Monday, September 30, 2013

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, Montana

Last Wednesday we were ready for a couple days in place and out of the rain. Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park was just the thing. One of just a few state parks near Bozeman (just an hour west) that also has camping. Plus, caverns!

We took 41 out of Dillon toward Twin Bridges, home to 400 souls. At the town's little park along the river, I met the friendly mayor. Hi Tom!
 Blue Anchor
Twin Bridges
(which also feels--or sounds--a little like a David Lynch project)

The road today takes us alongside the Jefferson River and more glorious views.
Soon the landscape shifts into something altogether different. Later, the visitor center at the park will help us understand.

We check in in the pouring rain and ask about the cavern tour schedule, quickly deciding that being in a cave might be the ideal prospect on a day like today. Lunch is spinach and turkey breast sammos with veggies and clam chowder.

The 3-mile drive to the caverns felt mostly vertical. 
 A fire-warmed ticket and info center awaited us.
Along with much info on the caverns themselves. Clearly, other visitors had preceded us...and we'd discover on our own tour that they carried candles for illumination and moved about via ropes and ladders. Intrepid!
History of the caverns is rife with lawsuits and the tenacious DA Morrison and his lock cutter who continued to give tours even though the courts had decided against him. Our guide said he was able to do this because the rangers came up from Yellowstone just once a year (on horseback, remember) to secure the cavern entrance, only to find Morrison had cut off the lock they'd installed a year earlier and continued to give tours. A broader history of the caves here, at wiki.

As vigorous as our own tour was, it's astonishing to consider the early approach.
 A 3/4 mile upward hike got us breathing well.
More history looking down from the cavern entrance...

The limestone caverns were utterly captivating, our guide Derrick smart and funny. It's difficult to get a sense of the scale of this place without people in the frame. I started shooting with available light and ended with a flash. They light the last rooms to reveal the naturally occurring colors in the rock (colored by iron, etc). A smattering of pix:
 Hand imprint of a CCC worker who worked on the caverns

One mile high underground (strange sensation)

Derrick and the massive 1940s-era door that guards the exit of the caverns.What an experience, tromping through just a small portion of the caverns for 2.5 hours. A most excellent tour.

By the time we returned to camp, toddies were definitely called for. We got this honey when we visited friends in the Fingerlakes region of NY this summer--what a beautiful place.

Toward Lost Trail Pass and Cark Canyon Reservoir ("Lost" Being The Key Word)

Last week a friend wrote:
If you are at the Big Hole River cut a little south and follow the Beaverhead up to Clark Canyon Dam and past it up to Lemhi Pass.  It’s incredibly beautiful open range country where Sacagawea’s tribe was located.
Turns out we did part of that even as he was hitting the Send button. But let's back up. This post begins with breakfast at Crazy Creek Campground, me asking Art: what do we want? From this conglomeration we developed...

Art's breakfast sandwich
(cheese, red onion, and bacon toasted on whole grain)

What's not to love? A good start to what would become a long day.
We hightailed it out of the national forest on the gravel road, south on 33 heading for the Lost Ttrail Pass at 7000 feet.

Then 43 east through the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, whose trees are showing the rusty signs of...pine bark beetle? It's sad to see.
A wet gorgeous drive takes us into miniscule Wisdom, Montana, for gas and ice, which always top our list.

Wisdom looks to me like a film set. Country music spills into the vacant streets from someone's tinny speaker and I feel unaccountably sad.

We're following the curves of the remarkable Big Hole River...
Known for its blue-ribbon trout fishery, the Big Hole flows undammed for 150 miles. The river is home to the last native, self-sustaining wild population of fluvial Arctic grayling in the lower forty-eight states. 
Sublime river. We were mesmerized by its beauty for miles.

There seems to be a paucity of campsites in Montana. See those little tents on the map below? The ones on grey lines are on true secondary roads, the broken lines indicating gravel roads. Many of these sites are closed for the season. We love staying at them (Crazy Creek being a good example), but can't spend all afternoon checking them out. 

When your home is on your back, you're always in some way seeking the day's campsite--timing your arrival well before dark to allow set-up and relaxation time. So there's Dillon, and it's raining hard. Still, these campers aren't interested in a motel. Hey, there's a place called Barrets Dam Recreation Area. Looks promising and not far. 

But here's a clue: it doesn't exist.

The scenery is strikingly beautiful south of Dillon--like another planet, only it's ours. We drive in search of Barrets Dam,  ending up here.  It's beautiful, right? But this is not leading us to any campsite.

So it's back on Interstate 15 (a rare interstate cruise for us, but there's nobody on it), driving north and south, on and off, me trying to elevate the mood of the Ford's occupants by exclaiming over the awesome landscape.

"We should have stopped at that gas station," our driver says testily. "I thought the right exit was obvious," say I, a morsel testy myself.
Back...and forth.

North and south on 15.
Doesn't matter where we go
there is no Barrets Dam camping place
(but don't those peaks look just like the witch's castle from Wizard of Oz?)

We turn around yet again to head for the blasted gas station. Which (you guessed it) is closed. Art had the good sense to join me in uncontrolled laughter. Some days are like this. Plus there's wi-fi here in this god-forsaken spot, so we begin searching for someplace else to camp, and this turns out to be Clark Canyon Reservoir, 11 miles south of the nonexistent Barrets Dam and mentioned by friend Bill when I finally opened his email. Symmetry.

When we finally arrived at Clark Canyon Reservoir last Tuesday night, big storms were brewing. We had just enough time to unload and tarp up our stuff--with a moment's sun to dry us out--before the big blow came.

Inside the Avion, we were buffeted by winds that shook our 2-ton kit like a maraca. Wide-eyed and maybe a little bit worried (it's NOT going to blow us over, Pippi) we rode it out, perfectly dry and suitably awed by nature's heavy hand.

Another hot toddy to go with the rotisserie chicken and avocado salad?

The setting sun on the hills behind us from the reservoir's west side was stunning.

I happened to glance out a window after the rain and saw a slash of color. Day is done, gone the sun.

It's true what Bill said about the rich history of this place, but we're all out of energy for exploring, these daunted travelers feeling quite unlike Lewis and Clark.
Clark Canyon Dam is constructed at the head of the Beaverhead River. Clark Canyon Reservoir is the site of Camp Fortunate, one of the more significant spots along the Lewis and Clark Trail. It was at Camp Fortunate that the Lewis and Clark expedition met the Lemhi Shoshoni Tribe, and cached their canoes and a stash of supplies for the return trip. Sacagawea was reunited with her people here.
Feeling fortunate ourselves that night...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Campsite: Holiday Inn Express Bozeman

Well here's an unusual campsite: Holiday Inn Express Bozeman, our wedding home base and an unusually lovely accommodation with equally lovely staff. First order of biz: 5 loads of laundry. Second, iron wedding clothes. Third, get on the graciously provided shuttle bus to the festivities.

Today, work and Costco, an easy walk across the parking lot.

Got stocked up for the road ahead
(are those peanut M&Ms down there?)
A friend who's not on holiday reminded me that the threatened government shut-down would also close national parks. We don't need fewer options this time of year, when many state parks up this way are shutting off water and closing toilets, but we'll survive the lunacy.