Well.........so much for our best guesses.
After traveling slowly but surely along the alternatively smooth and rocky and flat and steeply hilled "road" high on Rattlesnake Mountain for a couple of hours heading in the direction of Chief Joseph Highway (and certain for a variety of reasons that the road would indeed pop us out onto paved road) we dead-ended.
I felt badly for a while as we turned the truck around and headed back the way we had come.
I was the one who began the "this HAS to lead to another paved road and these are all the reasons why" conversation, but after such a long and slow and beautiful ride LC also believed my unresearched gut-reaction rhetoric as well.
Intrinsically it made sense but so much for cowboy logic.
We turned the beast around and headed back the way we had come.
And soon we came to another intersection - one we had debated taking on the way in - and decided to see where it led.
After agreeing on simply heading back the way we had come we broke our agreement within only 20 minutes and headed down a different road.
And almost instantly the terrain changed.
There were fewer wild flowers. More pine trees. More hills close to us as opposed to the wide open grassy pastures we had greatly enjoyed to that point.
We had started the morning with my innocuous suggestion to have a picnic in the mountains.
Many hours later we were still wandering - albeit happily wandering - for miles and miles on top of Rattlesnake Mountain..................
After our first dead-end experience I have no idea why on earth we thought this particular road might lead down the mountain.
We could tell from the mountain ranges in front of us that we were traveling in the general direction of Buffalo Bill Reservoir and thought perhaps this road we were now on would lead us to Jim's Mountain.
Which would have popped us out down in Wapiti.
Regardless we had come to realize that Rattlesnake Mountain was so much more than we had ever expected.
A simple picnic in the mountains was a long forgotten goal. And so was seriously looking for a different route back down to civilization.
If we found another route down great. If not we knew how to get back to our original road.
The goal became simply to see and enjoy................
One isolated rain shower off in the distance...........
I look at these pictures now and wonder why I did not notice the sky changing from blue to grey.................
Thirty beautiful minutes after we veered onto this new road it simply........ended.
No nice and civilized little sign indicating "Road Closed"
If we had continued driving another 30 feet we would have driven off a cliff................
LC and James and I all climbed out of the truck, walked close to the edge of the cliff and looked out over..........30? 40? 50? 100 miles of endless sky and endless mountain ranges.................
It was breath-taking.
And the pictures that I took do not begin to do justice to the mountain ranges that had all of a sudden seemed to engulf the entire world.
LC wandered alone. James and I wandered in a different direction.
Both of us tryng to take in the scene before us.
After traveling long and stopping frequently but only for brief periods, we stayed in this one place for a long while............
Sure enough........the reservoir far below us.............
As we were heading back to the main (relatively speaking) road/trail that we had been on and needed to be on again in order to make our way back down to........yes........Belfry Highway.........we talked excitedly of the beautiful things we had seen on this trip and also talked disappointingly of the animals that we did not see.
No large game at all - no bears or elk or deer or antelope.
And then I looked to my right and saw this hawk.
As LC continued to drive slowly I tried to follow this hawk with my camera.
He was moving very fast - gliding on the wind currents, flying in acrobatic maneuvers, swooping down close to the ground and then back into the air again. He was obviously on the hunt.
I had no idea whether or not I had captured him in pictures or not until I downloaded them onto my computer.
Gratified to realize that he was indeed caught in a couple of my too-fast taken pictures.............
Which brings me back full circle to "Drive This Road At Your Own Risk" signs.
And the need to do research before heading into the mountains.
And the need to always watch the sky when in the mountains.............
We hit the road leading back down the mountain, and knowing exactly where we were and exactly what lay in front us we comfortably began our long and slow drive back through now familiar open grassy pastures, tree filled woodland in a section of Shoshone National Forest, dirt and gravel road then clay road then black volcanic dirt road.
Retracing our steps on the way home.
We were still traveling through the woodlands of Shoshone National Forest.
I could see nothing but blue sky in front of me when all of a sudden I saw a huge flash of lightning to my right.
It startled me and I looked in the passenger side mirror and was startled to see very dark and very ominous black clouds behind us.
I turned to look back behind me and to confirm what I had seen in the mirror.
They were not isolated rain showers that blow by and are gone before you know it.
This was a very large major storm coming across the mountains and it was quickly heading our way.
It began to rain very hard and lightning was suddenly all around us.
Jamie is terrified of storms and usually spends them hiding under the desk.
When the hard and driving rain and frequent lightning and thunder started I looked back at my dog.
Surprisingly she was not shaking like a leaf. She was staring straight ahead and completely silent.
I stroked her head to reassure her (and me) as we continued through the flat section of the national forest in the pouring rain.
Once we made it through the forest we knew that we were going to be encountering continuous road surface changes, some rocky sections that we had to navigate up and over, and continuous climbs and descents.
Many sections had steep drop-offs down into the ravine below.
In the rain red clay became slick red clay - no traction - hugging the ditch on the wrong side of the road - spinning wheels - the truck weaving - backing down part way to try and straighten out the truck when the back end wanted to head for the ravine.
LC held his breath. I held my breath. Neither one of us spoke. Jamie never made a sound.
That scene played out on one climb after another until we finally and thankfully found our way onto the black top of the Belfry Highway.
By the time we found our way down the rain had stopped and the sun was shining again.
It was a very long and very slow and very very scary trip down Rattlesnake Mountain.
A great trip. A wonderful and exciting trip.
But once again I am reminded that in the mountains the line between "life is short - who's got the next joke?" to a dire situation that can be potentially extremely serious can be very short....................