The day was a big gloomy but the landscape was lovely.
The wildflowers were beginning to bloom, a perfect foreground for these snow capped peaks.
Pretty wildflowers were in bloom!
Huge snows last winter and a bunch of rain this spring has made all of the rivers and streams in Montana swell almost beyond the riverbanks, and there are waterfalls, big and small, everywhere.
Hopping back in our rig, we drove alongside the eastern side of Glacier National Park on US-89, and the scenery got better and better.
Spectacular views east of Glacier National Park.
Big rigs can’t drive the narrow and twisting Route 49 that goes to the Two Medicine entrance of Glacier National Park. Instead, we had to route through the town of Browning, but the views we saw as we headed north towards Saint Mary were fabulous.
Suddenly the U-shaped valleys of Glacier National Park that were carved by glaciers eons ago came into view. Again, we had to pull over, if only to get a shot of our rig in such a setting!
Rounded valleys carved by glaciers come into view.
Upper St. Mary Lake is located inside Glacier National Park, and we loved exploring it two years ago, but Lower St. Mary Lake is located outside of the Park, and pullouts along the road offered some fabulous views too.
St. Mary Lake can be a vivid blue with waves twinkling in the sun, but we caught it on a pensive, reflective day.
The water was like glass.
The most famous part of Glacier National Park is the Going to the Sun Road that traverses the park via Logan Pass between the east and west sides. This road is so high that it is buried in snow well into the Spring, and the risk of avalanches keeps the road closed until mid to late June (or even early July!).
The east side of Glacier National Park may be its more beautiful side.
For Park visitors that arrive early in the season, like we did, the views outside the Park are almost as stunning as the Going to the Sun Road, and there’s very little traffic.
US-89 runs through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and some lucky souls have homes overlooking the lake. We spotted one on the far shore. How cool!
Out in the pastures we saw some horses romping around too. Beautiful!
Horses ran free in a nearby pasture.
Our goal this year was to visit Many Glacier, one of the most spectacular spots in Glacier National Park and a place we had never visited before. As we anticipated, our photos from there will fill an entire upcoming blog post! Once we finished our visit, we were back out on glorious US-89 once again heading south, this time with sunshine.
At one pullout a dirt road beckoned us to take a walk towards the mountains.
Buddy leads us into the mountain views.
A river runs through it.
The wildflowers were blossoming in all their glory.
In the past, we have searched high and low for fields of wildflowers to photograph, often with little success. But it seems that the best way to find anything super special in this life is not to go looking for it! Here we were soaking in the awe-inspiring mountain views when we discovered we were surrounded by fields of wildflowers.
Mountains and wildflowers.
Buddy posed by some flowers for a pic.
The flowers inside Glacier National Park might be more plentiful and the mountains might be taller and craggier than what we saw on this special scenic drive outside the Park, but it was pretty darn gorgeous.
For RVers heading to Glacier National Park, the trek from the more heavily visited west side to the less visited east side is a 100 mile trip. But despite the extra miles it is well worth doing, not just for the majestic scenery inside the Park at Two Medicine, St. Mary and Many Glacier, but for the eye-popping views you’ll see on the way there and back!
US-89 is easy to drive with a big rig and there are lots of large pullouts where you can stop and savor the view.
Please note that there was construction on US-89 when we drove it in June 2018. We experienced long delays as a pilot car led groups of vehicles through the lengthy construction zone. Hopefully next year the road improvements will be finished and it will be a breeze to drive!
June 2018 – We recently visited our friends Bob and Donna Lea in western Montana, and they took us on a wonderful daylong road trip into the wildflowers and mountains that lie between Missoula and Flathead Lake.
We saw some wonderful pastoral scenery on a day trip in western Montana.
The scenery on the drive was delightful, with snow capped mountains and pretty farms dotting the landscape.
After we’d drive on lovely back roads for a little while, we pulled into the Windmill Village Bakery in Ravalli for a cup of coffee and some freshly made pastries.
Windmill Village Bakery is known for fresh made donuts.
This cute little roadside bakery is known for its fresh donuts, which are made right behind the counter, and for its beautiful patio that overlooks a small pond and windmill.
