Dream Highway: US Highway 212 and the Beartooth Highway

IMG_6519Like so many other people, I have a bucket list of places I want to visit in my lifetime. On my trip in May 2014 I was able to scratch off TWO of them!  The first was a trip across US Route 2 from Michigan to Montana, with a stop in Bemidji, MN to see the giant Paul Bunyan and Ox statues (so it was kind of a three for the price of two really).  You can read about that portion of the trip HERE.

Beartooth Highway
Sumoflam on the Beartooth Highway (All-American Road)
US 212 East on Beartooth Highway
US 212 East on Beartooth Highway

The second, and perhaps more thrilling and fulfilling to me, was being able to travel US Highway 212 across Yellowstone and then over the Beartooth Highway, one of America’s greatest Scenic Byways.  This 68 mile trip makes its way through Yellowstone and then from the Northeast Entrance across northwest Wyoming and winds its way into southwest Montana ending at Red Lodge. I have dreamed of taking this highway for almost a long time.

US212Map
US 212 Map from NE corner of Yellowstone to Red Lodge, MT

I actually started the day in way up north  in Shelby, Montana and drove down US Highway 89 and the King’s Hill Scenic Byway into Yellowstone (see post here). I continued with a drive to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. The hot springs are most certainly one  of the spectacular sites in Yellowstone.

Looking north to Roosevelt Arch and Montana from Yellowstone entrance
Looking north to Roosevelt Arch and Montana from Yellowstone entrance
At the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, still on US 89 in Montana
At the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, still on US 89 in Montana
Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Road into Mammoth Hot Springs
Road into Mammoth Hot Springs
A shot of Mammoth Hot Springs
A shot of Mammoth Hot Springs
Another view of the Mammoth Hot Springs
Another view of the Mammoth Hot Springs
Liberty Cap (the big cone) and the hot springs in the background
Liberty Cap (the big cone) and the hot springs in the background

While entering the Hot Springs area, I came across a beautiful elk.

An elk was seen roaming the area around Mammoth Hot Springs
An elk was seen roaming the area around Mammoth Hot Springs

Just south of Mammoth Hot Springs I finally left US Highway 89 and got on to the Grand Loop Road, which goes across the northern section of Yellowstone to the beginning of US Highway 212. at the Northeast section of the park. The Grand Loop is a very scenic drive and features mountain vistas, lakes and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.

Grand Loop Road as seen from Mammoth Hot Springs
Grand Loop Road as seen from Mammoth Hot Springs
The Blacktail Lakes in Yellowstone
The Blacktail Lakes in Yellowstone

In May 2013 I visited Yellowstone and saw a few bison, but on this northern part of the loop, there were hundreds of them.

Bison roam freely along the Grand Loop road
Bison roam freely along the Grand Loop road
A big bison poses for me
A big bison poses for me
Bison and calves relax by a lake
Bison and calves relax by a lake

A good part of the Grand Loop Road runs alongside Lava Creek, which was full to overflowing due to snow runoff.  There were plenty of scenic views with mountains, meadows, lakes and the creek.

Lava Creek with snow capped mountains in the background
Lava Creek with snow capped mountains in the background
Eastern potion of Grand Loop Road
Eastern potion of Grand Loop Road
Bison relax along Lava Creek while pronghorned antelope look on from the background
Bison relax along Lava Creek while pronghorned antelope look on from the background
Another splendid mountain scene from Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone
Another splendid mountain scene from Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone
Mountains near the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone
Mountains near the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone

Once I arrived at the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, I began my journey on US Highway 212.  I felt very fortunate that the Beartooth Highway was open for travel.  They had opened it only five days prior to my visit so my timing was perfect!

Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone
Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone
A welcome sign for me. I had a smile at this point
A welcome sign for me. I had a smile at this point
Goodbye Yellowstone
Goodbye Yellowstone
Hello Beartooth Highway
Hello Beartooth Highway

The first stop along the way, after leaving Wyoming, was Silver Gate, Montana. Silver Gate is located just one mile from the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park and is only three miles from Cooke City. The small town is located on land homesteaded by Horace S. Double, for which he was granted a patent on May 2, 1897.

