Days 64 – 66 Big Sky Country

Yellowstone State Park, WY – Deadwood, SD

460 miles

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Despite the cities listed above, I spent most of the day driving through the glorious Big Sky state of Montana. I woke up in my Tower Falls Campground in the Northeast Corner of Yellowstone to find less frost on my bike than the previous morning (you take the little thrills life gives you). The exit road in that section of the park is Route 212 which turns into the Beartooth Highway (more on this in sec). What surprised me most was that my last 25 miles on Yellowstone turned out to be the most beautiful of the entire park. I managed to get myself out of my cozy sleeping bag on the early side and was cruising by around 7:30am. This allowed me to capture some beautiful vistas in the morning light that you can see below.

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As the park gets closer to Montana, the ground starts to rise and gives way to magnificent cliffs and canyons. This is clearly the best part of Yellowstone from a scenic perspective. Wide, spanning prairies provide excellent viewpoints to observe the herds of bison and pronghorn deer. Everyone in Yellowstone (except me) seemed to possess these massive zoom camera lenses that allowed them to spot a beauty mark on a grizzly bear’s ass. Indeed, on my way out, I stopped to witness young male buffalo hoofing the ground and locking horns with one another. The female buffalo, like their human counterparts, remained aloof and unimpressed.

Due to my early rise, I hadn’t eaten any breakfast and felt famished pulling into Cooke City, the first post-Yellowstone town I encountered. There, I walked into the Log Cabin Cafe and proceeded to have the best breakfast I’ve enjoyed in over 1,000 miles.

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Fresh brook trout, lightly breaded along with two eggs over easy, and a big pile of well-done, well-seasoned hashbrowns. I should also include the homemade, award-winning pumpkin bread, grilled and buttered with a side of honey and a hot chocolate to take the chill out of the morning. Needless to say, I didn’t eat for the remainder of the day, and I noticed a discernable lag in my motorcycle’s performance (must have been the high altitude).

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Leaving Cooke City put me directly on the Beartooth Highway which was the most exciting drive of the entire trip. The road is shut down 6 months out of the year due to its altitude so I felt exceptionally lucky to be able to tear through this dramatic road that rose and fell beside steep ravines and showstopping views.

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The highway took me through the highest altitude of my journey, with some passes creeping over 11,000 feet. By rising into the alpine zone above the treeline, there was nothing to obscure the dramatic vistas of the Absoroka Mountain Range. Added to this was the fact that there were few guardrails on this winding road, no cars on the road, and all of sudden I had myself one HELL OF A RIDE. The hairpin turns had speed limits of 20mph, but pretty soon I got the hang of taking them at 40+mph. Glorious. Riding.

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Pretty soon, the Beartooth Highway started descending into a steep valley and leveled out through Red Lodge, MT, the entrance into Bighorn Country and Custer National Forest. As I entered the Crow and Cheyenne Indian reservations, the topography laid flat with squat buttes punctuating the far horizon.

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I can’t say that parts of the Native American reservations weren’t discouraging. Similar to what I saw when I visited the Grand Canyon, it seemed like the native population was granted exquisite scenery but no way to capitalize on it. I rode East practically never seeing another car making me feel how isolated and beautiful this stretch of country is.

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After a spirited ride through the high prairies of Montana, I finally crossed the border into South Dakota, another first for me. My intention was to make it to Sturgis to spend the night.

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But after arriving and driving through the empty (and surprisingly small) town, I quickly bailed and made my way to more populous Deadwood. Driving through Sturgis felt like walking through an empty convention center, or the guy who sweeps up after the strip joint closes. Without the right people, it just doesn’t work.

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Deadwood is a small Western-themed town that continues to try to desperately cash in on its historic legacy as a gold rush, gambling mecca. The population consists of about 80 casinos occupied exclusively by slot machines and none seemed to rise above 10% occupancy of actual human customers. Despite being Planet Earth’s mecca of $8.95 ¼ inch flatiron steaks, Deadwood does have its charms. The architecture is authentically Western without seeming manufactured and the people have been unfailingly kind. It also might be the cheapest hotel room I’ve paid for this entire trip. Hey, Deadwood’s not so bad.

Tomorrow, I’m not exactly sure where I’m headed. I definitely want to see the Badlands but from there the trip gets a little hazy. I’m generally trying to head East but lack any more specifics. Tips and Midwest travel knowledge are always appreciated.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY:

Montana is clearly a state I wish I could have spent more time in. I have about 10 days left on my trip to make it home to New York, which sadly doesn’t leave enough time to explore some of the other Montana destinations I’ve read about. Also, Montana is a great state to learn the top end speed on your bike. 122 mph, in case you were curious 🙂

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Comments

  1. What happened, where’s day 67.

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