Out back there is a patio overlooking a pond with a windmill.
With our tummies happily full, we made our way to the National Bison Range. Managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, this land is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System and is a refuge for 350-500 buffalo that was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.
The National Bison Range has buffalo and a whole lot more!
Other animals also call the refuge home, and when we arrived we saw an enormous stack of elk antlers. Elk naturally shed their antlers each year, and these antlers were collected at the range.
A pile of shed elk antlers greeted us at the Visitors Center.
There is a loop drive that meanders through the refuge, and as we drove into the park we climbed quite high up in the hills and had a great view of the Flathead River.
The loop drive took us high up for a view of the Flathead River.
The scenic drive is a gravel road, but it is easy to drive in a passenger car.
The ribbon of road is gravel and easily driven.
We arrived just after the peak of wildflower season, but there were still lots of beautiful flowers in bloom blanketing the hillsides. We walked on a trail through the vast beds of flowers and spotted some wild photographers sitting among them!
Photographers were enjoying quiet moments with the wildflowers.
A trio of photographers. The peak for wildflowers in the BIson Range is mid-May but they were still lovely two weeks later.
The flowers were so thick and so colorful that we vowed we will return another year to experience this place during the peak in mid-May.
Of course, flowers don’t follow the Gregorian Calendar too closely, so we’ll call ahead to see how the flowers are doing before visiting!
As we were strolling and crouching between the flowers to get their pics, Bob pointed out the Bitterroot flower. This beautiful pink flower is the namesake of the Bitterroot Valley.
Bitterroot flowers used to be very common in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley!
This seemed like a fantastic place to get a selfie. Of course, nowadays our selfies include a certain furry person, and sometimes it takes more than one shot to get it right. In the first pic he let out a big yawn. Luckily we got another!
What a great spot for a selfie. Oops, Buddy was yawning!
Montana had a ton of snow this past winter and loads of rain in the spring too, so the rolling hills were lush and green.
Rolling green hills of Montana.
We were very surprised to learn that the very flat valley below us was once the bottom of a huge lake that reached from the mountains we were standing on to the mountains in the distance.
At one time a lake filled the valley between the mountains.
Just like driving through parts of Arizona and Utah that were once covered with an inland sea where you feel like you are driving on the bottom of an ocean with tall islands sticking up around you, it was easy to imagine a huge glacial lake with waves lapping the sides of these mountains. The lake came up about two-thirds of the height of the mountains.
Looking down at the ancient lake bottom.
We had been enjoying the wildflowers and the beautiful views, but the buffalo herd was apparently on break that day. We did see two sauntering by the car at one point but couldn’t get our cameras going fast enough to get a photo. However, near the end of our drive we saw a lone buffalo in the distance.
A solitary bison.
By now we were ready for another scenic snack so we stopped at the Ninepipes Lodge which has a wonderful outdoor patio overlooking a pond with mountains in the distance.
We had a fabulous view for lunch from the patio at Ninepipes Lodge.
There’s an indoor dining room too, but the weather was just perfect to sit outside. The fish and chips was terrific, and we got a kick out of the gift shop too!
The indoor dining room was beautiful, but we liked being outside on the deck.
The gift shop had lots of goodies.
Our final stop for the day was at St. Ignatius Mission Church. This church was built in 1891.
St. Ignatius Mission was built in 1891.
We explored the pretty interior of this Catholic church.
The mission is very ornate inside with elaborate paintings on every nook and cranny. There are 58 paintings in all, each one painted by Brother Joseph Carignano.
The church walls are decorated with 58 different paintings.
Church services are still offered here.
The paintings have been meticulously restored and are vibrant and colorful.
Almost all the paintings have been lovingly restored. Just a few remain to be done.
If you are taking your RV to Montana and are looking for a scenic drive with some unique places to see that are not necessarily the headliners in the tourist literature, the National Bison Range and St. Ignatius Mission are well worth a visit, and you’ll find tasty eats in a beautiful setting at both the Windmill Village Bakery and at the Ninepipes Lodge!
