Sunday, May 13, 2018

May 13, 2018

Choteau, Montana, is a sweet special little city that calls itself "Front Porch of The Rockies."  Pinedale, Wyoming, once had prominnt signs on either side of town that said, "All The Civiliation You Need."  Those signs would also well describe Choteau.  The city has everything anyone would ever need without anything extra.  It's the perfect "right-sized" rural Montana city.

We arrived here in a relentless rain late Friday afternoon and will be leaving sometime this sunny Mother's Day morning.  We've really enjoyed our short sojourn in Choteau. We parked two nights in the City Park Campground beside tiny Spring Creek, a tributary of the nearby Teton River.

Choteau is one of the last remaining cities on US 89 that continues to offer and maintain a City Park Campground.  Over 100 years ago when auto ownership and travel exploded, cities and towns all across American set up "tourist camps" to cater to  visiting motorists.  Eventually, such visitors wore out their welcome.  Today a City Park Campground is a novel rarity.  This campground costs a mere $8 a night and has clean restrooms, a trash container and a water spigot.

There's plenty for a Highway Heritage Tourists to see and do in Choteau. The city's history dates back to the earliest days of The Blackfeet Reservation in the 1860's.  By the time the turn of the century rolled around, Choteau was primed to become the legal and commercial hub of a lengthy stretch of The Rocky Mountain Front.

As an example of the community's long-term cultural and economic health, consider that Choteau has supported a first rate weekly newspaper since 1904!  Very, very few rural communities of less than 2,000 population can boast such a similar claim.

There are numerous thriving businesses of all kinds in Choteau. The city's residential district is a charming slice of the Norman Rockwell genre. Choteau benefits from the vast vibrant ag lands that sprawl across the horizon. Fat, good-looking cattle easily outnumber people here and the grain industry remains an economic kingpin.

Choteau's Old Trail Museum is definitely one of the best such facilities for a city this sie anywhere to be found. Most cities this size have some sort of a museum but nothing that can compare to the Old Trail Museum. The institution clearly shows people here care deeply about their history and heritage.

Indeed, history lives large on the local landscape. Everywhere you look there's some sort of reminder about the cultural cavalcade that left its legacy.  Consider that the namesake of the Choteau museum is "The Old Trail," which some say may date back 25,000 years as a connection between the Arctic and Mexico.  A credible case could be argued that The Old Trail is the very precursor of what's now highway US 89!

Time and our journey on US 89 from Mexico to Canada march on so we must once again take to the road today.  But we're a bit reluctant to leave such a sweet city as Choteau.  This place could easily be a "come back" spot for an extended stay to soak up so many highlights we're having to leave unseen.

Moving right along to what lies ahead today we will scout a purported camping area in Dupuyer for use on our return trip.  Today's objective is to get to the Glacier National Park's Saint Mary Campground just west of the community that bears the same name.  It's first-come, first-served this time of year so we want to arrive fairly early "just in case" there might be more campers than there are campsites.

If the Saint Mary Visitor Center is open there "should" be free, good WIFI there and maybe we can try to get caught up  posting some photos.

The weather is progged to be clear and dry at least until Wednesday.  Later this week, the wet weather returns.  However, it's gratifying to know that we will have a Bluebird Day to end The Drive on US 89 from Mexico to Canada.  Naturally, we've been in contact with Customs & Border Protection and they are expecting us at the CBP Piegan Port of Entry.  Chances are we will go there tomorrow.

We don't know what kinds of emotions will arise as a result of this journey's end.  It's a pretty safe bet it definitely will be an emotional moment for both of us.

Heck, just driving the final miles of US 89 will be emotional, especially since this is Ivan Doig Country.  Susun is reading "Dancing At The Rascal Fair" and I've read "This House of Sky" and The Macaskill Trilogy so all of those images will undoubtedly rise to the forefront as we drive The Ivan Doig Memorial Highway today.

We've said it before many times and we'll say it again many times, "Driving US 89 from Mexico to Canada has far, far exceeded our wildest expectations for a highway adventure."  It's an experience that will live with us forever.  We are so grateful to have had this opportunity.

Well, it's time for a right & proper Mother's Day Breakfast so we'll catch ya'll on down the road.

Friday, May 11, 2018

May 11, 2018

The Roadhouse Diner "Roadhouse" burger was great!

(Editor's Note: See addendum at end of narrative.) We've had great weather so far until today, Friday, May 11th.  It started raining around midnight and it's been raining most all day, sometimes heavily.  We left the Sluice Boxes area about 9:30 AM and worried about the gravel road back to US 89.  It turned out to be OK but we did the steep downhill stretches in low gear riding the brakes and keeping our speed below 10 MPH.  Wet unpaved roads aren't too much to worry about unless you're towing a trailer.

