Wednesday’s ride would take us through the Bighorn Mountains of Central Wyoming. Marv and I overslept a bit, and by the time we were up and ready to ride, Kurt had already had breakfast. We lit out from Cody across the high plains to the southeast. We had about an hour to ride through scrubland, and farm land where it was irrigated before we got to anything interesting. We made a half-hour stop in the small town of Greybull for breakfast. I ate nutritious breakfast food, and Marv and Kurt gave in to their weakness and had apple pie à la mode. They remarked that it was “okay”, and that it might have been better if the café’s idea of homemade apple pie didn’t involve opening a can of apple filling and pouring it into a pie crust. I enjoyed my vegetable omelet.
We followed Highway U.S. 14 as it began to wind through the Shell Creek Canyon at the southwestern corner of the Bighorn Mountain Range. The next 20 miles of road were magical. The canyon is quite narrow, with beautiful red walls contrasting with the bright green foliage nourished by Shell Creek. The experience in the early morning light was powerful. I occasionally find myself in a place and time when I experience a deep spirituality, and this was one of those moments – surrounded by quiet beauty that seemed to be speaking to me. We stopped at an overlook to view where Shell Creek drops as a waterfall. We took our helmets off and took photos for half an hour.
The highway climbs into the mountains, and plateaus on a wonderfully blooming alpine plain. We caught a bit of road construction and were treated to eleven miles of gravel and grooved pavement behind a small string of RVs. At one point, there were a couple of cars on the side of the road, and two people taking photos of a pair of moose grazing about 50 yards off the road. One of the animals was huge and, as I parked and was digging my camera out of my top case, it started a slow trot towards us. The other people started heading for their cars, and I started thinking about what my options were if it decided to come my way. Fortunately, it just wanted to make it into the woods on the other side of the road. The smaller second one followed soon after.
We stopped at a place we’d been before, Burgess Junction, where we fueled our tanks and went in to sit at the restaurant. Kurt had lunch, and I had a side order of French fries. While relaxing on the shaded patio, Marv pointed out another pair of moose a short distance away that were making their way across a field. Kurt and I grabbed our cameras. The landscape and distance worked against us and, although we got a few clear views of the animals, I couldn’t get a good picture.
At Burgess Junction, we turned onto Highway U.S. 14 Alt. This was the eastern-most point of our journey, and the rest of our trip would be a zig-zagging path west. We descended from the 9,200-foot plateau in the Bighorns to the 3,600-foot plain below. The views off the near-vertical cliffs are stunning. The road down is steep and twisty. If you’re not careful, it could be treacherous. The decline is very steep and many of the turns are decreasing-radius hairpins – some of them with slippery cattle guards across the pavement at ill-placed locations. If you’re not paying attention on this road, your speed could very easily exceed your ability to safely bend around a corner, and the result could be catastrophic.
At the western base of the Bighorns, near the town of Lovell, there’s a road that follows the Bighorn River Canyon north across the state line into Montana. We had never been up this highway before, as the only way out is over many miles of gravel to exit the canyon at the north end. It’s an in-and-out trip, and we usually do go up dead-end roads. We had the time and the inclination, so we rode in. The area is called Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The Yellowtail Dam, built in 1965, has created Bighorn Reservoir, a bright pea-green ribbon of water at the bottom of the canyon. We rode up to a very nice Devil’s Canyon Overlook. It’s a cool spot, where the river makes a great horseshoe bend, and the canyon walls are niched with small caves that are nesting areas for Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons. The canyon is also home to a herd of wild horses. On the way out, we saw a car quickly pull off the road. I looked around to see if there was a good reason for the car stopping but didn’t see anything. Marv and I kept going, but Kurt stopped, and was rewarded with a look at the wild horses on a high butte above the road.
After leaving the canyon, we had an uneventful hour of riding to get to our night’s lodgings in Red Lodge, Montana. The place Kurt chose was very nice, considering the cost. Rock Creek Resort is a well-kept resort on the fast-running rapids of Rock Creek. They have nice grounds, a very nice restaurant, and it was a very comfortable stay, despite the poor internet access.