May 2018 – Wyoming is best known for the eye-popping beauty of its National Parks on the western side of the state. Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton blew us away with easy to see herds of big animals, and seeing Jenny Lake glittering in the middle of the towering snow-capped Tetons is an image we will always cherish.
But when we took our RV across the northern part of Wyoming recently, we found some wonderful lakes, mountains and waterfalls that are less well known just a bit off the beaten path.
Keyhole Reservoir, Wyoming
Keyhole Reservoir is a horseshoe shaped body of water that is lined with rocky cliffs, and we had a ball strolling on the hiking trails along the shore and taking pics as we walked.
The steep rock cliffs on the water’s edge were an unexpected surprise.
Even though it was early Spring, there were lots of boats out on the water. There were pleasure boats zipping around and there were fishermen slowly trolling and reeling in the catch of the day.
Lots of boaters were out on the lake.
We were within earshot of the fishermen drifting past in their boats, and we called out to the guys in one boat. We had seen fish jumping clear out of the water in a small cove nearby, and sure enough, these fishermen had a big fish to show off for us before they threw it back in the water.
Buddy looks down at the fishermen below.
Around the lake signs of Spring appeared in patches here and there on the ground in beautiful sprays of purple flowers.
Spring is here!
But having flowers on the ground didn’t guarantee sun in the sky, and the sky was overcast for most of the day! Finally, in the late afternoon, the sun made an appearance just above the horizon and cast a yellow glow across the cliffs.
The landscape took on a glorious golden glow in the late afternoon.
The next morning we awoke to a wonderfully mystical layer of fog.
About 120 miles west of Keyhole State Park we found Lake De Smet. The water was mirror-calm and the eerie light of an impending rain storm made for some beautiful reflections.
A wonderful moodiness sets in at Lake De Smet, Wyoming.
No rock cliffs here, but lots of wonderful reflections.
There were a few fishing boats on the lake and quite a few birds were out fishing too.
A cormorant takes off.
And the fishing went on until dark!
A fisherman keeps fishing even as the sun sets around him!
Around the lake and in nearby gardens, we found some lovely flowers blooming.
Lupine glisten with droplets of rain.
We had taken I-90 to get between Keyhole State Park and Lake De Smet, but on the next leg of our journey we traveled on the fabulous Big Horn Scenic Byway that crosses the Big Horn mountains between Sheridan and Ten Sleep on US-14.
We headed out on the Big Horn Scenic Byway.
What a great drive! We had been a little concerned about tackling all the hairpin turns and steep climbs at the beginning of the Big Horn Scenic Byway, but they are big sweeping gentle turns that are easy with a big rig, and the gradients are not difficult if you have a strong tow vehicle or motorhome engine.
Parts of the Big Horn Scenic Byway passed between towering rock walls.
We loved the rolling hills and views as we climbed, but it was the waterfalls that really got our attention. We noticed one as we rounded a bend and quickly pulled over to hike down a berm to get a few pics.
When we spotted a waterfall we quickly pulled over.
This first waterfall was like a warmup for the magnificent waterfalls we found at around the midpoint of the Big Horn Scenic Byway at Shell Falls. These falls have been beautifully developed to allow visitors to view the falls and surrounding canyon from many viewpoints.
Shell Falls, Big Horn Scenic Byway, Wyoming
There are several levels of walkways at beautiful Shell Falls
The sound of the falls was a thunderous and never ending roar.
What a rush!
Hear me roar!
I imagine that later in the summer season the falls are a little more tame, but with the snow melt in the mountains filling the streams leading here, the volume of water was enormous.
Looking deep down into the canyon.
We had driven the southern scenic drive across the Big Horn mountains along US-16 last year after spending time in the charming town of Buffalo, and it was lovely, but this northern route via US-14 has quite a few jaw-dropping moments that make it particularly stunning.
After we left Shell Falls, the mountains closed in around us in sheer rock cliffs and then slowly subsided as we descended into the town of Ten Sleep.
Views on the Big Horn Scenic Byway in Wyoming.
