Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dead Indian Pass

LC and I have been talking about it for about a week, and yesterday morning we finally decided to drive Chief Joseph Scenic Highway
The weather was not perfect for such a drive nor for picture taking in the mountains.  The day was very warm but the sky was again filled with the smoke of far too many wild fires that have dominated the west for most of the summer.
After a brief stop for gas and cold drinks and lemon-poppy muffins at a local convenience store we headed towards Clark and beyond.
We have taken this drive a number of times in the past.
Our first trip was towards the end of spring last year when the weather was warm in Cody but absolutely freezing up on Dead Indian Pass.  We made the trip again early into the summer when there was still a huge and astonishing amount of snow deep in the mountains.
Regardless of the weather and regardless of the time of year, the drive is always stunningly gorgeous.
The winding two lane paved highway is filled with views of mountain ranges, forests, camp grounds, abundant overlooks, and (if you are very lucky) many animals.
It is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever taken.
Even though we have now been back in Wyoming for a little over two months this was our first journey on Chief Joseph Highway this year, and we headed out planning to take the day simply as it came.
We would at least get as far as Dead Indian Pass and decide at that point whether we wanted to turn back or continue further.
Man, woman and mutt got a late start but finally got organized enough to head east out of town.
Passing through thousands of acres of sandy and dusty and dry BLM land, surrounded by the huge and very rugged mountains that surround Clark.
As usual, and even though we walked Jamie before leaving, our dog began to whine and bark insistently on the way and we pulled off the Belfry Highway and onto a dusty side road so that she could do whatever it was that she needed to do.
LC and I are convinced that our dog constantly makes chumps out of us.
That she "paces" her bathroom breaks as an excuse to get out of the truck more often than she would under normal circumstances.
I took these pictures from the pull-off along the side of the road as I patiently waited for my pup to do what she needed to do, which was mostly walk and wander and sniff.
Chumps indeed.................
As I stood looking at the terrain around me I thought back to when we first arrived in Cody in March of last year (God, was it only that recently?).
As we drove this same highway heading towards Buffalo Bill Town I looked around me, incredibly dismayed at what I saw.
There were no trees.  None.  Where were the trees?
As we pulled into town I had already decided that this would never do.
At the time I joked with LC that the terrain looked like a moonscape.  Or the Afghan-Pakistani border region.
Yesterday as I stood alongside the road I thought back to the recent pictures I had seen of the Mars landing.
Not a whole lot different...............
After turning left onto Chief Joseph we immediately began to climb.
The highway is winding and very steep, often with hairpin turns, but it is also a magical drive.
You are never quite certain what you will find around the next bend in the road.
These are two other blog posts I put together after trips last year:
This particular highway is one of the most famous drives in the country because it meanders deep into the mountains, has abundant overlooks and is incredibly lovely.
If you continue beyond Dead Indian Pass you drive further and deeper still into the mountains.
Aside from infrequent homes, a research station and a smattering of campgrounds, it is many miles between any signs of civilization.  
There are no gas stations or convenience stores or small towns until you hit the small community of Crandall about 25 miles from Cooke City.
Eventually you come to one major intersection - turn left off Chief Joseph and the highway takes you to Cooke City and then the north east gate of Yellowstone Park.
Turn right at this same intersection and eventually you will find yourself in the quaint mountain resort town of Red Lodge.
These pictures were taken at an overlook less than 10 miles onto Chief Joseph...................... 
Yesterday we stopped at the same pull off that we had stopped at on previous trips.
On those trips I took pictures of this place and could look off into the far distance and see the Big Horn Mountains.
In the clear sunshine the mountains looked like a mirage.  
They looked beautiful as they always do.
But yesterday the Big Horns had disappeared.- hidden behind a layer of smoke.............
For the first while on our trip we stopped at every single overlook (until we finally realized that it was taking us forever to truly get up into the mountains) and I continually found myself looking over towards Heart Mountain, wondering just how far we would have to travel before we finally lost sight of it..................
The Shoshone National Forest continually seems to make its appearance as we travel the region.
We head out to the Southfork and we are in it.
We got out beyond Meeteetse and there it is.
At the end of the canyon in back of Clark.
Off the highway leading to the east gate of Yellowstone.
The forest completely surrounds and embraces this region.
When we were here in Wyoming last year so many tourists were bitterly disappointed that the east gate of Yellowstone did not open until almost mid-June.
We drove up to the gates about a week before they opened, not bothering to research online ahead of time because truthfully we did not care.
The drive up to the park is through Shoshone National Forest lands and it is a beautiful drive.
And through the winter and early spring you cannot make that quiet drive on mostly empty highway without running into multiple herds of big horn sheep, elk, antelope, deer and bison.
I had my close call interaction with an elk at the Wayfarers Chapel in the week prior to the gate opening:
Whenever I see one of these US Shoshone National Forest signs I smile.
I like them.
And I greatly like the forest...............
My Mountain Boy pulled the truck off the road and up a driveway leading to this cattle corral when my cell phone rang.
It was my youngest son Chris calling from Canada.
He had an interview for a job yesterday morning and I had asked him to call me after the interview to let me know how it went.
It was a position with the airport in Calgary.
After leaving the US Air Force, and after more than a year of wandering haphazardly from one dead-ed job to the next (seemingly quitting one job and starting another one almost bi-weekly) my child was actually interviewing for something that may be the start of a new career.
He got the job.
As I wandered absently around a random field in the middle of the still-WY mountains talking to my son I was both relieved and happy for him.
Good deal.  Very good deal.
I'll call you tonight and you can tell me more about it.  I love you Baby.................
Heart Mountain still on the horizon..............
After a seemingly long and slow and wonderful drive up the mountain we finally found our way to Dead Indian Pass.
This place is filled with history and when you stand at the rocky overlook an endless world of mountains, pine trees, hills and valley stands before you.
On a clear day you can see forever.
On a cloudy or windy or rainy or partially smoke covered day the world in front of you is filled with light and shadow.
It looks different every single time we come to this place.
But it is a place where no matter the weather and no matter the visibility, it always puts your small place in the world into perspective.
We are small.
The world is not....................
I remember seeing these little chipmunks at this same place last year, and smiled when I saw them again yesterday.
They scurry quickly in and among the rocks around this overlook and I honestly have no idea how such small and fragile little creatures manage to both survive and thrive in what can be a very harsh environment.
I tried unsuccessfully to take pictures of them playing on the rocks on the other side of the guard rail, but the uncooperative little buggers would not stand still long enough for me to get a decent shot.
Finally I looked to my left and saw that one of them had squeezed through the rail and was now standing on the retaining wall posing for me.
I managed to get this one quick shot before my mangy dog also saw the hapless chipmunk and made a suicide dive bomb attack on him.
The little chipmunk darted safely down in the crack in the rocks, trying to get away from my dog
LC, Jamie and I all walked over to see if the little guy was still in the crack or whether there was a hole down there that may have provided a method of escape for him.
As we all looked down through the crack LC and I realized that little chipmunk was looking up at us.
He then proceeded to make his loud and high pitched chipmunk noises, intent on letting all of us know just how unhappy he was to be stuck in a crack in a wall.
Too funny.................
Little chipmunk, still hiding in the crack in the wall and still voicing his displeasure..................
A loaded down logging truck working hard to climb the hill up to Dead Indian Pass.......................
We stayed at Dead Indian Pass for a long time and really enjoyed looking out over the never-ending mountains.
When we had finally spent enough time in this one place and it was time to move on, LC and I looked at each other questioningly.
Do we head back or do we go a little further?  A little deeper into the mountains?
LC asked me if I wanted a burger in Crandall.
I said yes....................

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