Welcome to Silver Gate, Montana
Welcome to Silver Gate, Montana

And just past there was Cooke City, Montana. The town of about 100 people was at one time a mining camp for gold and had The population consisted of 227 voters who that supported two smelters, two sawmills, three general stores, two hotels, two livery stables and the local meat market.

Cooke City, Montana
Cooke City, Montana
Cooke City, Coolest Small Town in America
Cooke City, Coolest Small Town in America

And Cooke City is also the real gateway to the Beartooth Highway.  Just three minutes form downtown I was already high up in snow country and heading higher in altitude.

The Beartooth highway just east of Cooke City, Montana
The Beartooth highway just east of Cooke City, Montana

The road then veers southward again and back into Wyoming for the fun stuff!

Welcome "back" to Wyoming
Welcome “back” to Wyoming
Heading into the mountains.  Snow depth on the side of the road was about two feet at this point
Heading into the mountains. Snow depth on the side of the road was about two feet at this point
View of the Beartooths from the highway was awesome
First view of the Beartooths from the highway was awesome

As the highway climbed the grand views were amazing

Amazing view of the Beartooths
Amazing view of the Beartooths

The road continued to climb and the snow grew ever deeper. The snow on the side of the road, as seen below, was the actual depth…it was not scooped there….

First view of really deep snow
First view of really deep snow
Snow walls
Snow walls

The road from Cooke City dropped for a while so I was in some prairie with mountains.  I took this panorama photo with my iPhone.

Panorama of the Beartooths from east of Cooke City
Panorama of the Beartooths from east of Cooke City

After about 25 miles of driving and continuing the climb, I got to the Top of the World Store which sits at 9,400 feet altitude. I had to stop for some photos and a snack and a restroom break before the great ascent to Beartooth Pass.

Welcome to Top of the World Store
Welcome to Top of the World Store
Top of the World Store - technically has a Cody, Wyoming address, but it is a long way from Cody
Top of the World Store – technically has a Cody, Wyoming address, but it is a long way from Cody
Sumoflam at Top of the World
Sumoflam at Top of the World Store
Found the sign "Follow Your Bliss" in the store and I was already with my bliss!
Found the sign “Follow Your Bliss” in the store and I was already with my bliss!
I parked next to this stop sign which was covered by the snow...it was this deep all around
I parked next to this stop sign which was covered by the snow…it was this deep all around

From Top of the World the winter wonderland became more amazing as walls of snow grew higher. I was loving it!

Walls of snow continue along the Beartooth Highway
Walls of snow continue along the Beartooth Highway

From this point the road was switchbacks all the way up to the pass.  I actually took a video of some of the drive through this winding wall of snow.

As I got to the top of the pass, at nearly 11,000 feet, I truly felt like I was on top of the world.  Following are more photos of the spectacular scenes from the highway.

At Beartooth Pass
At Beartooth Pass
Mountains as seen from the top
Mountains as seen from the top
The Bear's Tooth (Middle left)
The Bear’s Tooth (Middle left)
Glorious Mountain Vista from 11,000 feet
Glorious Mountain Vista from 11,000 feet
Another panorama from Beartooth Pass
Another panorama from Beartooth Pass

And how about a Panorama 360 view?

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The view from the Driver's Seat
The view from the Driver’s Seat
At Beartooth Level
At Beartooth Level

From the pass, the road still wound its way slowly down hill as I went north back into Montana.  The views and scenery just kept coming.

Welcome back to Montana
Welcome back to Montana
Mountains and valleys in southern Montana
Mountains and valleys in southern Montana

I finally made my way through the switchbacks and then down the hills for the 30 mile drive to Red Lodge, Montana, which is the northern gateway to the Beartooths.

