The Revenant & Yellowstone National Park

Yesterday sweet husband and I took in an afternoon movie; The Revenant featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass (c. 1780 – 1833). Based on true events, Glass was an American frontiersman, fur trapper, and explorer of the watershed of the Upper Missouri River in present-day Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the Platte River area of Nebraska.

Although it was never stated where these events took place, there was one mention that someone was last spotted near the “yellow stone”. Yellowstone is called Yellowstone because the river flows through a yellow stoned canyon.

As you know by now, we spent the summer in Wyoming and Montana, therefore, from the scenery, I believe this part of the story of his life took place in that area; perhaps what is now the Chief Joseph Highway area?

I’m not a movie critic, but the cinematography was academy award quality.

Seeing this movie, which is extremely rough, took me back to Wyoming and Montana; it has haunted me all day.

It started with Glass walking through an overflowing creek in the middle of a forest. The first sounds were of an Elk Stagg trumpet. It is an unmistakable, loud and wonderful sound. One can actually go to YouTube and type in, “Elk Sound”, to hear it, you will never forget it – please do.

There was only one scene involving Bison, but they were stampeding away from a pack of wolves. The Bison’s trumpet or groaning sounds more like a lion. The rocks, cliffs, Lodge Pole Pines, rivers and waterfalls took me “home” to Yellowstone.

This 144 year old national park is located primarily in the state of Wyoming, although it also extends into Montana and Idaho and oh how I love it and miss it.

The stats:

  • It spans an area of 3,468.4 square miles comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges.
  • Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super volcano on the continent.
  • This lake has MORE thermal features under water than in the entire rest of the park.
  • The caldera is considered an active volcano. It has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years.
  • Half of the WORLD’S geothermal features are in Yellowstone, fueled by this ongoing volcanism.
  • Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone.
  • The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining nearly-intact ecosystem in the Earth’s northern temperate zone.
  • If you work in the park, naturally you live in the park. If you need something as simple as a haircut you will need to drive an hour and half, in good traffic (which is rare), one way.
  • They do have general stores and small health clinics in each village within the park.

One clear evening in August we drove up to Hayden Valley to hopefully see the asteroid events and the Milky Way and, of course try to hear the Elk and Bison trumpet and groan. We were successful on all counts.

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We made friends easily with several of our co-workers and hope to see five of them in the next couple of weeks.

I will not be working there again even thought we had probably the best store manager and cafeteria manager in the entire park. We won’t for three good reasons: (1) it is a long, long drive from Tennessee to Wyoming and (2) my body doesn’t do changing shift work very well and (3) Yellowstone had in excess of 4 million visitors this year; a record. Sadly the company we worked for did not or could not supply our general store with enough help. Oh, my heart will miss it, to be sure.

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Bear Tooth and Chief Joseph Highways

During our tenure at the Yellowstone General Store this summer, we are given two days off, in a row, each week.  We have taken day trips up to this point.  None of these trips will be posted in date order as each has its own unique subject.  This was our first overnight trip because it would be impossible to see this region without an overnight stay. Motels are almost always full in and around the National Park area during the summer months.  If one is fortunate enough to find a room, one must be prepared to pay a premium rate ($200. to $600. per night – no joke).  Fortunately, we know how to “Live In A Minivan”, so we secured a small lot at a KOA in Red Lodge.  It is a precious little town, by the way.

Red Lodge has a micro-brewery (Red Lodge Ales), which WE DO NOT RECOMMEND …save your money.  There are many other great choices in town for meals and cold beer. I have attached a crude map of our route out of Yellowstone from our temporary home at Grant Village.

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Travel is slow through the park with bear, buffalo or elk jams to contend with, which is never a bother to us.  We were told, when coming to Yellowstone, one needs to pack a lot of patience.  I will pass along this very necessary advice.

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Osprey

Osprey

Moose

Moose

Grizzly

Grizzly

Black Bear next to our dorm

Black Bear next to our dorm

Elk

Elk

We left through the NE entrance to Cookeville, MT where we picked up the Bear Tooth Highway.  This route also took us through Lamar Valley.  This is an exceedingly large, open expanse, surrounded by mountains and striped with meandering creeks where wild life thrive in 360 degrees of calm, green beauty.  This is usually where one see wildlife; we did not.  I enjoyed it more than Sweet Husband, as he was the driver.

BEAR TOOTH is a winding, two lane highway climbing to an elevation of over 11,000 feet with many cut backs and 7% grades.  If you have any issues with altitude sickness or fear of heights, I would not recommend this trek.  However, it is one of the most beautiful drives in North America.

Grasshopper Valley

Grasshopper Valley

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This is "The Bear Tooth Mountain" from which the name of the highway comes

This is “The Bear Tooth Mountain” from which the name of the highway comes

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Glacier lake - naturally, frozen over in the winter

Glacier lake – naturally, frozen over in the winter

Ice caps (glaciers) still in July

Ice caps (glaciers) still in July

Ski Lift at the crest of Grasshopper Valley

Ski Lift at the crest of Grasshopper Valley

Glacier Lake

Glacier Lake

Grasshopper Valley

Grasshopper Valley

Grasshopper Valley

Grasshopper Valley

There is one location on this highway where skiers take snowmobiles to an area called Grasshopper Valley (see pictures above).  It has a near vertical slope to a valley of frozen glacier lakes.  They then can ride the ski lift back up to the road and repeat.  I wouldn’t do it in three lifetimes, but some people love these near death experiences.

MOTORCYCLE RALLY:  I promise, I’m not exaggerating, there was at least 3 motor cycles for every car (maybe more).  Red Lodge is at one end of the Bear Tooth Hwy and Cody, WY is on the other.  Red Lodge is where motorcycles converged going to two different cycle rallies:  The BMW Rally n Billings , MT and the 75th anniversary of the Harley Davidson Rally in Sturgis, SD.