Visibility was perhaps no more thann a mile all the way into Great Falls.  We were happy to get off the highway about 10:30 AM Friday.

Our first stop was at the Roadhouse Diner, 613 15th St. North in Great Falls.  We were standing at the door when they unlocked it at 11 AM.  Several other people were also waiting for the doors to be unlocked.  IN practically a blink of an eye, the parking lot filled up and all the inside tables were taken well before 11:30.

The Roadhouse Diner is said to have the best burger in Great Falls and at least one credible reviewer says it serves the best buger in all of Montana.  Since this is  Cattle State, that's saying a lot.

We split a Classic Roadhouse Burger and both of us agreed it's quality equaled or exceeded that of a Haunted Hamburger from the famous Jerome, Arizona restaurant.  Thank goodness we split one!  A whole burger would be way too much to eat.

We then went to the Charles Russell Museum.  It was half price admission today so our total "in-the-door" fee was $7  covering both of us.

Russell was arguably the finest Western artist ever to pick up a paint brush, pen, pencil or piece of modeling clay.  His work is so amazing when seen from the pages of a book.  But to see some of his work up close annd personal was doubly amazing.

After leaving the museum, we went down by the riverside and watched over 20,000 cubic feet per second of water flow over the Black Eagle diversion dam and the bedrock ledges below.

Later it was Laundry time and that's where we had time to compose these notes.

Before we leave Great Falls, we have to restock our coffee supply, ice-up the cooler and top off some other supplies as well.

Then it's on to Choteau, a mere 55 miles away.  At the rate we're going today, we'll probably pull into Choteau City Park around 4 PM.

The weather is supposed to begin clearing up later today.  Chances are we will stay in Choteaufor two nights because we really, really want a good view of The Front Range while driving the final leg of the trip up to Saint Mary.  If the mountains are obscured, we will simply wait until they reappear.

Monday is looking like the day we complete this Mexico to Canada adventure.  After that it's time to head home and start our Idaho Spring and Summer Season.

We don't know how long we're going to take to return home.  It might be a quick trip annd it might not.  It just all depends on how we feel during the next few days.

We've collected enough photos and videos to keep us busy for months processing files and writing stories.

Even though The Drive might soon be finished, we envision perhaps a year's worth of effort to really tell the stories we've learned along US 89.  Who knows?  We might never be able tell those stories the way we want to.

Yes, there's truly that much stuff to talk about when it comes to US 89.

If you ever want to take a unique and forever memorable journey, put US 89 on your bucket list.

(Update as of 4 PM.  Well, we made it to Choteau (pronounced SHOW DOUGH). It rained all the way here and we drove into such a stiff headwind that it knocked our MPG down to NINE.  YIKES.  We routinely average 13-14 MPG so it was a heck of a wind.  Got a real nice little camp spot on wet grass beside a tiny flowing canal in Choteau City Park for $8 a night.  We're at the Choteau Library now enjoying free heat and WIFI.  It's cold outside, probably low to maybe mid 40's and wet, which always makes it seem colder.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

