tripping

7/7/07 

So…

Four days ago, I got back from a 10 day trip that started on June 21 when I flew from scenic Newark, NJ to the twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN. The following day, Rad Brad and I drove out of Minnesota, all the way across South Dakota and into Wyoming.
Little side note…if you’ve never spent any time there, the part of Minnesota that I was in looks essentially like NJ with a little bit of Florida-style neighborhood landscaping thrown in. Basically, in some areas, you have these grassy islands down the center of some of the neighborhood roads. If it was Jersey, it would be a line, a concrete divider, etc. MN has that stuff too, but they generally look a little more “put together” than the Dirty Jerz.
Minnesota and eastern South Dakota seem to run together for awhile, as the dividing line between the states is man’s creation, not a product of nature. The familiar “Jersey-ness” morphed into gently rolling farm and grasslands that seemed to stretch to the horizon and carried varying strengths of cow poo smell to the nostrils.
Think “Dances With Wolves”. That’s what much of what I saw of South Dakota looks like. Far off to our left, we could see the craggy and rugged outlines of the Badlands. Cool.
Oh yeah…in the town of Wall, SD is the famous “Wall Drug” store. If you’ve ever driven the I-95 corridor from the northeastern United States to Florida, you will be familiar with the endless “South Of The Border” billboards that pop up every couple of minutes for close to 1000 miles. Well, Wall Drug does the same thing…”Free water at Wall Drug”…”5 cent cup of coffee at Wall Drug”, etc.
We did not stop.
Nor did we stop for a Corn Palace, Car & Tractor Museum, Giant Ball of String, or the Worlds Biggest Booger Collection.
As you hit the western side of SD, the rolling prairie gives way to the Black Hills. The Black Hills are…well…hills covered with evergreens that look black from a distance. Pretty simple, eh? Yeah…and although they aren’t my exact idea of “mountain majesty”, they are beautiful and wild and I am stoked to have been there.
As we continued west toward the border of Wyoming, the Black Hills kind of morphed into a Utah-reminiscent type of mellow badlands…craggy bluffs, rounded sandy hills and lumps, sagebrush, pronghorns, and I’m sure a ton of rattlesnakes. We kind of dodged around a little rainstorm (or maybe it dodged around us?) that just brought the scent of sagebrush alive. It smells great…clean and fresh and sorta lemon-y. I’ve come to the conclusion that when there’s sagebrush around, you can be fairly certain that you are somewhere really good.
So we rolled into Buffalo, WY and gassed up. The guy at the gas station directed us to “DJ’s” store for some firewood. We located and bought it, and headed out of town into the Bighorn Mountains of eastern WY. Seen the movie “Brokeback Mountain”?? Well, although that movie was shot in British Columbia, it was set in the Bighorns. We camped on Brokenback Mountain the first night. I’m not kidding. Yeah, I know. Spare me the jokes.
It was an 11-plus hour trip that first day. The road into where we camped was a hellish mess of rocks. Almost like someone had fiendishly gathered all of the rocks in the surrounding areas and placed them directly onto the dirt 4-wheel drive double track that we were on. But our trusty rented (and much abused) Chevy Trailblazer did its job. And we were rewarded with some good views of the Cloud Peak Wilderness, some huge solitude, a sweet sunset, and a good fire.

The next morning, we got back on the road out the western flank of the Bighorns, through the town of Tensleep, and on into the town of Dubois. Between Tensleep and Dubois, we crossed the Wind River Indian Reservation. It was one of the most wind-blown, dusty, desolate places we had traveled through. Draw your own conclusions. I have.
When we got to Dubois, we got some gas and I got some gas station convenience store coffee. We also ran to the local grocery store to score some more firewood. When we asked our cashier whether they sold it, another crabby older lady cashier said something to the effect of “well, I would think you could just gather it up yourselves”. We refrained from giving her a lecture on the rules of firewood use and gathering in protected and primitive areas…how, often, areas are picked clean of downed and dead wood…and how it’s tres uncool to cut down trees for pretty fires, etc.
We headed out of Dubois up to the Double Cabin area, bypassed the “established” (pay-for-a-site-amongst-the-rv-crowd) campground, and found a sweet spot surrounded by peaks and right on a braided river that looked for all the world like Katmai in Alaska. (Do a Google image search for Katmai.)

