health care, road trips, tech talk, occasional rant

Montana

Really beautiful country up here.  The drive last night and this morning was lovely – up the Salmon River, then over through the Nez Perce battle country to Montana fly fishing country…  Lovely, but there sure is a lot of it.  I’ve spent about $580 on fuel and I’m only about halfway done.  $4/gallon diesel is killing me.

Anyway…the reason I’m taking this particular route rather than some other was to camp at the fascinating ghost town of Bannack.  On the 2002 trip I passed through here and still remember how inviting the campground looked.  So, I roll in about 4PM on a sunny Saturday, kinda jangly from a lot of driving – really ready to stop, and … FAIL.   There is some kind of Masonic gathering happening here, commemorating something I didn’t quite get.  The point of this park is to preserve the old west town of Bannack, a short walk from the CG.  So the place is crawling with Masons, and the campground is full full full.  It does look very inviting still, and to camp there on a quiet evening and walk around the ghost town at sunset is still a goal of mine, but it ain’t happening on this trip.

So, back in the saddle, to drive on to Dillon.  The downtown is quaint old west in a decaying kind of way, but the edges are mining and industrial … with the beautiful Madison River flowing nearby, so there’s the occasional upscale fly fishing shop also.  funny combo.

Unlike the canyons of Idaho where I just was, this part of Montana has few (none actually) convenient campgrounds.  These are very broad, domesticated valleys between distant mountain ranges.  The mountains are mostly federal land and have plenty of campgrounds, but they most definitely back-country sites, not at all convenient to the main roads.  My research (done on a comfy chair in the shade in front of a coffee house in Dillon that was closed for the weekend)  turned up a nice sounding CG a mere seven miles off the main road at Sheridan (Montana, not Wyoming!).  So that’s the plan.

Even more driving, through very prosperous looking farms past perfect trout streams, to Sheridan. I note the bakery on the corner for tomorrow morning, take my left and start counting the 7 miles.    The road starts out as nice pavement through town, in fact for about 4 miles, then it turns into pretty nice gravel road with nice rich person houses on it, and then at about mile 6 is the fence and cow barrier that marks the beginning of the National Forest, and boom!  The road goes to hell – very rutted and bumpy and narrow and scary.  I got about 200 yards and meet a 4WD Subaru coming down.  They say the CG is a couple of miles further on. I decide that two more miles of this is not for me and my top-heavy van  I back down the road (between this and tricky campground parking areas I am getting pretty good at backing this thing), to the fence where there is a turnaround.  I say the hell with it and just park there.  Turned out to be quite nice!  There was a roaring stream right across the road, I hung out there in the shade till the sun went behind the mountain, then just did my usual evening things.  One truck went out and back that night, then one in the morning and that was it.

Sunday

Prepare to enter the Yellowstone vortex.  First 3/4 of the day were quite nice.  Had a blueberry turnover and a maple bar and a lot of coffee at the cute little Sheridan Bakery.  The Bakery was pretty 50’s, but the town was modern enough to have downtown wifi!

I did not stop at the Nevada City ghost town.  I did so on the trip 11 years ago (yikes!) and quite enjoyed all the derelict train cars and random pieces of equipment and took a lot of pix.  Just didn’t feel the need this time  Also did not stop at the tourist trappy town of Virginia City. That was a much easier call.

I did stop at Norris Hot Springs, where I happily spent the next two hours.  It is a combo hot pool and roadside bar, a combination I have not seen before!  There was a single pool, 3′ deep and with a sprayer on about half the pool.  In a pleasant little glen with flowers and birdfeeders and shade and lawn chairs and a grill for dogs and burgers and beer by the plastic glass.  If only they allowed camping.  Anyway, noon to 1:45, and I’m outta there, no beer thank you.

Drove past the Red Mountain BLM Campground on the ridiculously scenic Madison River.  It looked very nice and I will remember it for next time.

My plan is to get groceries, fill the tank, and snag a little wifi in Bozeman.  I figure Yellowstone will be a little infrastructure-deprived [no so, Yellowstone is completely infrastructure-deprived!].  I did all that, but the surprise was that I kinda fell love with Bozeman!  Turns out it’s a college town, a directional Montana university is here, and it really makes the downtown nice!   Tons of food places and bookstores and cute coeds and all that college stuff.  Everywhere has wifi and hipsters on bikes.  Again this makes me want to sell my condo so I can do stuff like live here six weeks,  Missoula six weeks, Florence Oregon a few weeks, and so on…

Didn’t escape Bozeman til 4:30-ish.  A little I-90, then south at Livingston on US 89, to head up the oh so scenic Yellowstone River valley to see those iconic National Park sights of Yellowstone Park.

It’s about 5:30 when I pass a really inviting looking Forest Service CG right off the road, but I’m very excited to maximize my Yellowstone experience by camping there and spending the evening at the Mammoth Headquarters area.  This turned out to be a horribly misbegotten idea, pretty much 180 degrees opposite of how one should attack the park, but I didn’t know any better, so I zoomed past the quiet CG, rushed through the quaint and scenic restaurant-filled town of Gardiner to get into the park.  Passed the now famous Teddy Roosevelt entrance Arch, and started winding up the Gardiner River Canyon to get to my campground (HAH) at Mammoth.

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