WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: WanderRockies 9 - Frontier, Wyoming
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2000 19:28:48 -0700

    Twenty one years ago I declared the Gallatin River Valley to be the most lovely part of America I had seen. Of course I had not yet seen much of the West. Now there is not much of the West I have not seen, and the Gallatin Valley is still among my favorites. It is not an especially grandiose motorcycle road, it does not have the highest mountains or the steepest cliffs, but it does have all the right elements in a fine balance. And a river runs through it. This part of Montana is still enticing, even if it is the gateway to the RV Home Planet, Yellowstone.
    I have never seen so high a concentration of RVs to cars as around (and in) Yellowstone. Talk about 'signal to noise ratio' ! Just maintaining a steady road pace, regardless of what speed it was, required swooping and passing like a hungry fly buzzing around a town picnic. Sometimes a "challenging" pass can be fun, but 4 RVs nose to tail in a 100 yard passing zone takes precise timing. The good news, at least, is that most Montanans still look askance at the 70 mph speed limit posted even on roads where you can't reasonably go that fast. Except on a motorcycle. :)

    I have now ridden the mountains all around the perimeter of Yellowstone Park, which was the intent of this loop, but I am not going into the park this time. Been there (in an RV, no less !! :). Wow, consider that Yellowstone is just slightly larger than my native state of Connecticut. I can not imagine anyone back there riding all around the state just to avoid going through it. It is beyond absurd. Yet it seems perfectly reasonable here. Moma, this boy needs mental help.
    Cruising down some thinline Idaho backroads, I kept getting closer and closer to a pair of dark clouds on the windward edge of the imposing Grand Teton Range. One was draping a veil over the Teton peaks, and the other nestled on Thunder Mountain across the valley to my right. After 30 miles of only an occasional raindrop, it looked like I might be able to thread between them. But just as I passed the historic marker for Pierre's Hole, the two clouds pounced like cats springing a mousetrap. The cloud over the Tetons cascaded into the pass toward Jackson and the mountains disappeared in minutes. Seemingly simultaneously, the other cloud erupted into consecutive lightning flashes that peppered the ground near the other pass out of town. Both exits were blocked, I took the hint. This was Mother Nature's way of saying it was time for a snack. So I waited it out under the awning of a gas station in Victor. As I got ready to leave toward the now sunny pass to Swan Valley, a Harley rider pulled in to the station from the direction of Jackson.. He was not a happy rider, but then few Harley riders dress for the weather. "F'n hail f'n stings, man!" was all he had to say. Idaho and Wyoming do not require helmets, so he made that choice. I can't imagine. Wind in your hair is one thing ... but hail?

    The rest of the day was unremarkable. There was a delicious mix of mountains, passes, valleys, and plains. Just your average day of travel in the west.
    I passed though Afton, Wyoming, where a sign proclaims World's Largest Intermittent Spring. Ok. Why would the size of an undependable water hole be significant? Eh. Before I can solve that there is another sign: World's Largest Elk Horn Arch, and I pass under its span across the highway. Then another World's Largest ... but I am distracted by a turning truck. At times like this I would like to sneak a new sign up on the city limits: Afton - World's Largest Collection of "World's Largest" Self Made Unnecessary Achievements.
    Lastly, I stop for a road construction delay in the town of Smoot. It reminds me of the measurement of the Harvard Bridge between Boston and Cambridge. Many years ago an MIT engineering fraternity inducted a frosh whose last name was Smoot. They tied him rigid, laid him on the sidewalk at the Boston end, and flipped him end over end all the way across the bridge, marking it every 10 smoots. I don't remember the final count, but I assure you that distance was longer than it is through the town of Smoot.

370 miles
Big Sky US191 US20 ID47 ID32 ID33 ID31
US26 US89 ID61/WY89 US30 Frontier
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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