This area looked seriously “bear-y”, so we were careful with our cooking, etc. In the afternoon, we walked and rock-hopped out into the braids of the river to find a good spot for some sunset photography. But when we returned later at sunset, the river had swelled and cut off our original route. No worries though, as the whole area was unbelievable from any spot or angle. That night, I washed some grungy shorts in the river and when we woke up, they were frozen solid. Sweet.
In the morning, I was preparing to boil some water for coffee, and we realized that the backpacking stove was not working. We tinkered with it for awhile, and then passed on the coffee and headed out. The rest of the trip, we cooked over a campfire…oldschool style.
After leaving Double Cabin, we went back through Dubois and headed west on the unpaved Union Pass Road. We drove this road over to the headwaters of the Green River. As we were scouting for a campsite, I spotted two moose that were crossing a meadow beside the river, and were right across from what ended up being our campsite.

That night, we scrambled up a steep bluff for some photos of the area. I was stoked to see some awesome, hardy little flowers that grew out of the harshest of barren rocky soil. They didn’t let their environment dictate their brilliance or beauty.

There was also a bunch of really cool and brilliant lichen on some of the rocks up on that bluff. Cool stuff.

Much of Wyoming seems to be somewhat of a paradox…snowfields in the blazing sun, dusty winds over crystal clear waters, and blazingly colored delicate flowers amidst sun-baked rock fields.

Got in the Green River a little bit later that afternoon. The temperature of the water was probably somewhere in the mid 40’s or so…so cold that if you stood around in it for more than 20 seconds or so, your ankles started to hurt. But it felt great to get cleaned up a bit and then sit on the grassy bank and bake in the sun. Sweet views of Squaretop Mountain as well.

Wyoming has some seriously blue skies, amazing cloud formations, and awesome turbulent-looking sunsets where the clouds look really thick and stormy and light up like crazy.

 

Oh yeah, and it stays light until close to 10 pm. You could read by daylight after 9:30. Pretty cool.
The following morning, we broke camp and headed into Bondurant, a “town”(?) nestled in the mountains south of Jackson. We stopped to take some pictures and ran into this Forest Service guy who chatted with Brad about the beetle problem that is apparently killing our forests. Cool cat…really friendly.

He did correct our pronunciation of “Dubois”. We were previously told, had heard it pronounced, and were pronouncing it ourselves as “DEW-boys”. He pronounced it “dew-BWA”. Go figure. I’m sticking with “DEW-boys”.
We got back on the road heading north into Jackson. Let me digress here for a second…
Lots of folks say “yeah dude, just got back from hanging at my friend’s place in Jackson Hole”. The town is Jackson. Jackson Hole is a high valley that is nestled in the Rockies there, that happens to contain the town of Jackson. There is no such town as “Jackson Hole”. The oldtimers called those high valleys “holes”, and it was named after a trapper named Jackson. Jackson Hole. Dig? Cool.
Jackson is an old-west looking, false-fronted-building-laden western town. The main street was tourist hell…congested with summer Yellowstone traffic. We parked near the town square and went walking and seeking coffee. We made our way over to Pearl Street Bagels, and I stood on a line for a good café latte. We wandered until we found Glenwood Street, and followed it until we came to Full Circle Frameworks.