If you are traveling through northern Wyoming with your RV, a stop at Lake De Smet or Keyhole Reservoir makes for a delightful waterfront excursion, and the Big Horn Scenic Byway is an exhilarating drive that is very doable with an RV. Just keep your eyes on the road because the views will knock your socks off!
May 2018 – We have been traveling full-time for eleven years now. I don’t know where those years have gone, but every single day has been a blessing, and every year has brought us many incredible moments of discovery. And we don’t see an end in sight!
The May/June 2018 issue of Escapees Magazine features an article I wrote about some of the lessons we’ve learned in all our years on the road and at sea. Following our hearts into a life of travel has expanded our horizons and deepened our souls in ways that never would have been possible if we’d stayed home.
“Reflections on 11 Years of Full-time RVing – Lessons Learned!” Escapees Magazine, May/June 2018, by Emily Fagan
Towing our trailer through Utah’s red rock country to some great adventures.
After the thrill of the Big Escape, you might pause for a moment and look around a little and double check that you did the right thing.
That’s it? My house and all my worldly possessions are in there?! Wow!!
But absolutely every aspect of life is suddenly a total thrill. Just making a meal, whether you barbecue it on the cool little grill or bake it in the nifty Easy Bake RV Oven or fry it up on the tiny three burner stove, cooking and eating at home are suddenly very exotic. Playing House takes on a wonderful new meaning. And you play and play and play.
Grilling burgers in a beautiful brand new backyard is very cool.
Suddenly, the distractions of the old conventional life are gone and you fill your time with simple pursuits that work well in a mobile lifestyle. You can’t go to the same gym everyday, and sometimes you get lost trying to find the grocery store in a new town, but the quiet pleasures of life at home take on a special new meaning.
Hobbies you never had time for in the past become treasured parts of the day-to-day routine.
Mark has learned to play dozens of his favorite songs since we started traveling full-time.
While zipping from place to place, you take in all you can manage to absorb. You discover how little history you actually learned in school and you find small towns you’ve never heard of in states you know only by name that suddenly take on a fabulous familiarity and vitality.
You meet the locals, learn a little of their past and the history of their area, and you ponder what it would have been like to grow up in that community or to live there now.
A mural on a building in Newcastle, Wyoming, shows what the main street looked like a century or more ago.
Here is the same Antler’s Hotel and neighboring buildings today.
After a while you realize that you’ve got to stop and smell the flowers every so often. You’ve been rushing through your travels with such an excited zeal that you realize you’re missing stuff.
You slow down and begin to soak it all in. You realize you’re living a life, not just a lifestyle, and you begin to savor the in between moments.
Signs of Spring!
We found just such a moment while driving on the Interstate near Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is known for many marvelous things, a world class mansion on a billionaire family’s estate to name just one, but we will forever remember the field of thigh high flowers we saw on the side of the highway. It was a photographer’s paradise.
How exciting to have one of our many photos from that afternoon appear on the cover of the March/April 2018 issue of Escapees Magazine.
Escapees Magazine, March/April 2018 Cover photo by Emily Fagan
One of the great things we’ve learned in our travels that I didn’t mention in my Reflections & Lessons Learned article in the May issue of Escapees Magazine is what this lifestyle has taught us about nature and the heavens.
We have stood in awe and photographed hundreds of stunning sunrises and sunsets and dozens of single and double rainbows during our traveling years. And we’ve gotten up in the wee hours to photograph the Milky Way or get a timelapse video of it marching across the sky. We now know a lot about these celestial events, when and how they occur and how best to observe and capture them with a camera.
We noticed the light getting really eerie while camped in Wyoming, and then we saw a rainbow!
A slight change in perspective made for a whole different look.
We’ve also learned that Nature doesn’t rush things and you have to be patient and let its wonders reveal themselves at their own pace. And sometimes the transformation in the sky is really worth the wait.
An hour after the rainbow faded, the sky looked like this!
Twenty minutes later it looked like this!
As Robert Frost described it 102 years ago, we’ve “taken the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” We’ve found that, for us, the back roads and byways always offer a fresh perspective, and sometimes the road itself is unusual.
In Wyoming some roads have red asphalt, giving drivers a fantastic mix of blue sky, green grass and red roads.