May 8, 2018

US 89 just keeps getting better and better with each new mile. There is so much spectacular scenery all bunched together in Wyoming's share of the highway. Coming from the south, Wyoming's stretch of US 89 starts off with a bang at Salt River Pass when eye-popping, gleaming white mountains seem to reach around the entire horizon. The vivid vistas then carry on through Star Valley and then into The Grand Canyon of The Snake River north of Alpine, Wyoming. The river's canyon was such a formidable obstacle that most of it resisted road building until 1939 and some of the canyon wasn't tamed by a two-lane highway until well into the 1940's! After coming out of the canyon where the Hoback River joins the Snake, US 89 enter Jackson Hole only a few miles north. Once again, the snow-studded peaks march relentlessly along the horizon. Jackson's Old West Town Square sits serenely alongside US 89 looking forever like it always has for many decades. A short distance north of Jackson the highway crests a small rise and the power and magesty of The Grand Teton Crest fill the windsheild with uncommon drama. To say the sudden appearance of The Grand Tetons is breathtaking is an udnerstatement. No matter how many time we have experience the glorious debut of those mighty mountains, they never cease to thrill us. Old US 89 traveled as close as possible to the basee of these soaring peaks. The highway wasn't moved many miles to the east until the 1950's. Today Highway Heritage tourists can drive Old US 89 on what's now known as the Jenny Lake Road between Moose and Jackson Lake. The hit parade of stunning scenes continues to the north side of Grand Teton National Prk and along the Rockefeller Parkway. We've driven this road many time into Yellowstone but were stopped short on May 7 because it's still blocked with snow and won't open until later in May. We detoured back into Jackson and drove over Teton Pass into Victo, Idaho, and Teton Valley on the west side of the Teton Range. We drove through Island Park and into Montana to the West Yellowstone gateway community. From there, our travel took us up the Madison River to once again rejoin US 89 at Madison Junction. Turning north once again, we drove past the ignature steaming geysers so common along the highway. Gibbon Falls is a captivating sideshow along the highway. Road contruction is a Way Of Life in Yellowstone and always has been--dating back to the horse and wagon days. Autos were allowed into the park until 1915 but the need for roads to carry wagons and stage coaches was a major priority dating from the early 1880's. There's a long-term project to rebuilding the rotting Norris-Mammoth Road and much progress has been made recent years. This year the constructioin delays only spanned a five-mile stretch of the highway. Dropping down toward Mammoth, the spectacular scenery resume s in many different forms and styles. Mammoth Hot Springs itself is justifiably world famous and has been since before Yellowstone was made America's first National Park in 1872. The historic community that grew up next to Mammoth Hot Springs is quite a visual treat unto itself. We camped for two nights at the Mammoth campground. Currently, it's only one of two campgrouin the entire park that's open. Even though the other open campground is seemingly close at 35 miles south, it takes anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours to get there because of the construction delays and random wildlife jams. Today's a fun detour. We're heading to Lamar Valley, one of the many Stars of The Show here in Yellowstone. The landscape is fantastic, of course, but Lamar is better known for it's amazing cast of characters of wildlife. Bear, wolves, elk, deer and bazillions of bison are to be seen. It's an electric place to visit and we're stoked. This will be only our third visit to Lamar. Early May is Prime Time in Lamar and you just never what you might see over there. If we get back to camp early enough, we're going to explore more of Mammoth and the Hot Springs. You could easily spend a few days here and not run out of things to do on the north sided of Yellowstone. Tomorrow, we're heading north through Gardiner, Livingston and White Sulphur Springs to camp beside the small Newlan Creek Reservoir on the south foothills of the Little Belt Mountains. We thought driving US 89 was going to be exciting but we had no idea just how far the experiences would exceed our lofty expectations. It's everything we hoped it would be and so much more.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

May 3, 2018

US 89 route: Idaho Falls; Alpine, WY; Jackson, WY; Old Faithful, WY; Gardiner, MT; Livingston, MT; White Sulphur Springs, MT; Belt, MT; Great Falls, MT; Choteau, MT; Saint Mary, MT and the Piegan Port of Entry on the Canadian border.
We're on track to depart May 6.  We plan to resume The Drive on US 89 Sunday afternoon in Alpine, Wyoming.  Our itinerary varies somewhat from the first draft:
  • May 6 - Gros Ventre Campground in Grand Teton National Park
  • May 7 - Mammoth Campground in Yellowstone National Park
  • May 8 - As above 
  • May 9 - Newlan Creek Reservoir (near White Sulphur Springs)
  • May 10 - AirBNB location near Belt, Montana
  • May 11 - Choteau City Park, Choteau, MT
  • May 12 - St. Mary Campground in East Glacier
  • May 13 - St. Mary Campground
  • May 14 - Begin return trip south, details TBA.
Luckily, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has a fabulous network of campgrounds that make is easy and economical to develop a decent travel itinerary.

We don't have any interviews yet set up for this trip north but that's OK.  We expect to "wing it" in terms of finding people to talk with about US 89.  We will be stopping in at one or more of the Hutterite Colonies up there and that's bound to be interesting.

Friday, April 27, 2018

April 27, 2018

Note that big white area West of Montana.  That denotes "dry."  Hopefully that pattern will continue.
Patience is not a virtue in ample supply here at US 89 Team HQ in Idaho Falls.  We'd like to be on The Road again but the weather on the north end of US 89 has been pretty testy lately.  We simply won't drive into potentially icy roads.  Nope.

So, we've set a "date range" to resume The Drive on US 89 from Alpine, Wyoming, to Piegan, Montana.  We'll leave no earlier than May 4 and no later than May 7.  Chances are pretty good that it's going to be May 7, a Monday.

We'd like to meet with one or more history experts in Jackson, Wyoming and/or Grand Teton National Park on May 7. Gros Ventre Campground will have been open since Friday, May 4, so we know all the normal kinks will be worked out of the campground systems by Monday.

Plus, the weather pattern might FINALLY be turning clear and dry by then.  It's shaping up that way as of NOAA's long range forecasts today.

We continue to make slow progress assembling contact for interviews.  We have, however, found many more online resources regarding US 89 in Montana.

We also have been working on researching the Life & Legacy of Paul J. Erickson who died in an air ambulance plane crash February 6, 2007.  An 18-mile stretch of US 89 south of Belt, Montana, was designated in 2008 to Memorialize Mr. Erickson.  We hope to post an article about  Mr. Erickson and the Memorial Highway prior to our departure.

We're waiting on the new tires we ordered to arrive.  Can't leave without those, either.  Meanwhile, we're getting lots of home owner chores finished here in Idaho Falls.