US 212 drops considerably as it continues north of the Beartooths
US 212 drops considerably as it continues north of the Beartooths
Welcome to Red Lodge, Montana
Welcome to Red Lodge, Montana

Basically, from the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone to Red Lodge, Montana, via US 212, took me about two hours and 15 minutes, including stops along the way.  One of the most amazing and beautiful 2 hours of my life (not counting marriage and children being born of course!!).

Downtown Red Lodge, Montana
Downtown Red Lodge, Montana

Red Lodge, Montana is a nice little town booming with personality.  There are old neon signs, unique eateries, a Peter Toth “Whispering Giant” (see my writeup from Idaho Falls’ “Whispering Giant”), and I even came across a unique art shop that makes animals out of juniper.

The Red Lodge Cafe sports an old classic neon sign.
The Red Lodge Cafe sports an old classic neon sign.
Took this photo for all of my cycle friends (you know who you are) - Bone Daddy's Custom Cycle in Red Lodge
Took this photo for all of my cycle friends (you know who you are) – Bone Daddy’s Custom Cycle in Red Lodge

Hungarian-born and American immigrant sculptor Peter Toth has made a name for himself fomr his awe-inspiring giant wood-carved “Whispering Giants.”  Over the years Toth has created at least one of these huge statues (all different) for each state in the United States.  All of them collectively (at least 74 are documented) are known as the “Whispering Giants”.  This was the third one I have seen on my trips in the past three years.  Many of the Whispering Giants can been here.

Peter Toth's "Whispering Giant" of Red Lodge, Montana
Peter Toth’s “Whispering Giant” of Red Lodge, Montana
Detail of the "Whispering Giant" of Red Lodge.
Detail of the “Whispering Giant” of Red Lodge.

Then there are those juniper animals. I love the creativity of artists around this country.  Rocky Fork Juniper is owned by Lee Kern and Pete Imbs and they have other artists as well. Here are a couple of their unique works (they were closed when I got there).

Rocky Fork Juniper, Red Lodge, Montana
Rocky Fork Juniper, Red Lodge, Montana
Rocky Fork Moose
Rocky Fork Moose
Rocky Fork Grizzly
Rocky Fork Grizzly
Whimsical Lamp made of juniper at Rock Fork
Whimsical Lamp made of juniper at Rocky Fork

As the day wound down I made my way east from Red Lodge on Montana 308 to Belfry, then south on Montana 72 towards Wyoming, which turns into Wyoming 120, to end up overnight in Cody, after a wonderful day of driving through some of the most beautiful country in America.

Belfry, Montana with sign to Cody, Wyoming in background
Belfry, Montana with sign to Cody, Wyoming in background
Welcome to Wyoming (again!)
Welcome to Wyoming (again!)
Highway to Cody, Wyoming
Highway to Cody, Wyoming

The next post will cover my return trip leg from Cody through Douglas, WY (the Jackalope capital of the World) and then on to Alliance, NE, the home of the famed Carhenge.

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A few sites in Southeast Idaho – Idaho Falls and Blackfoot

Potato Museum - Blackfoot
Potato Museum – Blackfoot

While in Rexburg for the last week of March and the first week of April, I had the opportunity to take a couple of trips south to Blackfoot and Idaho Falls, where I was able to catch a few of the interesting sites in the area.  I even caught an amazing quarrel between a Canadian goose and a couple of seagulls.

Idaho Falls

The waterfalls on the Snake River called Idaho Falls
The waterfalls on the Snake River.  Idaho Falls, as they are called, were once rapids on the Snake

Idaho Falls is a nice little town at the base of the foothills with the Snake River running through the middle of town.  It is currently the largest city in Southeastern Idaho with a population of nearly 57,000 and a metro population of a little over 136,000.  Like Rexburg, it has a large LDS (Mormon) population and a large temple.