Perhaps the most valuable thing about embarking on an unusual lifestyle like RVing full-time is the opportunity it offers for reflection. After the excitement of making dinner in a mini-kitchen on a three burner stove has worn off, it is natural to ponder just why you are living this way and whether you are really “living the dream” you anticipated.
Full-time RVing offers a chance for self-reflection.
It is common, after a few years, for full-time RVers to find themselves at a turning point. After seeing the major National Parks and visiting a bunch of states and meeting lots of other cool RVers along the way, it is only natural to grind to a halt and ask, “What now?”
Some people find this troubling — it’s scary that their dream lifestyle might need tweaking — but I think it should be celebrated as a graduation. The first round of dreams has been fulfilled. What could be more satisfying than that? Now the next round of dreams can be conjured up and chased down!
Several very popular RV bloggers who have been at this full-time RV lifestyle business for a long time have transitioned recently to new modes of travel or to living in distant and far flung locations.
For excited future full-time RVers, reading and watching these transitions taking place may be unsettling because their mentors are leaving the lifestyle they are about to begin. Years ago, when we had been on our boat in Mexico for about 8 months, I received a plaintive one-line email from a reader: “When are you going back to your RV?”
But part of the joy of transforming your life by giving up a solid foundation to live in a home on wheels is that it opens your heart to opportunities for even bigger transformations down the road.
For full-time RVers who feel like they are living under stormy skies or are feeling a little boxed in by repetitious patterns or feel a little lost between the woods and the trees, there’s no harm and no shame in admitting their dreams have changed and possibly gotten bigger and more ambitious.
Using the full-time RVing lifestyle as a stepping stone to other wonderful and exotic lifestyles is almost to be expected and is one of the great reasons to give it a try.
Storm clouds form over our trailer in South Dakota.
However, it can be hard when you’ve committed yourself with all your heart to RVing full-time to step back and say, “Wait! This isn’t exactly what I want.” And it’s especially difficult with the intense personal comparisons and voyeurism provoked by social media and blogging. A weird kind of peer pressure creeps in.
When it comes to pursuing your dreams, it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks or how your life compares to theirs because it’s not about them. It’s about you.
A photographer who lives an extraordinary traveling life, David Morrow, has posted two videos that are quite profound. The first is the impact on his life of quitting social media (he had followers in the tens of thousands on many platforms). The second is his daily morning ritual for exploring and reaffirming his life’s dreams.
These videos spoke to me because they parallel my own experiences. Perhaps they will speak to you too (links for them are in the reference section at the end of the page).
Feeling boxed in? We tucked our trailer into an alcove of red rock columns in Utah.
I’ve been reading Open Your Mind to Prosperity by Catherine Ponder, and she talks about how to set yourself up for success, whether for prosperity in terms of money or prosperity in terms of having exhilarating life experiences. One point she drives home with vigor is the importance of making room in your life for your future riches by letting go of and releasing anything from your past that isn’t fundamental to the future you desire.
It’s easy to see how this advice can help future full-time RVers, since part of the transition into full-time RVing is the Enormous Downsizing Project that has to be completed (yikes!). However, full-timing is not a static activity, and as full-timers flow through the lifestyle, tweaking and perfecting it and making it their own, the same idea applies: Achieving your dreams depends on releasing aspects of the past that aren’t propelling you forward to the future you want.
While online communications tend to compress deep emotional experiences to a few words here and there, getting together in person with kindred spriits, and talking at length around the campfire or over a morning coffee can really help get the creative juices flowing, whether you are pondering where to travel next or are curious about workamping opportunities or wonder if others have been through similar experiences in the full-time RV lifestyle as you have.
Can’t see the woods for the trees?
Ever since its founding by Joe and Kay Peterson, Escapees RV Club has specialized in bringing people together who have like interests. All Escapees are RVers, either current, past or future, and the Club encourages get togethers. From going to an RV gathering at a National Rally (Escapade #58 is this week in Sedalia, Missouri) to attending one of the many lively Xscapers Convergences for RVers (South Dakota, Colorado, Oregon, Michigan and Georgia are all on the schedule) to seeing the Best of Ireland (June 13-19, no RVs involved) Escapees offers well organized traveling adventures of all kinds to bring members together.
