So, no Yellowstone National Park today and all indications from the US government are that it is unlikely to reopen any time soon.
Mr L had a chat with Greg, our host, who suggested some outdoor activities that we could do here in the Gallatin National Forest (which is where our B&B is based). We set off and Mrs L soon realised that Mr L is trying to kill her off by giving her a heart attack brought on by stress!! Turning right by the north entrance of Yellowstone Park we were soon on a so called road that has never seen tarmac in its life. Initially this route was fine as it had a gravelled surface and was nice and flat as it followed the Yellowstone River along the valley. Our first destination was the Yankee Jim Canyon, but unfortunately canyons are not to be found at river level so with a left turn we then found ourselves traversing what was essentially a mud road – a road fit for 4WD and jeeps, not cars! The sign which stated that the road was impassable in wet weather or snow was also a bit of a giveaway. Nevertheless, Mr L drove on regardless…….up we went, round muddy U-bends with a ‘lovely’ drop to the valley below. Mrs L was gripping on tightly and not impressed!
After what seemed an interminable time we made it to the car park for the trailhead for Yankee Jim Canyon. Once there however, the view into the canyon was certainly impressive.
The Gallatin National Forest is grizzly bear country. As far as I can make out all of Montana and Wyoming is bear country! With bear spray gripped tightly and at the ready we stepped forth up the Yankee Jim Canyon trail, a route that follows the Yellowstone River and which has been used for travel for over 7,000 years. Mrs L is convinced she saw bear tracks and bear scat on the trail so we proceeded humming and singing some distance further before turning round and heading back towards the car. The history of the route is interesting – the use of the route changed over the years as new modes of transportation were developed. The wagons of the gold prospectors used this trail in the 19th century – must have been even more hairy than our drive! It was in the 1860s that an entrepreneurial man, Yankee Jim, decided to build and operate the first wagon toll road through the canyon; he made his living collecting tolls until the railroad came.
Next stop was the Petrified Forest Interpretive Trail. Getting here was marginally better but was still on un-tarmacced road as we drove through the Tom Miner Basin. We passed some impressive ranches en route, many with fattened and healthy looking cattle on their land – we assume beef cattle as opposed to a milk herd. Black ones, tan ones and then some pure white cattle – Mr L informs me these are called Ancient White Park cattle. It is the B Bar Ranch (I guess Bar B would not be a very ranch sort of name!) that breeds this white cattle as organic grass-fed beef which is sold throughout Montana.
The not-so-bad road past the ranches and big houses eventually changed into a mud road until we got to a campsite in the middle of nowhere and where the Petrified Forest trail starts. Once again signs were up warning this is bear country with the last bear sighting on 25/9/13. Off we set on a very narrow and muddy trail that wound it’s way over creeks and steeply zig-zagging up a hillside through reasonably heavy tree and plant growth. Singing (of sorts) was required to make our presence known. This is a 1 mile trail starting at 6,640 feet and climbing to 7,300 feet at he top which is a cliff overhang. The trail wends its way through a tropical forest preserved by the volcanic activity that occurred 44 to 53 million years ago. Mrs L found the narrow and steep paths thoroughly unenjoyable and after a particularly difficult section near the top chickened out from going any further – not sure who was more petrified, the forest or Mrs L! Fear aside, the views of pine trees, aspen, snow-capped mountains and hills were amazing.
As it was still only mid-afternoon we decided to visit Livingston as we were about half way there when we got back onto the highway from the Tom Miner Basin. Livingston is the nearest town to Gardiner, 51 miles up the US-89 from our B&B. As Mr L stated ‘it’s like Dereham on an off day’……..we had a coffee, got some gas and headed back. Livingston is probably not worth visiting!
Tomorrow is our last day here in the Yellowstone area…….Mr L is planning another trip up an unmade road – oh dear!!