Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wandering the Cowboy Country of the Western U.S. - Chapter 2: Big Skies.

Continuation of the story from Chapter 1. 

It had been fun riding with Brian the past couple of days. I have been thinking of making this an annual tradition, find a trip or a rally to ride together every year if possible, Brian has been my riding mentor and even though we don't stop for pictures as much, when we ride together, we still have a good time. Pictures can always wait for when we stop for the evening. :)

Our ride together on this trip, was coming to an end. We were parting ways in Salt Lake City. Brian was heading out at O'dark thirty for a blast on I-80 across Nevada to return home and tend to Kudlow - the little prince doggie of Fernley. I had other plans, I already had the time off, so I was going to make a quick swipe across some beautiful country, before dropping back home.

The Monday after the rally, I was heading to Big Sky, MT to see my good friends Bob & Sylvie. I was taking the scenic route there, riding the very pretty Hwy 89 across a major pass to Bear Lake. A very pretty lake and the water really does appear a turquoise blue from a distance. 

I stopped in Garden City, UT for breakfast. Very limited choices here, probably would have been better to stop in Logan, UT but I wasn't hungry then. I stopped at a roadside diner - I forget it's name as it was nothing special, but I did meet and talk to a family on a road trip, heading towards Yellowstone. They were also from the Sacramento area, and lived less than 2 miles from where I did. It is a small world!

There are a few townships peppered along the west coast of Bear Lake, they barely even register on the map unless you zoom way in. Have to be a little careful here, the speed limits on Hwy 89 goes up to 65 mph in Idaho, and then suddenly drops to 45 mph and then 35 mph as you approach these hamlets, and then back up to 65 mph. This happens quite a few times in a short distance, so you have to pay attention. You never know when a revenue trap is set to be sprung. 

I think it was right before Paris, ID probably in Bloomington, ID that I spotted this derelict house, but with such a beautiful "garden". It seems like the vegetation just took over the yard, but instead of ugly weeds, I love how nature chose to contrast some vibrant reds and greens against the faded glory of this ramshackle house.

I just couldn't bring myself to riding through Utah, without photographing one single example of LDS architecture, namely their temples and tabernacles. I had heard before and now experienced on this trip, that this is how Salt Lake City and most towns in Utah are planned, all the streets are named as emerging from the Mormon Temple. For example, 100 West, 100 East, 100 North and 100 South all mean that the particular address is 100 blocks away in the stated direction from the Temple. So, when I finally reached Paris, ID I stopped to take a parting picture of LDS influence that I had been riding through. The Tabernacle at Paris, ID. Built in 1889, this Romanesque red sandstone structure appears on the National Registry for Historical places. 

Leaving UT and ID behind, I reached Wyoming. There is much in Wyoming I still need to explore, I will be back in August just for that. Western Wyoming mostly. :)

They do seem like they have an obsession with Elkhorns. In Afton, WY I found the world's largest Elkhorn arch. 

I changed my route and headed to Jackson Hole on a whim at the last minute, instead of just bypassing Jackson and heading north. This was a mistake which cost me a good couple hours in wasted time and probably causing my hosts Bob & Sylvie in Big Sky to delay dinner on my account. For this I do apologize! The tourists and traffic around Jackson was just ridiculous. No one seemed to be paying any attention to the rules of the road. There were a couple incidences of a tour bus and an SUV who crossed the double yellow to pass slow moving vehicles WHILE facing oncoming traffic, namely me! It was a cluster-fuck! These touristy towns in the summer do attract some of the craziest drivers known to exist, I should have bypassed Jackson, like originally planned, too late now! 

The restaurants in Jackson were packed, but the town park inside Jackson not so much. Definitely a recurring theme in Wyoming with the Elkhorns. The four corner entrances to the park are adorned with these arches, much to the lament of one tourist family. "OMG! They killed all those Elk just to make this stupid arch!" *Shaking my head*

I had one on (not yet) near me, but I didn't wait for the gunfights to break out. Which they apparently do every Monday through Saturday, precisely at 6 pm. Must be the devil's number or something. No gunfights on Sunday. Obviously, that's church time! :)

When I did extract myself from the time sink hole of Jackson Hole. I headed over the Teton Pass into Idaho again. Teton Pass looked like a very fun road, but there were a couple of construction zones on this road across the Tetons which put a damper on some great twisty fun. I will definitely be back on this road again in August. :)

Once you drop back down into Idaho on the western side of the Tetons, you are still treated to some great views of the Tetons' peaks. Admittedly the eastern faces of the Tetons are much more picturesque, but the western faces are not ugly by any means! I really enjoyed the unfettered, uncluttered and unclogged (from traffic and tourists) view of the Tetons from the Idaho side. Some very pretty farm and ranch country acts like a great foreground to the majestic Tetons. At this point I was in take no prisoners pictures and stop for nothing mode of riding, so as not to be very unfashionably late for dinner with my gracious hosts, although I just couldn't help but make one and just one stop. Judge the view yourself! Needless to say I will be exploring more of this area next month! :)