Full Circle is a custom art framing shop owned and operated by Rocky Vertone, aka DJ Vert One. Rocky is a cool cat from Jersey, one of the OG Team Steam skaters, founding member of Four4 Productions, and one of a contingent of J-side folks who ended up in Jackson, WY. So we hung there a bit, shot the breeze, and then headed out in search of Mountunes.
Mountunes is a combination record store/tattoo shop/internet café where Weepy (Chris Blank, aka DJ King Weep) used to work. Suzi (another east coast transplant) is the owner. She’s a cool, cool lady. We hung there a bit, talked, and I dropped off a couple things I had brought for her. She hooked me up with a Mountunes shirt that Rocky had printed up for her. Sweet.
I headed next door to the Board Room skate and snowboard shop (where Weepy used to work as well) and hooked up with a skully as my go-to one was being used as an oven mitt. Weep was a good guy, and you can feel his spirit all over Jackson. From the mural in Sub-Urban Tattoo (the tattoo shop inside Mountunes)…to the “Work In Progress” multi-sided art project on display in front of Full Circle…to the “Weep” signature decal on the back window of Rocky’s truck…to the way the guy working the register at the Board Room spoke about him…to the way they keep his skateboard set up and ready to roll above the counter…to the vibe in the air in Jackson. Everyone there speaks respectfully and lovingly of him, and he is obviously missed there as he is missed everwhere where there were folks who knew him. RIP bro.
We hit up the local Albertsons grocery store for some re-supply and Starbucks (they had a counter in the grocery store) and was persuaded to start peeling clothes off to show the employees there my tattoos. They were eastern European, and seemed really stoked out on the coverage. (I still had to pay for my coffee though.) I also hit the Jackson Hole Book Trader and scored two good used books for $13. I was stoked. Dropped back by Rocky’s shop to drop off some stuff with him, and found out he and the fam wanted to camp out as well. So he, his wife Jen, his son little Rocky, and their three dogs camped in the spot next to ours on Shadow Mountain that night. Fraz (another J-side Steam-affiliated OG living in Jackson) also came and hung until late. So cool to chill with these good folks, catch up, and find out about each others lives. Nice to have some “family” around too, as I was so far away from my own! Thanks to Rocky’s directions, we scored an amazing campsite with insane views of the Tetons across the valley from us.

We saw those folks off in the morning, and headed north into Yellowstone. We had no agenda in Yellowstone…no desire for Old Faithful, boiling calderas, minivan caravans, or overpriced amenities. Yellowstone was our most direct route north into Montana, so we paid the park entrance fee and drove on through.
Every so often, crowds of tourists would be stopped, looking through binoculars and chaperoned by the almost ever-present park rangers. Once it was for a cool looking, bushy-tailed coyote. Other times it was for bison.

 

We came up on a black bear grazing some grass right on the side of the road, and I popped out the sunroof to snap some pictures. Had I stayed in my seat, I could have rolled the window down and pet him. He probably would have taken my hand off, but hey…it would have made for a good story, right? As it was, he seemed completely unconcerned with humans.

Got through Yellowstone, into Montana, and hit the tiny town of Cooke City. You’ve heard the term “one horse town”? Well Cooke City is a solid half-horse town. An excellent thing about where we traveled through Wyoming and Montana, though…no matter how small the town, there always seemed to be a good espresso bar. Cooke City was no exception. I was stoked. Patronize the Cooke City Bike Shack – best espresso in town.

So we drove out of Cooke City along the Beartooth Highway…a seasonally open, paved, switchbacking mountain road that winds through the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area. It is mostly at a pretty high elevation, and winds through a rock-strewn and otherworldly terrain of alpine glacial lakes, peaks, and plateaus.

After our pre-researched camping plans were shut down by snow blockage and mountain road closures, we drove into a canyon that is a favored camping spot for skiers. We found a good level spot to camp with a water feature (a river), a decent fire ring, and a huge bolder. The following morning, we headed into Red Lodge, Montana for a grocery store, and then headed back up the Beartooth Highway into Wyoming. On the way, we stopped at this one section that I had spotted the previous day. It looked like an elvish landscape – straight out of a Tolkien book.

Actually, many of the rock formations high in the peaks of Wyoming also resembled Tolkien-esque orc fortresses and castle walls.

Anyway, this was a really cool spot. Pretty unreal…it’s hot out, there are patches of snow on the ground, and you’re running around in shorts and slapping mosquitoes. The mountains have their own rules and ways of doing things. Oh yeah…the water out west is super clear. This was a great example that looks even clearer as it isn’t moving, but even the rivers were practically crystal clear.