There are also regional chapters of Escapees across the country, and these groups hold their own local gatherings.
Escapees also has Birds of a Feather groups (BOFs) that bring together people that share all kinds of unusual hobbies and interests. These groups are where you can find fellow RVers interested in Geology, Computers, Line or Square Dancing, providing assistance at natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, Photography, Prospecting, Quilting, Woodcarving or Worldwide Travel.
There is even a Birds of a Feather group for RVers who love to camp in the nude and another for Friends of Bill. And, of course, if the BOF for your particular interest doesn’t exist, you can always start one.
It is no surprise that Escapees RV Club has an affinity for rainbows. Occasionally clouds of not-total-happiness end up forming for some folks who jump into the RV lifestyle, and the Escapees RV Club offers a gazillion ways for RVers to connect with each other and share their common experiences.
A double rainbow formed over our fifth wheel after a terrific afternoon rain storm.
If you are interested in RVing and haven’t yet joined Escapees, it is a very intriguing club with a million sticks in the campfire. Everything described here is just a fraction of what Escapees RV Club is all about. They do incredible advocacy work for RVers, are the biggest mail forwarding company out there, have discounts on RV parks and even have a sub-group that maintains the biggest boondocking database around.
You can join (or ask questions) by calling 888-757-2582. Or you can click here: Join Escapes RV Club
If you mention our blog, Roads Less Traveled, when you join, Escapees puts a little something in our tip jar. This is not why we do it — we recommended the club long before they started doing this — but we sure appreciate it!
Happy campers after 11 years on the road and at sea. Here we’re perched on a train car in a city park in Custer, SD
May 2018 – We recently took a beautiful drive with our RV on the scenic back roads of Wyoming, going across the lower part of the state on an eastbound route from Bear Lake, Utah, to Newcastle, Wyoming.
Years ago we drove a similar westbound route on I-80 across Wyoming, and that drive has stood out in our minds ever since as one of the most boring drives of our lives. So we stuck to the back roads a bit north of the interstate this time, and what a rewarding decision that was!
At the start of our drive, as we pulled into the town of Kemmerer, Wyoming, we did a double take when we passed a small J.C. Penney store on a street corner because a sign on the storefront said it was the first of its kind. James Cash Penney opened this store in 1902. On his first day of business in his new little store, could he have possibly imagined that one day there would be 850 JC Penney stores across the country?!
The J.C. Penney “Mother Store” opened in 1902.
This part of the country is a rich area for fossils, and embedded in the sidewalk on each street corner we found a little plaque that said “Wyoming’s Aquarium in Stone” decorated with the image of a fossil. There were fish, trees and crustaceans of all kinds.
Kemmerer, Wyoming, is in the heart of fossil country.
We decided not to hunt fossils and continued our journey east. Pronghorn antelope watched us as we passed.
We stopped for lunch and noticed rain drops streaking down our windows! So much for our clean truck and trailer!
We took a small detour to Fontenelle Reservoir where we were very surprised to discover that the tiny white dots on the sandbars out in the water were pelicans.
Pelicans in Wyoming?!
The reservoir was very low, so the coming rain storms would be welcomed.
Fontenelle Reservoir was so low people had been driving their trucks out on the lake bed.
We were treated to some extraordinary skies. Big black clouds loomed overhead and we could see them spilling rain onto the landscape in the distance.
Storm clouds at Fontenelle Reservoir.
The sky was constantly shifting, and the growing storm seemed to be boiling on the horizon for a while as it approached.
We ran around taking photos and soaking up the intoxicating crisp air that preceeds a huge rain storm. It was bitterly cold out, but it was too beautiful to stay inside and miss the spectacle.
We romped around and took pics even though it was extremely cold.
It might be warm in the rig, but the views and air outside were wonderful.
Eventually the storm cleared and peace reigned as sun shone through late in the afternoon. The distant shore turned a rich shade of burnt orange.
At the tail end of the day the far shore lit up beautifully.
At sunrise the colors changed again.