I made it! Big skies, big smiles, big hugs, big hearts and big, gracious Montana hospitality at Bob & Sylvie's home on their mountain in Big Sky. Sitting out on the porch of their beautiful home, drinking wine and chilled Beer. Bob likes Newcastle Brown Ale also, as if there was any doubt, he obviously has very good tastes. :)

Bob & Sylvie are big on hospitality, they love it when their friends come visit them and think it's a great honor, when in fact it is an honor and an absolute delight to visit them! They had additional company from Las Vegas visiting them at the same time and Sylvie had outdone herself and made us a great dinner. BBQ Ribs, Baked Potato, green salad and grilled Asparagus! We sat around and talked very late into the night, they had initially planned on putting me up at their condo in the Big Sky Resort, but instead I opted for the 'John Ryan' room - very comfy quarters on the pull-out bed in Bob's office. I actually preferred this to the Condo because I would get to spend more time with my lovely and generous friends. The main reason I had rode up here anyway! :)

They do have a very beautiful property. The gorgeous house that they built here was actually supposed to be a guest house, a mother-in-law suite so to say, with the main house to be built further up the mountain. After it had been built, they occupied it, whilst planning to build the main house and then decided that they liked living in this one just fine, and since a lot of their friends from Florida weren't expressing much interest in visiting Montana, they decided to keep living in it with their two beautiful German Shepherds. It is a wonderful home and spacious enough for all of Bob's toys. :)

The shot below was taken the next morning. That's 'Bumble-bee' Bob's BMW sport-tourer and his Harley V-Rod that my "Big Blue" FJR is posing with. They had been out riding in Yellowstone with their friends from Vegas before I arrived. 

Bob & Sylvie are early risers. Even though we all had been up till midnight the night before, they were up bright and early the next morning. Sometime after 6 am is when I sauntered out to find them having coffee on the porch stairs, soaking up the morning sun and Sylvie promptly had another hot cup of coffee in my hands. The entire Western U.S. had been experiencing a heat wave and Montana was actually benefiting from it. It was a glorious morning, the air was fresh and refreshingly cool, it was a perfect morning to lounge around on and catch up some more. We were waiting for the Las Vegas company to stir, to go check out this local's favorite Breakfast cafe in Big Sky, but when they just wandered out and wanted to just relax at home in the morning, we loaded up the dogs in the car and I got treated to a great Breakfast sandwich. 

Mercy and Lola, the German Shepherds are beautiful dogs. Mercy is only a couple years old and Lola is 14. The dogs are in great shape, they get to run up the mountain every day, it was fun to see them get so excited as we drove back to the house. A morning ritual, they get let out at the base of the mountain and Bob follows them in the car as they run up the road back home. Lola is 14, but she has such a good life here, she isn't ready to check out any time soon! 

I wish I could have stayed here a couple days longer. This is just absolutely God's country, but I still had another couple days of leisure runs to go to get to another mountain retreat for the 4th of July weekend. So, it was time to prep the bike and keep on riding on..

Thank you very much Bob & Sylvie for your gracious hospitality. I can't wait to see you again Mid-August!

On my way down from their mountain home, I stopped at the base of their mountain property to catch a glimpse of and bid adieu to Lone Mountain (for now). 

Big Sky resort is at the foot of that imposing mountain and this is where in August, Bob is hosting the Big Sky Rally: Into the Unknown. If you are an IBA member or family and you hadn't already made plans to ride this rally or come visit. You better get on it right now! Trust me, it doesn't get any better than this!

Check it out! The Big Sky Rally: Into the Unknown.

Once I left Big Sky, I didn't stop until I was past the town of Ennis, which is on the other side of the mountain range that Lone Mountain is a part of. In a straight line, as the crow flies, it is only 8 miles from Big Sky to Ennis, but there is no public road which traverses the mountain range to connect Big Sky to Ennis, so you have to ride north almost up to Bozeman and then swing west to Norris before dropping south into Ennis. 

In the panoramic shot below, and I apologize for the picture quality, as there was still some morning fog and haze which hadn't yet burned off this side of the mountains, you can barely make out the outline of Lone Mountain. To it's right, you can also see the distinct outline of Sphinx Mountain. This view is much prettier later in the afternoon when the sun hits this side of the mountain faces. 

I had some long and twisty ground to cover this day to get to my stop for the night and do so well before dusk, so I wasn't stopping much for pictures. However, this abandoned structure near Virginia City which evidently used to be a gas station and store way back in the days, caught my attention, so I pulled over. 

I have been a little bit fascinated by old buildings and structures lately, my interest piqued by an ongoing thread on the Pashnit motorcycle forums. Their crumbling, battered, and decaying state seems so desperately to want to tell a story, to anyone who would give a second glance or care to listen. 