So we headed back over the pass and headed south down the Chief Joseph Highway into Sunlight Basin. We followed the Little Sunlight jeep road back into the wilderness and found a great campsight with a water feature. Nice…so good to get wet after driving dusty roads in the sun.

 

We would have actually gone farther to find an even more remote site to camp, but we were turned back by a road closure that was in place to protect grizzly habitat deeper in the wilderness.
Speaking of wildlife…
You are probably familiar with the suicidal NJ squirrel. You know…they wait until you are too close to stop and then hurl themselves under your front wheels? Well, Wyoming has their own country cousin of the squirrel…the pika. Pikas look like tiny groundhogs. They too, like to hurl themselves across the road at the very last moment. But pikas seem like a bolder lot than squirrels, and will cross the road en mass. We came around a corner on some dusty dirt back road, and about six of the little guys (and gals) tore themselves loose from the brush lining the roads and bolted across our path. Surprisingly, you only see a dead one here and there on the roads. They are pretty quick. We also had a few sightings of our old friend the marmot, otherwise known as a whistle pig. The following day, we headed into Cody, through the “town” of Meeteetse (if Cooke City was a half-horse town, Meeteetse is approximately a .28 horse town), and followed the Wood River back to the old ghost town of Kirwin.

 

Interesting…at the time of her disappearance, Amelia Earheart was having a cabin built near Kirwin as she was enthralled with the area. It is super nice, and the dirt jeep road crosses the Wood River about six times. Yay for high clearance 4-wheel drive and for having almost no sense of where the line of safety should be drawn.
Again…found a great camp site right on the Wood River and walled in by ridgelines.

 

We found a spot by our camp where there was a small partial rock dam that extended a few feet into the river, and added some rocks of our own to further encourage a quieter pool next to the main flow. It was a sweet spot to take a dip in…again, seriously cold, but felt great to get part of the way in, splash some water around, and clean up. I found a kind of “driftwood” log, and set up some stones on it…a little cairn of sorts in memory of my folks and Kelly’s dad, in a place that I think they would all have considered almost heavenly in its beauty and peacefulness.

The following day, we headed out of the woods, out of Wyoming, and started the long trip back to Minnesota. We stopped for the night in the town of Chamberlain, SD, right on the banks of the Missouri River. Heeding the call of a hot shower and the option of NOT pooping while squatting in the woods, we opted for a motel that apparently catered to hunters and fisherman, as the lobby was mostly a fishing tackle shop. I had been the campfire gourmet for the trip, so it was a cool break to hit a McDonalds drive-thru. We also took a spin through the Akta Lakota cultural center. Even though it was closed for the day, it was a beautiful community-within-a-community. Vastly different than what I saw driving through the reservation in the Winds.

The motel next door to ours had a sign that read:

INVISIBLE FRIENDS STAY FREE“.

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5 Responses to “tripping”

  1. Brad Mischler Says:

    Great write-up Jon! This really did the trip justice – both the prose and your pics. I see though you left out the infamous Kirwin “wow, how fortuiteous that this nice and clean outhouse is right nearby when I need it” incident. That is okay, no one will ask… 🙂

  2. Nicole Torella Says:

    Hey Jon:
    I am friends with Brad and he sent me this blog on your latest camping adventure. As I told Brad, for right now I am living vicariously through your photos and prose of the Wyoming, Montana, SD, MN, utah, etc., area of the country. I am a jersey girl and have yet to get out west. I also would want to do it RV-style, so even though I could visit the areas, it still wouldn’t be the same as you and Brad have. Great photos. awesome prose, felt like I was right with you. thanks for the trip!
    Nicole

  3. Sman Dith Says:

    hey jon,
    awesome pics and story. must have been an amazing trip. you guys really know how to do it right.

  4. jasonoliva Says:

    Lordy Lordy!!!

    That was awesome. Cool Pics. That place is Magic.

  5. Sinoinvow Says:

    If you are a real estate professional, be really careful in dealing with KoRes Corp. in Weston Florida. Tulio Rodriguez & Monica Cataluna-Shand are shysters and look for anyway to steal ones customers. They attempt to steal your client by requesting their contact information and later contact them behind your back to get them to deal with them directly.

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