And, on the whimsical side, we dug out yet another piece of cast iron from our collection and are dusting off our cornbread recipes for the upcoming trip.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

April 24, 2018

 Show Down Mountain ski resort webcam shows conditions atop King's Hill Pass.
Yellowstone NPS webcam showing conditions at Mammoth Hot Springs April 23.

We started this new blog today to have a place for lengthy notes about US 89 Team's status.  This will help keep the website, Facebook and Twitter a lot cleaner.

On April 15 about 4:45 PM w finished The Drive on US 89 from Nogales, Arizona, to Alpine, Wyoming.  We arrived home in Idaho Falls April 16.  We figured we would be back out on the road once again by May 1st.  That isn't going to happen.  The weather in NW Wyoming and western Montana is still behaving much like it has all winter--storm after storm dropping snow on snow.

We're firmly planted here in Idaho Falls until the weather clears enough to proceed north safely.  Towing a travel trailer on icy or snow-covered roads is not our idea of fun.

Meanwhile we're keeping busy prepping for the upcoming completion of The Drive from Mexico to Canada.  Much maintenance has been done on Sharlot, our 2005 Toyota Tundra.  We've also done a lot of good stuff to The Mosey Inn, our 16-foot, 30-year-old travel trailer.

We're busily making contacts and doing additional research on the remainder of US 89 that lies ahead.  We've also outlined the itinerary we will follow once we're cleared for travel north.

As far as Sharlot goes, we've ordered new tires, changed the fully synthetic oil once again, installed a new air filter and had the wheels pulled and the brakes checked. We're going to have the fuel injectors cleaned, too.

Meanwhile, we spent a day rigging a different cooler set up in the back seat of Sharlot.  We have an IGBC-certified cooler but don't want run afoul of overzealous NPS bear regulation enforcers.  We've rigged the truck so that we can entirely empty the pickup truck bed if need be and have nothing sitting outside the trailer either.

Back in mid-March, the travel trailer fridge went bad and filled the trailer with ammonia gas.  So we removed the fridge and now rely solely on a traditional cooler (AKA: ice chest).  Removing the fridge opened up several cubic feet of "new" storage space.  We're still in the process of adapting to utilization of this gaping chuck of space.  Much time has been spent tinkering with how best to capitalize on the additional storage opportunities. 

The current storage arrangement now includes a backup space heater known as a "Little Buddy" that's said to be safe for indoor usage.  Of course, we carry a carbon monoxide detector "just in case."  The space will also now carry our US 89 reference books, maps, etc. in addition the various dry goods  for our traveling pantry.

We rearranged our "Bucket Brigade" and cut the number of buckets in half so it's a lot leaner and cleaner in the travel trailer's so-called bathroom.  We also ditched our heavy lawn chairs and bought much lighter, smaller chairs.

The deep cycle battery has been fully charged, the trailer wheel bearings greased and the truck hitch ball serviced.

On a whimsical note, we added an antique Griswold cast iron skillet and an ornate iron bacon press to our traveling utensil inventory so we can cook bacon "right & proper."

We've done a fair amount of social media posting regarding both the most recent portion of The Drive and the long stretch upcoming.  We're reaching out to various contacts we might be able to meet on the Alpine-Piegan Drive.  We sent a hard copy letter to Customs & Border Protection asking assistance in having our picture taken right on the Canadian Border in Piegan,  Meanwhile, we've refreshed our traveling business card supply and will be working on a descriptive brochure.

Here's the itinerary that we posted on our personal Facebook:

Trip Planning...
Things are starting to fall into place for The Drive on US 89 from Alpine, Wyoming, to Piegan, Montana, at the Canadian Border. Although we don't know precisely when we're pulling out of Idaho Falls (due to weird weather & snow & such), we at least know where we're going. Therefore, we can create an itinerary.
First night will be at Gros Ventre Campground just outside Jackson, Wyoming, in Grand Teton National Park.
Second night will be at Mammoth Campground between Mammoth and Gardiner, Montana. (Photos of Mammoth CG here:…/yellowstone…/sets/72157650737231419)
Third Night in an AirBNB property between Kings Hill and Great Falls, Montana.
Fourth night at St. Mary Campground in Glacier National Park.
Chances are pretty good that we will spend at least two nights at St. Mary CG and maybe 3.
Returning home we will stay a night near Dupuyer; one or two nights in Great Falls, maybe another night in that AirBNB house and then once again in Mammoth. From Mammoth, we will prolly drive back to Alpine and camp at Palisades. We love Palisades.
The AirBNB property we will be staying at between King's Hill and Great Falls, Montana.

All-in-all, we're "OK" with being here at home in Idaho Falls.  As much as we'd love to be back out on The Road again, we're getting productive things done, both in travel prep and in the routine annual litany of home owner chores.

We'll get back out on the road when the time is right.