Carved Wooden Indian - by Peter Toth
Carved Wooden Indian              (Nov. 1980) – by Peter Toth

One of my trip highlights was being able to see the large Indian wood carving by Hungarian-born and American immigrant sculptor Peter Toth.  Over the years Toth has created at least one of these huge statues (all different) for each state in the United States.  All of them collectively (at least 74 are documented) are known as the “Whispering Giants”.  I hope to be able to begin my quest to visit many more over the years.  Many of the Whispering Giants can been here.

Located in North Tourist Park, one of over 70 from around the US
Located in North Tourist Park, one of over 70 from around the US.  This one is just over 27 feet tall

The Indian depicted above is a combination of tribes native to Idaho. This sculpture was  the 37th state in the series. As with all of his works, Toth did the work free of charge with supplies and materials donated by local businesses. The local Chamber of Commerce hosted the dedication program. Governor John V. Evans accepted and dedicated the sculpture.

Wild West Designs
Wild West Designs

Ironically, just north of the Whispering Giant is a unique shop called Wild West Designs Antler Art.  They have many interesting home furnishings inside, but it was the unique wooden carvings outside that caught my eye!!

Giant Bear with Fish
Giant Bear with Fish

The giant bear above adorns a place in the front of the shop.  This wooden grizzly is about 16 feet tall.

Cute "Welcome" Bear
Cute “Welcome” Bear
Bear chasing a Trapper
Bear chasing a Trapper

Further into town I came across a piece of nostalgia in Scotty’s Hamburgers.  This iconic drive-in has been around Idaho Falls since the 1960s.

Scotty's Hamburgers - Old Americana
Scotty’s Hamburgers – Nostalgic 1960s Drive-In

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to eat there since they were closed on Sunday and that was my day to drive thru town.

Idaho Falls Temple of the LDS Church
Idaho Falls Temple of the LDS Church

Like Rexburg, the crown jewel for Idaho Falls is the large LDS Temple.  Dedicated in September 1945 it was the first LDS temple in Idaho and is one of the older LDS temples, currently the 8th oldest in operation (see entire chronology here).  It was the only temple dedicated between 1927 and 1955.  Originally, it did not have an angel Moroni on top.  This was added by helicopter in September 1983.

Snake River in Idaho Falls
Snake River in Idaho Falls

The area around the temple is a beautiful riverine green space — a haven for relaxation and ducks, geese and seagulls.

Snake River in Idaho Falls
Snake River in Idaho Falls

As I drive around looking at the wonderful river sights, I came across some folks feeding the birds…it was a virtual crowd of ducks and geese and seagulls.  I was quite amazed to see them all congregated together fighting over the morsels of bread coming their way.

Gathering of the Birds
Gathering of the Birds
Solitary Seagull waiting for a quick grab at some bread
Solitary Seagull waiting for a quick grab at some bread
A proud goose
A proud goose

But, the real excitement came when a goose got a big piece of a baguette and was then attacked by a couple of hungry seagulls.  I had never seen anything like this so I had the camera on fast snap to get the following sequence of shots.

DSC_4962
Fighting over bread – the beginning

DSC_4963 DSC_4964 DSC_4965

Fighting over bread - the goose wins
Fighting over bread – the goose wins

It was really something watching this 2 minute battle for the bread!!

Old Bonneville Restaurant
Old Bonneville Restaurant

Idaho Falls still has a number of nostalgic locations.   The Bonneville, an old Chinese restaurant, appears to be closed now, but the sign remains.  I love old neon signs like these.  This one is especially classy with the dot on the I being a star.

Yummy House Chinese Foood
Yummy House Chinese Food

And who can resist the Yummy House?  I had to, they were closed.

Approaching Wolverine Creek Wind Farm, near Iona, ID
Approaching Wolverine Creek Wind Farm, near Iona, ID

As I typically do, if I see a Wind Farm, I tend to go there.  I am so excited to see natural energy in action and the wind farms are always like a giant flower garden blooming out of the ground.  The Wolverine Creek Wind Farm is housed in the foothills west of Idaho Falls, in the town of Iona.  There are 43 turbines, which can be seen from Rexburg on a clear day.  This site produces about 64.5 Mw of power.