There was to be no more stopping till I reached the town of Wisdom, through Dillon, MT. I had topped off the gas tank at Big Sky, and Wisdom via the route I took was approx 220 miles or so. Which is within acceptable FJR strike range on a tank of gas, but you have to remember this is Montana, and at nominal FJR speeds in Montana, I was starting to get low and just a bit worried, the fuel gauge start flashing a good 30 miles from Wisdom. I think that means I have about a gallon left in the tank? I really should confirm that! Anyhow I made it into town without drama and filled up with close to 6 gallons of fuel, so maybe a gallon left is correct? Anyone know?

I stopped for lunch at The Crossing Bar and Restaurant in Wisdom. When, I first rolled into town, I was a bit disappointed that a landmark had closed down. The landmark being Conovers trading post, (This is Conovers) but something else had opened up shop where it used to be. 

My disappointment at having missed the opportunity (forever) to photograph Conovers again soon evaporated as some good, hot food appeared before me at The Crossing. Check it out sometime if you happen to be traveling through Wisdom. It's the best food joint for miles and miles around anyway, so you might as well! 

What also caught my eye, parked outside The Crossing, was something so quintessentially Montana! Lock and Load Sammy boy, cuz you ain't in Kalifornia anymore! All kinds of awesome!! 

Crossing Chief Joseph Pass and dropping into Idaho, I could spot what looked like a thunderstorm in the distance. I was on Hwy 93 heading south to Salmon, it was early July but there was still a lot of sand and gravel on the road. I had to navigate carefully through here. As I began to descend into Salmon Idaho, I was beginning to suspect that I was going to catch up with the storm by the time I reached Challis. I was going to be correct. 

I stopped in Challis for gas and covered up the soft luggage, and put the waterproof liner in my riding pants. As soon as I headed out of Challis and turned west onto Hwy 75, the heavens opened up with a ferocity, it was going to be a very wet and slow ride from here on out into Stanley, approx 60 miles or so. I had full waterproof gear so I was keeping dry, but visibility was suffering on twisty Hwy 75, to top off the fun, I even had a deer sighting as this doe darted across the road some distance ahead of me. There goes that theory, shot to smithereens, of deer hunkering down in a storm and not darting all over the place like rabid rodents! 

The rain eased off a bit once I reached Stanley. I checked into my Inn and enjoyed a nice and hot shower! When I emerged from my room, it was turning out to be a beautiful evening outside! I walked into town for some dinner and as I happened to look back, I could see a sign from the heavens! A shining and a beacon, it was telling me to get my camera ready. They were getting ready to put on a show in the heavenly skies. :) 

Dinner was Beer and Pizza at Papa Brunee's. The place is small but very good and very popular, even more so this day. I was hungry and there was a 30 minute wait to get a Pizza, but with not much else to do, I decided to grab a table and wait. Within a few minutes the place was really getting packed, a lot of college kids on vacation had descended upon the restaurant. They politely asked, so I let a couple of them join my table and we talked. They were enjoying their summer vacation out of Boise, ID - so they hadn't traveled all that far. My pizza arrived, and they still had another 40 minute wait. They looked hungry, so I invited them to have a few slices off of mine. I had ordered a Large because I was pretty damn hungry myself, I was going to take some leftovers back to my room with me, but I felt the nice thing to do was to share. 

The view of the Sawtooth Mountains outside my Inn is just something else. I had stayed here before and no wonder I was back for more! So, when I returned to my room, I lounged out in their yard with my camera and waited for the light and color show being played out in the heavens to reach it's crescendo.

It was a marvelously moody, yet colorful and delightfully soothing evening to mark the end of a great day! 

The sun had played it's swan song and had retired for the day. It was time for me to head back into my room and do the same, and rest and recuperate from the day's adventures, and get ready to wake up early in the morning in anticipation of the next day's adventures. 
Goodnight and sweet dreams! :)

Thank you very much for reading. The final chapter in this series coming up next! Might be a day or two! :)

Story continued in Chapter 3.


  1. Another great post with stunning photographs. Those first two shots with the flowers are my favorites.

  2. Great job! Your camera work is first-rate.

  3. Thank you! My little labor of love and I enjoy it! Glad you liked it and thankful for your appreciation! :)

  4. Oh my, I believe you have outdone yourself with this set of photos. WOW, is all i can say!! Ok, next time you got to visit Bob and Sylvie, I wanna go!!! What a gorgeous place. I need some new friend in MT. ;) Thanks Sam, for another amazing post. I am awestruck!

  5. Oh my, I believe you have outdone yourself with this set of photos. WOW, is all i can say!! Ok, next time you got to visit Bob and Sylvie, I wanna go!!! What a gorgeous place. I need some new friend in MT. ;) Thanks Sam, for another amazing post. I am awestruck!

    1. You flatter me Donna! Really ... flattered. I appreciate your kind words very much!

  6. No worries about the antlers, they shed them in the spring. The local Boy Scouts gather them to raise money for their troop.

    1. Exactly Mike. It seems there are quite a few people who do not realize that the antlers are shed yearly.


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