I only saw two brave people driving an RV on that highway; I would NEVER, EVER do that.

IMG_2954 IMG_2951 IMG_2950B1 at Sturgis

Bikers are quilters - like who knew? Sign in Red Lodge at quilt shop.

Bikers are quilters – like who knew? Sign in Red Lodge at quilt shop.

We arrived in Red Lodge with time to drive past on to Billings.  We were told about an area near Billings where William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame) and his company stopped at a site he named, “Pompeys Pillar (Tower)”.  The pillar itself stands 150 feet above the Yellowstone River and consists of sandstone from the late Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation, 75 – 66 million years ago. The base of the pillar is approximately one acre.  It is simply a giant rock in the middle of a vast valley, on the edge of the river.  If you are driving along highway 312 near Billings, you cannot miss it.  BTW:  It appears much grain, etc. is grown in this rich valley for Coors.  William Clark would probably approve.

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William Clark's signature in the rock

William Clark’s signature in the rock

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The pillar features an abundance of Native American petroglyphs, as well as the signature of William Clark, co-leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Clark’s inscription is the only remaining physical evidence found along the route that was followed by the expedition.

The inscription consists of his signature and the date, July 25, 1806. Clark wrote that he climbed the sandstone pillar and “had a most extensive view in every direction on the Northerly Side of the river”. He named the outcropping after Jean Baptiste Charbonneau—the son of expedition member Sacagawea—whom he nicknamed “Pompy”, as he had become quite attached to the 18 month old member of the company. His original name for it was “Pompys Tower”; it was changed to the current title in 1814.

DAY TWO:  Started with waking from an 11 hour night of much needed rest…we must have been extremely tired.  Red Lodge has a wonderful, locally owned bakery (City Bakery).  After a stop for breakfast pastries we headed south out of town to Chief Joseph Highway. This highway was named in honor of Chief Joseph, the Nez Perch Chief who resisted resettlement by the United States and fought in this region, but eventually lost.  His surrender speech is below.  This is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places Sweet Husband and I have traveled. Surrender Speech by Chief Joseph, born Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it, which means Thunder Rolling Down The Hills, (1840-1904) Chief of the Nez Perce Tribe:

Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph

“I am tired of fighting.  Our chiefs are killed.  Looking Glass is dead.  Toohulhulsote is dead.  The old men are all dead.  It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets.  The little children are freezing to death.  My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food.  No one knows where they are–perhaps freezing to death.  I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find.  Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs.  I am tired.  My heart is sick and sad.  From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

We were the conquerors and they the conquered.  That is the way of life in all wars.  Much has been lost and much gained.  The land is preserved, but war cannot and will not change – until the day we beat our swords into plows.  Yes, that day will come.

South Dakoda – Part III – BLACK HILLS & BADLANDS

We arrived in Keystone at about 4:00 p.m. (Mountain Time), to meet up with our friend and her three grandchildren (Isabelle 15, Collin 13 and Hamilton 11).

Keystone reminded me of a small Pigeon Forge, TN town with a western flair the moment we drove in.  We stayed three nights at the Econolodge.  It is an older, but clean and comfortable motel, with the necessary INDOOR pool/hot tub.  Keystone is definitely the best location to see all the incredible and splendid sites of this area.  You could easily spend a week here.

First night we all gathered at The Ruby House Saloon, fashioned after a Victorian era, Wild West bar.  After we drove up to Mount Rushmore for the evening light show.  The show started at 9:00 p.m., we arrived at 8 with still plenty of daylight to see this masterpiece.  Just so you know, it gets refreshingly cool here at night in late May.

Ruby Saloon Ruby2

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The next day we drove to Wind Cave National Park.  The drive, for me, was the best part.  It was a thirty mile drive through mountains and prairie, which hosted Buffalo, White-tail Deer, Prairie Dogs, Prong Horn Antelope, Black & Grizzly Bears, Rattle Snakes, Elk and Chipmunks.  We saw all but the bear and the snakes.  The Prairie Dogs were the biggest hit because we just pulled off the road and the pasture was full of them – barking and alerting the tribe of us “dangerous predators”.  I chose not to go into the cave because I’m still have a bout of vertigo and sweet husband stayed back with me.  Our friend took all four teens into the cave for an hour and half tour…brave and kind woman.

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Our plan was to drive back to Keystone to let the four teens take the alpine coaster, ropes course and zip line (an approximate 2 hour adventure), but thunderstorms moved in and the whole event had to be canceled.  We promised (weather permitting) we would try again in the morning.  They were greatly bummed, but settled for pizza at the pool/hot tub.

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Next morning was 46 degrees and rain.  We took them to an indoor fun house that promised extreme optical illusions.  Sweet husband stayed back and did laundry.  From there we drove past Mt. Rushmore to the Crazy Horse Monument.  This is enormous and ambitus and privately funded.  It was started in 1948 and will not be finished in our grandchildren’s life time.  They also have a wonderful film and museum.  I and the two 15 year olds were invited to dance with the Lakota Indian who was demonstrating several of his native Lakota dances.

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On our way home, we drove through Custer State Park on the Needles Highway.  This road, which in my opinion did not qualify as a highway, goes through the most incredible, massive, magnificent, vertical needles of granite.  It is only a few miles long, but took us well over an hour.  Prepare to be amazed.

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Arriving back at the motel, we hit to pool/hot tub again and had a picnic on the beds in one of our rooms.

In Downtown Rapid City are bronze statues of ALL of our Presidents.  Yes, they literally have them all.  It is called, “Presidents Walk”.  This is just a sampling.

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Next stop:  Cody, Wyoming…they have painted Buffalo on the downtown streets (way cool).