Fontenelle Reservoir is busy in the summertime, but we were getting delightful paybacks for our runny noses and layers of clothes because we had the place to ourselves in the pre-season cold. We took a lot of long walks and played many games of fetch with our puppy Buddy.
A large resident group of noisy marmots who live by the lake taunted Buddy mercilessly. They had dug extensive burrows with lots of big entrance holes, and Buddy was forever diving headfirst into the holes trying to get them.
Marmots had dug a vast network of burrows all over the place, and Buddy kept poking his head down their holes looking for the little furry guys.
But then we’d hear a cackling cry in the distance, and Buddy would pull his head out to see a little fellow standing on his hind legs outside a different entrance hole, his mouth wide open as he chattered and teased from a safe distance.
“Ha ha ha! I’m over here, silly puppy!”
The next leg of our trip took us east across wide open land that stretched lazily to the horizon in every direction.
Rush hour in rural Wyoming.
There were no cars ahead of us and no cars behind us for miles as we drove, and we were entertained by various road signs that warned us about the other folks that might be sharing the road.
And then, just as we were beginning to get that white line fever of boredom, the road took a turn and headed into the mountains. The torrential rains we’d experienced a few days prior had blanketed the mountains in a layer of white snow, and the storm clouds loomed once again.
We climbed from the open prairies into wonderfully snowcapped mountains.
We were amused to watch the temps drop from the low sixties to the low thirties as we climbed into the mountains, and my shutter finger was on overdrive as one spellbinding vista after another came into view.
Suddenly the road descended off the mountain pass and the snow vanished, but the dark clouds still hung heavy above us.
By the time the scenery settled down on the far side of the mountain pass we were breathless!
When I had studied the Wyoming atlas and looked for interesting things along the route we would be taking, I had noticed the words, “Red Canyon.” Even knowing it was coming, my jaw still dropped when a ribbon of rich red cliffs angled off into the distance in front of us.
Red rock cliffs in Wyoming.
A red dirt road wandered to and fro at the base of the cliffs and we wanted to explore it. But the rains had made everything very gloppy and muddy, and we were concerned the dirt road would be a gooey mess. Next time!
A tempting dirt road leads into the hinterlands below the red cliffs, but it was too muddy to try it.
Oh well, we saw lots of red rocks on the main road too.
We arrived in Riverton, Wyoming, still grinning from ear to ear after our sensational drive. The next morning we fueled up for another great day of scenic driving at a little Wyoming Espresso coffee shack. I love these little coffee outposts scattered throughout the west
Back to civilization in Riverton, we made a beeline to a coffee shack for a hazlenut latte for yours truly!
But Mother Nature decided to keep the curtains closed on her beautiful stage that day. As we embarked on our scenic drive thick fog rolled in. We passed a scenic viewpoint and could only guess at what lay behind the mist!
What a view!!! (Sigh…)
This part of the route follows the Oregon Trail and passes two sites that commemorate the Mormons’ arduous cross-country walking trek pushing hand carts every step of the way. But the rain began to pour in pitchforks and we decided to hold off on those explorations until another time.
We love taking small back roads roads like these rather than the interstate, and once the fog cleared and rain stopped and sunshine filled our views, we were charmed by the rural scenes around us. But navigating small roads requires paying close attention, and we were quite shocked at one point when the road in front of us suddenly turned to dirt.
Mark slammed on the brakes and looked at me. “Ummm… does this turn back to pavement?” He asked. I had no idea. I was as surprised as he was that it had turned to dirt without any warning!!
We decided to go a little ways and see what lay ahead, but we knew we had gone too far on the roads less traveled when we crested a small hill and saw a cow in the road staring at us.
A cow welcomes us to the Roads Less Traveled.
Oops! Mark skillfully got our rig turned around and we chose another route.
Of course, just because we were now on pavement didn’t stop the farm animals from crossing the road in front of us!
A flock of sheep wanders across our path.
At long last we made it to Newcastle, Wyoming. It had been a wonderful trip of about 600 miles on lovely back roads, and this little RV trip will stand out in our memory for its wild weather, beautiful scenery and quiet charm!