Turbines from the Wolverine Creek Wind Farm
Turbines from the Wolverine Creek Wind Farm
Another view of the turbines
Another view of the turbines

Blackfoot, Idaho

Blackfoot, Idaho
Blackfoot, Idaho

I was excited for the chance to get to Blackfoot, Idaho so that I could visit the famous Idaho Potato Museum. So, on a trip to Pocatello, accompanied by a business partner from Rexburg, we stopped in Blackfoot on the way home for a quick look see.

Idaho Potato Museum
Idaho Potato Museum, Blackfoot, Idaho

When we arrived it appeared to be snowing, but I actually think it was potato flakes falling from the sky to welcome me!!

Sumoflam at the Potato Museum
Sumoflam at the Potato Museum
Sumoflam and Giant Potato
Sumoflam and Giant Potato – must be potato flakes and not snow!!

Like other similar museums have visited in the past (like the Mustard Museum in Wisconsin, the JELLO museum in New York, the SPAM Museum in Wisconsin…to name a few), the focus of this museum was a certain food, in this case, the potato.  During the visit I learned a great deal about potato farming in Idaho, I learned that Sweet Potatoes are not related to a potato and I saw the Guinness Certified “World’s Largest Potato Chip”, which is housed in the museum and was created by Pringle’s in June 1991.

History of the Potato
History of the Idaho Potato
Sumoflam with a Potato Picking Bag
Sumoflam with a Potato Picking Bag
a Sample Potato T-Shirt
a Sample Potato T-Shirt
World's Largest Potato Chip - 23" x 14.5"
World’s Largest Potato Chip – 23″ x 14.5″ – equivalent of 80 regular Pringle’s Chips

For fun, we took a drive around the small town to see another giant, a few murals and finally get a lunch at one of the oldest drive-ins (and eat ins) in town.

Giant Waitress
Giant Waitress at Martha’s Cafe in Blackfoot, Idaho

This former Uniroyal Gal (there are still of a few of these around the country) turned waitress adorns the front entrance to Martha’s Cafe. She has gone through a couple of changes.  She was formerly blonde (in 2011) and actually held a plate (see photos on this blog).

Mural at Eastern Idaho State Fairgrounds
Mural at Eastern Idaho State Fairgrounds

As with many of my town visits around the country, I also take a liking to wall art and murals.  I found a whole set of murals on the side of the wall near the fairgrounds.

Fairgrounds Wall Mural
Fairgrounds Wall Mural – Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural - Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural – Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural - Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural – Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural - Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural – Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural - Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural – Blackfoot, Idaho

We also spotted a couple of other older wall murals in town

Salt Lake Mural near Tent and Awning Shop - Blackfoot, Idaho
Salt Lake Mural near Tent and Awning Shop – Blackfoot, Idaho
Are We There Yet? Mural near Tent and Awning Shop - Blackfoot, Idaho
Are We There Yet? Mural near Tent and Awning Shop – Blackfoot, Idaho

Finally, we stopped at a great place for lunch.  I had a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich and almost ordered a Rice Krispy Treat Milk Shake!!

Rupe's Burgers
Rupe’s Burgers – Blackfoot, Idaho

Rupe’s Burgers is like so many other lat 60s/early 70s drive-in diners.  Great greasy not good for you food…and lots of it.  This one opened in 1962 as an A & W Root Beer.  It was open thru 1978 when the Rupe family sold it.  The place became R & B’s thru 1986 and then went out of business.  In 1987 the Rupe family bought it back.  The place seats about 100 inside and has room for 20 cars outside.

Marilyn Monroe in a Potato Sack
Marilyn Monroe in a Potato Sack

I finished off a couple of different visits and after a two and a half week stay in Idaho, it was time to get back on the road home to Kentucky!!

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